Fr. Ed Dougherty, M.M., The Christophers’ Board of Directors
Foster Friendship Despite Differences
At a 2016 World Youth Day prayer vigil in Krakow, Poland, Pope Francis told young people, “Today we adults need you to teach us, like you are doing now, how to live with diversity, in dialogue, to experience multiculturalism not as a threat but an opportunity…Have the courage to teach us that it is easier to build bridges than walls.”
It was the Jubilee Year of Mercy, and Francis lamented what is too often an absence of mercy in public discourse today. He implored young people to take a different approach, saying, “We are not here to shout against anyone. We are not about to fight. We do not want to destroy. We do not want to insult anyone. We have no desire to conquer hatred with more hatred, violence with more violence, terror with more terror.”
A year before the event, Francis had encouraged young people to focus on performing one corporal work of mercy a month to prepare for the gathering. It was an appropriate way to ready the soul for such an important spiritual pilgrimage, and it is also a perfect way for each of us to cultivate the disposition needed for civil discourse.
Francis’ call at World Youth Day for young Catholics to take the lead in demonstrating how to relate to people from different backgrounds and belief systems remains relevant, yet practicing civil discourse under challenging circumstances is a constant struggle. A first principle to remember when we have profound differences with others is that it is not our job to convert people by winning arguments that seem to be going nowhere. The Holy Spirit converts people’s hearts. It is our job to give witness to the truth and plant seeds of the Gospel’s hopeful message wherever we can.
Christ said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30) And what a light burden it is to realize we are not on our own in winning people to the truth. Christ also said to the disciples, “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.” (Matthew 10:14)
One way to apply that principle to our own lives is to be willing to agree to disagree with people when a confrontation is going nowhere. This principle is particularly helpful in regard to petty conflicts where it doesn’t really matter in the greater scheme of things who is right or wrong. But even in regard to larger matters, we need to be willing to walk away from a conflict and ask the Holy Spirit to work on people’s hearts. Agreeing to disagree even on larger matters can facilitate friendships to remain intact despite our differences, and sometimes the friendship we offer to people and the good we do for them does more to plant those seeds of hope in their lives than any argument we might present.
This truth is exemplified in Francis’ words to young people: “In the face of evil, suffering and sin, the only response possible for a disciple of Jesus is the gift of self, even of one’s own life, in imitation of Christ; it is the attitude of service.”
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