This past September, discord within the Church hit the news when Pope Francis addressed the criticism he has received during his papacy. At a meeting with fellow Jesuits on his trip to Slovakia, the pope was asked how he deals with people who look at him with suspicion.
“There is, for example, a large Catholic television channel that has no hesitation in continually speaking ill of the pope,” said Pope Francis. “I personally deserve attacks and insults because I am a sinner, but the Church does not deserve them. They are the work of the devil. I have also said this to some of them.”
While the pope did not specifically call out EWTN by name, many people quickly made the connection. After all, the two have not always seen eye to eye. It is true that, for years, EWTN has provided a great service by giving access to things such as daily Mass or praying of the rosary for many people who cannot attend these celebrations in person. It is also true, however, that it has created a safe space for those who disagree with things taking place within the Church to loudly voice their opinions and air their grievances.
For the almost nine years of his papacy, Pope Francis has been the target of many of those grievances. The situation has become a perfect example of the us-versus-them mentality that seems to be taking over not only society but also our Church.
Closer to Home
Here in the United States, that dynamic has also been playing out regarding the topic of who should or should not be able to receive the Eucharist, spurred on by the election of President Joe Biden. Some believe he should be denied Communion because of his stance on the issue of abortion.
Others argue that the Eucharist is not to be used as a weapon to punish people for their behavior or positions on issues. The US bishop are divided. Catholics, in general, are divided. And the debate of who is worthy of the Eucharist and who is not continues to capture the attention of both the Catholic and non-Catholic world.
Unfortunately, it is just how we seem to have become. It’s not only those in positions of authority who seem caught in this back-and-forth. It even plays out in families during the holiday season, making joyous celebrations rife with tension, stress, conflict, and behavior counter to the season’s message.
Pick an issue, any issue—immigration, COVID-19 vaccination, racial tensions, education—and you will find discord. We gather up the information that suits our narrative and attack those whose narrative doesn’t mirror ours.
What to Do?
And yet it shouldn’t be that way, especially this month, as we celebrate Christmas and the birth of Christ. The holiday is at the very foundation of our faith—Christ come to walk among us. Given that, you would think that is something we should be able to agree on and celebrate without division.
It is a time of inspiration, and these days, that seems to be high in demand. Information we can find. Inspiration? Not so much, lately.
That is why the Christmas season is so important. During his response about dealing with criticism, Pope Francis went on to explain how he tries to respond. “Yes, there are also clerics who make nasty comments about me. I sometimes lose patience, especially when they make judgments without entering into a real dialogue. I can’t do anything there.
However, I go on without entering their world of ideas and fantasies. I don’t want to enter it, and that’s why I prefer to preach,” the pope pointed out. “I go ahead, not because I want to start a revolution. I do what I feel I must do. It takes a lot of patience, prayer, and a lot of charity.”
“Patience, prayer, and a lot of charity” is a very good phrase to use as a mantra during this season and moving forward into the new year. Let us bring the joy and message of hope that we receive at Christmas and integrate it into our daily lives.
Consider the birth of Christ to be your pep talk to move forward with love and understanding when the burden of discord weighs you down. The birth of Jesus is the antidote to all of the discord we are carrying in our hearts. And it is a perfect moment for all of us to stop and reevaluate our role in the disagreements and disharmony we keep finding ourselves caught in.
After all, even some soldiers during World War I found a way to take a break from fighting to celebrate this blessed occasion of the birth of Christ, when they declared an unofficial truce on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in 1914. Let’s try to find a way to follow their lead and then carry it into the new year.