Our choice of words can make a profound difference.
Our posture can make a profound difference.
We as a Church have learned these lessons as we have engaged in dialogue with our fellow Christians for the past 50 years. When the words we use are harsh and judgmental, people don't stick around to hear what else we might have to say, even if it might be beneficial to them. When we assume a posture that is defensive and closed, people don't bother to approach us in the first place.
With its Decree on Ecumenism, issued 50 years ago this month, the Second Vatican Council transformed the Catholic Church into a Church of dialogue. Our focus shifted from the errors we saw in other Christian traditions to an acknowledgement that the Holy Spirit is also working in the lives of these communities and that, yes, there are positive elements to them, even things Catholics can learn from them.
And thus it becomes imperative that we dialogue.
In 50 years of dialogue with other Christians, we have seen progress that would have been unimaginable before the Council:
- In 1965, following the historic meeting of Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras in Jerusalem the year before, Rome and Constantinople lifted the mutual excommunications that had officially divided Catholicism from Eastern Orthodoxy since the year 1054.
- In 1999, following years of fruitful dialogue, the Vatican and the Lutheran World Federation signed the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. This agreement said that the question of how people are saved by God, a flashpoint of the Reformation, was no longer a point of division for Lutheran and Catholics. In 2006, the Methodists also signed onto the statement.
- Most recently, Pope Francis has reached out to Pentecostal and Evangelical Christians in new ways, sparking levels of mutual engagement and openness never seen before.
"Dialogue between generations, dialogue with the people, because we are all people, the capacity to give and receive, while remaining open to the truth," Pope Francis said.
In this light, we see that dialogue is not merely a tool for different Christians and religions to better understand the truth of one another, but an answer to the call for the Church to go out from itself and bring Christ's mercy to people on the margins.
Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski is bishop of the Diocese of Springfield, Massachusetts, and the new chairman of the Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.