We acknowledge and welcome President Joseph Biden as the 46th president of the United States of America and Vice President Kamala Harris as the 49th vice president. As Americans, we thank God that democracy prevails, despite an attack at our nation’s Capitol by some of our own fellow citizens.
Whatever our party affiliation, as Americans we pledge to respect the president, vice president and members of Congress elected to serve us. As faithful citizens, we also have a role to serve: ensuring the common good — “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily” (Gaudium et Spes, No. 26). We respectfully work with the Biden Administration on the issues in line with Catholic teaching and respectfully challenge our elected leaders on issues in opposition of that teaching.
In pursuit of the common good, we must first acknowledge our individual and collective roles in exacerbating the divisiveness that led to the attack. Now is the time to commit to civil debate and dialogue, in our interactions with family, friends, acquaintances and people whose views differ from our own. We cannot begin to advocate for life-affirming policies and legislation until we practice what we preach: respect for all life, including those individuals whose views oppose our own views.
Bishop Thomas Zinkula, in his Catholic Messenger Conversations podcast one week before the inauguration, shared some insights from Bishop Robert Barron in reaction to the storming of the Capitol. Some of the best qualities of our democracy are grounded in deeply religious principles, such as equality, freedom and the dignity of the individual human person, he said.
Those principles go by the wayside unless we examine the way we deal with our disputes, inside and outside the bubbles to which we belong. We do this through prayer, reflection and looking at ourselves, dislodging the plank in our own eye before going after the splinter in someone else’s eye, as Bishop Zinkula suggests. Then we move on to encounter and dialogue.
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (4:29-32) instructs us to “Get rid of all bitterness, all passion and anger, harsh words, slander and malice of every kind. In place of these, be kind to one another, compassionate, and mutually forgiving, just as God has forgiven you in Christ.”
This time of heightened anxiety — with the COVID-19 pandemic persisting and snags in vaccine distribution — calls for a re-launch of “Civilize It: Dignity beyond the Debate”
(wearesaltandlight.org/civilize-it), an initiative of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The initiative, launched a year before the 2020 national elections, provides a template to model civility, love for neighbor and respectful dialogue. It is “built on the recognition that every person — even those with whom we disagree — is a beloved child of God who possesses inherent dignity.” That includes the individuals who took part in or aided the attack on our nation and our democracy, and who must be held accountable for their actions in our judicial system. We are united in our resolve to see justice served, and so begin to heal our nation.
The Civilize It initiative calls us to pledge:
• Civility — to recognize the human dignity of those with whom I disagree, treat others with respect, and rise above attacks when directed at me.
• Clarity — to root my political viewpoints in the Gospel and a well-formed conscience, which involves prayer, conversation, study and listening.
• Compassion — to encounter others with a tone and posture which affirms that I honor the dignity of others and invites others to do the same. I will presume others’ best intentions and listen to their stories with empathy. I will strive to understand before seeking to be understood.
The Catholic Messenger received a letter to the editor from a self-described conservative who expressed fears about the animosity in our country and was afraid to sign his or her name. The Messenger does not publish unsigned letters. However, the letter writer’s conclusion speaks eloquently to our responsibility as faithful, American citizens.
“I will pray for a successful presidency for President Biden as I did for President Trump. It’s time to stop making those with opposing views the ‘enemy.’ We have but one enemy, Satan.”
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor