The mark of unity


Unity is supposed to be a mark, or identifier, of the Catholic Church. In our tradition there are four signs that we are the true body of Christ in history: we are one, holy, catholic and apostolic.
In other words, we are supposed to be united in affection and faith, reflecting God in our desire and action, universal in our mission and linked to the Apostles and the primitive Church in our inspiration. Each of these has its challenges. Unity, in particular, is always under strain since no collection of humans ever thinks and feels as one for long. But in an age of democracy, individualism and the worldwide Internet, we’re in special danger.
We might feel a warm unity in Church reciting the Lord’s Prayer and receiving Communion together. An hour later an argument over political issues can bring out passionate feelings that show us to be on different roads in the practical business of living. Do we love one another while facing those different directions?
Are we talking to each other? Listening to each other? Finding the face of Christ in each other?
An American bishop is said to have once remarked, “There is no such thing as a good Democrat.” The Nuns On the Bus tour in the election campaign that just ended made its Davenport stop at Democratic Party headquarters. What should an observer think?
The Catholic Church has been a vast and varied body for centuries. For most of that history, groups and individuals could go their own direction without affecting others in the Church for long periods. Eventually, there might be a need for authority to resolve a dispute but useful experience and learning could be built up in the meantime. Now, with nearly instant and universal communication webs covering the earth, little time or space is given to experiment. Everything is judged immediately from every direction. Authority is diffuse and truth hard to locate.
A half-century ago, as the Church was examining itself in the Second Vatican Council, we realized that dialogue — two-way communication — had to be our new way of proceeding. The simple one-way authority of command and obedience was dying as we found new understanding of human dignity in the Gospel. At first, dialogue was taken seriously only in our relations with other religions and faiths, not as a method within the Church; not among ourselves as believers. Pope Francis is trying to change that.
He seems to believe in the Holy Spirit within us, both personally and corporately — or, as Jesus says in the Gospel, that the kingdom of God is within and among us. He invited the world’s bishops in the extraordinary Synod on the Family to believe in the same way and to speak honestly from their own hearts. They did that in the synod’s first session last month. The result was tension, of course. But with mutual respect, that tension will be a sign of life.
It should be an example for all of us. In those passionate political differences we don’t need to condemn or dismiss one another. We must not do that. If we love one another we listen. We put our armor down and truly listen. One of us has one way of relating to the poor, for example, while another of us has a different way. We listen because neither of us is God. And such listening affects our acting. Call it compromise if you wish, but allow new life to emerge from our mutual love
This is a way of expressing the mark of unity in the Catholic family.
Frank Wessling

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