Editorial: As a Church, we can overcome our divisions

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In early December, USA Today printed an impressive special report titled “Hidden Common Ground,” in which it examined our country’s paralyzing polarization through the lens of an inaugural Public Agenda/USA Today/Ipsos poll.

The report marks the start of the Hidden Common Ground project, an initiative led by the parties above that involves monthly research and analysis on a quest to find productive solutions to the country’s divisions. We salute them for these much-needed efforts.

The lead article, titled “Divided we fall?,” offers some insight into their initial fact-finding.

“By overwhelming margins, those surveyed said national leaders, social media and the news media have exacerbated and exaggerated [the country’s] divisions, sometimes for their own benefit and to the detriment of ordinary people,” it stated. “More than 9 of 10 — about as close to unanimity as a national poll usually reaches — said it’s important for the United States to try to reduce that divisiveness. Figuring out how to have a constructive conversation with folks on the other side would be a good start, most said.”

This is largely hopeful. People, in theory, reject division. But how can we get them to reject it in practice?

An accompanying op-ed by Indy Star columnist Suzette Hackney illustrates one small solution: sharing a meal as a way to begin conversation.

“We always say we want it to feel like a really great dinner party,” said Leah Nahmias, Indiana Humanities director of programs and community engagement. Indiana Humanities runs the program Chew on This, which brings people together to find common ground on some of the most divisive issues.

“Food creates a welcoming space. You might not always agree, but you are there to listen,” Nahmias said, adding that problems are solved “neighbor to neighbor. It happens with a group of 15 people at a time.”

This tactic could help overcome divisions among Catholics as well. We are a Church centered around a table and a meal, and based on an encounter between the world and our incarnate Lord. Why not make it a point to approach one another neighbor to neighbor?

In a wonderful 2017 pastoral letter, “Our Joyful Encounter with the Lord,” Archbishop Robert Carlson of St. Louis writes that an encounter with Christ can “transform the world.”

“When we begin to share [the love of Christ] in meaningful ways with everyone with whom we come in contact, the world is a better place and we have done our part to help overcome the despair that is prevalent in our society,” he said.

In order to share Christ, though, we must first encounter him ourselves. To that end, Archbishop Carlson advises regular reading of Scripture, frequent reception of the Eucharist and participation in Eucharistic adoration and going on retreat. But, the archbishop reminds us, there is an important caveat.

“That encounter is not the end,” he writes. “After we have encountered the Lord, we must remember this encounter as the source of our life and witness.”

Meeting Jesus is the first step. Growing in relationship with him is a lifelong journey. Sharing him with others is our calling. And is there any better time to recommit to this journey than at Christmas? During this season, the Prince of Peace enters our world and our hearts in a special way. In contemplating the Incarnation, we are reminded that it is only through him — the Way, the Truth and the Life — that we can achieve unity as a Church, as a nation and as a world.

So as you sit down to Christmas dinner this year, preparing for your own face-to-face encounters with loved ones, be sure to give thanks and praise to the babe in the manger, who showers our world with light and life. Through the Word made flesh, we are able to know peace, love, goodness, kindness and generosity — all the virtues needed to make our world a better place.

“For a child is born to us, a son is given to us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace. His dominion is vast and forever peaceful, upon David’s throne, and over his kingdom, which he confirms and sustains by judgment and justice, both now and forever” (Is 9:5-6).

Merry Christmas.

Our Sunday Visitor Editorial Board: Gretchen R. Crowe, Scott P. Richert, Scott Warden, York Young

Our Sunday Visitor Editorial Board

The Our Sunday Visitor Editorial Board consists of Father Patrick Briscoe, OP, Gretchen R. Crowe, Matthew Kirby, Scott P. Richert and York Young.