Saturday, June 19, 2010




Last Thursday’s gospel at mass was the section of the Sermon on the Mount that includes the Our Father (Mt 6:9-13). So I made that my morning meditation; I never got past that first word.
I spent half an hour with the wonderful notion of “our” and “us.” First I imagined a map with members of my family on it, located all over the United States; then close friends, and then acquaintances, some of them in foreign countries.

Then my thoughts turned to this week’s World Cup. You see, when you live a few blocks from Newark’s Ironbound Section the World Cup is a real happening. The Iberia restaurant has outdoor tables set up facing the four televisions over their open air bar. At 10:00 a.m. you can go and sit at a table and watch the World Cup game live on a Spanish cable channel. But you can also choose instead to watch the people who are watching the game. They are often passionately rooting for their country’s team, wearing soccer shirts or at least the appropriate colors. Shouting or hooting or groaning at appropriate times.

The other day I walked down Ferry Street to the Iberia and sat in the sun nursing an espresso during the France-Mexico match. Being a bit of a Francophile I kept my mouth shut. First of all because the French seem to be generally and genuinely disliked by a lot of soccer fans, and second because several short brown men dressed in kitchen whites were standing behind the bar, their eyes riveted to the screen cheering when the Mexians scored. The manager seemed to have no problem with their goldbricking. It is the Copa Mundial, after all!

Things are not always peace and love, however. For example, I will be very careful to stay silent next week when Portugal plays Brazil! It seems that there’s a trait in people that makes us dissatisfied with simply being part of an “us” – it makes us want to also identify and then dislike “them.” Social psychologists talk about in-group versus out-group and dozens of other ways of analyzing the phenomenon.


Even the early church had to work through the temptation to keep tight borders on their little “in-group” to the exclusion of others (see my blog for May 8 for an example). The lovely Greek word philadelphia,” “brotherly love” is used four times in the New Testament; it does not refer to loving everyone on the planet, however, but rather to loving ones fellow Christians. Romans 12:10 says “love one another with mutual affection [philadelphia],” and 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10 says, “Now concerning love of the brothers [philadelphia], you do not need to have anyone write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another; and indeed you do love all the brothers throughout Macedonia.” Loving your brother was a virtue for the pagan Epicurean philosophers – as Jesus said, “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the pagans do the same” (Mt 5:46-47)? When Jesus uses the word "brother" here he is assuming that there are others who do not fall into the category of "my brother;"
not everyone in the world is ones brother.

When I’m sitting in that parking lot in the colorful multi-ethnic neighborhood enjoying the different languages and colorful flags and soccer shirts I don't think much about our human tendency to make enemies out of "others" not in our own group. Instead I think of “us” as applying to all the fans around the world watching this game or listening to it on the radio; people rooting for their own team, certainly, but more basically, people united by a common passion for soccer and for the human drama of struggling and conquering against adversity.


Two hours after my meditation on the "Our Father" I was saying mass for the Missionaries of Charity -- six of Mother Theresa’s sisters who live and work in Newark. As I was listening to the first reading in their tiny chapel I looked at the little congregation made up of women from around the world: India, Brazil, the U.S., Costa Rica, and so on. It was easy to feel that the “us” gathered around that altar extended far beyond the walls of the convent in a poor neighborhood in Newark, New Jersey, and out past the boundaries of our city, state and country to embrace everyone in the world.

When it came time for the Lord’s Prayer I heard myself say the first word with special care and special meaning, “Our Father…..”


......................Salvador Dali "The Last Supper"

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