Replacing “Clamorous Discord” With Love and Mercy

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!


Going Deeper

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.

Encourage civil dialogue in your parish. Include the civil dialogue insert in your bulletins in English and Spanish.

Show the video reflections by Cardinal Wuerl and by Franciscan Media on civil dialogue at the end of Mass, in a place where parishioners gather, or as part of scheduled parish events

Our Dual Role as Disciples and Americans: the Call to Participate

7-342-Catholics-Care-Catholics-Vote-1Today’s readings and the celebration of Independence Day tomorrow remind us of our dual role as disciples of Christ, and as Americans, and the call to participate in public life as an important way of assisting God’s work to transform the world around us.

In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah (66:10-14c) reflects on the long suffering experienced by God’s people during their time in exile, and describes God’s vision of comfort, restoration, and peace. In what ways do Isaiah’s words of longing resonate with us as we seek to free our communities and world from the oppression of poverty, war, and other violations of human life and dignity?

Yet, the Psalmist reminds us, “Say to God, ‘How tremendous are your deeds!’” (66:3) and Paul proclaims that “new creation” is possible for all in Christ Jesus (Galatians 6:15). We might ask ourselves: how are we called to be part of God’s tremendous deeds as he seeks to transform all of us—including the broken systems and structures that lead to suffering in our world today?

Like the seventy-two disciples sent by Jesus in today’s Gospel (Luke 10:1-12, 17-20), we are sent on a mission. Pope Francis reminds us:

An authentic faith . . . always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better than we found it. We love this magnificent planet on which God has put us, and we love the human family which dwells here, with all its tragedies and struggles, it hopes and aspirations, its strengths and weaknesses. The earth is our common home and all of us are brothers and sisters. If indeed “the just ordering of society and of the state is a central responsibility of politics,” the Church, “cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice” (Joy of the Gospel, no. 183).

In their statement on political responsibility, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the U.S. Catholic bishops point to Pope Francis’ words to remind us that working to transform the world around us is part of “our baptismal commitment to follow Jesus Christ and to bear Christian witness in all we do” (no. 13).

An important way to do this is through our participation in the public square. The bishops give a number of examples of how we can participate:

  • “running for office”
  • “working within political parties”
  • “communicating [our] concerns and positions to elected officials”
  • “joining diocesan social mission or advocacy networks [and] state Catholic conference initiatives”
  • “joining…community organizations,” and
  • “other efforts to apply authentic moral teaching in the public square” (no. 16)

This Fourth of July, let’s celebrate our dual roles—as disciples of Christ, and as Americans. Then let’s work to change the world.

Going Deeper

At FaithfulCitizenship.org, you can read the U.S. Catholic bishops’ statement on Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship and access resources to help your faith community participate, including videos, bulletin inserts, do’s and don’ts during election season, and more.

As we conclude the Fortnight for Freedom (June 21-July 4), reflect on the inspiring public witness of numerous saints and martyrs, including Blsd. Oscar Romero, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, St. Maximillian Kolbe, Ven. Henriette Delille, and others.

Civilize It: Dignity beyond the Debate

Archdiocese_Civilize_It_LogoI am sure that, on any given day in the U.S. Catholic Church, faithful members are calling their congresspersons, meeting with legislators at their Statehouses, and assembling in their parish halls to write letters. They are advocating at all levels of government on such issues as protecting unborn life, capital punishment, clean energy, religious liberty, and affordable housing.  What’s equally amazing?  We can imagine that two parishioners somewhere are in a lively dialogue about their opposing views on such matters.  These two people are clearly committed to their principles.  But, refreshingly, they are not threatened by the conversation.  In fact, they each want to know if the Holy Spirit has something to say through the experiences of the other person!

This is faithful citizenship in action. It’s promoting God’s vision for life, dignity and care for creation through civic life while recognizing the goodness in those who disagree with us.  As Pope Francis said to Congress, “All political activity must serve and promote the good of the human person and be based on respect for his or her dignity” (Address, Sept. 24, 2015).

