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Posted July 27, 2011

The virtue of sociability

By Father Eugene Hemrick
Catholic News Service

"You have to have built up months and years of personal relationships. These things don't happen when you have personal relationships."

The potential government shutdown is what New York Times columnist David Brooks spoke about during the April 8 segment of the PBS News Hour.

As I listened to him, I wondered if lack of sociability is the primary cause behind congressional gridlock. To learn if my hunch was correct, I asked a senator in our parish, "Is it true that many in the U.S. Congress don't socialize with each other like they used to? David Brooks, in commenting on this, points to past times in which Democrats and Republicans talked, ate, drank and palled around with each other despite their differences. Is congressional camaraderie a thing of the pass?"

"This is very true," the senator replied, adding, "A few of us from both sides of the aisle are in prayer groups that brings us together daily."

I then mentioned the same questions to a federal judge who was attending Mass. The judge replied, "I buy doughnuts and coffee for jurors in order to get them to know each other before jury duty. The result is I have less hung juries and more verdicts." That response floored me.

In the Romantic languages, the word "know" can mean to have knowledge about something or to understand another intimately. One meaning is academic; the other is personal.

Could it be that, as close as we are to each other in government, at work, in our neighborhoods and on the streets, we are experiencing a diminishing of sociability skills? Is this one reason for divisions and stalemates that stymie progress?

I believe that the answer is yes, and is supported in the Bible.

Christ teaches us, "If your brother sins [against you], go and tell him his fault between you and him alone" (Mt 18:15). Note the words "go and tell."

-- When Peter, who denied knowing Jesus, sees him on the beach after his resurrection, he jumps out of the boat and goes to Jesus immediately.

-- When Nicodemus realizes that there is something special about Christ, he goes to him in the secrecy or night to learn of the new life that he offers.

One of the most tragic figures of the New Testament is Judas, who could have gone to Christ and been forgiven, as Peter had been, but Judas would not go; instead, he committed suicide. In doing this, Judas showed that he did not believe Jesus to be who he said he was.

Much of our life revolves around two critical decisions that we face daily: Do I go to those whom I dislike or disagree in the hope of enjoying the reconciliation that comes with face-to-face understanding? Or, do I stand off and experience the miseries of being unsociable and subject to the myriads of suicides that this position creates?