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DEAR FATHER | Unity requires listening to each other, and God

Our culture is polarized. How can we bring people together?

Humans love competition. It’s natural to strive to rise above the crowds, even for moments of fleeting glory. Why else are there toe-wrestling competitions, extreme ironing and Finland’s “Wife Carrying Competition?”

Sometimes we take it too far. Four square games get out of hand. Little League “good game” handshakes become a chance to gloat. Some adults make everything into “hustle” and “the grind”: work, leisure, politics, driving and even CYC sports. Where else do kids learn to say, “We’re gonna kill St. Englebert’s this weekend”?

It’s important to acknowledge where we find our true worth. Many of us seek praise from people or things instead of receiving our value from God. We must be reminded that “the Lord delights in you” (Isiah 62:4), not in what we do or people say about us. We need to live this truth!

Only then can we “run so as to win” as St. Paul says (1 Corinthians 9:24), and strive for excellence because we understand what truly matters.

Whether we find glory or suffer defeat, remember Paul’s adage to seek the “imperishable” crown of heaven instead of the perishable trophies of this life.

There are instances when winning dominates and pollutes society. Think of conversations around politics, controversial topics and disagreements with Church teaching. Our competitive spirit can lead us to talk over one another, seeking to win a conversation instead of civil discourse. Walloping one another with “our side” isn’t helpful. We should seek to understand, listen and see the person on the other side of the table.

The way to bridge the divide in a polarized culture is to listen. Don’t try to win. Try instead to invite others to understand.

Church teaching can spark tension and discord. While we cannot water down the truth from Jesus and His Church, there are ways we can learn to accommodate others who have yet to understand the fullness of this truth. Can we be patient with them as they come to understand? St. Paul didn’t convince the Athenians. But some admitted, “We should like to hear you on this some other time” (Acts 17:32).

We’ll always have that drive to win and be right, but we need to temper those desires. Let’s recognize the influences and areas of life that cause us to become polarized, especially the internet and television. If we aren’t prudent with media consumption, these devices will only make us more divisive.

As disciples of Jesus, we need to take seriously His longing “that they may all be one” (John 17:11). We ask you, Lord, to show us how to bring Your healing love to the world through us. Let us be Your disciples of unity and peace.

Father Brian Fallon is the chaplain to the Catholic Student Center at Washington University and the director of vocations for the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

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