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A message from the bishop

The Golden Rule: The Mount Everest of all ethical teaching (July/August 2014)
 
My dear friends,
 
The great 20th century American church historian, Monsignor John Tracy Ellis, whose most famous book was a biography of the life of James Cardinal Gibbons (1834- 1921), the ninth archbishop of Baltimore, was fond of telling a story about a prominent citizen of Baltimore he interviewed while working on the manuscript for this book.
 
The man told him that, as a young boy, his parents took him for a walk every Sunday afternoon after dinner. Every Sunday they would pass a small, distinguished-looking priest who would, without fail, tip his hat, smile and say “Good afternoon” to the family. The boy longed to return the greeting and talk to this kind gentleman; but his parents, who never returned the greeting, pulled him quickly along. They later explained that the man was a Catholic priest, with whom they did not associate. So engaging was the priest’s smile, so sincere his greeting, even when ignored repeatedly by his parents, that the boy became more and more curious about Catholicism — to such an extent that, at age 22, to the horror of his parents, he took instructions and joined the Catholic Church.
 
Later, when he was being confirmed at the cathedral, he saw processing up the aisle the same gracious gentleman who had been so courteous to him as a boy on his Sunday walks. It was Cardinal Gibbons. “The golden rule:” We learned it as children: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This statement is given in the context of a lesson from Jesus about loving our enemies. Jesus took the conventional quid pro quo method of treating people and turned it on its head. Rather than doing to others what they have done to us, or giving them what they may deserve, we are to treat them the way we want them to treat us. But, as we grew older, we realized that the world operates on a somewhat different version of that rule. If people smile at us, we smile at them. If they speak to us, we speak to them. If they invite us into their home, we invite them into our home. Some encounters, however, are totally different. Your next-door neighbor never greets you and makes it clear he does not wish for you to speak with him. Finally, you say to yourself, “OK, if that’s the way you want it, fine.” And who would blame you? That is how most of us would feel.
 
In the Gospel, Jesus issues four incredible commands: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you; bless those who curse you and pray for those who maltreat you.” (Luke: 6, 27-28) Why should we do this? It’s a strange way to respond to someone who opposes us, hates us, curses us and mistreats us. Almost no one does it, but Jesus says we should. He gives us one reason for doing so: That we might show ourselves to be children of the Most High. We should respond this way to our neighbor because that is how God responds to our neighbor. Following the golden rule shows that we are a part of God’s family, and that we do and can resemble God in imitation of his love of others.
 
The bottom line of all this can be put this way: Something very different is expected of us if we are to call ourselves Christians, disciples, God’s sons and daughters. That difference will require acting in ways that depart from the more common impulse: generosity, compassion, forgiveness, uncalculating love and a spirit of sacrifice. God’s kingdom is in our midst and we are its citizens. Our capacity to love others the way Jesus commands comes from our experience of his love and from the power of the Holy Spirit. That’s also why we need the Eucharist, the food for our journey. The Eucharist strengthens our resolve to put Jesus’ words into practice.
 
Summer is a beautiful time to practice the golden rule. Vacation trips are great fun, but traveling as a family can be stressful. There will be many opportunities to be kind and considerate to strangers and loved ones alike. Can we start in small ways with a smile, a greeting or an act of courtesy?
 
The golden rule is the Mount Everest of all ethical teaching. Let’s pray that our lives don’t slip into a comfortable pattern that more resembles the world’s version of this rule than God’s version.
 
Sincerely yours in the Lord,
Most Reverend David J. Walkowiak