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Can Catholics Lead In Healing the Nation?

by | Jan 8, 2021 | Formation, Reflections | 2 comments

There are times in our lives when we recognize that someone has hit the nail on the head. This morning I read John Allen’s reflection in Crux about an opportunity and a challenge for Catholics to play a major role in healing our deeply divided nation. Some excerpts…

To begin with, Catholicism is the lone major religious group in America where both sides of the nation’s political divide are roughly evenly represented. Overall, exit polls from the November election show that Catholics were almost evenly split between Biden and Trump, and those realities are readily apparent on Catholic social media platforms as well as traditional Catholic media outlets.

On a personal level, I’ve got American Catholic friends who are passionate Trump supporters and friends who are equally fervid critics, and both groups are composed of people with great minds and even better hearts. We live in a polarized world, and these friends of mine are certainly capable of looking on the other side with skepticism and even derision, but that’s them at their worst, not their best.

Imagine if the Catholic Church in America took on as a national pastoral priority to promote a campaign of healing – not “dialogue,” in the sense of fostering political debate, but the pursuit of friendship across tribal lines. Catholics are one-quarter of the national population, and when Catholicism in America moves with unity and purpose, the cultural landscape can shift.

Imagine if every Catholic parish in America were to become intentional about creating spaces where members of the competing tribes could come together and do something constructive – launch a soup kitchen, for instance, or build houses for Habitat for Humanity, or reach out to elderly Americans living in isolation and fear due to the Covid crisis, or to help meet any number of other urgent needs.

Over time, they might discover that someone’s opinion on whether Dominion Voting Systems machines did or didn’t delete Trump votes isn’t really the defining feature of their humanity.

Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington, D.C., seemed to hint in that direction in his comment on yesterday’s events, reminding believers they’re called to “acknowledge the human dignity of those with whom we disagree and seek to work with them to ensure the common good for all.”

One hopes that, in the aftermath of yesterday’s events, Catholics at the grassroots and at the top will take up this challenge, beginning with a pledge to avoid using the kind of public tone that stokes division. It was a Seventh Day Adventist, Senate Chaplain Barry Black, who closed the certification process with a prayer relevant for Catholics too: “These tragedies have reminded us that words matter, and that the power of life and death is in the tongue.”

Among other things, Catholic “influencers” out there — those with large Twitter followings, or TV audiences, or who help shape the conversation in other ways – would need to accept that yesterday was a reductio ad absurdum on a culture of acrimony, and that coming up with the best zinger of one’s ideological opponent in 280 characters is not a manifestation of virtue. Ordinary Catholics also would have to stop rewarding such displays with their eyeballs and their pocketbooks.

Can all that happen? Maybe, maybe not, but if it proves impossible in the Church, where our very identity is supposed to be rooted in being “catholic,” i.e., universal, what hope is there for the broader culture?

Maybe it’s providential that America is getting a Catholic president at a moment in which the ability to embrace diversity without division is especially crucial. In any event, if ever there was a potential “Catholic moment” in America, this would seem to be it.

Let’s hope we make the most of it.




  1. MaryAnn Dantuono

    A very hopeful perspective. I think many people in the Church would agree with you.

  2. Ross

    Thank you, John, for being another voice that stands up for healing. Thanks, too, for the concrete suggestions on how to be the healing that we want to see. Your reflection has helped me, I think, to pray more fervently Ps 51 that asks that my inmost being be renewed by putting one the new humanity that Jesus words and examples reveal to us.

    And I do need to repent for rashly applying Is 63, 17-18 (coincidentally from the Office of Reading for last Wednesday) to those who were protesting and rioting. I should not have even suggested that they were “wicked” and “our enemies.” For as Cardinal Wilton Gregory tells us, we are called to “acknowledge the human dignity of those with whom we disagree….” Like the Lutheran pastor (I mentioned him before in a comment) who was imprisoned by Hitler yet said afterward that Hitler looked like Jesus Christ, I must see also Jesus in those I dislike.

    I pray that God be as understanding and merciful with me as I suppose he was with those who said, “Happy those who seize their children and smash them against a rock” (Ps 137, 9). May he make me so experience deeply his mercy and understanding that I show mercy and understanding, too, toward all.


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