In his Saturday meeting last weekend with priests from the diocese of Caserta, Pope Francis spoke of creativity. He rambled a bit, but his final destination brought us to a reflection on dialogue, and rested again on creativity.
In the contemporary culture, just talking with someone is enough to make you suspect in the eyes of some. A good movement to resist.
But, closeness also means dialogue; you must read in Ecclesiam Suam, the doctrine on dialogue, then repeated by other Popes. Dialogue is so important, but to dialogue two things are necessary: one’s identity as a starting point and empathy toward others. If I am not sure of my identity and I go to dialogue, I end up swapping my faith. You cannot dialogue without starting from your own identity, and empathy, that is not condemning a priori. Every man, every woman has something of their own to give us; every man, every woman has their own story, their own situation and we have to listen to it. Then the prudence of the Holy Spirit will tell us how to respond.
A caution about apologetics:
Starting from one’s own identity for dialogue, but dialogue is not to do apologetics, although sometimes you have to do it, when we are asked questions that require explanation.
That simple conversation: this is our starting point. And not forgetting empathy.
Dialogue is a human thing. It is hearts and souls that dialogue, and this is so important! Do not be afraid to dialogue with anyone. It was said of a saint, joking somewhat – I do not remember, I think it was St. Philip Neri, but I’m not sure – that he was also able to dialogue even with the devil. Why? Because he had the freedom to listen all people, but starting from his own identity. He was so sure, but to be sure of one’s identity does not mean proselytizing. Proselytism is a trap, which even Jesus condemns a bit, en passant, when he speaks to the Pharisees and the Sadducees: “You who go around the world to find a proselyte and then you remember that …” But, it’s a trap.
This criticism of proselytizing won’t go down well in some quarters, the ones in which there is always a point in the conversation: to persuade or even force a concession in one’s partner, to come to a new point of view. The whole winner/loser dynamic.
And Pope Benedict has a beautiful expression. He said it in Aparecida but I believe he repeated elsewhere: “The Church grows not by proselytism, but by attraction.” And what’s the attraction? It is this human empathy, which is then guided by the Holy Spirit.
Pope Francis returns to creativity with some advice for the aspiring priest of these times:
Therefore, what will be the profile of the priest of this century, which is so secularized? A man of creativity, who follows the commandment of God – “create things”; a man of transcendence, both with God in prayer and with the others always; a man who is approachable and who is close to people. To distance people is not priestly and people are fed up of this attitude, and yet it happens all the same. But he who welcomes people and is close to them and dialogues with them does so because he feels certain of his identity, which leads him to have an heart open to empathy. This is what comes to me to say to you in response to your question.
I think this diagnosis is spot on, at least for North America. An interesting counterpoint to the CDWDS circular letter suggesting it’s time to tamp down perceived excesses with the Sign of Peace. It takes creativity, flexibility, and openness to move freely from transcendence and prayer to rubbing shoulders in everyday life. Or even in church.
Are the people who resist unsure of their identity? I’m not out to diagnose individuals. I can only look at my own points of avoidance. And be more creative, especially when I feel blocked.