If your Christmas or New Year’s celebrations were marred by disunity among family members, you’re not alone. According to Forbes, more than a quarter of Americans were expected to experience some heated holiday discussions.
As Catholics we’re called to be Christ to others, even others on a different political or religious spectrum. Father Aaron Wessman, first vice president of Glenmary and author of “The Church’s Mission in a Polarized World,” suggests the way forward in this situation is a “virtue of curiosity.”
“One of the great virtues is the virtue of curiosity,” Father Aaron says. “We need to accept that living in a polarized world makes it difficult for us to be curious about the other; because of group dynamics, because of the intense feelings that we experience from uncertainty to fear, to even anger, because of the way we’re getting our information today from various media outlets. It’s very difficult for us to be curious today. On the other hand, curiosity is extremely important for us to maintain in a world in which we’re interacting with so much diversity.”
Father Aaron says we can embody the spirit of curiosity by keeping an open mind, giving the benefit of the doubt and by asking questions with the intent to listen.
“It’s important to recognize the inherent dignity of every person,” Father Aaron says. “Part of respecting them and recognizing their dignity is seeking to understand why they hold positions that they do. Why is this aspect of Catholic liturgy important to them? Why is this prayer important to them? Why do they go to this parish? Why are they moved by this saint? The same translates into the political realm. Really ask a person, ‘what are your opinions? What are your positions?’ Listen with an open heart and recognize that those positions are connected to their story.”
When sitting across from an argumentative uncle, this is easier said than done, but Father Aaron says Jesus is clear. Unity can evangelize. Disunity drives people away.
“We are united because of who we are as a Church,” he says. “But we become obsessed with small differences within the Body of Christ, and then what might even be considered as personal preferences. We’re attacking fellow members of the Body of Christ because we’re afraid of all the people who are leaving. What that does is that makes the Body of Christ even less attractive.”
If we can begin to understand each other perhaps we can recapture lost unity and make the world more receptive to the Christian message.
“There will also be differences, no doubt about it, even disagreements, sometimes strong disagreements,” Father Aaron says. “But that doesn’t mean you still can’t live together. It doesn’t mean that you still can’t accomplish something for the common good together.”
This story first appeared in Glenmary’s Cultivate newsletter.