Let’s face it: We’re exhausted. It is a profound fatigue that envelops people from the far right to the far left, and no matter the changes in personnel and policy made at the federal, state, or local level, nothing seems to remedy it. Just when we think we can rest for a spell and recharge our batteries on a societal level, some new tragedy or painful disappointment blows in, and we’re back to square one. So what do we do?
There’s been a lot of talk—and not nearly as much action—about the need for healing in our nation. With all the vitriol and aspersions cast from both sides of the aisle, and perhaps from across the dinner table during family meals, healing is a tall order. But we all know our society needs it, that it is the only true salve to the aforementioned fatigue. The question is how. We can look to our Catholic faith to guide us through these murky and messy times.
First Things First
Though we may wish we could, we cannot will healing into happening. We also can’t expect our elected officials to fix this for us. It’s going to take effort—and in equal measures from individuals across the political spectrum. At the core of this effort is reconciliation, something so important that it has a whole sacrament devoted to it in our faith. Our Catholic tradition places the Sacrament of Reconciliation after Baptism and before Communion, so many of us have carried the implications of this revered act within us for a long time. But what is reconciliation, really? It must go beyond saying “I’m sorry” or “I forgive you.”
Reconciliation is a two-way street. One person might forgive another, but unless that outreach is accepted and returned, there is no reconciliation. Even so, honest forgiveness is never wasted.
We humans would like our reality to be nice and tidy, with no annoying loose ends or unfinished business. And yet reality consistently presents us with the opposite scenario. There’s always something more (or less) we could have said, some fence that never was mended, a relationship that didn’t quickly end, but just dissipated.
When we reconcile with each other, we bind ourselves to each other and reaffirm the inherent value and dignity of the other person. With reconciliation, we free ourselves and each other, and we keep the door open to love, peace, and goodwill.
Pope Francis has referenced reconciliation many times since becoming pope. Considering how frequently reconciliation has figured in many of his writings and homilies, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that it’s one of the pillars of his papacy. In a general audience in April 2020, Pope Francis said that peacemakers are people “who have learned the art of peace and practice it, they know that there is no reconciliation without the gift of one’s life, and that peace must be sought always and in every case.”
In his encyclical, “Fratelli Tutti,” the words reconciliation and forgive (or related words) appear 15 and 28 times, respectively. “When conflicts are not resolved but kept hidden or buried in the past, silence can lead to complicity in grave misdeeds and sins,” Pope Francis writes. “Authentic reconciliation does not flee from conflict, but is achieved in conflict, resolving it through dialogue and open, honest, and patient negotiation” (244). The hard work of reconciliation is not only noble; it is nested in the Gospel call to plant the seeds of the kingdom of God on earth.
‘Ambassadors for Christ’
We live in precarious times, to be sure. A devastating pandemic and vicious political division have left us shaken, afraid, and vulnerable. Now is the time to be all the more vigilant of the dangers of extremism and lack of dialogue. With the assault on the Capitol on January 6 not nearly far enough away in the rearview mirror, we must remember how delicate the balance of a stable society is. As Americans, we are bound to each other as citizens. As people of faith, we are bound to each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. Reconciliation builds and strengthens those bonds.
May we not only seek to cleanse our own souls, but reach out and reconcile with those we find ourselves at odds with. Doing so brings us closer to each other and paves the way to healing. It also brings us all closer to God.
As St. Paul wrote: “So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor 5:20). And as “ambassadors for Christ,” we are called to do the hard work of healing our broken nation and our broken hearts.