November 26, 2020 // Perspective

Healing the malady of division starts with friendship

The headline grabbed my attention: “You are no longer my mother”! The Reuters article, written a day prior to the 2020 U.S. presidential election, shared the story of a mother disavowed by her own son. The reason: political differences.

The story, unfortunately, is not new. We have heard it far too many times. Many of us perhaps can tell our own version because we have experienced something similar in our families and communities. It is a malady.

When parents disavow their children and children their parents, when spouses stop talking to one another, when relatives are not welcomed into our homes any longer and friendships abruptly end, all because of political and ideological differences, we must acknowledge that something is not OK.

When Catholics fail to see one another eye to eye, when families are exiled from their parishes because they “do not fit” any longer, when Catholics shop around for preachers and teachers “friendlier” to their nonreligious convictions, when your Catholic identity is questioned, all because of political and ideological differences, we must acknowledge that something is not OK.

A society, a faith community or a family that normalizes the conviction that allegiance to a politician or a political party or an ideology — regardless of the good that any of these may embody — takes precedence over the bonds of love that are to unite us as parents, children, spouses, neighbors, parishioners and friends is bound to self-destruct.

We have an obligation as Catholics to confront these realities. We cannot foster attitudes and practices that fuel division and rancor. Doing so negates the Gospel. If I have done so in any way, I apologize. As Catholics, we have a responsibility to model a nobler way of being Church and society: the way of Christ, the way of communion.

The malady of division that pains our families and communities today did not emerge overnight. Decades of messaging, strategizing, silencing and being silent, tolerating intolerance and ignoring our shared responsibility to sustain the common good as a priority are yielding bitter fruits.

How do we move forward? What can we do? It will take decades, perhaps generations, to heal and rebuild relationships and the social structures that make possible for the common good and ecclesial communion to thrive. We must start somewhere. I propose friendship.

In his 2020 encyclical “Fratelli Tutti, on Fraternity and Social Friendship,” Pope Francis drew our attention to the idea of social friendship. Friendship is not just a mere set of benevolent actions, said the pope. Friendship demands more than tolerance or being nice. Friendship begins with love.

“Our love for others, for who they are, moves us to seek the best for their lives. Only by cultivating this way of relating to one another will we make possible a social friendship that excludes no one and a fraternity that is open to all,” insisted Pope Francis. (No. 94)

Friendship demands the maturity and intentionality of wanting to be in relationship with others, even when we disagree with them: “As couples or friends, we find that our hearts expand as we step out of ourselves and embrace others.” (No. 89)

It sounds commonsensical. Yet, most of us fail at this level. It is time to restore those friendships broken by division and rancor.

As we prepare the table of Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter; celebrate births, birthdays and baptisms; mourn those who left us; and learn to agree and disagree with respect, let us predispose ourselves to say, again: “you are my mother,” “you are my son,” “you are my beloved,” “you are my fellow companion in the faith,” “you are my friend.”

Hosffman Ospino is a professor of theology and religious education at Boston College.

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