Readings (Year C):
Reflection: Dealing with division
In late 2021, as my then-fiancée and I finalized the last details of our upcoming wedding, the Delta COVID wave began to rear its ugly head. While we knew that we did not want to postpone our wedding again, the rising case numbers did push us to complete an important task we had been putting off: asking our guests for their proof of vaccination. It was an easy ask for most of our friends, but the difficulty came with some of our older family members.
Personally, the most difficult conversation I expected to have was with my aunt, our wedding Mass madrina. My aunt is one of the most devout Catholics I know, someone who I credit as an important influence on my faith life. She is also one of the most firmly anti-vaccine people I know. The tension between us began early on in the pandemic. She would send me false, but well-meaning, articles and videos about the origins of COVID, and about how Catholics should not take the “anti-life” vaccine. When I asked where she came across that content, the answer was almost always from some dubious Catholic WhatsApp or Facebook group. Instinctively, I pushed back on the credibility of those sources and the conversation ended quickly afterward, both of us sensing the growing gap of understanding between us. Eventually, we spoke less and less often. How could it be that the shared faith that originally connected us became the source of distance between us?
I’m reminded of that early tension when reading today’s gospel. Division is always a tough thing, but division rooted in faith can be particularly tricky. Our faith is so engrained in our identity and worldview that whenever we encounter someone that challenges our belief, it can feel like a personal attack. Oftentimes, arguments cause us to double down on our original positions, and separate ourselves from others to avoid conflict—even from family. However, the key to having a transformative conversation is less about convincing arguments, and more about building an authentic and respectful relationship. As Pope Francis said in a recent address to the International Consortium of Catholic Media, “Fake news has to be refuted, but individual persons must always be respected…” In our current polarized times, this can be a real challenge. However this is also prophetic work that we’re called to do, especially towards loved ones who disagree with us on important issues, despite sharing the same faith.
When I eventually reached out to my aunt to tell her about our wedding vaccine requirement, I didn’t succeed in convincing her to get one. However, I was able to communicate something more important: that I cared about her and wanted her to be safe. Our conversation was loving and generous, and we ended up finding a compromise that worked for us both. Maybe one day we’ll be on the same page regarding that issue. But in the meantime, minimizing the distance between us is more than sufficient.