As the new Director of the Office for Peace and Justice here in the Archdiocese of Chicago, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be an American Catholic today concerned with peace and justice. I must confess that Rudyard Kipling’s “Ballad of East and West” (1889) keeps popping up in my mind. It begins and ends with the same quatrain:
Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God's great Judgment Seat;
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!
Kipling’s words, originally of the British Empire, ring true in today’s American political and religious climate. Rather than East and West (India and Britain), hear right and left, conservative and liberal, us and them. We live in an either/or nation ideologically divided and increasingly incapable of civil public discourse. Next-door neighbors, divided by two-party politics or the culture wars, might as well “come from the ends of the earth!”
What of these same divisions within the Church, with our pew-mates? Can we tolerate in our parishes what we tolerate in our politics? Are we willing to allow theological divisions within the Church which are neither peaceful nor just? Are there conservative Catholics and liberal Catholics and “never the twain shall meet?” All too many of us manipulate our theology to fit our politics. The result: we are often unjust toward and not at peace with our fellow Catholics. We are “more Catholic” than they. My theology conforms to the Gospel or Church teaching more than his. Our moral stance is superior to theirs.
Certainly, there are those with bad theologies and distorted moralities, but that should never be an occasion for pride. Rather we must respond with charity in truth. “Truth, in fact, is lógos which creates diá-logos, and hence communication and communion. Truth, by enabling men and women to let go of their subjective opinions and impressions, allows them to move beyond cultural and historical limitations and to come together in the assessment of the value and substance of things.” (Caritas in veritate sec. 4) In other words, when we approach each other through the lens of our secular politics (i.e. “subjective opinions and impressions and our cultural and historical limitations”) rather than truth, we stifle communication and communion. But when we come together in a common search for truth, we can find that though it may seem that “East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,” the truth is, “there is neither East nor West,” just strong Catholics standing “face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth.”