Recently I was listening to the book “Church of Mercy” which is a compilation of homilies by Pope Francis. In a homily to the general audience on the 9th of October 2013, he speaks of the Church as a house of harmony.
“The Church is ‘Catholic’ because she is the home of harmony, where unity and diversity know how to merge in order to become a great source of wealth.”
He then goes on to compare the Church to a symphony. In a symphony there are many instruments who all have a unique timbre and play different notes, but when they are played as a united group, the harmony is beautiful. Francis continues, “And this is the beauty of the Church, each of us brings our own gifts which God has given. For the sake of enriching others and between the various components there is diversity however it is a diversity that does not enter into conflict and opposition.”
This is a beautiful image, and I could write a whole blog about sound waves or something, but there was a portion of his homily a little later that struck me even more.
“Let us accept others. Let us accept that there is a fitting variety that this person is different. That this person thinks about things in this way or that. That within one and the same faith we can think about things differently. Or do we tend to make everything uniform? But uniformity kills life. The life of the church is variety and when we want to impose this uniformity on everyone we kill the gifts of the Holy Spirit.”
This underlined sentence, this is what stood out to me. This is exactly what we are taught in biology. The saying goes, “Survival of the Fittest”, but what determines the “fittest”? You could be the fastest runner in the world, but if a predator is after you in the water and you can’t swim, you are surely not the fittest.
For millions of years, all types of creatures have dealt with this dilemma of what it truly means to be the fittest. When a certain species has a very small gene pool and therefore lots of interbreeding, eventually they all become extremely similar genetically. There is almost zero variability among them. This specific genetic makeup may be the fittest for their current environment, but that environment could change at any time. Any number of diseases/predators/etc. could show up in their environment and it would wipe out the entire population! They are completely vulnerable.
This is why genetic variability in a population is so important. One famous tale of lack of genetic diversity is the Irish potato famine. Although there were also social and economic causes, this disaster was caused by lack of diversity twice over. First, the Irish had turned to growing almost exclusively a single type of potato because it was the fittest. It was able to grow in the harshest of environments in Ireland. Unfortunately, the potatoes were unable to survive when a single microorganism, Phytophthora infestans, infested the crops. It stormed through them. It knocked out 50% of crops in the first year and 75% of potato crops over the next 7 years.
Then if you look at the human population, they relied so heavily on that one single crop for their food supply that when it got hit, their lack of diversity in their food supply caused around one million Irish to die of starvation and related causes.
If the people of the Catholic Church were a uniform population, it would have died off years ago. The devil is constantly trying to tear us down through temptations of this world. He lies and deceives us. Evil has corrupted many individuals in the Church throughout the years and led them astray, but the Church still stands and always will because it is “the fittest”.
Our diversity is our strength and should be celebrated. It not only helps our survival in this broken world, but it helps us FLOURISH! It is when this diversity is celebrated that we fully see the beauty of our community, when relationships grow, when full communion is realized. This is the best version of our Church. Sometimes it can be hard to celebrate people who are different than us, instead we see them as “other”. This is a disservice to our Church. This hurts us. As we all continue to head back to church and in-person events, I encourage you to not only welcome people who are different than you, but to celebrate them, knowing that they too are strengthening our parish family. They make us better.
I’ll close with Francis’ closing thoughts from his homily, a call to prayer and action.
“Let us pray to the Holy Spirit who is truly the author of this unity in variety, of this harmony. That he might make us evermore Catholic in this Church that is Catholic and universal.