(Originally posted here, on the website for the Cummins Institute, a part of St. Mary's College of California.)
“We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it” (Pope Francis, Laudato si,229)
The United States of America holds national, state, and local elections on November 8 after a campaign season marked by excessive vituperation. Though market-driven media has promoted the more negative aspects of the election cycle, the campaigns, especially for president, have unmasked to a greater degree than ever before the growing divisions in the American populace. Historically such a climate has been the breeding ground for recourse to simplistic national solutions that have had horrible consequences for human rights. It is incumbent on all Americans, starting on November 9, whatever the outcome of the election, to strive for common ground and understanding of those on the other side of social and political divisions.
Our common striving will come only from the practice of charity, that is, unfeigned and zealous love for all. This is the hard lesson learned time and again by all good-hearted people tempted to discord in troubling times. There was a cry from the heart during the Reformation wars of religion in Europe, expressed by a Lutheran minister in Augsburg, which was subsequently simplified to the following: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” Saint John XXIII quoted it favorably in his encyclical On Truth, Unity and Peace in a Spirit of Charity (Ad petri cathedram, June 29, 1959, section 72) and it has circulated in Catholic circles ever since. I once heard Cardinal Bernardin relate it in response to a request that he condemn the activity of a local parish. While the original context of this expression was religious division, its insight holds true for any community bound together by shared beliefs and experience. There is no gainsaying its logic. In our present circumstances, while we Americans work toward agreed essentials in political and social arenas, let charity win the day, every day.
May Americans craft a prayer like that of Pope Francis at the Joint Ecumenical Commemoration of the Reformation, celebrated by the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church on 31 October 2016, in Lund, Sweden. The Pope ended his homily with an invitation to shared prayer and a commitment to peace.
Moving from conflict to communion: While we are profoundly thankful for the spiritual and theological gifts received through the Reformation, we also confess and lament before Christ that Lutherans and Catholics have wounded the visible unity of the Church. Theological differences were accompanied by prejudice and conflicts, and religion was instrumentalized for political ends. Our common faith in Jesus Christ and our baptism demand of us a daily conversion, by which we cast off the historical disagreements and conflicts that impede the ministry of reconciliation. While the past cannot be changed, what is remembered and how it is remembered can be transformed. We pray for the healing of our wounds and of the memories that cloud our view of one another. We emphatically reject all hatred and violence, past and present, especially that expressed in the name of religion. Today, we hear God’s command to set aside all conflict. We recognize that we are freed by grace to move towards the communion to which God continually calls us” (“Joint Statement on the Occasion of the Joint Catholic-Lutheran Commemoration of the Reformation,” Lund, October 2016,http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/homilies/2016/documents/papa-francesco_20161031_omelia-svezia-lund.html, Nov. 5, 2016)
Pope Francis was recalling the armed conflict following the spread of the Protestant Reformation and ending a century later in the Thirty Years War. In the wake of the American election, citizens are playing with fire if they think that they have the luxury of sinking into armed camps, figuratively or literally as some groups have already expressed. Time and again history has shown the results of such folly.
The expression is traceable to Peter Meiderlin (d. 1651). See Martin Schmidt, “Ecumenical Activity on the Continent of Europe in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries,” in A History of the Ecumenical Movement, 1517-1948, 2nd ed., Eds. Ruth Rouse and Stephen Charles Neill (Philadelphia: 1968), p. 82. See further, Steve Perisho, Theology Librarian at Seattle Pacific University, http://faculty.georgetown.edu/jod/augustine/quote.html, Nov. 5, 2016