Why can’t we all just get along?
Oh how many times have we heard that trite, yet poignant question? “Why can’t we all just get along?”
The clash of cultures, races, nations – even neighbors – has always been with us. Those who are different from us, who think differently, look different, sound different, dress differently, these are all signs that we should be on our guard. It must be inbred, this fear of “the other.”
How many generations does it take to assimilate? When do we stop noticing the differences? When do we all start getting along? Let me come back to that at the end of this homily…
How fitting is it that on this day of the Feast of St. Kateri Tekakwitha, the reading from Exodus tells the story of the Hebrew Moses and the Egyptian Pharaoh’s daughter, of the Hebrews and the Egyptians. How different can two cultures be? One that worshipped cats and crocodiles and the other that worshipped one God, unknown and unknowable. One people that lorded it over a foreign people, going so far as to kill the male children of those foreigners.
And then, when Moses grows to adulthood, he continues the clash of cultures, killing an Egyptian overseer who was mistreating the Hebrews.
Now let’s examine the time and place where today’s saint, Kateri Tekakwitha, grew and flourished: New York in the late 17th Century. Talk about culture clashes! There were the Mohawks, Mohicans, Hurons, Algonquians, Dutch, French, English, and clans within these tribes. A veritable cauldron of competing desires and aspirations, all quite incapable of “just getting along.”
And here is Tekakwitha (She who bumps into things) the daughter of a Mohawk father and a Roman Catholic Algonquin mother, the very embodiment of the mixture of cultures that marked New York at that time. She was even stricken by an Old World disease that killed almost half of the Native American population of the Northeast, including her family. It left her scarred and almost blind.
And yet, she was given sight by her mother in the form of Christianity, which she embraced with a fervor unknown to most of us. This set her apart from her family and tribe and caused her much grief and loneliness, all of which she bore with the grace that would later mark her as the first female Native American saint.
So are there parallels between the tribe of the Mohawks and the tribe of the Hebrews? Of course: murder, disease, treachery, compassion, love, grace. Everything that the Egyptians and Hebrews faced and suffered could still be found amid the frontier of the New World peoples. But what do we remember? The trials and tribulations are only the scenery of the world that good, gentle, and compassionate people moved among. Three thousand years ago or three hundred years ago, nothing has changed in human interactions. Even today! We have the same clashes, the same pains, and the same joys.
Now let’s get to the Gospel for today: Will you be exalted to heaven? You will go down to the netherworld? Jesus could ask the same of us today, or of the Mohawks and the French of St. Kateri’s time. We have seen the wonders and yet we think we are beyond and above them. We have seen the heartaches and the joys, and yet we think we are beyond reproach, beyond the trials of years ago.
“Woe to you Chorazin! Woe to you Chicago! Woe to you Bethsaida! Woe to you Bethesda!” Is Jesus still calling to us? Is he still warning us? Are we still complaisant?
How can we imitate a young woman ravaged by smallpox, shunned by her family for her faith, yet admired and recognized for her piety and true Christianity? Is Jesus calling to us as he called to St. Kateri? Do we look for the differences or do we look for the consistencies? How long, Oh Lord, how long?
St. Kateri at one time said, “I have deliberated enough. For a long time my decision on what I will do has been made.” We have deliberated enough, haven’t we? We know what decision we need to make. We know already what the path is. Why do we hesitate? Why do we not embrace Jesus and our neighbor as we already know we should? Are we not all made the same? Are we not all capable of “getting along?”
Lord, in your mercy guide us to that land where we work for the good of others and for the glory of God and not for ourselves. Where we bow to the compassion that Jesus showed for us and not for the things that we think set us above and apart. Help us to imitate St. Kateri Tekakwitha in her love for you and her clear determination to follow your footsteps. In Jesus’ name, Amen.