Abp H. Muszyński, The Dialogue between the Church and the World
18 września 2005 | 11:43 | Ⓒ Ⓟ
*1. The Christian meaning of dialogue*
In a democratic and pluralistic society, dialogue is a commonly accepted means of communication and understanding. It is an opportunity, necessity and a challenge at the same time.
Christian dialogue does not differ from other forms of dialogue. However, conceived of as an attitude of a person, it has its profound justification in the specifically theological and religious, Christian motifs. It is as if an extension of the dialogic form of the divine revelation and continues the perennial dialogue that God holds with humanity (CR, 1). A profound stand of dialogue was characteristic of Christ Himself, who engaged in dialogue on infrequent occasions (e.g. in conversation with Nicodemus – Jn 3:1-21; a Samaritan woman – Jn 4:1-26, or reasoning with his opponents – Jn 7:14-36).
The dialogue led by the Church in its most profound essence has a universal character and does not exclude anyone (cf. DCC 92). It consists first of all in the internal dialogue within the Church, ecumenical dialogue with other denominations and religions, and dialogue with non-believers. However, this dialogue is not confined exclusively to what occurs within the Church but comprises also dialogue with the world, with contemporary culture as well as other areas of humanitarian, social, economic, and political cooperation (cf. CA 38).
In its social sphere dialogue is a precondition for peace. Not infrequently it is the only means of reaching an agreement and of resolving antagonisms, conflicts and conflicting interests. When there is no agreement, the only alternative is violence and war.
According to John Paul II, Basically, [dialogue] presupposes the search for what is true, good and just for every person, for every group and every society, in the grouping which one is a member of or in the grouping which presents itself as the opposing one.
Genuine dialogue is predicated on openness and readiness to conduct it, on the willingness to understand the partner as he understands himself as well as on the awareness of the difference and of one’s own and the partner’s identity. True dialogue presupposes respect for the partner’s dignity and is manifested in the willingness to a joint search for the truth and in the conviction that the good of one person must not be achieved at the expense of another. Dialogue cannot, then, mean a resignation from the truth; it is rather a dialogic process which is supposed to lead to the revelation in the neighbour of the depth of what I have myself discovered through faith.
There is also a constraint to dialogue, marked by the preservation of one’s own personal and religious identity. It is based on one’s fidelity to the truth of faith one has acquired and to the fundamental moral principles of Christianity. Nevertheless, we should always assume that the subjective recognition of truth may evolve and expand on an ongoing basis.
In the message to the organisers and participants of this VI Gniezno Convention Pope Benedict XVI wrote as follows: Naturally, this is not only a common exchange of ideas but a joint search for the truth, in the spirit of love and respect for each and every man, for his culture and spiritual tradition. This calls for an ability to listen, an openness to arguments of others, and at the same time courage and peace in defence of one’s own beliefs. Seen in such a way, dialogue is a difficult challenge, which Christians must accept (Castel Gandolfo, 8.08.2005).
Brother Roger Shultz, who recently died a tragic death, spoke as follows: No one is able to understand the Gospel alone. Everyone can say to himself: in the only communion that the Church is, what I cannot understand in the truth of faith can be understood by others who live by it. I do not depend on my own faith solely, but on the faith of the Christians of all times, those who preceded me, as Mary the Mother of God or the Apostles, and my contemporaries. Day by day I try to be internally ready to place my confidence in the Mystery of Faith.
*2. Fruit of the dialogue between the Church and the EU institutions*
The first unquestionable fruit of a decisive and unanimous position of the Holy See, the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European
Community (COMECE) and the European Council of Evangelical Churches (KEK), are three fundamental demands inscribed in the draft European Treaty:
– The Union respects and does not prejudice the status under national law of churches and religious associations or communities in the Member States (Art. 51).
– The Union recognizes the identity and the specific contribution of these churches and organisations (to the construction of community life) (Art. 51).
– The Union shall maintain with them an open, transparent and regular dialogue (Art. I-52).
This legally determined dialogue between the Council of the Community of European Episcopates and the European Union institutions starts to bear fruit. One of them is the meeting of the President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, with the COMECE bishops during a plenary session of the bishops in Brussels, on March 11, 2005. In the course of the meeting the bishops suggested that the European Union should be based on well-tested values related to work, life, the family and scientific research. President Barroso in turn confirmed that the way of dialogue should be used to arrive at universal values, which will help construct European diversity in unity.
