It is important for evangelizers and ecumenists to stay in active dialogue with one another because the church's reflection deepens and evolves. A prime example of this is the place of dialogue in the evangelizing mission of the church.
Paul VI, while encouraging interreligious dialogue in his encyclical Ecclesiam suam (1964), did not take a position on the exact place that such dialogue might occupy in the church's mission. The reason is that his own diagnosis of the value of these religions remained quite negative. In his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi (EN -1975), #53 puts other religious traditions in the role of representing the "natural" religiosity of human beings, whereas Christianity was the only "supernatural" religion. Consequently, the others were seen only as "beneficiaries" of the church's evangelizing mission, still conceived primarily in terms of the "proclamation" of the gospel. EN does not mention dialogue. Similarly, Vatican II encouraged dialogue with other religions, but it did not declare it to be part of the church's evangelizing mission. This has only come in three subsequent documents, Dialogue and Mission (1984), Redemptoris Missio (1990), and Dialogue and Proclamation (1991).
In Dialogue and Proclamation (D & P), the Church's reflection on the theology of mission undergoes a significant qualitative change in coming to view dialogue as something intrinsic to evangelization. It is part of the working out during the post-Vatican II years, of a broad and comprehensive notion of evangelization in which dialogue represents a constitutive dimension. In this evolved understanding, dialogue is in itself a form of evangelization. How is this so?
In D & P, "evangelization refers to the mission of the Church in its totality" (#8), in the various elements of which it is composed. "Dialogue", an integral part of that mission, indicates "all positive and constructive interreligious relations with individuals and communities of other faiths which are directed at mutual understanding and enrichment . . . in obedience to truth and respect for freedom" (#9). "Announcement" or "proclamation" is "the communication of the gospel message , the mystery of salvation realized by God for all in JC by the power of the Spirit. It is an invitation . . . to entry through baptism into the community of believers which is the Church (#10).
These distinctive definitions make clear that, while dialogue is already in itself evangelization, evangelization cannot be reduced to dialogue. The two are different in scope. Dialogue does not seek the conversion of others to Christianity but the convergence of both dialogue partners to a deeper shared conversion to God. By contrast, proclamation invites others to become disciples of Christ in the Christian community.
In the 1984 document of the then Secretariat for Non-Christians (now PCIR), the church's evangelizing mission is presented as a "single, but complex and articulated reality" (#13). It lists five principal elements:
The Paulist 2002 General Assembly reconfigured the community's MDS from a triangular approach to mission (Evangelization, Reconciliation, and Ecumenism) to an approach of the hub and the spokes. The hub is evangelization, because it encompasses the mission of the church in its totality. A new line in the opening paragraph of the MDS says we recommit ourselves to evangelization in all its forms as our central mission.
There is the hub. The spokes are the five points above, with points 1, 2, 4, and 5 expressed in our MDS as Work for Christian Unity (1 and 4), Reconciliation (2, 5), Interreligious Relations (1, 4), and Evangelization (1,2,4,5). Number 3, "liturgical life, prayer and contemplation", is of necessity woven into the fabric of daily life in our ministry settings and communities.
"The totality of the Christian mission," according to Dialogue and Mission, "embraces all these elements" (#13). It further explains that dialogue assumes various forms. The four forms (#'s 30-35) it describes have now become an accepted reference point in interreligious relations:
1. Dialogue of life,
open and accessible to all, which takes place between neighbors and colleagues
These four forms of dialogue are specifically mentioned in the new paragraph on Interreligious Relations in our MDS:
This work engages us in a dialogue of life, action, spiritual experience, and theological exchange.
Further, in the same paragraph, we explicitly recognize that dialogue cannot be reduced to being an instrument of proclamation; it has value in itself as an authentic expression of evangelization:
These forms of
dialogue, good in and of themselves, deepen our understanding of one another
and cultivate respect for diverse religious heritages as we journey together
in and toward truth.
That the Spirit of God is universally present and operative in the religious life of the "others" and in the religious traditions to which they belong is another postconciliar rediscovery. This emphasis does not appear in the writings of Paul VI, but it is a recurring theme in the teaching of his successor, John Paul II. Jacques Dupuis writes that "The presence and universal action of the Spirit of God among the 'others' and in their religious traditions represent John Paul II's most important contribution to the theological foundation of interreligious dialogue". The pope says that the "firm belief" of the followers of other religions is "an effect of the Spirit of truth operating outside the visible confines of the Mystical Body (Redemptor Hominis, #6).
John Paul II takes the theological foundation of dialogue which was presented by the Council-the unity of origin and of destiny of the human race through creation and redemption-as a "mystery of unity" which unites all human beings, whatever the differences in their circumstances might be: "The differences are a less important element than the unity which, by contrast, is radical, basic, and decisive" (#3). This universal unity, he writes, "based on the event of creation and redemption, cannot but leave a trace in the reality lived by human beings, even those belonging to different religions" (#7).
