Checking in with A Higher Authority

Sebastian McDonald, C.P.
Sebastian McDonald, C.P.

We deal with differences of opinion, on a variety of issues, practically daily. Whether it’s newscasters on weather stations, or sports announcers/writers for athletic teams, or politicians representing different parties, we encounter varying positions.

Sometimes helps are available for coping with disagreements. It is said of President Kennedy that when he ate breakfast, he read two newspapers usually taking divergent views on issues, such as the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, often splitting the difference in an effort to come closer to the best understanding achievable. At other times, a certain accommodation is allowed for geographical reasons, such as the difference of opinion regarding baseball teams, as it plays out in the city of Chicago, for example, with the preference of north-siders for the Cubs and of south-siders for the White Sox being tolerated for such regional variations. And then the perennial comparison of the sexes, as to who is the smarter, the more sympathetic, the more religious, the more frugal, etc., goes on endlessly.

A more serious difference of opinion, however, occurs periodically, as in the groundhog family, specifically, its protocol for formulating a weather forecast, through the services of such experts as the well-known Punxsutawney Phil of Pennsylvania, and the lesser known General Beauregard Lee of Georgia.   They both come out of their burrows, where they have hibernated, in early February and, on the basis of their skill in predicting weather trends, forecast the date of spring’s arrival for that year. Frequently, they agree, though not always so, since regional factors can be identified to explain their differences.

Though variations of opinion can often be explained by the convictions of those holding them, they can also be traced to the opaqueness of the issue under discussion. In addition, the adroitness of the discussants of an issue also enters the picture. Sincere efforts to understand another’s position, on the part of all those involved, often result in a different outcome from that originally held by each of the discussants.

At the recent extraordinary synod of bishops, in Rome, there was significant difference of opinion among them about relaxing the traditional position of the church, disallowing divorced and remarried (without an annulment) Catholics from receiving the eucharist. At the upcoming ordinary synod of bishops, this conversation will be vetted again, and it will be interesting to see whether any of the bishops have, in the interlude, changed their positions.

The early church also saw its share of disagreements among the church leadership of that era. Peter and Paul disagreed, at least in practice, over the requirement of circumcision for those entering the church from the gentile world, since, up to that time, all the early Christians were converts from Judaism. In a less contentious matter, at least for that early period of time, the issue of slavery, Paul offered his opinion to Philemon about Onesimus, the former’s escaped slave, now that both of them were Christian. While Paul had Onesimus return to his master, he sought to ameliorate the latter’s situation. We don’t know the outcome of this effort at softening a contentious situation. And Jesus Himself had some very clear ideas about the procedure to follow when disagreements occur between people, through a series of steps, concluding with a final appeal to the church(Mt. 18.15, ff.).

The art of compromise often rescues participants locked in a dispute. Compromise presumes give and take on the part of all involved in a disagreement. It usually doesn’t work when just one of the participants compromises, since that seems equivalent to “giving in”. Successful labor contract arrangements are usually reached by way of compromise, as in negotiations between owners and players of a baseball franchise. Each participant gives a little, and gains a little. The inability or refusal to compromise is seldom admirable unless a matter of clairvoyant principle is at stake, just as is the tendency of one party, as in a marriage, to always compromise.

Back to  to evenPunxsutawney Phil and General Beauregard Lee: should they ever seriously disagree about seasonal changes, they can always revert to the suggestion of Jesus, above,to eventually consult a higher authority, such as THE FARMERS ALMANAC.

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Author: CPP

We are a community of laymen and laywomen who, with vowed Passionists, seek to share in the charism of St. Paul of the Cross through prayer, ongoing spiritual formation, and proclamation of the message of Christ Crucified.

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