Regrettably, in spite of indefatigable efforts of John Paul II and of numerous Church organisations and institutions, a reference to God (Invocatio Dei) was not included into the Preamble to the Treaty. Nor was there any mention made about Christianity as a significant element which has stamped the mark of unity on the European civilization.
The sources from which Europe draws its spiritual inspirations that the Preamble does mention are the cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe. This phrasing is a result of a compromise and seems to satisfy no one. However, there is nothing that might prevent us, Christians, from referring the religious inheritance, in accordance with the historical truth, precisely to Christianity.
To tell the truth it has to be admitted that the European Treaty guarantees to everyone the right to freedom, both on an individual and social level, stating as follows: Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right includes freedom to change religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or in private, to manifest religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance (Art. II-10).
It is first of all Christians themselves who determine what use they will make of the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of religion. For the future of Europe will not depend on an invocation to God or its absence from the Preamble, but on a living witness to the Gospel provided every day by Christ’s followers. The Gospel remains ever young and continues to possess an extraordinary power of attraction. Whether and to what extent we will be able to show and prove with our lives this novelty and dynamism of the Gospel in Europe and the world depends solely on us.
*3. Challenges for the Church in Europe*
Europe is currently undergoing a profound crisis of its own identity. After the rejection of the draft Constitutional Treaty in the referendums in France and the Netherlands, not only the Treaty itself, but also the future of the European Union is a big question mark.
After the enlargement of the European Union by another 10 Member States the European Union needs newly set goals which it wants to serve and which it wants to secure. Defining itself as a community united in its diversity (Preamble), it must arrive at a minimum of universal values that will bring people together and that will be stronger than the divergent interests and contrasts, internally tearing Europe apart. General statements such as The Union is founded on the indivisible, universal values of human dignity, freedom, equality and solidarity; it is based on the principles of democracy and the rule of law (Preamble to the Charter of Fundamental Rights) no longer suffice. An absence of a more precise definition of the values in question makes them understood in a variety of ways. Deprived of a deeper ethical motivation, they most often possess only a declarative character.
The extraordinary cultural, ethnic, social, economic, and political diversity of Europe, as well as the prominent secular lobby visible in all areas of life pose significant challenges for the Christian. The only way to a compromise and to overcoming these challenges is an open and profound dialogue. In May this year the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community issued a comprehensive document in Brussels, prepared under the guidance of the French bishop Hypolite Simone and entitled The Birth of the European Union and the Responsibility of Catholics. The document enumerates the following three basis challenges:
– building an authentic bond of unity within the Church in individual local communities;
– re-building authentic ecumenical communities between Christians;
– and fruitful interreligious dialogue.
These are without doubt the major challenges. We must not, however, narrow the focus to the perspective of religion and the Church only. The entire Europe is faced with new challenges which concern also Christianity itself, therefore we need to extend the horizon with other challenges for the Union and the whole Europe. These are the following:
3.1 The inviolable dignity of the person.
3.2 A loss of the sense of the sacrum.
3.3 A threat to marriage and the family.
3.4 A false understanding of freedom.
The civilisational clash of the 20th and the 21st centuries boils down in reality to diametrically different conceptions of man. In line with the Christian teaching based on the Holy Scripture, the inalienable dignity of the human person arises from his being an image and likeness of God Himself (cf. Gn 1:27). This dignity is not granted but stems from the very act of creation. Each man is endowed with it at the moment of birth. God alone is the sole Lord of life and death, hence the protection of human life from the first moment of conception until natural death is the very essence of Christianity. A direct conclusion that can be drawn is as follows: if the creative act is a work of God, and the dignity of man is inviolable, the act must not be reproduced.
A totally divergent lay concept recognizes man himself as the ultimate measure of values, the only point of reference and the exclusive criterion for the evaluation of truth, goodness and beauty. Paradoxically, it is the elevation of man himself as the only yardstick and criterion of good and evil that has led to an unprecedented relativisation of and a threat to life as the highest created value. Man, who has received the gift of life, even when he does not connect it with the Creator, has no right to decide on the life of another human being. Such an attitude has led as a consequence to a deadly threat to life and to such dramatic ramifications as legally sanctioned approval of abortion, euthanasia or even voluntary suicide. Christianity as a religion of God who through Incarnation has united Himself in some way with each human life is especially called to defend each conceived life and to preach the Gospel of love, and thus the Gospel of life. Each human life is the fruit and token not only of conjugal love but also of the love of God Himself.
