Dec 9, 2016
On Election Day, I made a Holy Hour at my parish, sitting with Jesus for a while. I didn’t pray for any specific outcome in the elections, but rather, I held up to him all the rancor, all the division, all the evil talk, all the scandal, all the weaponized ideology, all the difficult problems facing us, all the hardheartedness, all the barely suppressed contempt and hatred, and asked his mercy on us.
God makes paths through the tangled wilderness of life that we simply can’t see. I have experienced this many times, placing murky situations in his hands and trusting him to make a way. So it is here.
One of the things that came to my heart most powerfully during that hour of prayer was the need to be peacemakers after the election. That’s, of course, one of the beatitudes, and one of the definitive marks of the Christian life, and we all know this. But it’s hard to do right now.
A few days ago, I read a column in the Minneapolis Star Tribune by a guy who had decided to cut from his life every person who voted for the candidate he opposed. He had disinvited someone from Thanksgiving dinner and had, via text message, told a relative, “We are done.” He knew the exact number of people in his precinct who voted for, in his view, the wrong person, and seemed disgusted to have to share a neighborhood, a city, a universe with Them.
That is just a dramatic case study for what is happening on a broad scale across political lines, and in fact has been happening for years. Yes, many people are seeing it in their city streets now. But it’s been happening in people’s Facebook friends lists for a long time. We seem to be coming apart, segregating ourselves, unable to reconcile our differences. Apart from a few odd ducks like me, we’re a 50-50 country, each half wanting little to do with the other.
I suspected before the election that the disturbing candidates we had chosen were a reflection of the problem, not the cause, and that the final tally would not solve anything. That has proven true, unfortunately. I have outspoken, often thoughtful friends on social media with a wide variety of points of view, and it’s as much a war zone today as it was Nov. 5. My liberal friends and my conservative friends seem to be living in entirely different realities.
So here are some preliminary thoughts on how we can be peacemakers in the midst of it.
Know what peace is: Peace, in the Christian sense of the term, is not just going with the flow and trying to avoid conflict. It’s the tranquility that comes from a just order. So we cannot make peace by abandoning our convictions, abandoning the search for justice, but we can express and act on our convictions in peaceful ways.
Remember human dignity and solidarity: That notion that it’s intolerable having to breath the same air as someone who votes or thinks the wrong way? It’s from the devil. (Seriously.) Everyone we encounter is a masterpiece of God’s creation, someone he wills and loves from all eternity with a purity we cannot comprehend. We get nothing right if we get that wrong. One of the ways we “go to the margins” is meeting people where they are. We, as Catholics, often feel politically homeless, but we should make other people feel at home. We might even take St. Therese of Lisieux as a model, deliberately seeking out those who bother us as people to love.
Speak less, listen more: One of the greatest gifts we can give a person is really listening. Many people on both sides feel afraid or isolated or lost. Many feel misunderstood. Listening can really help. It can even calm anger. Listen more and our fewer words will be wiser, better ones.
Show mercy: Ever since that Holy Hour, I find myself drawn to a devotion I had let slip, the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Others have mentioned this to me as well. The Year of Mercy has passed, but mercy is still our path. Amid the rancor, we can forgive. We can bear wrongs patiently. We can console and encourage and ease people’s doubts. We can offer hope and meaning. We can genuinely pray for people, especially the ones we might struggle to like.
Humbly, meekly trust God: Sometimes it feels like we have to win at all costs, whether it’s an election or an argument or a cause or even someone’s respect, but that’s not true. We have to be faithful, self-sacrificing, loving and diligent in doing our best. But winning is, finally, God’s job, and nothing that happens is a surprise to him or beyond his ability to handle. Jesus is our peace, and if we stay close to him, peace is what we will have.
Have joy: When we measure the events of this world by the Paschal Mystery — by the cross and resurrection of Jesus — we discover there is no need for fear and gloom. We can approach even our difficulties with joy. If we are “sour-faced saints,” it suggests we are not really living in God’s will, after all.
Obviously, all of this is easier said than done. (I certainly have my failures.) But I believe if we do our best, God will meet us in our efforts, despite our halting steps and stumbles.
Kyle Eller is editor of The Northern Cross. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.