Yet, few would dispute that, with each election season, faithful citizenship becomes more of a challenge. Heightening antagonism and polarization can tempt you and me to abandon our Christian behavior with each other. As my Archbishop recently shared in the newspaper:

One of the songs we sing in our churches includes the refrain, `Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.’ A fundamental cause of all the negativity we face in our national conversation is the speed at which we confidently point fingers at others as the source of our problems. We need to look humbly to ourselves first… We must engage in dialogue with the person who has a view differing from our own. The Lord is active in all our lives, so respect demands that we at least try to understand where the other is coming from. (Archbishop Dennis Schnurr quoted in the Cincinnati Enquirer, May 15, 2016).

 

The content and tone of our political conversations must not be left up to political candidates and the media. We can make clear the type of rhetoric we expect from those honorably seeking public office, and we can exemplify respectful dialogue with each other.  As a Church, we can help shape the public discourse.

buttonTo that end, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati has launched a new campaign, Civilize It: Dignity beyond the Debate.  We invite everyone to join the movement and take the pledge at www.civilizeit.us.

As the webpage explains, “Civilize It is a non-partisan movement and a call for all of us to help change the tone, follow our faith, and quiet the quarrels in our day-to-day lives.”

In the Archdiocese, we’re handing out Civilize It campaign buttons, car magnets, t-shirts and yard signs.  Parishioners have signed letters to our candidates, urging them to keep their campaigns respectful and to consider the full slate of Catholic social teaching in their platforms.

Wherever you are, take the pledge! Share it!  Tell yourself, friends and family that you are part of a movement to infuse civility, clarity and compassion into our political engagements.

Instead of allowing another election year divide American Catholics further, let’s first and foremost respond to the goodness of Christ in each other.

As Pope Francis exclaimed, “No to warring among ourselves!” As we faithfully live out our consciences in the public square, “[l]et us not allow ourselves to be robbed of the ideal of fraternal love” (Joy of the Gospel, nos. 98-101).  Let’s Civilize It!Tony Stieritz at Archdiocese

 Tony Stieritz is the Director of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s Catholic Social Action Office


Go Deeper!

Learn more about civil dialogue with these resources:

 

Party Politics and the Body of Christ

Tom ChapmanMy doctor was smiling as I woke up from the anesthesia. “You must have a very interesting job, Tom,” my doctor said. “You help people with the formation of their conscience and encourage them to take action? Very interesting.”

I finally realized I must have been giving part of a “Faithful Citizenship” presentation in my sleep. As a state Catholic Conference director, that says something about my interest in the subject!

Every election cycle brings many requests from parishes for presentations about “Faithful Citizenship” and what the Catholic bishops have to say about our political activity as laypeople.

Catholics who take the time to attend these presentations often identify strongly with a particular political party. So one of the first things I do is ask attendees to put aside their political party, and take on their identity as a member of the Body of Christ. We discuss political issues and the principles of our social teaching as Catholics first.

It’s essential we do so. Political party talking points are just that. They are shorthand sound bites designed to inflame the base and drive people to one side or the other of an issue.

On the other hand, God speaking to us through Scripture gives us some pretty clear direction: “You shall not kill.” We are to “bring good news to the poor, liberty to captives, new sight to the blind, and to set the downtrodden free.” Our cause, as Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship says, “is the defense of human life and dignity.”

The principles of Catholic social teaching – dignity of the human person, subsidiarity, the common good, and solidarity – frame how the Church considers specific issues and invite reflection on the best specific response.

Some are fearful about what this fall’s presidential general election will mean for our country. But what a critical time it is to consider why and how our Catholic faith is calling us to get involved in politics, discuss the very real challenges we have in society, and figure out what we can do to meet those challenges. The message of the Church is needed now more than ever.

Politics doesn’t need to be a dirty word. We can be the ones who help others inform their conscience, find their voice, and take their faith everywhere, even the voting booth. Maybe even talking in our sleep!

Tom Chapman is Executive Director of the Iowa Catholic Conference.


Go Deeper!

For more on forming our consciences, see this handout in English and Spanish. Visit www.FaithfulCitizenship.org for additional helpful resources, including Part I and Part II summary of the bishops’ statement, homily helps and announcements, lesson plans, and more.

