During the past year I have had the privilege of becoming acquainted with Sister Patricia Murray, executive director of the International Union of Superiors General. In other words, she has responsibility for all the mother superiors in the Catholic Church. Sister Pat, as she is widely known in Catholic circles, is a warm, delightful, accomplished woman who has given her life to serving others — first in Ireland, where she was born, and now throughout the world.
I first met Sister Pat last summer when it was my good fortune to sit next to her at one of those amazing multicourse Italian dinners in Rome that never seems to end. But I scarcely noticed the food or the time as she and I talked about everything from family to the challenges she encounters as she directs the important work of Catholic nuns throughout the world. I relished every minute.
As dinner drew to a close, she said, “Who would have thought we would have so much in common?” I agreed and then offered a thought that had occurred to me as we talked: “That’s because we both not only believe in God, but we feel accountable to Him. And that gives us a natural bond.” To which she responded by squeezing my arm.
I thought about Sister Pat during Elder Clark G. Gilbert’s concluding address at BYU’s Religious Freedom Annual Review earlier this summer. Elder Gilbert, a General Authority Seventy and Church commissioner of education, admonished people of faith who do little more than “mumble” quietly about what they believe to stand up and be counted. He encouraged believers to work across religious traditions to openly declare that faith in God is the most dynamic force in their lives. People of faith, he said, in essence, literally have the power to change the world.
Increasingly, it is not just people of faith who can see the truth of this assertion. Also speaking at BYU’s religious freedom event, Jonathan Rauch — a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who identifies himself as a gay, atheistic Jew — said this: “I believe that the breakdown in the ability of religious institutions to transmit values — what you all call spiritual formation — is an underlying cause, if not the most important cause, of the political crisis we have.” Then, referring to earlier comments at the symposium from Russell Moore, editor-in-chief of Christianity Today, Rauch added: “The crisis that Russell Moore is describing as a crisis for Christianity is also a crisis for democracy. … The answer [to our current crisis] is that the values that are implicit, explicit in Christianity are pretty good.”
Now, there is a profound truth, if an understated one. Yes, the values and, may I add, truths taught and modeled by Jesus Christ are not just pretty good — they are, in fact, life-changing.
We do not all have to believe the same things in order to cherish one another, respect each other’s faith traditions and lift our voices together about how much we love and depend upon our faith — and about how vital religion is to the well-being and stability of every society. You no doubt remember the Prophet Joseph Smith’s familiar statement that he was “just as ready to die in defending the rights of a Presbyterian, a Baptist or a good man of any other denomination; for the same principle which would trample upon the rights of Latter-day Saints would trample upon the rights of the Roman Catholics or of any other denomination.”
Lifting our voices together requires us to stop mumbling about what we believe. According to several recent global studies conducted by the Radiant Foundation, upwards of 80% of the world’s population still believes in God. Imagine what would happen if believers the world over stopped mumbling about the importance of God in their lives. Imagine the impact if we were all more open about acknowledging our dependence upon Him.
I am guessing that Sister Pat hasn’t spent a single day of her life mumbling about what she believes. Her delightful openness about her devotion to Jesus Christ is one of the reasons I loved her instantly — not to mention felt that I had met a true sister. When I saw her again this summer, it was as though I was greeting a longtime friend and an ally in the cause of faith.
The apostle Peter urged us to “be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh [us] the reason of the hope that is in [us] (1 Peter 3:15).”
For me, that reason is Jesus Christ. May we shout from the rooftops that because of Him, we can find strength to carry on. Because of Him, we can hope for a better world and a much better world to come.
— Sheri Dew is executive vice president and chief content officer of Deseret Management Corp., parent company of the Deseret News.