Paul said to the Philippians,“Complete my joy by being of the same mind, united in heart,” Can you imagine what Paul would say to us today? We are polarized as ever. Some of us are of one mind. Some of us are of another mind. And we are convinced that those who hold different opinions and beliefs have completely lost their minds. We are so bitterly divided that the fabric of our nation is tearing apart at the seams. Thoughts that were once unthinkable...like whispers of civil war…are now being heard.
We are 37 days away from the most turbulent presidential election in my lifetime. Sorry to disappoint you St. Paul, but we are definitely not “of the same mind”. Nor are we “united in heart.”
Everywhere we turn, we encounter argument, anger, and even hate. At work, at home, on social media, we cannot escape the rancor, and too often, we allow ourselves to be drawn into the fight. My mind is perfectly sound. You’re the one with the problem. My heart is pure, but yours is not. Friendships are being lost. Families are turning on each other. My smart phone is so smart, it allows me to delete a friend with the tap of my finger. Technology makes it easy to “unfriend” someone and delete them from our lives. .
There is ONE thing that people on both sides of the political divide share in common…we share a firm belief that if they other side wins, this country is going to go to hell in a hand basket. Truth is, our world has been griped with chaos ever since The Fall, when Adam and Eve ate the fruit from the forbidden tree. Ever since then, the world has faced one calamity after another, plagues, famines, civil wars and world wars, and yet, here we are.
It would be a whole lot easier to be “united in heart” if only God would make everyone else look like me and think like me. To be sure, God is all powerful. As our Creator, He could have made us all the same…same color…same mentality…same thoughts…but how boring would the world be!
In His Wisdom, God made creation wonderfully diverse…mountains and prairies…deserts and rainforests…an array of beautiful colors and creatures. Nature is marvelously diverse, but so is humanity. We are peoples of different colors and cultures, different languages and traditions…and, yes, different ideas and opinions.
Begs the question: With so many differences among us, how can we ever be of the same mind? What was St. Paul thinking?! Let’s look back at his letter to the Philippians for the clue. Complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing.
St. Paul continues…Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather be humble…regard others as more important than ourselves…put the interests of others ahead of our own interests. From this teaching, we can discern what St. Paul is referring to. What is the one thing that unites us? Love. God’s love. Self-giving love. Sacrificial love.
St. Paul is not suggesting that we all have to look alike or think alike. Rather, he asks that we have the same attitude as Christ Jesus…who humbled himself, who was obedient to the will of the Father, and who did not claim equality with God as something to be grasped, even though He was God.
We are “of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart,” when we keep our focus on Christ Jesus. When we allow Christ to be our common denominator. When we diminish our egos and pride, so that He can increase his presence in our lives.
It’s possible. Look around. The pews are filled with peoples of many colors, ethnicities, languages, cultures, educational backgrounds, stations in life. We have different political views, opinions and ideas…but in here we have something in common…we worship the same God…we share one baptism, one faith, one Eucharist. In here, we are of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart.
Problem is, we tend to forget all this when we walk out the door. When Mass is over, we lose focus and return to the bickering. As long as we are in here, we treat each other with respect and dignity. But out there we have no respect or tolerance for views or opinions that are different from our own.
Candidly, social media makes it so much worse. In the safety of our home and behind the screen, it’s easy to engage others with cheap shots that we would never say face to face. Social media, even among our family and friends, is spewing with mean-spirited comments. And some of us can’t help but join the fray. We participate…we instigate…we perpetuate…but WHY??? Are we so prideful that we think our posts are going to change the minds of others? If I post my opinion by stepping on yours, will everyone else come to see the world as I do? Does it make us feel better to put others down? Engaging in this senseless online bickering hardens our hearts and pushes us away from our family and friends.
How often do we sit there in frustration and ask ourselves, what is wrong with this world? There is a story about G. K. Chesterton that around 1908 the London Times asked him and other notable philosophers and theologians, to write an article answering the question, “What is wrong with the world?” Chesterton’s response was a brief letter that simply said, “Dear Sir, regarding your question, ‘What is wrong with the world?’ I am.”
Chesterton was given the opportunity to point the finger of blame, to address any issue he felt was pressing on his society, to speak to the sin that plagued his culture…instead, he chose to humbly address the plank in his own eye.
Sometimes, we try to justify our self-righteous opinions by claiming we have an obligation to proclaim the truth. Indeed, we do. The mission of the Church and the responsibility of all who are baptized is to proclaim the truth, but how do we best do that? Jesus gave us the answer. Everyone will know that you are my disciples because of your love for one another. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that. The world should be able to look at our lives and see the grace of God in the person of Jesus Christ. That’s how hearts are changed.
Starts with humbly admitting that we need the Gospel message too. When we are too focused on making sure other people hear what they “need to hear”, we can’t hear what we need to hear. When we so obsessed with pointing out everyone else’s sin, we cannot see our own sin. We become an obstacle to the Gospel, because the only thing people see is our hypocrisy.
So, how can we be certain that we do not become an obstacle to the Gospel? Look to the contrast between Adam and Christ Jesus. Adam wanted to be like God. The serpent deceived him and Eve into believing they could be like God if they ate from the forbidden tree. Adam wanted all the knowledge and wisdom of God, so he tried to take it and possess it for himself. And, in so doing, he fell from grace.
The new Adam did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped. Rather he humbled himself. He emptied himself. The messiah did not come to be served, but to serve, and to lay down his life for others. See the difference? Adam wants to possess all that he loves. God the Father gives all that He has, and all that He is, to those He loves.
Think of a father who gives away his daughter in marriage. It’s hard. We want to hold on to our daughters forever. We want to protect them for all potential hurt and harm. A little over three years ago, as a father, I walked the aisle and give away that which I most love and cherish. And because I let her go, I got back even more than I gave away. God’s love is a gift that we cannot possess. By giving away what I love the most, I did not lose a daughter. I gained a wonderful son. And in four weeks, God willing and with your prayers, Sandra and I will gain a precious granddaughter. That’s the mystery of the Christian life. We find that the more we give, the more we receive.
I worry about the world my granddaughter will be born into. I too worry about the wrong in this world. So, I have to constantly remind myself…I am. I am what’s wrong. If only, by the help of the Holy Spirit and the grace of God, I can address what’s wrong with me, there’s a better chance my granddaughter will come to know Jesus Christ by the Jesus she sees in me.