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Where are you from? That question has been asked of me by new friends, strangers, and audiences during my talks and after my Masses. The question is an attempt to reach out and get to know more. It presupposes a desire to know more closely and personally.
The question “Where are you from?” can also be a question of rebuke, anger, or suspicion. Investigators ask suspects this question. The servant girl in the high priest’s courtyard also asked Peter that question: “From where are you? Your accent tells me that you are a Galilean.”
Whatever the motivation is in asking the question, the common intention seems to be to establish origins, situate our friends or enemies, and group people according to addresses or places.
Peter failed to grab the opportunity and made the mistake of denying the Lord. He could have answered this way: That man whom you arrested, that man Jesus told me that my origin is God. God is my Father. God is your Father too. He taught me that. We have a common origin. Before discussing what distinguishes us from one another, why don’t we talk about what unites us with one another – God?
Indeed, we tend to start with our differences and levels of power and authority rather than to start with our common brotherhood and sisterhood under the Fatherhood of God.
I say mea culpa also from the Church side, supposedly, the heralds of the kingdom values of Jesus Christ. When I deliver a formal speech with Church dignitaries present, I begin by saying something like Your Eminence, Your Excellency, Reverend Monsignori, Reverend Fathers, the Honorable government officials, brothers and sisters in Christ. Protocol dictates that we recognize the levels of power and authority. Protocol demands that we distinguish people first in the hierarchy and then go into what unites us: brothers and sisters in Christ.
Can we not start a speech with something like Brothers and sisters in Christ, including our Cardinal-Archbishop, bishops, pastors, and lay leaders? Can we not begin by focusing our concern on our brotherhood rather than on our distinctions? Can we start by talking as brothers and sisters before talking as a hierarchy, honored and awarded of God’s people?
I am just asking.
Indeed, we need to remember that before a man becomes a priest, he must first be a brother to the people on account of humanity and on account of Christianity. I am your brother Christian and your brother Filipino; I am your brother human being before I can become a priest for you. I cannot be a priest without being a human being and being a Christian.
Before you marry your spouse, your spouse must first be a brother or sister human being for you, a brother or Sister in Christ before you enter into holy matrimony.
Before your enemy became your enemy, that person was first your brother or sister until your relationship got spoiled.
The basis of all relationships is that we all belong to the family of God. Parents need to be reminded that before their children become their children, their children are sons and daughters of God much as they- the parents are God’s children; parents are brothers and sisters to their sons and daughters because of God, our Father.
And yet we can be more concerned about titles and honors and the things that differentiate us rather than on the things we have in common. When I was made a monsignor, I felt that too many people made too much fuss about the honorary title. I had to insist repeatedly that the best honor we can ever receive is not ordination or installation as monsignor, a doctorate from Yale or Harvard, or even American citizenship. The best honor we can ever receive is being called God’s child.
The best relationship we can ever have is to be brother and sister to the rest of humanity.
All other relationships are secondary.
Jesus Our Light