In our growing global and increasingly interacting world, a sense of pluralism, the recognition and affirmation of diversity and peaceful coexistence has become more and more of an ideal. In and of itself, the embracing of diversity is good. Especially when we have and continue to experience and see such atrocities committed in the name of “tribalism”. What can be a dark side of pluralism though, is that for the sake of getting along we are not true to who we are, we limit our public discourse so as not to offend.
Identity is also not to be held up as the sole model either. Because identity has a dark side as well in that we can easily slip into a defensive posture when we feel our identity is threatened. This is why we are told that if you want to have a conflict free conversation you may want to avoid speaking about politics, religion, and I forget the third. The reason is that in these areas we identify ourselves with our personal beliefs and if someone critiques or criticizes our beliefs we feel personally threatened, and more often than not the dialogue devolves into talking at and over each other.
These thoughts lead me to the opening verses in today’s Gospel from John: Jesus said to Thomas, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him” (Jn 14:6-7). This may not appear to be a pluralistically sensitive comment if wanting to keep calm at the dinner table. Though it is a statement of truth.
The statement that could raise the hackles of those who are not Christian is “No one comes to the Father except through me.” This may appear at face value to be a very arrogant statement. Unless, Jesus is who he says he is, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity. If Jesus is God, then of course to get to God you will be going through Jesus. Jesus does not say that you have to be a Christian to get to God.
Regarding interfaith dialogue the Catholic Church has come far regarding some dehumanizing stances from the past to embrace a truer interpretation of Jesus’ statement. The Vatican II document, Nostra Aetate, meaning in our time, the first lines of the document, states that the Catholic Church “rejects nothing of what is true and holy… She has a high regard for the manner of life and conduct, the precepts and doctrines which, although differing in many ways from her own teaching, nevertheless reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all…”
The place to enter dialogue is not to avoid sharing about the truth of our beliefs, but to be able to reclaim the ability to share clearly what we believe and be willing to allow someone else to do the same. We have lost the ability to have a good argument or debate that is founded in the respect and dignity of the person first, an openness and understanding for different and diverse opinions and beliefs, grounded in the ultimate goal of learning and growing from one another.
We can reclaim the gift of dialogue if we are willing to let go of the need to talk at others, to be right, and entrench ourselves in our positions, and instead seek to be more grounded in integrity instead of identity. To grow as a person of integrity means developing the ability to think critically and with a more nuanced outlook, resisting absolutes and black and white thinking. Another line from Nostra Aetate states: “Let Christians, while witnessing to their own faith and way of life, acknowledge, preserve and encourage the spiritual and moral truths found among non-Christians, also their social life and culture.”
Being a person of integrity means we stand up for the dignity of another person because they are a human being, not because they belong to the same gender, political party, religion, or tribe. This is what the parable of the Good Samaritan was all about. Being a person of integrity means we have the courage to hold someone accountable and refuse to look the other way just because they are of the same gender, political party, religion, or tribe. Being a person of integrity means saying what we believe, while at the same time allowing another to do the same and respecting our differences while at the same time being able to share them, agreeing to disagree, and finding common ground where we can. In this way we are more open to growing and broadening our understanding of the people and wonder of the world around us.
Being a person of integrity is not easy. To mature in this way demands courage to speak in the midst of our fear of conflict, of offending, of being wrong. Though to strive for it is worth the effort, for we resist the slow death of cowardice that eats at our soul and experience the soaring heights of joy when we are true to who we are and can be. Let us pray for each other today for the discernment to see what ways we have not been true to who God calls us to be and be willing to risk striving to be people of integrity.
Photo: Far to go but striving to be a person of integrity
Nostra Aetate, Declaration on the Relation of the Church to non-Christian Religions, October 28, 1965. Tr. in Vatican Council II: Vol. I: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, Costello Publishing, 2004.
Link for the Mass readings for Thursday, May 3, 2018: