Polarization: The Way Forward

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your soul, all your heart, and all your mind. This is the greatest commandment. And the second is like it: you shall love your neighbour as yourself." (Matthew 22:37-39)

By Marilyn Jackson, Director of Pastoral Services, Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon

We lived in a small mining town in Northern Manitoba for 30 years. My husband worked underground for all of those years, for a large mining company and he belonged to an employee union. Every few years during contract negotiations, tension hung overhead, like a black cloud that was about to burst into a storm.

It was a small community where everyone knew their neighbours. One year, the storm broke loose and neighbours turned against one another. The ‘Company’ was proposing an agreement that would mostly benefit them and it would impact those who were retired differently than those who were supporting a young family. Almost 15 years later, there are still families and friends who don’t speak to one another because of the polarization caused by this event.

Kind of sounds like what we’re living through right now, doesn’t it?

Polarization is not something new, but it feels like the intensity is building, and that can be dangerous, not unlike a hurricane. Can we just hunker down and wait for it to pass and then try to clean up the mess? We could do it that way and be willing to accept that there will be loss and damage, or we could choose to “love our neighbour as ourself.”

We could choose to listen charitably to others who think differently than we do, we could practice humility, we could choose to be kind, rather than feed our desire to be right.

The Church’s Mission in a Polarized World

Those of you who grew up in the 80s will remember the Mac Davis song: “Oh Lord, it’s hard to be humble, when you’re perfect in every way.” It is so hard! We are made in the image of God, in perfect humility and kindness and yet, we struggle so much to love our neighbor. Social media doesn’t help. We can hear and see what’s going on in the world almost as fast as it happens, which influences us to choose a side, or be left out of the conversation.

A few weeks ago, the Western Conference of Social Justice was hosted in Saskatoon.

The first session was a panel discussion featuring Brett Salked, Theologian for the Archdiocese of Regina, Leah Perrault and Fr. Aaron Wessman, Vicar General and Director of Formation for the Glenmary Home Missioners.

The discussion was about equipping community and church leaders in a society of polarization. One of the things Brett talked about was engaging in ‘discussions’ on social media. He described having an argument on Facebook and suddenly realizing that “hey, we are actually on the same side here.” Polarization is touching all of us, even in groups of people who are like-minded.

Fr. Aaron Wessman has written a book called “The Church’s Mission in a Polarized World.” He says: “Christians and other people of good will are longing for a response that can lead the way out of the divisiveness and vitriol of our times.”

Matthew Levering (Mundelein Seminary) says this about the book: “Jesus proclaimed that he came not to bring peace, but a sword. His earthly ministry was marked by deeply polarizing conflict between him and the Pharisees, whom he termed ‘whitewashed tombs.’ Yet, he ate and drank with his own enemies and died for them. He loved them to the end, and he commanded us to love our enemies. In this extraordinary book Fr. Wessman asks us, in the midst of the sweeping conflicts of our time, to examine our conscience: have we become poisoned and paralyzed by hate? May we repent and learn to love!”

What do you think? Is there a way forward?

How do we love God with all our heart, soul, and mind?

We need to enter into a relationship with Him first, where we can experience how very much He loves us. We can’t pour into others, we can’t love our neighbour, if we aren’t being fed ourselves. Our missionary life is dependent on our holiness and yes, we are called to holiness! Holiness is our interior life, our personal relationship with Jesus and we can grow in it through prayer, study, obedience and repentance.



[Editor’s Note: This article is part of Marilyn Jackson’s regular “Fuel Up Friday” e-mail series in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon – to subscribe, contact diocesan Director of Ministry Services Marilyn Jackson at mjackson@rcdos.ca]