10 Tips on Dialogue from Pope Francis: A Challenge to Families…and Candidates?

amoris-fb-meme-5-4In Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis calls dialogue “essential” for family life.   His guidelines on dialogue are easily applicable to civil society as well.

Can you imagine how this election cycle might be different if we challenged ourselves, candidates, political parties, commentators, ourselves, and others to follow Pope Francis’ advice?

  1. Recognize the real “importance” and dignity of the other person. Recognize others’ right “to think as they do and to be happy.”  Pope Francis challenges us to acknowledge the values of the other’s “deepest concerns” and what he or she is try to say (no. 138).
  2. Try to understand where the other person is coming from: his or her pain, disappointments, fear, anger, hopes, and dreams (no. 137).
  3. Put yourself in the other’s “shoes”; try to “peer” into his or her heart. This is the starting point for dialogue (no. 138).
  4. Be ready to “listen patiently and attentively to everything the other person wants to say.”  Dialogue requires the “self-discipline” of waiting until someone is finished speaking before responding.  And, it means truly listening to what someone else is saying—not planning a comeback before the other person has even finished speaking (no. 137).
  5. “Keep an open mind.” We need not stick to our own “limited ideas and opinions,” but we must “be prepared to change or expand them.” Our goal is “synthesis” that enriches everyone involved in the dialogue.  We don’t seek unity in diversity, Pope Francis says, but rather “reconciled diversity” (no. 139).
  6. Our goal is to advance the common good. Respect and appreciation for the “other” are necessary prerequisites (no. 139).
  7. Try not to offend, and don’t vent. We must choose our words carefully, be sensitive to how others feel, and never seek to inflict hurt. We must also avoid a “patronizing” tone, which “only serves to hurt, ridicule, accuse and offend others” (no. 139).
  8. Love everyone. “Love,” Pope Francis writes, “surmounts even the worst barriers.”  When we come from a place of love, we can better understand others (no. 140).
  9. Base positions on beliefs and values, not on the desire to “win” an argument or be “proved right” (no. 140).
  10. Pray! True dialogue, Pope Francis reminds us, “can only be the fruit of an interior richness” nourished by our quiet time with God through reading, reflection, prayer, and “openness to the world around us” (no. 141).

These are challenging words from Pope Francis.  How might our own families be different if we took his words to heart? Our parishes?  Our neighborhoods? Ourselves? Our society? The current election cycle?

Pope Francis’ vision is a vision of joy-filled love. Let’s share it!Rauh headshot

Jill Rauh is assistant director for education & outreach at the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development.


Go Deeper!

Get more tips and resources on dialogue from the WeAreSaltAndLight.org page on Encounter.

Being “Sheep” Who Hear Jesus’ Voice

7-342-Catholics-Care-Catholics-Vote-1In yesterday’s reading from the Gospel of John, Jesus called us to be “sheep” who hear: “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.” (10:27-28). Are you a sheep who hears Jesus’ voice?

In Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the U.S. Catholic bishops emphasize the importance of hearing God’s voice—in particular, “the voice of God resounding in the human heart, revealing the truth to us and calling us to do what is good while shunning what is evil” (no. 17).

Another name for this voice is “conscience”—our “most secret core and sanctuary” where we are “alone with God, whose voice echoes” in our depths, revealing “that law which is fulfilled by love of God and neighbor” (Gaudium et Spes, no. 16).

Each one of us has this “secret core and sanctuary” where we can hear God’s voice. Yet, as all of us who are still on the path to sainthood can attest, “hearing” doesn’t usually come naturally—it’s something we work at for our entire lives.

When we have important decisions to make, such as deciding which candidates, policies, or platforms we should best support as Catholics and U.S. citizens, forming our consciences becomes all the more important—especially during an election season when candidates, parties, and super PACs spend millions trying to convince us that their side is right.

So how can we be sheep who hear?

First, in Faithful Citizenship, the bishops encourage us to begin with a sincere desire to embrace goodness and truth (no. 18).  We don’t engage in conscience formation simply to reaffirm or justify a conclusion we’ve already reached.

