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Pope Francis II issued an apostolic exhortation today that he calls Evangelii Gaudium, which is Latin for the “Joy of the Gospel.” The 58 pages is just about manageable. The 217 footnotes — not so much. So why should I care? I’m not Catholic. Well — there’s a lot of good, compassionate stuff in it. Over the next few days (or weeks — we’ll see) I’ll highlight some of the best stuff.

Let’s start with interfaith dialog.

250. An attitude of openness in truth and in love must characterize the dialogue with the followers of non-Christian religions, in spite of various obstacles and difficulties, especially forms of fundamentalism on both sides. Interreligious dialogue is a necessary condition for peace in the world, and so it is a duty for Christians as well as other religious communities. This dialogue is in first place a conversation about human existence or simply, as the bishops of India have put it, a matter of “being open to them, sharing their joys and sorrows”. In this way we learn to accept others and their different ways of living, thinking and speaking. We can then join one another in taking up the duty of serving justice and peace, which should become a basic principle of all our exchanges. A dialogue which seeks social peace and justice is in itself, beyond all merely practical considerations, an ethical commitment which brings about a new social situation. Efforts made in dealing with a specific theme can become a process in which, by mutual listening, both parts can be purified and enriched. These efforts, therefore, can also express love for truth.

(The highlighted bit emphasizes something we’ve been saying all along — dialogue is, in and of itself, an action, a change agent.)

251. In this dialogue, ever friendly and sincere, attention must always be paid to the essential bond between dialogue and proclamation, which leads the Church to maintain and intensify her relationship with non-Christians. A facile syncretism would ultimately be a totalitarian gesture on the part of those who would ignore greater values of which they are not the masters. True openness involves remaining steadfast in one’s deepest convictions, clear and joyful in one’s own identity, while at the same time being “open to understanding those of the other party” and “knowing that dialogue can enrich each side”. What is not helpful is a diplomatic openness which says “yes” to everything in order to avoid problems, for this would be a way of deceiving others and denying them the good which we have been given to share generously with others. Evangelization and interreligious dialogue, far from being opposed, mutually support and nourish one another.

(The word “syncretism” threw me — according to the Online Etymological Dictionary, it means “reconciliation of different beliefs,” 1610s, from Modern Latin syncretismus (David Pareus, 1615), from Greek synkretismos “union of communities,” from synkretizein “to combine against a common enemy,” from syn- “together” (see syn-) + second element of uncertain origin. One theory connects it with kretismos “lying,” from kretizein “to lie like a Cretan;” another connects it with the stem of kerannynai “to mix, blend;” krasis. As a Lutheran, I know the word “evangelize,” but for those from a different tradition it comes from the late 14c., from Old French evangeliser “to spread or preach the Gospel,” and directly from Medieval Latin or Late Latin evangelizare, from Greek euangelizesthai (see evangelist). I think the Pontiff is onto something important here — a concern among those new to interfaith dialog that their own faith may become muddled, weakened or corrupted by exposure to those holding different beliefs. He says not. So do I. )

The next two paragraphs are specifically about dialogue with Muslims:

252. Our relationship with the followers of Islam has taken on great importance, since they are now significantly present in many traditionally Christian countries, where they can freely worship and become fully a part of society. We must never forget that they “profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, who will judge humanity on the last day”. The sacred writings of Islam have retained some Christian teachings; Jesus and Mary receive profound veneration and it is admirable to see how Muslims both young and old, men and women, make time for daily prayer and faithfully take part in religious services. Many of them also have a deep conviction that their life, in its entirety, is from God and for God. They also acknowledge the need to respond to God with an ethical commitment and with mercy towards those most in need.

253. In order to sustain dialogue with Islam, suitable training is essential for all involved, not only so that they can be solidly and joyfully grounded in their own identity, but so that they can also acknowledge the values of others, appreciate the concerns underlying their demands and shed light on shared beliefs. We Christians should embrace with affection and respect Muslim immigrants to our countries in the same way that we hope and ask to be received and respected in countries of Islamic tradition. I ask and I humbly entreat those countries to grant Christians freedom to worship and to practice their faith, in light of the freedom which followers of Islam enjoy in Western countries! Faced with disconcerting episodes of violent fundamentalism, our respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalizations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence.

And finally:

254. Non-Christians, by God’s gracious initiative, when they are faithful to their own consciences, can live “justified by the grace of God”, and thus be “associated to the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ”. But due to the sacramental dimension of sanctifying grace, God’s working in them tends to produce signs and rites, sacred expressions which in turn bring others to a communitarian experience of journeying towards God. While these lack the meaning and efficacy of the sacraments instituted by Christ, they can be channels which the Holy Spirit raises up in order to liberate non-Christians from atheistic immanentism or from purely individual religious experiences. The same Spirit everywhere brings forth various forms of practical wisdom which help people to bear suffering and to live in greater peace and harmony. As Christians, we can also benefit from these treasures built up over many centuries, which can help us better to live our own beliefs.

(Paschal is another word that may flummox non-Christians: early 15c., “of or pertaining to Easter,” from Old French paschal (12c.) and directly from Late Latin paschalis, from pascha “Passover, Easter,” from Greek pascha “Passover,” from Aramaic pasha “pass over,” corresponding to Hebrew pesah, from pasah “he passed over.”) The Paschal Mystery is the Christian understanding of human salvation concentrated in Christ, dead, risen from the dead, and ascended to heaven, who is the paschal Lamb of the new Passover, or the Messiah. I was thrown by “atheistic immanentism.” Way over my head, but I think he’s pooh-poohing belief systems that do not include a God. Correct me if I’m wrong. What he seems to be saying her is that although Christianity is the BEST path to God (others miss out on the “meaning and efficacy of the sacraments”) having a religion is way better than having no religion.)

I think the Pope did a pretty good job. What do you think?

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