Dialogue is integral to the church, Cardinal Cupich says

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Dialogue is not an option for church, Cardinal Cupich said in a Sept. 29 talk at Catholic Theological Union in the city’s Hyde Park neighborhood. Rather, dialogue is integral to the very being of the church as it was instituted by Jesus Christ.

“Dialogue is not something extraneous to the life of the church, but at the heart of its very nature, and we should embrace it,” he said.

Cardinal Cupich was offering the 2017 Murnion Lecture for the Catholic Common Ground Initiative, which has found a home at CTU’s Bernardin Center. The initiative was founded in 1996 with a goal of facilitating and promoting dialogue within the church.

Cardinal Cupich reminded listeners that “Called to Be Catholic: Church in a Time of Peril,” the statement issued by the National Pastoral Life Center in 1996 that provided the basis for the Common Ground Initiative, and the initiative itself, were “roundly criticized by certain elements in the church for a variety of reasons. Dialogue for these folks came across as a dirty word. It was seen as an attempt to diminish or water down church doctrine and the teaching authority of the church, or at least relativize it, as they said.”

His lecture, titled “Dialogue in the Key of Pope Francis,” emphasized that both Cardinal Bernardin’s and Pope Francis’ insistence on dialogue is based on the conclusions of the Second Vatican Council.

Pope Francis signaled soon after being elected that dialogue would define his papacy, Cardinal Cupich said. In “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”), Pope Francis used several images to show how the church should engage with people.

The church’s tradition of dialogue goes back to Jesus, who called his disciples “friends,” Cardinal Cupich said.

“Jesus engaged others by dialoguing with them,” he said. “He showed he enjoyed talking to those he was calling. He enjoyed being with them. Friendship is the necessary prerequisite of dialogue. Jesus tells us to speak to one another with the aim of creating friendship.”

The pope also has talked about the need for Christians to be companions and the church to be “synodal.”

“Synod has been part of the church’s vocabulary from the first centuries, and yet it has been largely forgotten in the Western church,” he said. “Synod literally means walking with each other, journeying together.”

That means that the church must always be both teaching and listening.

“The church is by its very nature dialogical,” he said. “Simply put, dialogue is not a dirty word. It’s our word.”

To engage in dialogue, a change of heart is needed, Cardinal Cupich said. The church must be engaged in ongoing conversion and discernment of where Christ is leading it.

“It requires that we be willing let go of cherished beliefs and long-held biases,” he said. “It is this willingness of Pope Francis to let go of the unnecessary and explore uncharted waters that gives him internal freedom.”

Individual Catholics must do the same, Cardinal Cupich said, referring to the Common Ground Initiative’s 10th anniversary statement.

“We must have a change of heart if dialogue is to be successful and common ground is to be found. If the initiative is to be successful, it must be a journey beyond our personal preferences to the place where the Lord lives, in order that through this deeper dialogue, we can discern God’s will,” he said.

But the church is not adequately prepared for such a dialogue, he said,

“As a pastor, I am acutely aware that generally speaking we have not prepared our people to engage in the prayerful discernment necessary for there to be real dialogue,” he said. “We are surrounded by a culture of competition and winner-take-all mindset. Nor we have prepared our priests and our pastoral leaders to integrate discernment in their pastoral practice. We’ve depended on a blueprint image of the church, as if everything has been decided and charted out and all we need to do is follow a pre-arranged set of plans or rules, as though the ascension of Christ left us orphans and that he really never meant it when he said, ‘I will be with you until the end of time.’”

The cardinal said he found the Synod on the Family in 2014-2015 inspiring because Pope Francis made it clear he wanted the bishops to engage in genuine dialogue, where they were free to speak openly, even though it wasn’t always easy.

“The Bishop of Rome was inviting us to a walking-together that we just weren’t prepared for,” he said.

Dialogue, even if it leads to changing ecclesial structures, does not mean a weakening of church doctrine, the cardinal said.

“Common Ground is not a new set of conclusions,” Cardinal Cupich said. “It is a way of exploring our differences. It is a common spirit and ethic of dialogue. It is a place of respect where we can explore our differences, and be assured that neither is everything cut and dried, nor is everything up for grabs.”

The Catholic Common Ground Initiative gave its 2017 Bernardin Award to retired Bishop Ricardo Ramirez of Las Cruces, New Mexico, who has served on its advisory board since the beginning.

In accepting the award, Bishop Ramirez spoke of the need for participants in a dialogue to listen to and disagree with one another.

Listening is risky, Bishop Ramirez said, “because it might change our mind about something.”

But disagreement can also be a gift, he said, because it makes participants in a dialogue sharpen their understanding and clarify their own positions, and it can lead to genuine friendship.


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