Words Matter: A Catholic Civility

September 6, 2018

SpiritBlog

Anne Weyandt

Anne Weyandt

By Anne Weyandt

Here’s an idea to consider as the school year begins.

Let’s encourage more students to pay close attention to civility as an essential component of our Catholic identity.

As a nation, we need to prepare our learners at all levels to problem-solve and shape practical solutions; to find common ground; and to achieve meaningful discourse and inclusivity, with compassion, gracefulness and dignity.

To do these things, we need people for whom words matter. We need people who put the needs of ‘the dear neighbor’ before their own. We need people who think clearly and act with conviction and civility.

Our world is in desperate need of reflective individuals whose words and actions will profoundly influence the nature and content—the civility—of our public life. As Pope Francis wisely reminds us, ‘securing the common good and human dignity [is] the ultimate aim of politics, and political life’.

Thanks to our parents and our teachers, many of us are readers and writers for whom respect and reverence for the word runs deep and true, and is inextricably bound to the Word–our Catholic identity.

Civility is profound manifestation of the Word. Our individual choice of respectful words and meaningful deeds tangibly manifests Christ’s presence in our world. These choices—at whatever age level, in every stage of learning and life—can and should express the preferential option for the poor and the solidarity that is the essence of our One-ness with the Other.

This commitment to civility means that we stand against bullies, and bullying. It means that as teachers, we encourage our learners to engage deeply and respectfully with classmates that express cultural and faith traditions that differ from theirs. And it means that young adults must accept the fundamental expectation of civility in our democratic republic, the obligation to vote thoughtfully, with a focus on building up our society and our world, as contrasted with tearing it apart with words and deeds of hate and disrespect.

It is our job as educators, committed to a deep Catholic identity in our classrooms and communities, to ensure that the practice of civility is learned. By observing Saint Teresa of Calcutta, who lived the words of the beloved Latin hymn, ubi caritas et amor Deo ibi est [where charity and love exist, God is there], learners of all ages and faith traditions learn how to see and to believe. And act, with compassion and awareness of the inherent dignity of all.

The practice of civility is aspirational. Young Malala Yousafzai, courageously doing all of which woman is capable under threat of terror and personal harm, exemplifies fully present and engaged servant leadership, in the here and in the now.

And ultimately, practicing civility is enduring; it is our life’s work. Civility is demonstrated in attitudes and behaviors that reflect honesty and justice when we are confronted by hatred or intolerance. As former First Lady Michelle Obama reminds us, “When they go low, we go high.” That’s civility–a thoughtful and informed choice of words and deeds expressing our shared dedication to an honest, just and joyous common life.

Fidelity to civility—seeing and believing and choosing to speak out and work for the common good, right here and right now, must be our hope for our common future as a nation. It is a hope we must inspire our students of all ages to embrace as a fundamental expression of our Catholic identity.

Weyandt is the vice chair of the St. Pascal Baylon Catholic School board and associate provost of the College for Adults at St. Catherine University in St. Paul.

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