Is there any common denominator of these two visions, of a man “created in the image and likeness of God” and a man “who is the measure of everything”?, asks Prof. Bronisław Geremek, responding as follows: “The former formula is a formula of thinking about God and with God. The latter formula is a formula of thinking without God, but not against God. Both, however, are expressed by means of the principle of the dignity of the human person”.
Such a juxtaposition of two contrasting stands on a personalistic level is possible on condition that one admits that human life is the ultimate and inalienable value arising from the very fact of being human. Secondly, one must also admit that human freedom is not unlimited, but ends where the right of another person starts.
Many centuries of experience of successive generations as well as the contemporary times teach us that after the rejection of the commandments from the first tablet of the Decalogue, the ones that define the relation of man to God, man creates for himself a god in the form of “race” or “class”, which he is ready to serve subjugating all the other values to them. “The moral responsibility to the future generations and our Planet”, proclaimed in the Preamble, must be preceded by all people with the responsibility to one’s own conscience. For believers, in turn, God should remain the main point of reference in this respect.
For all for whom “human hope” is enough the main motivation for action should be a broadly construed good of a person, based on a firm moral foundation, whose rights are inscribed into each human conscience which has not fallen prey to falseness. They were in large measure defined in the second tablet of the Decalogue, which relates to values universally respected in many different religions. In the common perception:
– human life is the ultimate good, homicide is evil;
– the truth is constructive, lies are destructive;
– respect for property is the cornerstone of social order; theft ruins this order and is reprehensible;
– marriage between a man and a woman is the most secure guarantee of the preservation and development of each society, while the destruction of marriage results in much misfortune.
A righteous human conscience may prove to be a firm support, a meeting place and an efficient impetus for one’s commitment to the good of man, both in people with deep religious beliefs and in non-believers.
Paradoxically, “Forgetting about God has led to the abandonment of man and that is why it should come as no surprise that in this context a vast space opened up for a free growth of nihilism in the area of philosophy, relativism in the area of the theory of cognition and morality, and pragmatism or even cynical hedonism in the structure of everyday life” (EinE 9).
Despite the absence of Christian values in the Preamble, the majority of Europeans are still Christians. They wish to make their contribution to public life on equal terms with others. The Charter of Fundamental Rights assures that Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, both in private and public life (Title II, Art. II-70,1). Christians on a par with others, in the sense of responsibility precisely for the future of Europe, wish to shape the future countenance of Europe through the power of their witness, respecting the democratic law and order.
The sanctity of human life as the ultimate created value calls to mind also a more general problem of the threat to and the presence of the sacrum as a major menace and challenge for Christianity.
Starting from Vatican Council II, the Church has fully recognised the autonomy of the secular order and decisively opposed the blurring of the distinctions between the sacrum and the profanum. On the other hand, though, at a time when, as a fruit of positivist thinking, the sphere of the sacrum is being persistently eliminated along with the presence of God in the world, The Church firmly stands by the presence of the dimension of sanctity in the lives of individuals, families and communities. Stripping man of his transcendental dimension, an absence of a reference to another non-created reality, impoverishes man and his spirituality enormously. Man, in order to remain a human being, needs a reference to someone greater than he himself (cf. FR 25).
The three first commandments of the Decalogue, the focal reference point for what is holy, respectable as well as defining forms of observance, have become a lasting legacy of European culture. Even if someone does not acknowledge a personal God, he still possesses an elementary sense of what is holy, inviolable, respectable and dignified. These criteria are most often derived from one’s own circle of culture. Experience teaches us that the elementary sense of what is holy and worthy of respect has its direct positive as well as negative consequences for everyday life. A positive manifestation of the preservation of the sense of the sacrum is the memory of and respect for such places of heritage as cemeteries, graves, objects of worship, holy memorabilia of the past, irrespective of the person, community or form of cult they relate to. This respect stems from the religious experience of a community with God, most often extended in the construction of an interpersonal community, founded on mutual respect and esteem.
