January 29, 2021


The path to unity, one step at a time

In spite of the fact that 2021 was heralded as “a new beginning” after the horrors of 2020, the new year got off to a bad start.

Rioting and violence broke out in our nation’s capital, our former president was impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives for a second time, and our new president marked the 48th anniversary of Roe v. Wade by calling for codification of abortion rights.

 Less than one month into the new year, it is clear that the Church in the United States, like the nation itself, is deeply divided on how to best approach many critical issues.

Disunity is a fact of life. It was true in Jesus’ time, and it has plagued the Church for 2,000 years. The question is: “How do we bring together people who are deeply divided along religious, economic and political lines?” What are the necessary steps to find, and follow, the path to unity?

If the answers were easy, we would not be in this current mess, but one thing is certain: Talking about unity is not the same thing as achieving unity—among individuals, families, communities or nations. Unity can only come from actions, from finding common ground and building bridges.

Where can we find the common ground that Catholics, and all Americans, can build on in these troubled times?

The search for common ground should have been easier after all of us experienced the pandemic last year. One would think that the good health of all people and economic recovery would be issues that all of us can agree on, but these too have been battlegrounds for opposing ideologies.

Similarly, the search for peace, for nonviolence in our interactions with others, would seem to be an intensely desired outcome of the culture wars of 2020, but violence continues to erupt on both the left and the right.

In addition, as Archbishop Charles C. Thompson has reminded us, a fundamental commitment to civility is essential if we are ever going to come together as a nation and as a community of Christians.

Unity is impossible when public discourse resorts to shouting and name‑calling. Unless we show each other the basic reverence and respect due to women and men made in the image and likeness of God, there is no path to unity or peace.

As Pope Francis said in his message for the 54th World Day of Communications, which will be celebrated in most countries on May 16:

“We think of how much empty rhetoric abounds, even in our time, in all areas of public life, in business as well as politics. This or that one ‘speaks an infinite deal of nothing. … His reasons are as two grains of wheat hid in two bushels of chaff: you shall seek all day ere you find them, and when you have them, they are not worth the search.’ The blistering words of the English playwright [William Shakespeare] also apply to us as Christian communicators,” the pope wrote. “The good news of the Gospel spread throughout the world as a result of person-to-person, heart-to-heart encounters with men and women who accepted the invitation to ‘come and see’ and were struck by the ‘surplus’ of humanity that shone through the gaze, the speech and the gestures of those who bore witness to Jesus Christ.”

To achieve unity, we must engage in genuine dialogue with those who disagree with us. We must be able to listen and learn and not simply to argue and accuse each other. Above all, we must give witness to the truth by our words and actions, by the light of Christ that shines in us, and by the authenticity of our efforts to find, and follow, the path to unity.

Pope Francis says that in the effort to achieve unity, “Every tool has its value, and that great communicator who was Paul of Tarsus would certainly have made use of e-mail and social messaging.” But more is needed. St. Paul’s faith, hope and charity are what impressed “those who heard him preach or had the good fortune to spend time with him, to see him during an assembly or in individual conversation.”

Watching St. Paul in action wherever he was, people saw for themselves “how true and fruitful for their lives was the message of salvation that, by God’s grace, he had come to preach,” the pope wrote.

During the 11 months that are left in this new year of grace, may we embrace the path to unity, one step at a time.

—Daniel Conway

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