By MOST REVEREND WILTON D. GREGORY, Archbishop of Atlanta | Published January 22, 2009 | En Español
A triptych is a form of art that normally is religious in theme. The threefold panel work of art usually follows a common inspiration, although each of the three sections might well tell an individual artistic story. Frequently triptychs are found as altar centerpieces that portray the story of the crucifixion of the Lord. Occasionally a triptych might illustrate a theme about Mary and the saints. This artistic technique can allow the artist to combine many smaller themes into a single larger work.
I often feel that this time of the year is a triptych for Catholics in North Georgia because we celebrate in rapid succession three different, although thematically related, moments during the middle of January. We honor the memory and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We observe the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade. And we join Christian churches throughout the world in keeping the Octave for Christian Unity. Each of these observances is distinct, but somehow each touches the others both on the calendar and through our observance. Each of them reminds us of an unfinished task that lies ahead of us.
Dr. King’s memorial day prompts us to be vigilant and hopeful in working for racial harmony. We have made great progress—but clearly we are not at that juncture in human history where we no longer need to worry about the divisions that still separate us into racial and ethnic camps in competition with one another. This year’s inauguration celebrates progress, but it does not signal the end of the journey that we must pursue to that society where racial differences are seen as blessings rather than barriers. We rejoice at the progress that we have made, but we must also recommit ourselves to continuing the journey.
The panel of the triptych that depicts respect for all human life must highlight the ongoing struggle that is now 36 years old to protect and respect that life—most especially the life that is waiting to be born. This panel of the triptych has become much more complex because the threats to human life are now caught up with the work of biogenetic research and the medical advances that are promised—if only we abandon our moral principles to allow for research that destroys human life in order to improve it. The subtle promises of advancement suggest that the end results will more than justify the immoral means to achieve the goals. This panel of the triptych needs careful attention because the theme of human dignity and advancement can easily entice us to believe that there are moments when life is not precious and an inviolable gift from God Himself.
The final panel is that dedicated to the challenge of ecumenical dialogue. The divisions that separate the Christian churches are centuries old, and the work of pursuing the unity of Christians for which Christ Himself prayed is at stake in this panel. Some perhaps now suggest that the churches themselves are the source of the problem. There are people who propose a post-denominational Christianity where our ecclesial identity is abandoned as irrelevant. This, it seems to me, begs the question and leads to what Pope Benedict XVI calls the tyranny of relativism. Theological and ecclesial distinctions are real, and true ecumenism does not dismiss or ignore them but seeks to find ways for Christians to work together in areas where there is common vision and to explore ways to resolve the differences that still separate us. Like each of the other panels of this triptych, there is progress to be celebrated but challenges that lie ahead. Triptychs are regularly religious in theme. Each of these three panels that we celebrate in January are spiritual and belong to our Faith as Catholics. They demand our fervent prayer so that we might eventually find the ultimate solutions that God Himself has in store for us.