Second, we are called to study Sacred Scripture and the moral and social teachings of the Church.

Third, we must carefully examine facts and background information about various choices before us.

Finally (and really, throughout), we must pray and reflect, seeking to discern God’s will.

Conscience formation is a lot of work—but it’s a must for anyone serious about trying to hear and follow Jesus’ voice.

So let’s get to it.


Go Deeper!

Learn how Catholics across the country are putting their faith into action through civic engagement with Success Stories from WeAreSaltandLight.org.

For more on conscience formation, check out the Conscience Formation Bulletin Insert and Homily Suggestions for April 17, 2016.

Africa: A Tale of Two Elections

Hilbert headshotLast week the world witnessed two important elections that demonstrate Africa’s struggle to instate and protect the rule of law and accountable democratic governance. The recent elections in Nigeria and the upcoming process in Burundi are a study in contrasts.

On May 29 Nigeria inaugurated President Muhammadu Buhari. It was the first time in Nigeria’s 55 year history that it had conducted a peaceful and democratic transfer of power from one ruling party to another. The 2015 elections were peaceful and relatively free of fraud despite the real fear of post-election violence. Throughout the election, the Church in Nigeria was a constant voice for the common good. Church leaders met with both Presidential candidates to urge them to conduct a free and fair election.

President Buhari faces a host of serious challenges. The terrorist-insurgent group Boko Haram continues to attack mosques, villages and towns in the northeast of the country despite some recent successful operations by the Nigerian military and neighboring countries. Oil revenue makes up 53% of Nigeria’s federal budget and the fall in the price of oil has forced the government to make drastic budget cuts. The country ranks an abysmal 136 out of 175 countries in the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index. And although Nigeria is Africa’s largest oil exporter, 62.6% of its population lives in poverty. Life expectancy is only 52 years. Despite these challenges, the election gives Nigerians renewed hopes for positive change.

The successful elections in Nigeria contrast sharply with recent events in Burundi. For ten years Burundi has lived in relative peace under a democratically elected government, a unified national military, and a new constitution that provides for majority rule (demanded by the majority Hutu population) with solid safeguards against repression of the minority Tutsi ethnic population.

Recently, President Pierre Nkurunziza has intensified repression of political opposition leaders, independent radio stations and the press. He has created and armed a political youth group that attacks political opposition members, resulting in about 100,000 people fleeing the country. In 2014 the Parliament foiled the President’s attempt to change the constitution to allow him to run for a third term. This year the President announced his candidacy for a third term arguing that the parliament had elected him in 2005 for his first term and not the people. Demonstrations and riots broke out, leading to 20 deaths. Tensions led to a failed coup d’état against the President in May.

Throughout the past year Church leaders have spoken out repeatedly to oppose a third term an action that would violate the constitution and the Arusha peace accord that brought an end to the bloody civil war. After the coup attempt, the Church urged an end to the violence and the start of political negotiations to end the impasse. When the President launched his bid for a third term, the Church called for the elections to be postponed until peace was restored, radio and media outlets were reopened, and all civil and political rights were restored. The government has failed to reinstate the rule of law, prompting the Church to withdraw its clergy from the election monitoring teams and the local electoral committees.

In response, the government did not renew the tenure of a Catholic priest who was the head of the country’s national human rights commission. On May 31 the Archbishop of Bujumbura, the capital, was the victim of a failed assassination attempt. The Church now seems under attack because of its opposition to the President’s actions.

In April, Bishop Oscar Cantú, Chair of the Committee on International Justice and Peace, wrote a letter of solidarity to the Church in Burundi and another letter to National Security Advisor Susan Rice to urge the United States to support the positions that the Church in Burundi had taken to restore stability to the country.

The tale of two elections in Nigeria and Burundi demonstrates the challenges of fostering unity among diverse ethnicities and religious communities, building stable democratic governments, and establishing the rule of law. In both cases, the Church played a prominent role in lifting up the common good. The Church can be proud of its work to ensure fair elections.

Steve Hilbert is a policy advisor on Africa for the Office of International Justice and Peace at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.