Clearly, in his new book Let Us Dream, Pope Francis wasn’t speaking specifically about America’s 2020 political traumas, because the book was written many months before the tawdry events that have recently scarred so many of our cities – including the capital.
No, he wasn’t talking just about us. Even so, he seems well familiar with the lethal disease that currently affects our political discourse.
For instance, Pope Francis writes, “In times of crisis and tribulation, when we are shaken out of our sclerotic habits, the love of God comes out to purify us, to remind us that we are a people.”
Not strangers. Not opponents. Not enemies. Not antagonists. Not rivals.
No, we are first and foremost a people.
But in difficult times, he says, “a people can become oblivious to its own history.”
And that’s a dangerous thing, he notes.
When this happens, the center lives at the expense of the margins, people divide into competing tribes, and the exploited and disrespected might burn with resentment at the injustices. Rather than thinking of themselves as members of a people, we have competition for dominance, turning contrapositions into contradictions…Indifference, egotism, a culture of complacent well-being, and deep divisions within society, spilling out into violence—all these are signs that a people has lost awareness of its dignity. It has ceased to believe in itself.
Like I said, the Pope was not speaking about Democrats or Republicans when he wrote all of this. He wasn’t even referring to the United States or its citizens in particular.
Still, he seems to have nailed the diagnosis. This is precisely what ails us today: We have ceased to believe in ourselves as a people. And with each vitriolic Facebook post we spew…with each Twitter grenade we lob toward “the enemy”…we make things worse. We hack away at the foundations of our polity. We harden our hearts toward the Other.
Having said all that, then what’s the cure? What’s the path forward?
In a word, it’s synodality.§
Alas, it is not a simple solution the Pope proposes.
Among its key features, synodality requires this of us:
We need a respectful, mutual listening, free of ideology and predetermined agendas. The aim is not to reach agreement by means of a contest between opposing positions, but to journey together to seek God’s will, allowing [our] differences to harmonize.
Most important of all is the synodal spirit: to meet each other with respect and trust, to believe in our shared unity, and to receive the new thing that the Spirit wishes to reveal to us.
Sounds like hard work to me.* But there’s something about the Pope’s call to embrace synodality that I find appealing. It’s far more encouraging than anything I’m hearing these days from either side of the political aisle…or from any media pundit.
As I ponder the blessing in his wisdom, I am moved to take a small but practical step in promoting a spirit of synodality: I hereby pledge to avoid using social media in any manner that seeks first to divide, to accuse, or to inflame.**
I invite you, Dear Reader, to do the same.
§ The term synodality “comes from the Greek syn-odos, ‘walking together,’ and this is its goal: not so much to forge agreement as to recognize, honor and reconcile differences on a higher plane where the best of each can be retained.”
* It is certainly not the way of the world, the way of politics – which is characterized (in the Pope’s words) by “the spirit of conflict, which undermines dialogue and fraternity – [turning] contrapositions into contradictions, demanding we choose, and reducing reality to simple binaries. This is what ideologies and unscrupulous politicians do.”
** I am, of course, an imperfect human – so you may well find me falling off the wagon from time to time (particularly when it comes time to tweet my support of the SLU Billikens or St. Louis Cardinals).
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.