We Need More I-Thou, Less I-It

Fr. Gabriel reminds me that when we monks were novices and the time came for the older monks to welcome us with an embrace of peace, many would whisper the word “persevere.” I interpret the word to mean, to see my way through the severe. I need to see my way through the severe: not everyone likes me; some people work against me; some people speak ill of me; some people ignore me. The older monks warned me: some day the bottom will fall out and I should prepare myself. Only with the grace of God, prayer and strong fellowship will I see my way through the severe.

Brothers and sisters, fellow Americans, now is the time for all of us to see our way through the severe. Our Jewish brothers and sisters did it. Our fellow Christians in Thessalonica did it. So can we. We should not be alarmed or surprised that people protest in our streets over the election of a president-elect. Yes, the rioting is to be condemned. Violence is never the answer to our way through the severe. But we Americans, and, yes, we Christians, are losing two things: civility in our moral discourse and respect for one another.

We can see all of this in St. Luke’s community. Because of faith in Christ Jesus, people hand over other people to be abused, mocked and even killed. People have been uncivil to one another for centuries. But civility is not being nice to someone. The definition of civility is “the duty of citizens to work productively together.” In the words of Rick Warren, “In America, we’ve got to learn how to disagree without demonizing one another.” When we turn the other American or Christian into an object of hate we lose all respect.

On November first, David Brooks of the New York Times hit it right on the head. Of all days, he writes an op-ed column on All Saints Day entitled, “Read Buber, Not the Polls!” His opening line reads, “If America were a marriage we’d need therapy.” This past election year has reduced “complex individuals into simplistic categories.” Then Brooks goes on to quote the Jewish theologian, Martin Buber. “Buber is famous for the distinction between ‘I-It’ relationships and ‘I-Thou’ relationships. ‘I-Thou’ relationships “are personal, direct and dialogical.” We embrace the other as a human person who deserves respect. We do not have to agree or even like the person. But the person is not a demon. ‘I-It’ is the opposite. It is the objectification and depersonalizing of the other since I always consider the person to be wrong. Or, it can as simple as a doctor who “treats” another “as a machine in need of repair.”

St. Paul tells us today that faith is not utilitarian. Some in the Thessalonian community quit their jobs and sit in the streets because they hear the Second Coming is imminent. St. Paul tells them that if they do not do their duty, if they do not work, they do not eat. Faith is the imitation of Christ in a community and not something that belongs to my own personal interpretation.

So, how do I see myself through the severe? After Holy Communion today, I begin day by day to see the person whom I disagree with as an I-Thou relationship. That is how Jesus changes the world.

The Rev. Fr. Dr. T. Becket A. Franks, O.S.B.

33rd Sunday

Ordinary Time



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