Greg Erlandson

“I think it’s a great opportunity.”

I was bemoaning the state of a country divided almost down the middle. The election that so many people thought was for the soul of the country or for its future instead revealed that we are divided almost 50-50. The priest I was talking with agreed. And then he said, “I think it’s a great opportunity.”

“Wait, what?” I responded. “We’ve got red versus blue, coasts versus heartland, rural versus urban. It looks like we’ll have a divided Congress, a distrustful electorate, resentful losers and frustrated winners. Where’s the great opportunity?”

“We are going to have to work together,” he said. “We don’t have a choice.”

Lord knows, we’ve tried everything else. We’ve tried to thwart each other, taunt each other, libel each other, dismiss each other. We’ve rejected each other’s news sources, each other’s values, each other’s leaders. We’ve delegitimized each other. We fantasize about secession or emigration. We hate each other.

How’s that been working out for us?

We’re going to have to work together. As the saying goes, America can always be counted on to do the right thing … once it has exhausted all the other alternatives. I say we look pretty exhausted now.

My friend thought the church could really be of help here. We have our divisions, too. They’ve been worse than usual recently. Yet what binds us together is that our unity is based on something beyond us, on the person of Christ.

We kneel in the same pews. We share the same Eucharist. We pray the same prayers. Our unity is based on something, on someone, so much bigger than we are. And the lessons that the church teaches — humility, prayer, encounter, service — are the lessons that contribute to our unity.

Right now, we can’t fix everything that is broken in this country. But we Catholics can show a way forward.

It starts with humility, with the admission that we are not infallible. That we are not little gods. That we may not know everything. It is the recognition of our own fallen nature.

This leads us to prayer. And we learn the hard lesson of praying for others, for those we don’t like, for the leaders we disagree with, for the family members who support those leaders. To genuinely pray for them is hard. I know. It is hard for me.

Even harder is that we have to find a way to encounter the other apart from the red and the blue, apart from FOX and MSNBC, apart from the ideological biases we have.

For our nation to work, we need to get beyond the stereotypes and meet the people we don’t know, don’t trust, don’t respect. We need to talk like neighbors. We need to find those shared values that are there, even if expressed in very different ways.

And finally, we need to serve. We need to work together. Forget Congress. That may come later. Start in our communities, our parishes. Find out where the needs are, then find people who aren’t like us and figure out a way to meet those needs together. Start local, my friend said. Start small.

This could be the hidden blessing of the coronavirus right now. There is so much need, so many people hurting, homeless, hungry, sick. God has given us a need so obvious we can’t miss it.

In this season of thankfulness and gratitude we are now entering, maybe we can give thanks for what we have in common, for what we share. And we can resolve to do something more than complain.

It’s a great opportunity.

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Erlandson, director and editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service, can be reached at gerlandson@catholicnews.com.