Dear Good People of Saint Mary,
A little over a year ago, I attended a lecture at Georgetown by one of our leading church theologians which has stayed with me. The occasion was the 50th anniversary of Unitatis redintegratio, Vatican II’s Decree on Ecumenism.
Her thesis basically spoke about a major shift which took place in the culture of the Church, something that had been a long time in coming but had finally become obvious: the life of the Church in the modern world demanded that the Church be involved in a dialogue. She said, quite simply, that the Church which had always operated (at least, for centuries) as a monologue—the Church speaking and everyone else just expected to listen—had come to terms with the fact that there were other voices that needed to be heard and a conversation was not only necessary, but holy.
The new principle of dialogue was named repeatedly for the first time in official documents of the Church as the way of growth in knowledge and wisdom, even the means by which we are edified by others and spread the Gospel.
There are lay people that need to be heard. There are non-Catholics that need to be heard. There are even non-Christian peoples who deserve to be heard. There are things to be learned and valued from all people who are made by God in his own image, even if their practice of faith or religion isn’t necessarily according to the authentic revelation that we hold as the central treasures of our faith.
For me one of the most stunning statements was made by Cardinal Walter Kasper in his reflections on Unitatis redintegratio, when he said that it isn’t possible to be truly “catholic” (the word means “universal”) if we follow a principle of operation in which find ourselves alone. “Universal” means that we must include all who are “other,” and find that fullness of God’s love not only in me, but also in you. That love of God is most perfectly known when it is found in us.
Made in the image of God and conformed to the person of Christ through the sacraments, we live a life that is trinitarian and perfectly united to the divine life of God. It is a love and life that is extended to all people, and we cannot experience it unless we are also in community, as God is in community.
Look at the way in which we celebrate the Mysteries of Christ in the Mass, the Liturgy of the Word is a conversation, the Liturgy of the Eucharist is a shared, mutual offering and receiving of us to God and God to us. The entire structure demands a We and a Thou: there can be no relationship in a monologue, but in a dialogue there is sharing and fulfillment.
I think this is the fault which lies at the heart of the thinking of so many today who claim to be “spiritual” but not “religious,” “believers” but not “belongers.” It is far too easy to isolate in individualism and selfishness; it is a far more difficult and demanding activity to make that commitment to a community of faith, in the context of others.
Even modern psychology shows the danger and resulting damage due to behavior that denies the most basic of human needs, to belong.
We can no longer pretend to own the same autonomy or personal infallibility when we must acknowledge the authority or preeminence of a tradition that has bound together a faithful community for centuries. Truth, once again, is something not be invented, but to be confronted with, something we receive, not something we make. It is given to shape us and we can’t create it any more than we can determine the reality of another person in our life. But openness to truth, like openness to others, is an often-unexpected and surprising opportunity to learn and grow. But the openness is vital.
Let us open ourselves to God, and one another, to discover the beauty and richness that is there.
May God bless you.