Recently my daughter’s third-grade teacher decided it would be fun and educational to highlight the tremendous diversity of her classroom. There are 26 children in the bright and cheerful room, and almost all of them are from somewhere else.
She found there were 12 countries represented amongst the boys and girls, and she had them draw the flags of each. Then she grouped them by origin behind each flag and took pictures. She created a big poster board with all the groups, and the result was charming.
In the center of the board is the American flag, with one sweet-faced girl holding it up proudly. There’s Argentina with three children, Mexico with four, Cuba with two (including my Chinese-adopted daughter), plus El Salvador, Chile, Uruguay and Spain. The teacher Mrs. Lopez holds the flag of the Philippines. What a wonderful poster! The children are perfectly adorable in their Catholic school plaid, their gazes full of innocence and joy.
Looking at the poster as the Fourth of July holiday was hard upon us, it broke upon me like a light that the Catholic Church is like the United States. I know, that’s quite a statement, but if I may explain.
One of the things we say in the creed each Sunday at Mass is that the Church is “one” — a short and simple statement, but one full of significance. The Church is the living body of Christ, and its members are as diverse as humanity itself. All together they form a mystical alliance, each bringing his or her own indispensible person to enrich the beautiful union. When the Church is evangelizing across the world encountering different cultures, she absorbs what is lovely in them. She does not clash or compete with them, but instead draws from each all that is good, beautiful and true, gathering it to herself.
In the words of Blessed John Henry Newman: “The Church has the power of assimilation. Like a healthy organism, that is able to move into its environment, holding off what it must, but assimilating to itself what it can.” The oneness of the Church does not crush into sameness and uniformity, but is rather a living, assimilating unity.
Just so the United States. Wave upon wave of peoples and cultures have washed upon these shores — all of them bringing elements of nobility and moral excellence as richly diverse as the people themselves. And because our country is conceived in liberty and rooted in countless other virtues, it is able to embrace, assimilate, and absorb. It does this without stamping out differences and irregularities as totalitarian states do.
The union counts itself enriched and strengthened by the addition of each indispensable American. And the elements that would have made our country poorer are held off by our vibrant civic life, our just laws and their fair administration.
In the poster, the American children from here, there and everywhere, wearing their Catholic school uniforms, exemplify perfectly that vibrantly diverse unity. It is so beautiful to see them: indispensable and enriching members of the body of Christ as well as a shining country.
Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie writes and speaks in both Spanish and English about Catholicism, family life and being a faithful Christian in the public square. She practices radiology in the Miami area, where she lives with her husband and five children.