January 15, 2021

Editorial

Words and our response to ongoing civil unrest

Words cannot begin to describe the range of emotions that people felt while witnessing the storming of the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6.

But words will have to suffice—for now—since we believe they played an integral role in what happened that day. And if we’re honest, we realize words have stoked the flames of much of the unrest that has overwhelmed our nation in recent times.

We can play the finger-pointing game that has become so common in society these days, where “so and so said or did this,” which enflamed passions among many.

Or we can blame social media, which we believe has become a great deterrent to civil discourse while claiming to offer platforms for people to offer their opinions on anything and everything—many times without regard to how those sometimes unfiltered messages can hurt many who read them.

We can talk about the current disconnect between our major political parties, where Democrats and Republicans no longer appear to work together for the common good. Sadly, it appears the days of “common ground” are behind us—at least for now. “Polarization” appears to be the more appropriate term when talking about the state of politics in our country these days.

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson’s words in his “A Call to Civility”—which appeared in the Nov. 27 issue of The Criterion—are providential because he discussed how, amid the adversity we are facing in regard to the COVID-19 pandemic, social unrest and the election process, we still need to strive to be a civil society.

“Civility is not the absence of differences and disagreements, though it does involve a refusal to allow the radicals of polarization to divide and destroy the very soul of humanity,” Archbishop Thompson wrote. “Rather than pulling away, civility demands that we pull together. Rather than succumb to despair, we must dare to trust in the Holy Spirit. It requires of us the capacity to seek forgiveness, understanding and justice tempered with the sweetness of mercy.”

Those of us who have witnessed what has transpired in our country during the last few years—including in 2020—probably agree that “mercy” is something that is sorely lacking. In the midst of all the chaos, we are wondering what is happening. There are no easy answers or explanations.

But one thing we do believe is that many people—ordinary citizens and politicians alike—are forgetting how our faith calls us to come together, not further splinter our communities, when we face trying times.

We just completed our celebration of the Christmas season, where the “Word made flesh” entered the world as our Savior and Redeemer. It offered us another reminder that Jesus must be at the center of our lives, and play an integral role in all we say and do.

In “A Call to Civility,” Archbishop Thompson wrote, “Any authentic conviction of a true Christian is rooted in the person of Jesus Christ. Such conviction does not guarantee always being right, but it does provide the pathway to seeking what is right, just and true. Remaining Christ-centered, one is able to respond rather than to react to a perceived challenge, disagreement or even threat. Rather than seeking to win or gain against one another, we should be seeking what is best for humanity as a whole.”

In a recent Gospel reading during daily Mass, we reflected on the witness of St. John the Baptist at the start of Jesus’ public ministry, who when questioned about Jesus baptizing others, told his disciples, “He must increase; I must decrease” (Jn 3:30).

St. John’s message is one of humility, where he is stepping back as Jesus’ mission begins. That humility in all people—political leaders and citizens alike—is part of the vocation we are called to live.

As Archbishop Thompson wrote, “May we rise above our differences and disagreements in order to restore hope for a new tomorrow in reaching new horizons of our humanity as both individuals and communities of peoples. With Jesus Christ as our cornerstone, all is possible.”

To his timely message, we respond, “Please, Lord, let it be so.”

—Mike Krokos

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