An authentic need for the sacrum, which according to Rudolf Otto combines both the tremendum and the fascinosum, is evident not only in the warped ideas of the sacrum (it is a sacred duty to “annihilate” the enemy), but first and foremost in a simple contradiction of this idea, likewise expressed by means of the term sacrum. Jean Paul Sartre, following in the footsteps of Jean Genet and George Bataille, conceived of the sacrum as an act of violence, the use of force or deviation, which is a desecration of genuine sanctity, not only threatening the very essence of sanctity, but also contradicting true humanity.
A lack of reference to the genuine sphere of the sacrum most often leads to arbitrary conferral of attributes of sanctity onto values and matters such as violence, profit, a distorted sense of justice, defence of one’s own interests, or “my sacred right” irrespective of the degree of the violations of the right of others or even of the humiliation or violation of the dignity of the person.
In a pluralist society with a greatly diversified hierarchy of values and thus characterised by a number of different sanctities, the dialogue of the Church with the world in this respect may and should contribute to the defence of genuine sanctity and help in a complementary manner to differentiate between the sacred and the lay. Education for this dialogue is a significant part of the Church’s mission in the contemporary world.
Among the fundamental values especially at risk today are marriage and the family. Marriage as a permanent union of a man and a woman and a wholesome family are the foundation of social order and a precious legacy of the European civilization. The past the and future of mankind occur through the family. Today all these values have come to be strongly jeopardised. What is questioned is not only the permanent character of marriage but also marriage as a union of a man and a woman and the family as a community of father, mother and children. At present the legalization of homosexual unions and the conferral on them of a status equal to that of marriages as well as the possibility of such couples adopting children is without doubt the greatest challenge for the Church.
This particular case does not concern one of many truths but an institution which is uniquely anchored in the order and the law granted to man by the Creator. According to biblical accounts man, created in the image and likeness of God, was created male and female (Gn 1:27). The differentiation between the sexes by the will of the Creator sanctions a normal natural order and at the same time raises this relationship to a new level – the personal level – where the communion of persons is realized. The complementarity of the sexes and fertility belong to the very nature of marriage and assure participation in the very creative act of God.
The marital union of man and woman has been elevated by Christ to the dignity of a sacrament as an efficacious sign of the covenant between Christ and the Church (cf. Eph 5:32). There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family. Marriage is holy, while homosexual acts go against the natural moral law. Homosexual acts “close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved” (The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Considerations regarding proposals to give legal recognition to unions between homosexual persons, Vatican 2003, no. 4).
Moreover, one cannot disregard the fact that Sacred Scripture condemns homosexual acts as a serious depravity (cf. Rom 1:24-27; 1 Cor 6:10; 1 Tim 1:10). Naturally, these acts are not tantamount to homosexual inclinations, which unlike sinful acts are defined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church as intrinsically disordered (no. 2351). These unions are a grave threat to the family, which is the cornerstone of the succession and development of all societies. A normal family consists of father, mother and children. Each child has every right to have father and mother and nothing and no one is able to make up for a lack of a parent, of whom the child is deprived of the adult’s volition. Adoption of children by homosexual unions is in reality an act of violence committed with respect to the child with the conscious use of his helplessness. Such a union is likewise a serious threat to a harmonious development of the child.
The dialogue of the Church with respect to the threats to the permanent character of marriage and the family should develop in two directions. In believers it should lead to the development of a righteous conscience in accordance with the objective norms inscribed in human nature and sanctioned by the divine law. Marriage was elevated by Christ to the dignity of a sacrament. In this way the love of the spouses as the dispensers of this sacrament becomes an extension as it were of the creative love of God Himself and has become an image of Christ’s love to the Church (cf. Eph 5:21-32).
Individual norms for believers in the event of a legalization of homosexual unions can be found in the above instruction of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on homosexuality.
With respect to non-believers, people religiously indifferent or raised in a different religious tradition, one must confine himself to reasoned arguments at the biological, anthropological and social level with an invocation of natural moral law. The principles of respect, non-discrimination and autonomy may be justifiably invoked but only when they refer to all parties, children included. One does not necessarily have to believe in God to notice the irreparable social harm done to societies by unstable pathological families and unions, which in a significant way put at risk the succession of generations in each society.
The main task of the Church is to revive mutual love within families, since where there is love, there is also a place for conceived life and a new man, proportionate to this love. This is a special task for pro-family movements, which consciously foster a Christian lifestyle and decisively oppose all forms of threats to life, especially at its beginning and end, when it is the most vulnerable.
