A question that has been heavy on my heart is how do we move beyond the divisiveness that leads to evolving forms of violence and daily dysfunction?
Classical thinkers have the answer: St. Thomas Aquinas in particular had a way of juggling conflicting opinions in the air, but allowing the reader to see the whole picture and discover what answer makes the most sense. It wasn't always a direct answer, but the profound integration of all forms of knowledge and truth made an impression on me. In fact, I still listen to Thomist podcasts of all my college professors to exercise my own theological dorki-ness.
A simple question he posed was, "how ought one to behave?" I think we all feel a sense of urgency at the moment, and wonder what we can do differently to prevent such discord. The way we educate our children gives us the most obvious and hopeful solution.
Do we teach our children to accept that they are bound by duty to behave well? "Be responsible and complete your obligations." If we only teach children to behave well because of duty, this causes the perception that freedom has no purpose; decisions and choices are indifferent, so long as they do not trample upon the rights of others. At the same time, good behavior becomes reduced to a very common phrase in today’s culture: “It depends on the circumstances or the person.”
Freedom with no purpose and decisions that can be justified as either good or bad depending upon the person lead to the very division that continues to disturb us.
Aquinas responds: Behaviors and passions were not intended to divide us, but instead to unite and attract us to each other. But first we have to consider, “What deserves to be loved, to become the goal of our actions and the goal of our lives?” Not my phrase, but one from Thomist Fr. Dominic Legge: “You tell me who and what you love, and that will tell me a lot about you.”
We simply have to love the same things, and then allow that goal to inform major and minor decision-making.
Two comments I find myself saying to my own children more than ever before are “We listen to each other because we love each other”, and in another breath “that is not what you are made for."
I would propose that perhaps if children embraced the unity caused by a shared love of those things that are truly worth loving, as well as the purposes God has planned for us, we will find hope for a future without so much violence and conflict.
When I had my own existential crisis, I came across a maxim from the Church Fathers that began the change of my own trajectory away from a life without meaning. St. Athanasius – defending the divinity and humanity of Christ – wrote that “God became man so that man might become God.” No need to call the heresy police here; we are meant to become one with God, the ultimate and marvelous union that we should really look to in order to recover some sense of unity in our own society.
Let us ask for the Holy Spirit - the unifier of hearts and souls - to bring about a conversion of sinners.
Yours Truly In Christ,