Reach out in friendship


2 Jul 2021

All people are precious in God’s eyes and deserve respect, even those with whom we disagree strongly.

Pope Francis often sails into headwinds in the causes he supports and in his reading of the Gospel. Nations and people with much more power than he has often act in ways quite contrary to his advice. He is a man often in tension with his age.

This conflict between Pope Francis’ teaching and the way in which the world works is also evident in his intention for July. He calls for social friendship in all situations of conflict, whether it be within the Catholic Church, between nations, between different groups in society, and between corporations and their employees. Social friendship urges us not to see people who oppose our ideas and have interests conflicting with ours as enemies to be overcome. We should see them rather as our potential partners in building a better and more respectful society.

This call runs counter to many trends in Australia and the wider world. If we reflect, for example, on Australia’s relationship with China, we can clearly see a nation that shows little respect for human rights, is assertive in its foreign relations, has a distinctive history of exploitation and emancipation, and is an economic competitor as well as benefactor. Our relationship should reflect all those aspects. In the space of a few years China and its representatives have come to be seen as enemies with whom relationships should be broken off, and whose every approach should be rebuffed. In this process of making enemies, people of Chinese descent in Australia increasingly notice racial abuse and discrimination. We are clearly walking on a path, not to social friendship but to mutual social enmity.

This is just one example of the rejection of social friendship. We can see it also in the often bitter conflict between people with different views on gender, race and sexuality. In the United States, too, even Catholics who hold different views seem to find it hard to speak to one another.

In such a world, as Pope Francis hints in his intention, it can take considerable courage to reach out to people with whom we disagree strongly. We shall be accused of letting our side down, of being dupes of our opponents who wish to weaken the strength of our hold on truth, and of overlooking the intellectual or moral depravity of those with whom we differ. We will be seen as weak links in the army of the righteous.

Social friendship begins from a quite different place. In all our relationships it urges us not to look first at their ideas or the badges other people wear. It looks first into the eyes of the persons whom we meet, seeing them as persons like ourselves. They are precious in God’s eyes and deserve respect. We wish to engage respectfully with them so that we can seek common ground on which we can agree, and so build the foundations of further agreement. In Pope Francis’ words we seek dialogue, trying to understand where the people with whom we differ are coming from. In the process we shall be open to reconsider our own prejudices and so refining our understanding of truth.

Pope Francis speaks also of becoming architects of dialogue and friendship. We don’t employ architects to leave our home unchanged. Their work is to replan the house so that it fits better what we want of it.

In social friendship the plan is to reach out to people with whom we differ so that we can together find a better way through our differences.

Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ is an editorial consultant at Jesuit Communications
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