Bridging the Gap: One Nation, Under God

Bridging the Gap

with Bishop David A. Zubik

I love our country.  Our country welcomed my immigrant grandparents in the earlier part of the 20th century.  Our country gave my dad the opportunity to earn a decent living working for most of his adult life for the A&P Supermarkets.  Our country has given me the freedom to profess my faith in Jesus Christ freely.

That is why my heart broke on January 6 when I witnessed the violent mob, some of them carrying Christian symbols, storming the citadel of our democracy, the United States Capitol Building.  It is a job of our elected leaders and law enforcement to determine the legal response of that rampage.  My concern is the moral and spiritual response each of us makes in our heart.

Following that tragic event and coupled with the inauguration of our new President, this is a time when we need to unite as neighbors and heirs to the legacies of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, of Dorothy Day and Rosa Parks.  This is a time when we need to model what it means to show respect for the absolute dignity and respect of every human being—including and especially those with whom we disagree. 

The people who ravaged the Capitol, assaulted police officers, proclaimed racist and anti-Semitic slogans, threatened elected officials—do not represent American or Christian ideals.  They show what can happen when we allow anger to rule our hearts.  We need to pray for them.  We also need to pray for us—as a nation.

At the same time, we—you and I—need to examine our own hearts to make sure we are not harboring anger toward people for being different than we are.  That’s true whether the difference is one of race or political affiliation, ethnicity or lifestyle, faith or economic strata. 

The essential question is: Can we disagree without derision?  Can we persuade without disparagement?  Can we proceed without dismissing others because of their opinions and, even more important, because of their faith?  In a true democracy, differences are meant to be a source of strength.  They compel us to examine issues and ideas we would otherwise overlook.

Moreover, as Christians, as we consider the challenges that we face as a nation and as a global community, our faith in the ever-abiding presence of Jesus must be our guide.  When a message provokes us to vengeance, hatred or derision, we need to go back to the teachings of Jesus and let Him be our guide. 

At one of the most tender moments in his life, when Jesus gathered together with the Apostles around the Last Supper table, He spoke these words to them: “Peace I leave you, My peace I give you, a peace the world cannot give, this is My gift to you.  Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:27)  Those words are intended as much for us now as they were for the early Apostles. 

Saint Paul clearly resonated with the spirit of Jesus’ own advice when in his Letter to the Galatians he wrote these powerful words: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.  There can be no law against things like that, of course.  You cannot belong to Christ Jesus unless you crucify all self-indulgent passions and desires.” (Gal. 5:22-23)

Isn’t it interesting that Saint Paul would use the word “crucify” in reaction to realities like vengeance, hatred or derision in each of our lives?  The image of crucifixion means to put to death for the sake of bringing forth “lasting life.”

In the interest of “lasting life,” we need to pursue common ground for the common good and put to death words and deeds of vengeance, hatred or derision.    

On January 22, as we celebrated Masses in our churches as a Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children, and on January 28 and 29, as we marked the annual March for Life (albeit virtually this year), we clearly know the agenda that is before us: especially the protection for the unborn and also justice for immigrants, a safety net for the poor, environmental sustainability, and many causes that are necessary for a culture of life.  The best way we can, we must continue to work peacefully for the preservation of all of those important realities based on the teachings of Jesus, Who is our Prince of Peace.

One of my favorite saints is Saint Barnabas.  Three separate times in the Acts of the Apostles, Saint Barnabas appears as a bridge, connecting an early Christian community that was often divided amongst itself.  The late, great theologian, Father Walter Burghardt, called Saint Barnabas “a middle man for Christ.”  Barnabas helped people work together to conquer their differences in a quest for truth and to accept not only the truth but each other as well. 

You and I need to be like Barnabas, to be people of love, peace and unity.  As the Apostle John tells us in his first letter: “If anyone says, ‘I love God’ but hates his brother (or sister), he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother (or sister) whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”  (1 John 4:20)

That lesson is not just for the people who ransacked the Capitol Building.  It applies to all of us who may find ourselves angry in response to those terrible events.  Justice must take its course where crimes were committed.  But if we are to help heal our nation, then our own attitudes, convictions and words do make all the difference.

Especially in these difficult times, you and I need to reach out in love—and sometimes with tough love—to those who might want to act out of vengeance, hatred or derision.

One of the beautiful lessons which I learned when I was a youngster in the first grade was the hymn entitled “America” and especially the verse that leads into the hymn:

“My country, ’tis of thee,

Sweet land of liberty,

Of thee I sing;

Land where my fathers died,

Land of the pilgrims’ pride,

From every mountainside

Let freedom ring.”

But if that song is to ring true, that we live in the “sweet land of liberty,” our goal must always be to live up to both the great promise and the great challenge that we are “One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” 

May the words of our Pledge of Allegiance be more than words that we speak with our lips.  May they be convictions that we live with our hearts and with our faith.

Photo credit: Justin Merriman