My old T-shirt, the theologian


By Kathy Berken

When I pulled an old black T-shirt from the bottom of my drawer, I first noticed the word “United” in large white block letters on the front. “Where did I get this from?” I mused. “Was it an airline giveaway from eons ago?” I flipped the shirt over and saw similar white letters reading “in the Eucharist” with the “i” cleverly depicted as a chalice and host. Okay, I got this when I helped staff at one of the Green Bay, Wis., Diocese’s many Youth Jam events in the 1990s.

It must be a message from God today, given the wildly divisive politics our nation is now facing.

However, I am not going to write about politics or argue for one side or another. There’s plenty of discourse on that elsewhere in the media to chew on. Instead, I invite you to think along with me about the practical theological and spiritual possibilities embedded in the words “United in the Eucharist.”


A quick internet search brought up a dozen verses about unity. Here are two: “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity” (Ps 133:1). And, “I in them and you in me — so that they may be brought to complete unity” (John 17:23). I’m going to guess that God prefers unity to division, noting well that we may be closer to heaven when we are unified in and for something, rather than over and against something.

Certainly, there is a place for unifying against evil and clear wrongdoing. So lest this column be simply a Pollyannaish denial of the tough reality we live in, let me state clearly that I follow Jesus’ example of confronting sin when he saw it but, more important, that I remove the log from my own eye before attempting to remove the speck from my neighbor’s (Matt 7:5).

Because I’ve been feeling increasingly anxious about how utterly divided we as a country (and, yes, a world) have become, I decided to focus primarily on what being “United in the Eucharist” means and what I can do about it.

We receive the body of Christ at Mass and we go out into the world as Christ’s body, united in our faith that God is with us everywhere in everything. There is something very positive about that, something that causes me to feel united to other human beings, despite whatever opposing beliefs we espouse.

As a spiritual director, I work with individuals and groups, listening to the immense struggles people experience, and giving conferences at the Franciscan retreat center in Prior Lake, Minn., where I try to connect our everyday lives with the spiritual life of God within us.

So I had an idea about how to make my goal to be united in the Eucharist in and for something positive. I created a practice involving the Sign of the Cross. When I place my hand on my forehead, I’m in thinking mode, so I think about the phrase “United in the Eucharist.” When I move my hand to my heart, I’m in feeling mode, so I become aware of how I feel about being a member of the body of Christ. When I move my hand to my left shoulder and cross over to my right shoulder, I imagine the work I do to listen and what more I can do to help others experience unity rather than division.

It wasn’t just Abraham Lincoln who said that a house divided against itself cannot stand, but Paul also said: “Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread” (1Cor. 10:17).

With that, I invite you to join me in being “United in the Eucharist,” rather than divided, for we are really and truly all one in the body of Christ.

(Kathy Berken has a master’s degree in theology from St. Catherine University, St. Paul, Minn. She lived and worked at The Arche, L’Arche in Clinton 1999-2009 and is author of “Walking on a Rolling Deck: Life on the Ark (stories from The Arch).”)

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