A Buddhist monk and a Catholic
Religious Sister stand together in
St. Peter's Square during the
Beatification of Mother Teresa
Several years ago I met a fellow on a retreat. He had been in his younger years, long ago, a member of the Society of Jesus—a Jesuit—though he left before ordination, married, and raised a family. He and his wife are devout and faithful Catholics. During the Cold War he served as United States Ambassador to one of the Soviet Satellite States of Eastern Europe where his wife and he were driven each Sunday in the Ambassador’s car, flags flying, to Mass at the Cathedral in public witness of his personal faith and the American commitment to Freedom of Religion. He regularly called on the capital’s Archbishop or sent the Archbishop gifts of food, firewood, and other necessities the regime made it difficult for the prelate to obtain as a sign to the government that nothing untoward should happen to the Archbishop or it would be noticed by the American Embassy. The evening I was a guest at their home, we were joined by their daughter, a Buddhist nun. This woman, raised a Catholic in the most devout of homes, is no flake. To the contrary. Not only is she a known and reputable Buddhist Scholar, but a practicing and well respected physician who, among other clients, is the physician for Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity in her city. I have since arranged for her to speak on a number of panels with Catholic, Jewish, and Islamic scholars on the subjects of spirituality and peacemaking. I have never discussed with her the subject of why she found her spiritual home in Buddhism, but I am reminded of Richard Rohr’s quote: Much of the Western world has given up on the Church and is going other places for wisdom. Unfortunately, in these other places they are sometimes “willingly filling their belly with the husks the pigs are eating” (Luke 15:16) But we in the church must ask ourselves if we have not been the parent who sent them away because there was nothing trustworthy or life-giving at home. (Richard Rohr, Near Occasions of Grace, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1993, p. 26) By no means do I want to compare Buddhism to empty husks--to the contrary--I am well read in Buddhism and appreciate its great wisdom and depth, for the most part quite compatible with our Christian faith and practice. But the lack of appreciation among Catholics for our own profound mystical tradition and practice has left a hunger for many that drives them to look elsewhere for what is at home in locked cupboards. I deeply appreciate Pope Benedict’s call to a New Evangelism, but it is in vain until we, as a Church, have a deep and soul-searching inner Reformation, individually and collectively. After all, how can those who have not yet believed the Gospel be its heralds?