Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Building a Culture of Encounter

By Father John Crossin

Last Wednesday, Pope Francis again gave us something practical to think about. He preached that “The Lord has redeemed us with the Blood of Christ, all of us, not just Catholics.” And he reminded us that this ‘all’ includes atheists.

I think that the Pope is nudging us forward. He is calling us to encounter people in the ‘real world.’
For the last few decades the church in the United States has been focusing on its Catholic identity. The Catechism of the Catholic Church has been published. Both institutions, such as Universities and Hospitals, and individuals have been urged to strengthen their ‘rootedness in’ and knowledge of our faith. Coming to a deeper understanding and to more faith-filled living is part of a lifelong process of education. 

We can however become too inward focused. We have a gospel mandate to share our faith with others.

Pope Francis has been urging us to reach out to others especially those on the margins. The salvation of Christ is for all.

Reaching out brings us into contact with a great variety of people not like us.  

We may meet our fellow American Christians—many of whom have also been engaging in reflection on their own identity.  Often their insights complement our own. We also may encounter Jewish and Muslim believers who ask us questions about our beliefs and share their faith with us.

This past weekend I spent some time with at the Convention of the Islamic Circle of North America. I personally experienced the generosity and friendliness of individuals at the Convention. I noticed the devotion of Muslim parents to their children. Many families had come to the Convention. People were quite attentive to my remarks on religious liberty which were part of the panel on Social Justice.
We also may speak with some of the numerous people who are searching for God. I used to think that bringing forward my best reasoning about faith would be helpful. Now I think that I should begin with attentive listening out of respect for the person in front of me. My good reflections can wait for the right time and place. 

These encounters remind us that we are searching ourselves for a greater depth of understanding and more faithfulness in living the Gospel. 

Paradoxically, reaching out to others often forces us to go deeper into our faith. Their questions to us and the sharing of their own beliefs and questions can push us toward a new depth of knowledge and practice. Fortunately Catholicism is quite rich in resources for deeper understanding and for spiritual growth. 

Pope Francis reminds us that all humans are called to do good and not evil. It is not sufficient to know the faith. We must do the good. In working with others, we can come to a fuller understanding of those for whom Christ died. 


Father John William Crossin, a member of the Oblates of St. Francis De Sales, has been named executive director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the USCCB.

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