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In dialogue with the world

Pentecost Sunday

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

Pentecost, the descent of the Holy Spirit, is the feast of the Church par excellence. It is her coming of age before the world. Immediately after the descent of the Spirit, St. Peter, the first pope makes a public proclamation of the mystery of Christ. He engages those present in a dialogue inviting them to conversion.

This week we will also celebrate the memorial of St. Paul VI, whose luminous pontificate between 1963 and 1978, has set the course for the Church in our times and her pastoral work. I share with you a fragment of his programmatic encyclical Ecclesiam Suam that will help us better understand Pope Francis’ pastoral guidelines and his emphasis on dialogue.

“Seeing that the Church’s ever-increasing self-awareness and its struggle to model itself on Christ’s ideal can only result in its acting and thinking quite differently from the world around it, which it is nevertheless striving to influence. The Gospel clearly warns us of this difference and the need to keep ourselves distinct from the world. By the world, here, is meant either those human beings who are opposed to the light of faith and the gift of grace, those whose naive optimism betrays them into thinking that their own energies suffice to win them complete, lasting, and gainful prosperity, or, finally, those who take refuge in an aggressively pessimistic outlook on life and maintain that their vices, weaknesses and moral ailments are inevitable, incurable, or perhaps even desirable as sure manifestations of personal freedom and sincerity.

The Gospel of Christ recognizes the existence of human infirmities. It recognizes and denounces them with penetrating and often fierce sincerity. Yet it also understands them and cures them. It does not cherish the illusion that man is naturally good and self-sufficient and needs only the ability to express himself as he pleases. Nor does it countenance a despairing acquiescence in the irremediable corruption of human nature. Christ’s Gospel is light, newness, strength, salvation, and rebirth…

The fact that we are distinct from the world does not mean that we are entirely separated from it. Nor does it mean that we are indifferent to it, afraid of it, or contemptuous of it. When the Church distinguishes itself from humanity, it does so not in order to oppose it, but to come closer to it. A physician who realizes the danger of disease, protects himself and others from it, but at the same time he strives to cure those who have contracted it. The Church does the same thing. It does not regard God’s mercy as an exclusive privilege, nor does the greatness of the privilege it enjoys make it feel unconcerned for those who do not share it. On the contrary, it finds in its own salvation an argument for showing more concern and more love for those who live close at hand, or to whom it can go in its endeavor to make all alike share the blessing of salvation.

If, as We said, the Church realizes what is God’s will in its regard, it will gain for itself a great store of energy, and in addition will conceive the need for pouring out this energy in the service of all men. It will have a clear awareness of a mission received from God, of a message to be spread far and wide…

Hence although the truth we have to proclaim is certain and the salvation necessary, we dare not entertain any thoughts of external coercion. Instead, we will use the legitimate means of human friendliness, interior persuasion, and ordinary conversation. We will offer the gift of salvation while respecting the personal and civic rights of the individual…

Clearly, relationships between the Church and the world can be effective in a great variety of ways… But it seems to Us that the sort of relationship for the Church to establish with the world should be more in the nature of a dialogue, though theoretically other methods are not excluded. We do not mean unrealistic dialogue. It must be adapted to the intelligences of those to whom it is addressed, and it must take account of the circumstances…

Moreover, the very fact that he engages in a dialogue of this sort is proof of his consideration and esteem for others, his understanding, and his kindness. He detests bigotry and prejudice, malicious and indiscriminate hostility, and empty, boastful speech.

If, in our desire to respect a man’s freedom and dignity, his conversion to the true faith is not the immediate object of our dialogue with him, we nevertheless try to help him and to dispose him for a fuller sharing of ideas and convictions.

Our dialogue, therefore, presupposes that there exists in us a state of mind which we wish to communicate and to foster in those around us. It is the state of mind which characterizes the man who realizes the seriousness of the apostolic mission and who sees his own salvation as inseparable from the salvation of others. His constant endeavor is to get everyone talking about the message which it has been given to him to communicate.

For it becomes obvious in a dialogue that there are various ways of coming to the light of faith and it is possible to make them all converge on the same goal…

Since the world cannot be saved from the outside, we must first of all identify ourselves with those to whom we would bring the Christian message-like the Word of God who Himself became a man…  Dialogue thrives on friendship, and most especially on service. All this we must remember and strive to put into practice on the example and precept of Christ.”

Fr. Roberto M. Cid