By Fran Lavelle
For me, there is something so immensely inviting about a cold grey December morning. Perhaps it invokes memories of Winter growing up on our farm in Southeastern Ohio. There is a stillness in a cold grey day that creates room for a pause. It is that pause that I most appreciate. Instead of jumping into the activity of the day I feel permission to sit with a cup of coffee and gaze out the window. I recently had such an experience Saturday morning a few weeks back. Surrounded by incredible peace, for a moment I forgot that our country and the world is being ravished by a pandemic. I also forgot that our politics in this country have become so polarized that death threats levied against political opponents has become commonplace.
It has been a long year. It has been a difficult year; for some much more than others. I try to look for meaning in times that seem senseless and hope in the midst of grief. There are many factors that continue to lead us away from seeing one another as God’s beloved children. What we consume on cable news networks and social media play a big part in that widening chasm. Reconciling our communities with divergent very public (some might say vitriol) views is no small task. Two keen examples are our response to the virus (particularly mask wearing) and the outcome of the recent election. If our faith is what is going to save us, then we need to be willing to put into practice what we believe.
I have spent some time this Fall reading Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis’ most recent encyclical letter. The thesis of Fratelli Tutti is a timely call for the human family to acknowledge the dignity of one another. In framing the issue of our indifference to one another he is brutally honest about how far we are from true fraternal love. The scriptural centerpiece of this plea is the parable of the Good Samaritan. His approach to Scripture is very Ignatian. He reflects on the characters in the story and asks the reader to imagine themselves in the story in each character role. This mechanism builds a greater understanding of the complexity of the characters and builds a better understanding of the bigger picture. He then takes us deeper into our own reality and challenges us to reflect on whether our actions align with our vision and fulfill our mission.
Pope Francis was very successful in using the Parable of the Good Samaritan to illustrate the meaning of fraternal care. He adeptly negotiates the landscape of identifying not only the issues but allowing for reflection and action. His vision is always aligned with the mission of the Gospel. The continuity of that messaging was an “Ah Ha” moment for me.
If the goal of a leader is to articulate a vision and to motivate others to share in and carry out the vision, clear and accessible communication is necessary. So is honesty in assessing the current situation. We need to be realistic about where we are to successfully map out the path to where we want to go.
I do not think anyone relishes the constant reminders that we are a deeply divided country. I think that most Americans, and really all of humanity, want to live in peace. We cannot expect that government or Church leaders can solely change this narrative. We must all participate if change is to be sustainable. If we all spent less time following social media and more time following the Gospel, we would be less anxious and more hopeful. We do not change the narrative by adding to the cacophony of noise. We change the narrative by turning to God and one another and living the Gospel.
I was recently reminded of the World War I Christmas Truce. On Christmas Eve, German and British troops fighting in World War I sang Christmas carols to each other across the lines. Christmas morning after white flags appeared from both sides, soldiers emerged from their trenches and shook hands with one another. They shared food and drink. There is documentation of soldiers from opposing sides playing a good-natured game of soccer. If amid a World War, so called dehumanized enemies can stop fighting and see one another the way God sees us – as one family – I know we can do the same. This Christmas give yourself a gift. Raise a white flag. Surrender to peace. The division ends when we stop giving our energy to it.
(Fran Lavelle is the Director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson)