The Church in Relationship with Other Faiths
by Most Reverend Denis J. Madden
Auxiliary Bishop of Baltimore
I am most appreciative
of this opportunity to share a few thoughts with you on interreligious relations.
I have spent a large part of my life participating in very enriching
interreligious conversations. I began in earnest during my nine years living in
Jerusalem, where I engaged in scholarly dialogues at my residence at Tantur in
the morning and practical conversations working in a refugee camp later in the
day. I have continued these conversations with interreligious partners up to
the present moment.
I thought that I would
focus on understanding the process of dialogue with members of other religions
and one the most essential elements in dialogue—that is, the importance of listening as an indispensable component of
spiritual maturity in interreligious dialogue.
Pope Benedict XVI
reflected on his encounter with the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian communities
during his apostolic visit to Lebanon: "It seems to me that the time has
come to bear together an honest and decisive witness against division, against
violence, against war.
. . . Today's world needs clear and strong signs of dialogue and
(General Audience, September 19, 2012, www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/audiences/2012/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20120919_en.html).
The world we live in
today and the world we seek to build for the future will only be successfully navigated
using the increasingly critical instruments of dialogue and collaboration.
The document entitled Nostra Aetate (NA), the Declaration on
the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, of the Second Vatican
Council led the way for Catholics to foster interreligious dialogue. The bishops
at the Council say:
Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions.
She has a high regard for the manner of life and conduct, the precepts and
doctrines which, although differing in many ways from her own teaching,
nevertheless often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all. (Second
Vatican Council, Declaration on the Relation of the Church to
Non-Christian Religions [Nostra Aetate],
in Vatican Council II: Volume 1: The Conciliar and
Post Conciliar Documents, ed. Austin Flannery [Collegeville,
Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 1996])
From Vatican II on, all
Catholics have been exhorted to dialogue and collaboration with people of other
faiths or, for that matter, of no faith at all, because we have the whole
richness of humanity in common. We are in a common search for meaning.
Christ came to save all
people—as Pope Francis famously said, even the atheists! We must not ignore
others but rather encounter them and seek truth with them. We cannot just shut
ourselves up in our churches.
St. John Paul II, in
his 1990 encyclical Redemptoris Missio,
while insisting on the universal presence of the Holy Spirit, held that this
does not mean that all religions are equal but that all religions bear the
impulse of the Holy Spirit, found most fully in the Catholic tradition. Thus,
we are not holding that all religions are the same.
In 1991, the Pontifical
Council for Interreligious Dialogue listed four types of dialogue: (1) Dialogue
of Life; (2) Dialogue of Action; (3) Dialogue of Theological Exchange; and (4)
Dialogue of Religious Experience.
To have a productive
conversation at any of these levels, we need certain basic qualities. Pope Paul
VI said we need clarity; meekness—not proud nor offensive but
honest and charitable, patient and generous; trust; and pedagogical prudence—adapting
our presentations to the sensitivities of the hearer so that we can communicate
effectively. This brings me to the importance of listening.
something we engage in every day, almost without realizing it. But dialogue is
more than mere conversation. Dialogue presupposes a keen intentionality in a
critical conversation between two or more parties on issues of mutual concern
and often disparity, with the hope of arriving to an agreed and amicable
resolution or end. Dialogue is an art. And as an art, the first canvas of
dialogue is the open space created through the act of genuine listening.
Listening is crucial to
our relationships with one another and our relationship with God. The truly
contemplative soul is the soul positioned before God in a profound state of
listening—and receptivity. Open to the creative activity of grace,
contemplative listening is linked to the building of an authentic culture of
life, because it provides a sacred space where the grace of God is free to bring
about something new, to create and to infuse with life.
The same can be said
for our relationships with one another—our deepest communication takes place in
a context of listening and receptivity, and it is in this context that the
grace of God finds its greatest freedom to act. And these relationships—our
relationship with God and our relationships with one another—are intertwined.
God is often speaking to us through the other.
Listening to one
another can be a complex process. First of all, it requires attention. Yet attention can be hard.
In my years as a clinical psychologist, I had to discipline myself to listen
and to help my clients overcome their inner and outer distractions so that they
might listen to me.
Listening is not just
with our ears. It is with our head and
our heart. When we encounter one another in dialogue, we need to make a
personal investment of our being. A distracted presence will not do. We must,
as Pope Francis likes to say, walk with and encounter the other. We must make a
commitment to the other and to the relationship.
This requires a level
of spiritual maturity. We need to root ourselves in our faith in God and devote
ourselves to daily prayer. These are prerequisites to attentive listening to
the other. We must ask for divine help to listen and to understand.
My experience of
dialogue indicates that listening is part of the "journey of dialogue." At
first we just need to pay attention and to show the other that we value what
they say. Thus we need to be silent—not answering back with our views but just
accepting and focusing "deeply on what the other person is telling you" (see
Giovanna Pompele, "Burden Shared, Burden Halved," Living City [January, 2012], p. 30).
Listening Can Lead Us to Deal with Our Obstacles
We may have within us
resentments or angers or other things that impede dialogue. These may be
personal. Our dialogue partners may have had a bad personal experience with a
Catholic person or with the Catholic faith. It may still linger. So the
question becomes, "What are we going to do with these differences?"
After a number of
conversations and some months or years of walking together, the hurt or injury
has an opportunity to surface and to be healed. Healing prepares the way for
deeper conversation and more profound relationship.
We are looking for the
truth together—sharing our beliefs and deepest understandings with one another.
This leads first to mutual understanding and then to mutual appreciation.
Sometimes, surprisingly, we can even begin to see commonalities. We also
acknowledge our divergences and thus seek to build our dialogue on honesty and
Can Also Lead Us to Spiritual and Personal Growth
requires us to examine our own faith more intently and to understand it better.
Our conversation may even lead us to discover that we have been mistaken in our
understanding of Catholic belief. In communicating ourselves to the other, we
inevitably learn to better understand ourselves. Self-disclosure often comes
with deeper self-awareness.
And how often the
example of the other leads us closer to God. When we listen intently to the
other in dialogue, we may become aware of the creative action of God's grace
and hear God speaking to us through our friend, our colleague. Although we may
differ in theology and doctrines, without compromising them, how often contact
with our interreligious partners exhort us to a higher moral conversion in our
own lives, to a renewed commitment to our own tradition, and to a deeper
relationship with God. The good example of the other, their dedication to their
prayer and to a life of faith, can be an example for us.
primary way that the catechist teaches about interreligious relationships is by
example. If we engage our neighbors of other faiths as God calls us to, if we
invite a friend to come speak to the students about an aspect of their faith,
and if we show enough comfort in our own Catholic Christian faith to share it
with our non-Christian neighbors, then the students will see that one can
engage the neighbor in love and compassion and build mutual understanding.
art of dialogue begins on the open canvas of mutual listening. Listening is the
first and ever-present step in a process that, through God's grace, will take
us to recognize the obstacles that separate us, heal old wounds, grow in our
understanding of the other, grow in our understanding of self, and create a
sacred space in which the genuine bonds of friendship, solidarity, respect, and
peace can flourish. Building on our relationship, we can work together to build
better communities and a better world.
Copyright © 2015, United States Conference of Catholic
Bishops, Washington, DC. All rights reserved. Permission is hereby granted to
duplicate this work without adaptation for non-commercial use.
Excerpt from Pope Benedict XVI, General
Audience, September 19, 2012,copyright © 2012, Libreria Editrice
Vaticana (LEV). Used with permission. All rights reserved.
Excerpts from documents of the Second
Vatican Council are from Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Postconciliar
Documents, edited by Austin Flannery, OP, © 1996. Used with permission of
Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota.