Friday, March 15, 2013

A Civil Society?

I have been thinking a great deal lately about what makes society - either our American society, the worldwide society of humans, or my own Society of Jesus - civil. That is, what promotes our living well together?

Recently I read an essay by Jesuit Father John Courtney Murray entitled "Civil Unity and Religious Integrity." Granted that this essay was penned almost sixty years ago, it bears sharing:
In America we have been rescued from the disaster of ideological parties. They are a disaster because where such parties exist, power becomes a special kind of prize. The struggle for power is a partisan struggle for the means whereby the opposing ideology may be destroyed. It has been remarked that only in a disintegrating society does politics become a controversy over ends; it should be simply a controversy over means to ends already agreed on with sufficient unanimity
 For those who thought me uncharitable to Mr. Weigel in my last post, perhaps my frustration with his work arises from what I see to be precisely his seduction to this partisan grasping at power. In Weigel's world, the Church is divided into various camps - liberal/conservative, orthodox/heterodox - with each grasping at the power of the papacy, the power of various offices, the power of...it really doesn't matter. The grasp is for power. "When I'm in charge, I'm going to fix the the corruptions and abuses, reform the system....". We've heard it all before: every election cycle, every transition of CEO, and now with the change of pope.

Sometimes I look around the chapel at the 70+ Jesuits in my community and think, "Lord, you do exist, for only you could assemble such a crew. I know this isn't the group I'd pick!" This is a good realization for, no matter our differences or disagreements about how we preach the Gospel, how we promote the Kingdom, how we live out the mission entrusted to the Church, we do so with the common bond of being friends in the Lord, Companions of Jesus. Both in the name of our religious institute and in the depths of our hearts, we are held together by a single point: Jesus Christ.

Do we have such a lodestar in our own nation? It seems that we do not. If we can't sort out a budget, or have meaningful debate about immigration, healthcare, and guns, perhaps it's because we've disintegrated so far that we've forgotten how to talk to one another. Where our words, our reason, fail we resort to power grabs.

We need to re-learn how to talk to one another. Whether as a church or nation, we must keep three questions in mind:
  1. Who are we?
  2. Where are we going?
  3. How do we get there? 
What is our identity? What are we about? Are we a river or are we a swamp? Are we flowing along, albeit with rocks and obstacles in our way, obstacles slowly eroded over time, or are we just stagnant water? Do we have a purpose we can agree upon, a goal or destination, or have we given up hope for getting anywhere?

Shame on us if we expect one person to tell us where we're going. Near as I can tell, that's called a dictatorship and they never seem to end well. Pope Francis, bishop of Rome, eschewed a pedestal and stood on the same level to greet the cardinals who had elected him. We vote each cycle for the leadership who will move our country forward. We're in this, all of us, together and if we can't learn to talk to one another, to trust one another, there's no chance we'll go anywhere. The open horizon of the future that invites us to move forward with joy and innovation will become blotted out by clouds of despair and growing world-weariness.

In his first homily as the Holy Father, Pope Francis exhorts his listeners to movement: walking, building, professing. To do so as disciples on mission, however, is no easy task. Pope Francis notes that the way of discipleship proceeds, always, shadowed by the cross:
This Gospel continues with a special situation. The same Peter who confessed Jesus Christ, says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. I will follow you, but let us not speak of the Cross. This has nothing to do with it.” He says, “I’ll follow you on other ways, that do not include the Cross.” When we walk without the Cross, when we build without the Cross, and when we profess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord. We are worldly, we are bishops, priests, cardinals, Popes, but not disciples of the Lord.  
 Peter's reluctance to face the Cross was overcome only through conversation with and a radical conversion toward the risen Lord. As we continue our journey through Lent, a journey increasingly darkened by the shadow of the approaching cross, may we continue to pray, to converse, with the Lord and turn our hearts toward the One who leads us. Rather than grasping at a power which tells us what we own, let us be grasped by the power who makes us to be what we are and gives us an identity beyond all others: sisters and brothers in Christ, children of God, pilgrims moving toward the Kingdom.


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