We belong to each other. This is everybody's fight.
Any mom will tell you that there is a copious amount of wrestling and bickering that happens on a daily basis between siblings. Many moments of the day for each of my boys are spent boldly declaring whatever injustice has been committed against himself at the hands of the other. In particular my two oldest have a special and unique love/hate relationship (heavy on the hate). Of course they don't really hate each other. I'd even venture to say that they love each other (in the formal definition of the word) but its clear to see that most days they have a hard time liking the other very much. As such it's hard to maintain any semblance of peace in our home most days. As a parent it can feel quite discouraging and hopeless. But then sometimes, you get a glimpse of the truth, of what you can only hope is a future of fraternal love and you hang on to it like a rope on the side of a mountain. I had such an experience last week. My boys went to shadow at a school they may be attending next year and while there on the playground something
(I swear I'm not making this up.)
"He was going to eat me mom! And do you know who came to my rescue?
MY BIG BROTHER!"
(Commence motherly gushing)
The clincher? When the lion boy asked my older son why he was saving the younger he replied, "because he belongs to me! He's my little brother."
Even more miraculous than the event was the time of 'brotherly love' that followed this situation once they got home. They got along, they were patient with each other and instead of only seeing what the other had taken from them they looked for ways that they could give to each other. They weren't even aware they were doing it but the playground drama had strengthened their relationship. Sure, it only lasted until dinnertime but I'll take what I can get.
"If we have no peace, it's because we have forgotten that we belong to each other." - Mother Teresa
Her words have a striking poignancy in these trying days, don't they? We are so much like bickering brothers. The political atmosphere is thick with malice and vitriol. We are as polarized as ever, ripping farther and farther from each other as November draws near. We jump from one issue to another on the stones of social media and then we hurl them at each other without any pause for self reflection or recourse to the truth. Isolation, narcissism, entitlement and greed have built high stone walls around beings intended for communion. We have forgotten that we belong to each another and we have anything but peace in our hearts and on our streets.
"Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for (someone) to devour. Resist him, steadfast in faith, knowing that your fellow believers throughout the world undergo the same sufferings." -1 Peter 5:8-9
Where do we go from here? Can we recover any semblance of unity? I think we can. I hope that we can. One of the identifiable marks of a Christian is hope, not as some superficial optimism in things we think unlikely but as a confidence in the things we know to be true but have not yet seen. Will a recovery happen in the near future? Barring some major event I think not, but that doesn't mean we are helpless. It is easy to write off the troubles of our days because we feel helpless. "What can I do?" The words ring in my ears daily. At best, I can pray, which undoubtedly is the greatest thing we can be doing (but by no means is the only thing we should be doing). At worst, I can give up, crumble under the weight of the present moment turn into myself even more and push myself away from my neighbor. Despair is tempting but we can't let it overcome. So then, what can we do? Here are a few places to start.
Remember who you are.
Be a witness to beauty.
You may not have a national platform in which to share the good news but you have more power than you think. Even though we are more connected than ever it is very easy to become isolated in our own lives and to think that we are alone. Many people are afraid to stand for the truth because they fear being persecuted for their "unpopular" beliefs. When we are all silent about the truth it can seem like we are all alone in the fight and that no one will come to our defense. Being a witness does not require passing law, nor does it require a wide audience. What we need now are those in their own homes, neighborhoods, schools, offices, on social media to live beautiful lives. Note: by beautiful I do not mean perfect. We are all broken and there's no use pretending we aren't. When we strive to live good, true and beautiful lives and we do so without fear in the presence of others we become a beacon of hope for those who feel alone. Love your family, pray together, frequent the sacraments, share your testimony, tell people about Jesus and what He's done in your life, raise kind and courageous children, give to your community and seek the truth with charity. This is the kind of beauty that changes the world.
Have real conversations.
We've all had the experience of having disagreements with family members over the dinner table. This is a markedly different experience than fighting with a stranger who you see only as the enemy. When you and uncle Al get into it over politics at thanksgiving voices may be raised and stuffing may fly but one thing is sure, you'll both be back next year for round 2. Why? Because you belong together! When you disagree with someone you love you want to find a resolution founded in the common good and that is the start of a 'real conversation.' Will we still disagree? Without a doubt. But when we disagree over the dinner table as opposed to the boxing rink we are bound to come to charitable resolutions. It's hard to hate when you're passing the butter. Then, when we can realize that we are all connected we can begin the real conversation. All too often I hear from those who disagree with me on a social issue that it 'shouldn't matter to me because said issue doesn't affect me." We cannot have it both ways! Either these issues do NOT affect the greater culture or each of us personally, in which case they should not be made into civil rights issues or they affect us deeply and personally and change the fabric or our culture and should be treated as such. This is true regardless of what 'side' of the issue you fall. When we recognize this we can approach these issues together seeking the truth as a family and come to real, true and loving conclusions.
There are some areas where it may not be possible to have any real collaboration in the foreseeable future. Even families sometimes hurt each other in ways that are not resolved easily. For these very difficult situations we need to be fasting for our brothers and sisters and for ourselves. Fasting brings about charity and clarity and leads to spiritual breakthroughs that are otherwise impossible.
To love is to will the good of the other. CCC 1796 It is not a feeling, it is not a license for sin. Begin with love. End with love.
Reminding ourselves that 'we belong to each other" is not to be confused with 'can't we all just get along.' The issues that are at the forefront of our disagreements are substantive and very real. They cannot be swept over in some false attempt at peace that looks like mere tolerance. Seeking the truth together in love is difficult but necessary. And in the end we can hope that it is those who we most adamantly disagree with, about whom we can say "He belongs to me."
"Those who tell the Truth love you. Those who tell you what you want to hear love themselves." - Mother Angelica