In this past Sunday’s first reading, the prophet Habakkuk, who lived in a time of “strife” and “clamorous discord” (Hb. 1:3), cries out to God for assistance. God urges him to wait faithfully, for the “the rash one has no integrity; but the just one, because of his faith, shall live” (2:4).
In the heat of this election season—with its “clamorous discord” and “rash” words—Habakkuk’s plight takes on a new meaning. When inflammatory rhetoric, uncivil accusations, and personal attacks abound, the temptation can be to turn off the news, shut the newspaper, and ignore the Twitter feed for the next four weeks.
But Sunday’s Gospel challenges us. At the beginning of the Gospel reading, the apostles implore Jesus, “Increase our faith” (Lk. 17:5). They are responding to Jesus’ challenge in the verse prior: “If [your brother] wrongs you seven times in one day and returns seven times saying, ‘I am sorry,’ you should forgive him” (17:4).
How difficult the challenge of forgiveness sounds to them! Yet, Jesus responds to their request for increased faith: “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you” (17:6).
Clearly, prayer rooted in deep faith can make the impossible a reality.
We are called to bring this Gospel challenge to our current situation. At this long moment in our country when mercy, forgiveness, and love seem to be completely missing in the public square, we must utter the apostles’ prayer: “Increase our faith!”
When faced with the temptation to withdraw or disengage from public life, we must pray, “Increase our faith!”
When, in our conversations with others, we ourselves feel the urge to refuse to model the respect we want to see; or to attack the person instead of discussing the issue; or to use inflammatory language; we must call out, “Increase our faith!”
As followers of Christ, we are called to think and act differently, approaching dialogue with a spirit of love and respect for the dignity of others. In Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis offers these guidelines for dialogue within families. They would be truly transformational if applied in the public square as well.
In response to our cry, “Increase our faith!,” we must allow the Holy Spirit to guide us so that we may model love and mercy in our families, at our workplaces, and in the public square. We must also urge candidates and elected officials to engage in dialogue that is civil and respectful.
Civil dialogue means that when speaking with others with whom we disagree:
- We should begin with respect.
- We should decide neither to degrade the persons, characters, and reputations of others who hold different positions from our own, nor spread rumors, falsehoods, or half truths about them.
- We should be careful about language we use, avoiding inflammatory words and rhetoric.
- We should not assign motives to others. Instead, we should assume that our family members, friends, and colleagues are speaking in good faith, even if we disagree with them.
- We should listen carefully and respectfully to other people.
- We should remember that we are members of a community, and we should try to strengthen our sense of community through the love and care we show one another.
- We should be people who express our thoughts, opinions, and positions—but always in love and truth.
If we can model Christ’s love in our civil dialogue, we can begin to change the negative climate in our country during this election season, and beyond.
Increase our faith!
As an individual and as a family, reflect on Pope Francis’ guidelines on dialogue and consider how you can put them into practice in your own conversations.