It has been many years ago that I was told the following little story:
While the teacher was correcting the religion exams of her students, she was surprised to read Pilar’s answer to the question, “What is the sign that identifies Christians?”
Except for a few absent-minded pupils who put down, “the rosary” or even “the Pope,” nearly the whole class wrote down the correct answer that the teacher expected, namely, “the cross.”
Pilar’s answer, however, was different, which did not mean at all that it was incorrect. Pilar, at her tender age, was surely not aware of the depth of what she wrote in the exam. Remembering John 13:35, the teacher considered Pilar’s answer correct.
Pilar, by the way, had answered, “The sign of Christians is to love one another as Jesus loved us.”
We Christians look at the cross, remembering the liberating outcome of his death. The cross would be a failure if we did not believe in the confirmation, approval, that God gave to His Son’s self-surrender by raising him from the dead. “If Christ has not been raised, we are the most pitiable people of all,” wrote St. Paul to the Corinthians (1 Cor 15: 12-19).
Personally, I hardly ever wear a cross around my neck (I do not wear a wristwatch either). It is not for lack of Christian sentiment, or because I do not value signs. It is due to something more mundane, more practical … some metals give me skin irritation. Various religious symbols decorate my home, however: a cross that greets visitors as they enter; a sign that says, “My house is your house,”…; a portrait of my family here… a portrait of Oscar Romero over there, next to portraits of Vincent de Paul and Frederic Ozanam. In my room, there is a lithograph showing detail of the fresco of the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo… and in different places are images and remembrances of the times I spent in Argentina, Peru, El Salvador, Mexico, Honduras, Bolivia and elsewhere, remembrances from people I knew and who spoke to me, with their lives or words, about liberating faith. And there is a rosary in the rearview mirror of my car and a fish next to the license plate. All are symbols that speak of my identity.
We live in a secularized society. The dictionary says that secularization is the “disappearance of signs, values or behaviors that pertain to or are identified with religious confessions.” Many governments want to consign religion to the private sphere, and do not favor any expression of faith in the public sphere. This past Holy Week, in my country, Spain, there were situations that had to do with this topic. There was friction over Easter processions, so important during these dates in many localities in Spain. But it is important to differentiate between the sphere of society and the sphere of government. It makes sense for the latter not to show any preference for any religion and to respect all religions. But society is not the government, and to identify one with the other can lead to dangerous situations. The society is immersed in a culture that has its religious characteristics. Those who make up the Spanish society, as well as Latin American countries and other Western cultures, mostly show themselves to be Christians still. Would not this majority have the right to express in public that they are Christians?
We need to promote the new evangelization in an increasingly secularized world. How can we do this? Undoubtedly, Pope Francis is showing the way with deeds and words. Perhaps the day will come when the only sign of faith in Jesus that will remain in the public sphere will the people who profess such faith authentically. Perhaps the “See how they love one another,” which Pilar wrote in her exam, will once again have the same relevance that it had in Tertullian’s times. He relates to us, in his “Apology against the Gentiles,” how the pagans, admiring the fraternity between Jesus’ followers, exclaimed with envy, “See how they love one another.”
For reflection and dialogue:
- And can they say this of us, followers of St. Vincent, St. Louise, Blessed Frédéric, Saint Elizabeth…? Do we love one another as Christ loved us? Furthermore, do we love the poor as Christ loved them? May it be so.