I waited in a long line yesterday to vote in my hometown of Erie, PA. My long wait gave me an unusual opportunity to sit still and reflect. I experienced tremendous unity while standing in that diverse line of people. After all of the nauseating commercials, advertisements and divisive language, there I was standing shoulder to shoulder with my neighbors preparing for the common civic duty of voting. It was a particularly respectful and charitable public moment. People were holding doors for one another and waiting patiently. At that moment I was not particularly concerned about the political ideologies of the elderly woman in front of me or the young man behind me. Our greater purpose for the day transcended the limits of our individual agendas. As I stood in line I was reminded of the wisdom shared at a recent Theology on Tap session in my Campus Ministry, during which a political science professor reminded students that Jesus specifically asks us to love our neighbor. “Neighbor” could be a broadly understood concept, but at its initial understanding this is about the people near us, who live next door, work in the next office, shop at the same stores, attend the same sporting events and belong to the same churches as us. Sometimes our attention to national and international politics takes too much of our attention. (This is not to in any way diminish the important life and social justice concerns nationally and globally which indeed merit our advocacy, time, energy and resources).
Imagine for a moment if our primary daily consciousness centered on concretely recognize Christ as present in our neighbor. Imagine that each student on your campus was committed to loving and caring for roommates and hall mates and that one of the foremost concerns of all departments and offices on your campus was to care for neighboring offices. We would be a more gentle, centered and patient people. As Catholics our politics are (or at least should be) quite clear: we are rooted in human dignity, respect for life and Catholic Social teaching and we assume a posture of love and compassion with a particular emphasis on social justice and the rights of those who cannot speak for themselves. We cannot take this posture only to issues without applying it also to the people who daily cross our paths.
This morning Face Book is flooded with an unfortunate amount of divisive language (from those who are pleased and those who are displeased with election results). I often find myself quite accepting of people from very different faith traditions. But a fellow Catholic with different political leaning…this is often much harder for me to reconcile. The national Catholic vote is once again clearly divided. How will we model for our students a way of being firm in moral convictions without failing to treat people with dignity? Can we be divided on issues and still love each other, even respect each other? When we gather for Eucharist we gather as a broken people seeking to be reconciled with one another and with God. This reconciled posture is not merely meant for Sundays and Holy Days. Let’s not leave our young people to Face Book, Twitter and profit-driven media outlets for their model of working together. I am convinced that, with the right guidance, our young people can and will teach us how to be better neighbors and a people who, in the end, can disagree and still love one another.
Greg Baker is Director of Campus Ministry for Mercyhurst University in Erie, PA