To that "mystery of unity," the foundation of dialogue, the pope added yet another element: the active presence of the Spirit of God in the religious life of the "others", mentioning specifically their prayer: "We may think that any authentic prayer is aroused by the Holy Spirit, who is mysteriously present in the heart of every human being" (#11). This presence of the Spirit, he wrote in Redemptoris Missio, extends not only to the religious life of individuals, but also to the religious traditions to which they belong: "The Spirit's presence and activity affect not only individuals but also society and history, peoples, cultures, and religions" (#28).
D &P invokes a threefold theological foundation for interreligious dialogue: the common origin and the single destiny of the human race in God, universal salvation in Jesus Christ, and the active presence of the Holy Spirit. To these three, a fourth might be added, hinted at in D & P: the universality of the Reign of God. By responding in the sincere practice of their religious tradition to God's call addressed to them, believers of other religious faiths truly become-albeit without being formally conscious of it-active members of the Reign. Their religious traditions contribute in a mysterious manner to the construction of the Reign of God in the world. That accounts for the deep communion in the Spirit that interreligious dialogue is able to establish between Christians and members of other living faiths. They are walking together, joint members of the Reign of God in history, toward the fullness of that new humanity willed by God for the end of time, of which they are called to be co-creators under God.
Proclamation and dialogue exist in a dialectical relationship in the dynamic process of the church's evangelizing mission. There is an inescapable tension between them-the tension between the "already" and the "not yet". As Dupuis writes, "Insofar as the Church remains on her pilgrimage, together with the 'others', towards the fullness of the Kingdom, she engages with them in dialogue; insofar as she is the sacrament of the reality of the Kingdom already present and operative in history, she proclaims to them Jesus Christ in whom the Kingdom of God has been established" (pp.225, 226).
In its "Theses on Interreligious Dialogue," the Theological Advisory Commission of the Asian Bishops' Conference recognized that the Church does not monopolize God's action in the world. While it is aware of a special mission of God upon earth, it has to be attentive to God's action in the world, as manifested also in other religions. This twofold awareness constitutes the two poles of the Church's evangelizing action-Proclamation and Dialogue-in relation to other religions.
Proclamation is the expression of the Church's awareness of being in mission. Dialogue is the expression of its awareness of God's presence and action outside its boundaries. Proclamation is the affirmation of and witness to God's action in oneself and in the Church. Dialogue is the openness and attention to the mystery of God's action in the other believer. We cannot speak of one without the other. Thus, interreligious dialogue is a form of sharing, of giving and receiving. It is not a one-way process. It must really be a dialogue, not a monologue.
D & P echoes this by saying, in a passage that should guide Paulist reflection on the value of holding together in one Mission Direction Statement both Evangelization and Interreligious relations:
Interreligious dialogue and proclamation, though not on the same level, are both authentic elements of the Church's evangelizing mission. Both are legitimate and necessary. They are intimately related, but not interchangeable . . . The two activities remain distinct, but . . . one and the same local church, one and the same person, can be diversely engaged in both (#77).
As a Paulist who both engages in formal interreligious dialogue with Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and who preaches PNCEA missions, I recognize myself-and I hope other Paulists can, too-- in the line: "The two activities remain distinct, but one and the same person can be diversely engaged in both."
The Paulists have a longer history of proclamation than of ecumenical and interreligious dialogue. Our current community MDS calls us to recognize that we, as do all Christians, have something to gain from both ecumenical and interreligious dialogue. Our own faith will be enriched. We will be able to discover at greater depth, through the experience and testimony of others, certain aspects and dimensions of the Divine Mystery. We will gain a clarification and a purification of our faith as the encounter with the other raises questions and forces us to revise gratuitous assumptions. We will uproot deep-seated prejudices and overturn certain narrow conceptions and outlooks.
It is because of these fruits that we must say, as we clearly do in our MDS, that the encounter and the exchange have value in themselves. They are an end in themselves. While from the outset, they presuppose openness to the other and to God, they also effect a deeper openness to God of each through the other.
As Dupuis summarizes it:
Thus dialogue does not serve as a means to a further end. Neither on one side nor on the other does it tend to the "conversion" of one's partners to one's own religious tradition. Rather it tends toward a deeper conversion of each to God. The same God speaks in the heart of both partners; the same Spirit is at work in both. It is the same God who calls and challenges the partners through one another, by means of their mutual witness. Thus they become, as it were, for each other and reciprocally, a sign leading to God. The proper end of the interreligious dialogue is ultimately the common conversion of Christians and the members of other religious traditions to the same God-the God of Jesus Christ-who calls them together with one another, challenging them through each other. This reciprocal call, a sign of God's call, is surely mutual evangelization. It builds up, between members of various religious traditions, the universal communion which marks the advent of the Reign of God (p. 234).
At the same time, D & P does not hesitate to state that dialogue, while representing an authentic expression of evangelization, remains oriented toward proclamation. That is to say, in the process of dialogue, we will at some point surely bear witness to "the hope that is in us." Sharing the gospel-proclamation-- represents the peak of the Church's evangelizing mission. The 2002 Paulist General Assembly showed clear recognition of this in the opening line of its revised MDS paragraph on Evangelization when it said:
Evangelization . . . originates and culminates in the preaching of the Good News.