As Catholics, we remain “one” though we differ profoundly in a multitude of ways, such as; how we interpret church teaching, understand the role of conscience, discern God’s presence and acting in our unique life experiences. We share a core of unchanging, revealed truths (Dogmas) but we grow in our understanding of truth, and so too our Doctrines develop over time (Read An Essay On the Development of Christian Doctrine by John Henry Newman, free all over the internet). This is not “relativism” its simply humility. If we understood all there was to know about God, what kind of God would that be?
We don’t believe that God’s revelation is a “once and for all” type thing, but rather is on-going; every minute of every day. Growth in our doctrine & our understanding of the truth most often happen through honest, passionate, and sometimes uncomfortable or even painful dialogue with one another; staying at the table even when the urge to “take our toys and go home” is so enticing. If we are able to respectfully admit that we all know so very little about the great mystery that is God (that we are not unlike an ant contemplating astrophysics) we open ourselves to this revelation.
Dialogue is the process designed by God for us to refine and discover truth. Without dialogue we remain stagnant and trapped in our ignorance and ideology. Dialogue is not pointing fingers and saying its “us” against “them” but rather acknowledging that we are one. Human beings are like one organism in this vast creation. There is only “us.” As St. Paul said nearly 2000 years ago – “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it: if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (Cor 12:26-27)
Pope Francis says “Do not be afraid of dialogue. … It is about agreeing on proposals for forging ahead together. In dialogue everybody wins, and no-one loses. In arguments there is someone who wins and someone who loses, or both lose. Dialogue is gentleness, it is the capacity to listen, it is putting yourself in the other person’s shoes, and building bridges. During dialogue, even if we think differently, not arguing but instead persuading gently. … Pride and arrogance must be uprooted. Pride and arrogance always finish badly. The proud ends badly. Or rather, I would answer to this question: how can we build a better world? Via this path. We need to reduce the level of aggressiveness in the world. The world needs tenderness, gentleness, listening, journeying together. Otherwise, today these things happen, because the attitudes I have mentioned are lacking.”
Way back in the 1990’s Cardinal Bernardin, through his Common Ground Initiative, taught on the need for authentic dialogue and offered these seven principles to guide us in our shared listening and discussion. These principles seem even more relevant and urgent given the divisive nature of our culture today. (http://www.catholiccommonground.org/principles-dialogue)
1. We should recognize that no single group or viewpoint in the church has a complete monopoly on the truth. While the bishops & Pope have been endowed by God with the power to preserve the true faith, they exercise their office by taking counsel with one another and with the experience of the whole church, past and present. Solutions to the church’s problems will inevitably emerge from a variety of sources.
2. We should not envision ourselves or any one part of the church a saving remnant. No group within the church should judge itself alone to be possessed of enlightenment or spurn the Catholic community, its leaders, or its institutions as unfaithful.
3. We should test all proposals for their pastoral realism and potential impact on individuals as well as for their theological truth.
4. We should presume that those with whom we differ are acting in good faith. They deserve civility, charity, and a good-faith effort to understand their concerns. We should not substitute labels, abstractions, or blanketing terms–“radical feminism,” “the hierarchy,” “the Vatican”–for living, complicated realities.
5. We should put the best possible construction on differing positions, addressing their strongest points rather than seizing upon the most vulnerable aspects in order to discredit them. We should detect the valid insights and legitimate worries that may underlie even questionable arguments.
6. We should be cautious in ascribing motives. We should not impugn another’s love of the church and loyalty to it. We should not rush to interpret disagreements as conflicts of starkly opposing principles rather than as differences in degree or in prudential pastoral judgments about the relevant facts.
7. We should bring the church to engage the realities of contemporary culture, not by simple defiance or by naive acquiescence, but acknowledging, in the fashion of Gaudium et Spes, both our culture’s valid achievements and real dangers.
God is easily found in our warm, fuzzy moments but we also need to work hard to recognize and listen for God in the friction between us. We are all like jagged rocks thrown into a burlap bag and furiously shaken for 20 or 30 years (or a couple thousand)…eventually, we become better, “well-rounded” people. This is our collective work and our calling as the People of God.
“The theological voice wants doctrines, creeds, and moral obligations. I reject none of these. I merely insist that experiences which renew hope are prior to and richer than propositional and ethical religion and provide raw power for them.”
— Fr. Andrew Greeley
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other” doesn’t make any sense.
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