Our Mission to be Instruments of Unity in Society and in the Church

Pope Francis and new cardinals visit with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI at the retired pope's residence after a consistory at the Vatican Nov. 19. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano, handout)

Pope Francis and new cardinals visit with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI at the retired pope’s residence after a consistory at the Vatican Nov. 19. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano, handout)

At the consistory of cardinals on Saturday in Rome, Pope Francis placed great emphasis on the “virus of polarization and animosity” that we have witnessed in our time. Confronting these divisions and the Church’s role in all this was also a prominent theme when the Holy Father came here and addressed the U.S. bishops and Congress last year just as the election season was beginning.

If we did not take the Pope’s words to heart then, it would be good to pay heed to them now. Anyone who was hoping that the rancor of the political campaigns would subside with Election Day has been sorely disappointed. The last two weeks have seen angry demonstrations in the streets and on campuses, far too heated and irresponsible rhetoric has been voiced, and even families spending Thanksgiving together has been threatened. Within the Church too, albeit for different reasons, we have seen some signs of disunity. In the face of all this, there is need for us to be part of the solution, not contributors to the problem.

Before Congress, the Holy Father urged our nation’s leaders to “confront every form of polarization,” noting that the world is increasingly a place of conflict, as he called for a renewed spirit of cooperation and solidarity. The challenges before us, he added, “demand that we pool our resources and talents, and resolve to support one another, with respect for our differences and our convictions of conscience.”

When we come to the Church, Pope Francis said to the bishops, “‘the seamless garment of the Lord’ cannot allow herself to be rent, broken or fought over.” It is the Lord’s will that his Church be one as he and our heavenly Father are one (John 17:21-22) and the Successor of Peter reminded us that our mission “is first and foremost to solidify unity. . . to watch over that unity, to safeguard it, to promote it and to bear witness to it.”

Moreover, the Church’s unity is “a sign and instrument which, beyond every barrier, unites nations, races, classes and generations,” he said. Love, mercy, reconciliation – the ongoing dialogue to restore unity between people and between humanity and God – this is the way of Jesus Christ and his Church.

“It is an essential part of your mission to offer to the United States of America the humble yet powerful leaven of communion,” affirmed our Holy Father. “May all mankind know that the presence in its midst of the ‘sacrament of unity’ (Lumen Gentium, 1) is a guarantee that its fate is not decay and dispersion. This kind of witness is a beacon whose light can reassure men and women sailing through the dark clouds of life that a sure haven awaits them, that they will not crash on the reefs or be overwhelmed by the waves.”

As the storm clouds of antagonism batter our society and as people in this country – and even to some degree within our spiritual family – are being pitted one against the other, this message to foster harmony is one we all need to hear again and again.

For their part, the three main players in the nation’s political drama have all expressed agreement that this is the only way to proceed. President-Elect Donald Trump on election night called “for America to bind the wounds of division [and] come together as one united people,” while Secretary Hillary Clinton has asked people to “work together with respect for our differences.” President Barack Obama added that “we have to remember that we’re actually all on one team [and] what the country needs [is] a sense of unity, a sense of inclusion, a respect for our institutions, our way of life, rule of law, and respect for each other.”

The whole point of the Jubilee Year of Mercy just concluded was reconciliation. It was about bearing others with patience and forgiving those we believe have wronged us; it was about caring for other people regardless of who and what they are – caring even for those we do not agree with or even like – just as God loves us unconditionally.

Pope Francis told the bishops last year that he wanted this Holy Year to be “a privileged moment for strengthening communion, perfecting unity, reconciling differences, forgiving one another and healing every rift, that [our] light may shine forth like ‘a city built on a hill.’” That remains our charge. As Catholics, we have a special role to play. Let us be missionaries of reconciliation and unity to a world greatly in need of both.