Humility in Dialogue | Wisdom Wednesday
This past weekend, Pope Francis travelled to the Holy Land, where he walked the steps of Jesus, prayed with Muslims and Jews for peace, and met with the Archbishop of Constantinople, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.
Orthodox - Catholic relations have been a focus of the last several popes. In 1964, Patriarch Athenagoras I and Pope Paul VI met in the Holy Land and mutually lifted the excommunications that each Church had held against the other since A.D. 1054, and this weekend's meeting marked the 50th Anniversary of that historic occasion.
In our dialogue with other faiths (especially the Orthodox, our closest relatives in the Christian religion), we need to maintain our authenticity as Catholics. We can't compromise on that which is essential. But we also need to listen to the concerns of our conversation partners. We need examine how our definitions of things may be different, and we need to be open to new understandings of things while staying true to that which is essential, and not needlessly idolizing that which is not. In other words, we need to be humble. We need to let the Holy Spirit get things "right" and lead us where he will. We can't be so arrogant as to let trivial human disagreements get in the way of something as important as unity. We need to give a little.
This has played out well over the last 50 years. Dialogue between Orthodox and Catholic Christians has become increasingly fraternal, and more and more theologians on both sides see unity as only a matter of time. The humble dialogue that has taken place has allowed both sides to lower their defenses. None of this has involved either parting compromising on some essential matter of faith. Instead, each step in the right direction has been the result of gentle clarification, and reasonable relaxation of the non-essential.
In his remarks this weekend, Pope Francis focused on the resurrection, and how each act of unity is an act of resurrection. He also commented, "I reiterate the hope already expressed by my predecessors for a continued dialogue with all our brothers and sisters in Christ, aimed at finding a means of exercising the specific ministry of the Bishop of Rome which, in fidelity to his mission, can be open to a new situation and can be, in the present context, a service of love and of communion acknowledged by all".
In his year as Pope, Francis has been true to the Petrine ministry. He has been a true leader of the Christian Church - serving as a witness and a rock for the Church. On paper, the ministry of Pope has not changed. And yet, small differences in his behavior, wardrobe, talking points and living arrangments have caught people's attention. While not compromising the essence of the ministry, Pope Francis has attempted to quietly demonstrate some ways the Pope can walk a little differently in the service of unity. Perhaps that's what he meant by this short comment in his speech, in which he states that he is trying to determine how to exercise his role in a new way.
Pope Francis's subtle tweaks and relaxations demonstrate how deeply he has listened to the concerns of our conversation partners. If he is able to witness faithfully to the ministry of the Bishop of Rome in such a way that he can be received by the Orthodox, who knows what effect this will have in our relationships with our other Christian brothers and sisters with whom we have division. One thing is certain: he is obviously very wise in his humility and gentleness. We can all look at his example when we have individual disputes, especially when it comes to faith. Can we let down our defenses and treat one another as brothers and sisters first, clarifying when necessary and relaxing the unessential? I think that would be a holy thing.