In this past election season we saw deep rifts running through our country and our church. Both as citizens and as Catholics, we became a body torn apart. Many in this nation were pleased by the result on November 3; many were discouraged and felt heartache almost beyond words. The pain we all feel because of our disunity is palpable and debilitating. The suffering we share, while intense, is not new.
Our Catholic divisions preceded Vatican II of the 1960s and were even exacerbated by it. You know the list of issues: authority, collegiality and subsidiarity, homosexuality, birth control and abortion, and of course, women. The council was to have taken us into the modern world, but the modern world was already moving into a postmodern environment with no accepted center of truth or authority.
Children born after 1970 grew up seeing large photographs of the planet Earth majestically suspended in infinite darkness above their cribs or in the classrooms of their schools. Their impressionable psyches were transformed by wonder. This floating world seemed less and less clearly defined. In recent years, ecclesial divisions have become even more pronounced as Catholic pro-life and social justice ranks went their own ways. These divisions deepened as the abortion issue became politicized and then became a political sacramental wedge.
Lost in all this uproar has been the image of Catholic family : loving, proud, but also cantankerous and argumentative, all gathered at a Thanksgiving meal. It is helpful to remember that we share a lot as Catholics. Like all Christians, we share the empowering waters of Baptism. We share the Eucharist. We break bread, renewing our pledges to feed a hungry planet. We are mystics and monastics, clergy and lay, offering solace and doing small kindnesses day after day after day.
Even in the midst of our disagreements there has been movement. As we have struggled with our divisions, we have also inched toward learning that God is Love. Our theologians tell us that the work of the church is in the world: building communities, preaching the Good News. The work of the church is to proclaim Jesus' message of liberation, compassion, mercy and forgiveness. We have to work together. Who will speak for and feed the poor, if we don't? Love our enemies and ask why they hate us, if we don't? Who will speak of hope, of basic human goodness, if we don't? We have to make it known to a confused world that we share their ardent desire for peace and reconciliation.
To hold fast to our convictions, we need spiritual anchors. Scripture is one or those anchors; it reminds us that there is a season for everything. It gives us hope So do the little things in life: helping people around us, noticing what we can do to better our own neighborhoods... Jesus is a guide for us all. His story speaks of non-violence, love and forgiveness. The Beatitudes tell us where to stand. The Incarnation tells us of the mystery of God coming to be part of human time. The Paschal Mystery is in everything we see and touch. It is the paradox of life that we come closest to truth.
Our Catholic sacramental view unveils deep mystery in all that appears ordinary. Ours is a reasoned faith; it celebrates knowledge as a gift. Our sense of human nature allows for wondrous achievement, and our journeys are guided by the stars. Our church intends to point to the stars; but soon we fall back debating the shape and direction of the finger. It helps to stand back, to remember our common stories, the symbols of our faith, our fondest hopes. These in turn are part of other stories, symbols and hopes embedded in other great religions.
In the tedium of daily life, we set one brick at a time. We work, we offer encouragement, we seek personal and communal liberation of mind, body and soul. It's called building the reign of God! As St. Francis prayed,
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
Yes, where there is sadness, joy!