Over the thirty-two years that I have lived in this country, I don’t think I have witnessed a more divisive and acrimonious presidential election than this one. The accusations and the claims on both sides of the political spectrum have plunged the already-polarized nation into a deeper crater of suspicion bordering on hate. As a new president is sworn into office – irrespective of whom we voted for – we cannot afford to perpetuate the divisions of the campaign. As a nation, we need to come together and engage in deep soul-searching. Politicians on both sides of the aisle should call for calm and a more civil political discourse. Hopefully out of this puzzling period in our history, there will emerge an America where the citizens and the leaders will engage in the democratic process without condemning each other or trying to get rid of each other.
n 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 open-minded dialogue and conversation, 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.
Even within the Church I have noticed this divide. Certain cardinals who swear allegiance and obedience to the Bishop of Rome have openly challenged Pope Francis on his pastoral approach towards divorced and remarried Catholics. Certain right-wing Catholics, who are upset that under this Pontiff their own pet agendas would be stifled, have rallied behind these princes of the Church. Such a stance by these Church leaders and laity indicates a lack of faith in the presence of the Holy Spirit. They believe that the Church of Christ is guided by the Spirit only when the leadership agrees with their idea of orthodoxy. In such a case, they become the final arbiters of truth rather than the Church herself.
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 positions 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 knowing that our ideological opponent is Christ Himself. These days we are holding 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.”
I am convinced that it is our approach to conflict that makes or breaks a marriage. In handling conflicts couples can create much anger and resentment. At the end of our lives it will not matter whether we were right eighty percent of the time. It will certainly matter whether we were loving a hundred percent of the time. 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 may fail to love.
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 Pope John XXIII challenged us, “Let us look for things that unite us rather than things that divide us.” Let us pray that we will enter into a new era – both in the political and ecclesial arenas – of openness, mutual respect and willingness to dialogue.
May the God of peace accompany us on this journey! Let us offer for our nation this prayer of St Patrick:
May the strength of God pilot us!
May the power of God preserve us!
May the wisdom of God instruct us!
May the hand of God protect us!
May the way of God direct us!
May the shield of God defend us!
May the host of God guard us against the snares of evil and the temptations of the world!
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...