We are in the middle of a long, election campaign that is tiring and at times, nauseating. Some of us wonder when it will end. Political candidates who are bent on swaying the voting public will say anything to get attention and support. Some of their comments and declarations exude intolerance and sometimes border on hate. Level-headed citizens are appalled by the heat of the rhetoric employed by both political parties. They pray that there will emerge an America where citizens and leaders will engage in the democratic process without condemning each other or demonizing each other.
In recent years there has been a growing polarization of the country and the Church. Individuals who embrace certain political and religious views tend to network with the people of the same mind-set. People consume media content that reinforce their confirmed opinions. Instead of initiating an open-minded dialogue and conversation, it would seem that people prefer to engage in name-calling, labeling and arguing over semantics. As a result there would appear to be much suspicion and resentment between the two ends of the ideological spectrum. Unfortunately those who seek to be moderate and open are rejected by both sides.
It does not help the situation that we do not show much respect for each other. Those on the left seem to dismiss those on the right as dim-witted and unenlightened. On the other hand, those on the right would appear to berate those on the left as immoral, bereft of any virtue. We know that both stances are mistaken. We need to convince our citizenry that we can respect each other even though we may not see eye-to-eye on certain things.
The Fathers of our nation desired that all citizens practice the virtues of the republic: civility, mutual respect, and willingness to engage in conversation. Hopefully even within the Church we can learn to manifest these virtues. Inspired by the words of the Master, all Christians should approach each other with deep reverence. Jesus said, “Whatever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do to Me.” If we take those words seriously, we will realize that if we disrespect someone for their views, then we are disrespecting Christ Himself. In a few days (January 18-25) we will hold our annual week of prayer for Christian unity. We need to pray for greater unity not only among Churches but also within our own Church.
Our natural tendency may push us to react with anger towards someone who embraces views that seem to threaten our philosophical foundations. However, we must remember that our anger towards the other calls into question the truth of what we hold. Rabbi Abraham J. Heschel had relevant words in this regard: “In a controversy, the instant we feel anger, we have already ceased striving for truth and have begun striving for ourselves.”
In my work with couples I tell them that it is conflict that makes or breaks a marriage. In handling conflicts couples introduce all the bad stuff into the relationship – anger, sarcasm, put-downs, bitterness and resentment. I like to remind them that at the end of our lives it will not matter whether we were right. It will certainly matter whether we were loving. In our parish we conduct many funerals. At funerals people consistently express their respect and admiration for the deceased not because they embraced a certain ideology, but because they were loving and kind. Ideology can easily blind us to such an extent that we fail to love.
Giving our total loyalty to an ideology will destroy us in the long term. As Christians we are called upon to commit ourselves not to an ideology but to a person – the person of Jesus Christ. Because we are committed to the person of Christ we are also dedicated to every human person, no matter who they are. Unquestioning surrender to an ideology leads to numerous problems in society. It gives birth to nefarious, ruthless movements like ISIS, and it can lead to horrible events such as ethnic cleansings seen even in our own time. When we come to the end of our lives we will be judged not by our surrender to an ideology but by our service to persons.
More than ever, at this point in our history as Church and as a nation we need to work together. The problems that face us are enormous and we cannot go it alone. Let us pray that all sides will seek common ground. As the Good St Pope John XXIII challenged us, “Let us look for things that unite us rather than things that divide us.” As we begin a new year, let us pray that we will enter into a new era – in the political and ecclesial arenas – of openness, mutual respect and willingness to dialogue. May the God of peace accompany us on this journey!
Born in India to deeply-committed Catholic parents, Fr Britto is one of seven children. He joined the Salesians of Don Bosco as a young man and was ordained a priest in 1981.
After he completed his priestly formation and his early education in India, he came to the US for his graduate degree in Journalism at...Read more...