By Karla Luke
In St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he reminds the citizens of Philippi to be united in mind, faith and love. Think about it, he wouldn’t have had to remind them unless they had forgotten! The young church in Philippi, after Paul’s departure, had suddenly encountered grave deficiencies such as selfish ambition, conceit, and self-interest. Sound familiar? No matter where we look today, we can find a plethora of examples of selfish ambition, conceit and self-interest. They occur in the political realm, in social and economic arenas and yes, even in the Church.
The good news is that we can all benefit from Paul’s words, “…complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing. Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also, everyone, for those of others” (Phil 2:2-4).
Notice how these setbacks relate to self. What a peaceful world we would have if we were all able to put aside our own selfish ambitions, conceitedness, and self-interests. It would be peaceful and ideal, but unfortunately because of our humanity, not very realistic. When we all try to take care of self, and value self-interest above all else, it is likely to cause conflict.
Pope Francis, in his simple and yet humble manner states in paragraph 226 of Evangelii Gaudium, The Joy of the Gospel, that “Conflict cannot be ignored or concealed. It has to be faced. But if we remain trapped in conflict, we lose our perspective, our horizons shrink and reality itself begins to fall apart.” At times, conflict, whether global, local or personal can be so overwhelming, that we lose our perspective which makes it extremely difficult to be “of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing.”
He notes three ways in which conflict is treated: ignore it, embrace it or the best way, face it. By inviting the Holy Spirit into our conflict, we are able to resolve it and become the peacemakers Jesus teaches us about in the Beatitudes in Matthew’s Gospel.
We are being challenged as a church to go beyond our conflicts to recognize the deepest dignity of others, whether Christians or not, as sons and daughters of God. We must believe that our similarities as children of God which unite us are more powerful than the differences that we allow to divide us. “In this way it becomes possible to build communion amid disagreement, but this can only be achieved by those great persons who are willing to go beyond the surface of the conflict and to see others in their deepest dignity. This requires acknowledging a principle indispensable to the building of friendship in society: namely, that unity is greater than conflict.” (Evangelii Gaudium P. 228)
Pope Francis spoke to the general audience in Vatican City on June 19, 2013, saying: “There is communion and unity: all are in relation to one another and all combine to form a single vital body, profoundly connected to Christ. Let us remember this well: being part of the church means being united to Christ and receiving from him the divine life that makes us to live as Christians.
It means remaining united to the Pope and bishops who are instruments of unity and communion and it also means learning to overcome selfishness and divisions, to understand one another better, and to harmonize the variety and richness of each one. In a word, loving God and the persons around us, in our families, parishes, and associations, better. Body and limbs must be united in order to live!”
God blesses and affirms unity most prominently in the Holy Trinity, the unity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the two natures of Jesus Christ, united as God and man, and the commissioning of Jesus by God to unite the scattered children into one church. So, let us continue to work for unity: unity within ourselves, our families, parishes, cultures, and countries. In working toward unity, we achieve peace.
By Karla Luke