One might imagine that the work of interreligious dialogue consists of aiming directly for the issues that distinguish and divide us from one another. We might imagine Christians examining with Jews the variety of ideas about what a "messiah" is, while with both Jews and Muslims we might explore the oneness of God and ask whether the Christian concept of God as Trinity is a contradiction of the oneness of God to which these faiths adhere.

I've just returned from a final preparatory meeting for a group of 46 people from the Springfield area who will be traveling to Israel shortly. This "Israel Mission" is the first time that the Jewish Federation of Springfield has organized such a trip. I am one of the 46, joining a largely Jewish group.

Previously in this space I have expressed my affection for Mafalda, a tiny terror from Argentina, whose comic strip, bearing her name, appeared originally in the 1960s and '70s.

I am remembering a series of strips in which this little girl is contemplating the fact that the globe of the earth is conventionally presented with north being "up" and south "down." She explains to her friends her conclusion about the troubles of their country. These, she says, are the result of the fact that Argentina is upside down, and that therefore good ideas fall out of people's heads and are lost!

As we experience a papal transition, we find ourselves reading and hearing a miscellany of facts about the papacy and its history. I'd like to make my own contribution.

Why do we become anxious in the presence of someone whose ideas, beliefs, and opinions are different from ours?

Theology in song! We may not think immediately of Christmas carols in these terms, but if these melodies and their words have any worth at all, we find that worth in the expression of the profound truth of the enfleshing of the Son of God and its import for human salvation.

In recent days, two prominent Christian communions have announced changes in leadership. Looking specifically at these two groups will help us in our appreciation of concrete historical problems which we must address on the way to full Christian unity.

When we consider the lack of belief in God, we apply a couple of familiar categories: agnosticism and atheism. An atheist denies the existence of a Supreme Being. An agnostic maintains that it is impossible to know whether such a Being exists.

I find myself respecting atheism but puzzled by agnosticism. If God is God, I reason, surely he is going to let us know that he's here.

Nothing excuses the killing of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other members of the diplomatic staff.

But even as we lament the wretchedly low level at which matters of religion are treated in international relations, we find encouragement as we affirm that religious believers themselves carry, within the body of ideals which their belief-systems possess, the principles for the healing of the wounds which are so often inflicted in attempts at meaningful communication.

In popular culture, it is imagined that, during a slave rebellion of the first century B.C., slaves who were urged to turn over their leader Spartacus declared, one after another, "I am Spartacus!"

In most of the small towns in which I have served as pastor, we know the expectation. The pastors of the churches, Protestant and Catholic, come together once a month, usually over breakfast.

Religious freedom is very much on our minds as we American Catholics ponder the history through which this human right has come to be recognized. We must, of course, reach back beyond American history and remember the practice and the principles of the Catholic Church in addressing religious truth and the disposition of human beings before that truth.

This publication and many others will, in the months to come, be carrying a number of discussions about the meaning of the Second Vatican Council, which Blessed John XXIII opened on Oct. 11, 1962. These discussions may often seem to be shrouded in very technical theological language. Members of the church need clear explanations of what Vatican II did and why it matters.

Last month I took part in the National Workshop on Christian Unity, held this year in Oklahoma City. At this annual workshop, the national organizations of United Methodist, ELCA Lutheran, Episcopal, and Catholic ecumenical officers have their own activities along with the events intended for all participants.

It's an inconvenient variation. Easter falls on April 8 this year, but it may fall as early as March 22 or as late as April 25. Why can't this solemnity be more stable in our calendar?

Whenever we engage in reading the entire Bible, we find, in the Old Testament particularly, a theme which we believe is foreign to us. Over and over, we read about various sacrifices which people make as a way of communicating with God.

Abraham Lincoln is noted for having never officially joined a Christian church. First Presbyterian Church in Springfield is known as "Lincoln's Church," and the family had a pew there, but Lincoln himself steered clear of official affiliation with a church.

It has been reported that Jerzy Kluger died in Rome on Dec. 31 at the age of 90. We are aware of Jerzy Kluger because he was the childhood friend of one Karol Wojtyla, who is better known as Pope John Paul II, supreme pontiff from 1978 to 2005 and recently beatified.

Sunday, 18 December 2011 15:44

Refining the fine art of dialogue

Written by

In the Argentinian comic strip Mafalda which ran in the 1960s and 1970s, the title character, a little girl, is in one strip sitting with her friend Susanita, who is talking incessantly. Word balloons are crammed with tiny illegible words which represent her nattering. Disgusted, Mafalda at last walks away. Susanita shouts after her: "You're not open to monologue!"

As Pope Benedict has announced a Year of Faith to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, we are reading a great deal of commentary which includes casual use of the word hermeneutic. Neither Herman Cain nor Herman Munster, hermeneutic is a Greek-derived word essentially meaning "a method of interpretation." The word arises as we face the question of how to interpret the significance of the council as we carry on our lives as church.

I thoroughly enjoy my interactions with non-Catholic Christians. No one's personal discovery of the reality of Jesus Christ is a trivial thing. We have much to learn when we open ourselves to any Christian's own account of how Jesus became real for him or her. We, in our own turn, have much to share.

Whenever a Christian seeks to discuss matters of ultimate meaning with a non-Christian, the Christian must do a good deal of necessary preparatory work — and I am not talking about learning about the other's beliefs, though that is necessary too.

When we as Catholics seek to explore the “big small world” of numerous religious affiliations, we need to distinguish between our ecumenical explorations and our participation in interreligious activity.

It’s all about truth.

You and I come into this world hungry for significance and meaning — or, more pithily, truth. From our mothers’ arms, we are looking for an understanding of life in which we are fully alive and our life means something. The love of parents gives us the stability we need to keep seeking the source of all meaning, love, and truth.

Page 3 of 3