The Common Good

Are You One of Us?

I attended a funeral last week and was struck by something that happened at communion.

Priest during Mass, Gordan /
Priest during Mass, Gordan /

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The church was packed for a loving man who had touched many lives with his kindness. People from varied backgrounds and faiths came to celebrate his life and support his family. The eulogy noted that he never turned anyone away.

At communion time, several young adults from a different denomination got in line. When the first young man got to the priest, he received a question instead of a communion wafer. The priest said something to him. The young man looked surprised and shook his head. The priest traced a cross on his forehead and sent him away breadless.

On a day of shared grief, the young man had given the wrong answer to the age-old question: Are you one of us?

The other young adults behind him in line saw what was happening and were embarrassed. They realized that they, too, were going to be put on the spot, questioned in front of the entire church, and then turned away.

How awful! I felt embarrassed with them. I also thought: Jesus would never do such a thing to anyone. He bent or flat-out ignored the religious and social rules in order to welcome and heal others.

When the church’s regulars reached the front of the line, the priest had no questions for them. He didn’t ask whether they’d observed all of their denomination’s rules about what they must do in order to be eligible to receive communion that day. He handed them a wafer without hesitation.

After all, they were one of them.

That moment reminded me of how so many religions get caught up in deciding who is in and who is out. Who belongs and who doesn‘t. Who gets to break bread with them and who has to settle for something on their forehead.

Of course, it goes well beyond communion. And it isn’t confined to religion, as I was reminded on the drive to the cemetery.

One passenger in our car told how her daughter had worked at a funeral home but was prevented from becoming a funeral director because the family-run business believed that only men should fill that role. Women weren‘t one of them.

When we got to the cemetery, someone mentioned that it was Catholic-only at one time. Burial places have long been litmus tests of whether you are one of us. Slaves were buried apart from slave owners. Protestants and Catholics were buried separately. Even after the Civil War, blacks couldn’t be buried alongside someone who was white in many cemeteries.

This separating through politics, religion, race, sex, sexual orientation, ethnic background — it’s been going on as long as we’ve been going on.

We’ve grown up a lot. We’ve taken many steps in recognizing that everyone is an equally beloved child of God and must be treated that way. Yet, there are reminders all around us that we’ve got a long way to go before we fully embrace the answer to the question.

Who is one of us?

Everyone is one of us.

Joe Kay is a professional writer living in the Midwest.

Image: Priest during Mass, Gordan /

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