Dialogue does not originate from tactical concerns or self-interest, but is an activity with its own guiding principles, requirements and dignity.
Alas, dialogue is a bad word in many Catholic circles for the simple reason that it is not a tool for the self-concerned. Those dismissal of dialogue may veer dangerously close to a kind of pelagianism, the notion that non-Christians can be talked into the faith, and persuaded to follow Jesus because of the best of apologetics or proselytizing. Pope John Paul II offers a traditional view:
It is demanded by deep respect for everything that has been brought about in human beings by the Spirit who blows where he wills.(Cf. Redemptor Hominis 12) Through dialogue, the Church seeks to uncover the “seeds of the Word,”(Ad Gentes 11, 15) a “ray of that truth which enlightens all (people)”;(Nostra Aetate 2) these are found in individuals and in the religious traditions of (humankind). Dialogue is based on hope and love, and will bear fruit in the Spirit.
What do other faith traditions offer the Church? This is one of the best formulations I’ve read:
Other religions constitute a positive challenge for the Church: they stimulate her both to discover and acknowledge the signs of Christ’s presence and of the working of the Spirit, as well as to examine more deeply her own identity and to bear witness to the fullness of Revelation which she has received for the good of all.
And by this, I read the pope as suggesting that dialogue helps us not because we can see ourselves as not-Muslims, not-Pagans, not-atheists, or even not-nones. We can review what we offer in our tradition. We build on the fruitful soil of other efforts.
The positive fruits of dialogue for the believer:
This gives rise to the spirit which must enliven dialogue in the context of mission. Those engaged in this dialogue must be consistent with their own religious traditions and convictions, and be open to understanding those of the other party without pretense or close-mindedness, but with truth, humility and frankness, knowing that dialogue can enrich each side. There must be no abandonment of principles nor false irenicism, but instead a witness given and received for mutual advancement on the road of religious inquiry and experience, and at the same time for the elimination of prejudice, intolerance and misunderstandings. Dialogue leads to inner purification and conversion which, if pursued with docility to the Holy Spirit, will be spiritually fruitful.
Note that Pope John Paul II is talking about our continuing conversion, and the fruits of the Holy Spirit (Cf. Galatians 5:22-23) we will know as a result of honest listening and conversation.
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