Demographic, social or even patriotic considerations are of vital importance, too. A dangerous decline in the number of births in recent years signals possibly the greatest risk in this respect. It gives us to understand that Poland is dying out as a nation and Europe is dying out as a continent. Such nations and continents do not have a future ahead of them. In an era of globalisation, a downward trend of some nations and continents with the attendant demographic dynamism of others is especially worrisome and can be immaterial to no one.
The abrasion of moral values which we have been able to see with a naked eye recently has its main source in misconstrued freedom. Freedom as Christians perceive it is a gift of God. God created man free and capable of love. Here is revealed his similarity to God Himself. Freedom is the measure of the greatness of man and at the same time his vocation.
The controversy related to human freedom took on a particularly dramatic turn. John Paul II recalled: To defend man today means to defend a genuine understanding of his freedom – an understanding of the Gospel.
The Christian idea of freedom, which has become one of the fundamental components of the European civilisation, was imparted to Europe by St. Paul. The call to freedom was one of the main subjects of his preaching and can be summarise in the following words: For freedom Christ set us free […] For you were called for freedom, brothers (Gal 5:1.13). This freedom is reflected in the liberation from sin, from the yoke of the Law and egoism, which constricts man in a narrow circle of self-love, as if in a shell. The call to freedom referred to by St. Paul is at the same time a call to serve another man in the name of love: serve one another through love. For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Gal 5:14).
Life guided by the spirit of freedom demands a radical conversion and abandonment of the lifestyle characteristic of pagans. Hence St. Paul admonished, But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh. For the flesh has desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh these are opposed to each other, so that you may not do what you want (Gal 5:13.17). The freedom that Christ grants is manifested in the Christian overcoming his weakness and sin and letting himself be guided by the Sprit of God (cf. Gal 5:13).
Freedom is most closely related to truth. In a world without truth, freedom loses its foundation and man is exposed to the violence of passion and to manipulation, both open and hidden (CA 46). Without a full truth there is no genuine freedom, either. Patterned on God’s freedom, man’s freedom is not negated by his obedience to the divine law; indeed, only through this obedience does it abide in the truth and conform to human dignity (VS, 42). The divine commandments are not an obstacle but rather a criterion of true freedom. They become fulfilled in the service of love of God and people.
The proclamation of the Gospel of freedom on the part of the Church means that she has to oppose to the widespread idea of a false freedom, dominant in contemporary culture. Severed from the truth, freedom not infrequently becomes lawlessness, and lawlessness in turn leads to slavery, to enslavement. The bizarre paradox lies in the fact that by accepting freedom construed in this way man falls victim to all sorts of enslavement, as tragic as they are unconscious. Misconceived freedom leads in due course to anarchy and lawlessness both in the lives of individuals and whole societies.
The Christian concept of freedom focuses predominantly on its inner dimension as an ability to choose the good and the truth recognised in one’s conscience (cf. VS 61). Inner freedom is directly extended onto external acts and is manifested in the construction of a free society.
Pope John Paul II was an intrepid preacher of the freedom of the Gospel. The moral movement of Solidarity was the most spectacular fruit of the seed of the Gospel. It contributed to far-reaching transformations in our homeland, to the liberation from a dictatorship and to the creation of free democratic structures in our country, and further down the road also in other satellite countries of the Soviet Union.
The idea of freedom, the construction of interpersonal communities based on love and the proclamation of the truth of the Gospel and the Christian hope predicated on it, without which there is no future, are the most significant values that the Church contributes to the construction of a civil society. In this respect the Church is faced with an unprecedented challenge. It calls for taking a new substantial effort of educating for freedom. These renewed efforts to fulfil Christ’s promise: Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free (Jn 8:32) allow us to trust that the work of the Church aiming at the creation of a free society will not be futile.
The dialogue of the Church with the world in the face of challenges of the 21st century
The contribution of the Church into the construction of attitudes of social dialogue in a new European reality
The dialogue of the Church with the world in the face of the new European reality
1. Contribution of Christianity into a deepened understanding of dialogue (specifically Christian understanding of dialogue),
as the foundation for the extension of the dialogical structure of biblical revelation
as a method (Christ, Creator, in teaching, examples)
2. Success of the dialogue of the Church and European institutions so far
3. Challenges for dialogue
– in a religious sense
– in a social and public sense
4. The response of the Church to the aforementioned challenges
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