More on Civil Discourse

The days are evil. Yes, Paul they are. Pope John Paul II warned us that we live in the culture of death. Jesus ushered in the culture of life and, as in the reading from Wisdom, invites us into the house where choice foods and fine wines have been prepared for us. Jesus invites us in to eat his flesh and blood. He is our food for the journey into life.

Evil times, troubling days. Debates over financial recovery, immigration, and health care have destroyed the civility in politics. The angry few believe that whoever shouts the loudest and nastiest will win the debate. (I wonder how many of the angry few in the TEA Party and the UN-Fair Tax crowd are angry because a Person of Color is at the helm in the White House.)

Often, we get embroiled in the political fray and forget our Gospel values—love, forgiveness, patience, kindness. We go to church on Sunday and beat each other up the rest of the week. Remembering the old railroad crossing signs, we have to Stop, Look and Listen.

Paul had to deal with a community where there was controversy and debate. He had to remind the members of that community that Christian principles apply to everything in life—not just what happens in the pews for one hour on Sunday.

Paul has some really good advice for us today:

Brothers and sisters:
Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God,
with which you were sealed for the day of redemption.
All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling
must be removed from you, along with all malice.
And be kind to one another, compassionate,
forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.

So be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love,
as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us
as a sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma. (Eph 4:30-5:2)

There is no place for bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling. We are to be kind and compassionate (civil) to one another. We are to Imitate Jesus and live in love.

Gandhi is an excellent example of this. His nonviolence—active resistance to evil—is well known. He resisted evil with love in his heart. His goal was to have the British as friends when they finally would leave India. He understood that he had to absorb violence in order to overcome evil because he had only a piece of the truth and the opponent had a piece of the truth. He addressed the Hunter Committee:

I discovered in the earliest stages that pursuit of truth did not admit of violence being inflicted on one’s opponent but that he must be weaned from error by patience and sympathy. For what appears to be truth to one may appear to be error to the other. And patience means self-suffering. So the doctrine came to mean vindication of the truth not by infliction of suffering on the opponent but one one’s self.

Hmm! Patience (bearing suffering) and humility go a long way in civil discourse. It is only through genuine dialogue that we can come to the truth. We have to listen to the other.

Paul has further advice for us:

Brothers and sisters:
Watch carefully how you live,
not as foolish persons but as wise,
making the most of the opportunity,
because the days are evil.
Therefore, do not continue in ignorance,
but try to understand what is the will of the Lord. (Eph 5:15-16)

As disciples, we are to try to understand the will of God. In Forming Conscience for Faithful Citizenship, the American bishops have reminded us that we have a responsibility to form our consciences according to Christina norms. Unfortunately, we let the pundits and commentators on network news, cable news, and talk shows form our consciences.

We cannot just take what these pundits say and run with it. I was talking to someone at church the other day. We were talking about health care reform and out of the clear blue the person said, “Yeah, but we are losing all our liberties.” I said, “What liberties?” The person could not name one specific liberty we have lost. Then it hit me. That is what they are saying over and over again on television and talk radio. It must be true!

Our responsibility is to understand the will of God. In any debate over the best way to achieve a goal, we must be guided by Gospel values—respect, love, peace, mercy, compassion, justice and civil discourse. There is still room for dialogue over the best way to apply Gospel values so that, for example, the 46 million Americans who do not have adequate health care will receive it. As disciples, we cannot just go along with the talk show flow.

We are a Eucharistic people. We listen to the Word of God. We come to the table of God. We eat Jesus flesh’ and drink his blood. This is our commitment, our proclamation that we are breaking the cycle of violence and incivility. Jesus is broken on the altar so that we might be healed. Eucharist nourishes us and strengthens us so that we can live as wise people in the culture of death. Jesus broke the cycle of violence by absorbing evil upon the Cross. He showed us the way to life and the path to civil discourse.

The choice is ours. We can continue to live as pew potatoes and outshout our opponents or we can choose to be disciples by living Gospel values. Love one another. Love, live patiently, and, if necessary, forgive one another.

Leave a Reply