Polarization, division, and finger-pointing continue to seem to be the order of the day on the national level. Unfortunately, it is taking a firmer hold at the community and familial level and within the Church as well. Instead of looking for someone to blame for the cause of this situation, we need to look in the mirror and honestly assess how we are contributing to division instead of seeking to uphold the motto of the United States of America – E Pluribus Unum – Out of Many One; or instead of upholding the motto of our faith – “That they may all be one” (John 17:21).
We need to take a step back, take a breath, and examine our conscience and honestly acknowledge how we are contributing to divisiveness and polarization in our own thoughts, words, and actions. Then we will be in a better position to act instead of react. We can disagree and offer different points of view, seek different approaches to solve problems, but we can do so with an openness to work together when we begin by respecting the dignity of the person we encounter.
A beginning place for us this Lent can be to understand and put into practice what Jesus said in the opening of today’s Gospel:
“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Lk 6:36)
Mercy, from the Hebrew word chesed, meaning to show tender compassion, can help us to turn the momentum away from disunity and polarization toward respecting the gift of our diversity while at the same time embracing our unity. Fr. James Keenan, S.J. defines mercy as the willingness to enter into the chaos of another. Instead of imposing our point of view, mercy is the willingness to accompany, to come to know and make a concerted effort to understand another.
Instead of prejudging someone, mercy is a willingness to hear first and assess thoughtfully what has been said, even when the message conveyed is heated, derogatory, and inflammatory. There may be some truth in the maelstrom of what has been spewed. Jesus also guides us to stop judging and condemning each other. We are limited by our own finite natures as it is. We are not God and are not capable of fully reading another person.
In most cases, we do not know another’s struggles, anxieties, fears, traumas, and experiences. When encountering one another we need to resist the knee-jerk reaction to judge, and instead, listen first, allow someone to vent without taking offense, and without seeking a way to “fix” them or the problem.
Jesus also reminds us to forgive. As God forgives us we are also invited to forgive others, to let go of grudges. Not to do so means allowing the poison injected into us to spread instead of seeking the healing antidote of forgiveness. The one who has wounded us has walked away and if we are not willing to forgive we continue to do harm to ourselves as we allow that wound to fester.
It is much easier to stay in our shell or bubble. We feel protected and safe so no one can hurt us, but that is not the posture Jesus would have us assume, for we are focused on our self. Staying in our bubble suffocates us, stunts our growth, and limits our potential as human beings created in the image and likeness of God. Jesus calls us, not to cave in upon ourselves, but to go out from ourselves, to be agents of love and mercy.
Each day we have a choice. We can withdraw and remain indifferent seeking to protect ourselves, we can choose to promote disunity and polarization, or we can seek to be merciful. We can follow the lead of Jesus so as to be more willing to encounter others as they are and accompany them. We can resist the temptation to judge and condemn, but instead seek to understand and listen. We can be willing to forgive, to heal, and to lead others to forgiveness. Let us choose today to be merciful just as our heavenly Father is merciful.
Image: A close-up of the painting, Divine Mercy, by Robert Skemp, 1982 – A good prayer to pray this Lent is the Jesus Prayer: Lord Jesus, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.