MCMULLIN: Seeking truth together in dialogue

February 23, 2021

“This relationship, this dialogue, which God the Father initiated and established with us through Christ in the Holy Spirit, is a very real one, even though it is difficult to express in words. The Church must examine it closely... to understand the relationship which we, the Church, should establish and foster with the human race.” (Ecclesiam Suam)

When it comes to fostering community life, we must first see that we are already in communion, that is, in relationship with the Holy Trinity, and thus, with each other. If we were to try to connect with others outside of this, it would not be an authentic community.

We could risk acting out of individualism. The Church is to be in relational dialogue with the human race. We are to be in relationship with each other.

This past fall, I gathered weekly with young adults towards the goal of learning more about what it means to live as a Catholic American, as a faithful citizen.

A good part of the 12 sessions dealt with dialogue, its importance, how it fits our call to evangelize, and how difficult it is in our culture. I discovered young adults’ desire to dialogue, but they do not know how and have considerable boundaries against even trying.

There were three main boundaries that surfaced:

1. The young adults did not want to water down their beliefs or concede to something that they knew was not true.
2. As a whole, they did not like confrontation or conflict. It felt more comfortable to let others do as they wanted than to bring up something contrary.
3. Lastly, they were concerned they did not know enough of the teachings of the Church to dialogue.

Although these reasons are valid, and admittedly ones I have experienced myself, I would propose they are rooted in fear and come from misconceptions of what dialogue actually is.

So, what is dialogue? Dialogue is an exchange that takes place in a relationship through charity to seek to discover the truth.

The nature of the dialogue is relational and slow. Both people are there to reach the truth, yet there are truths reached throughout.

For example, in dialogue, Church teaching can be shared and opened up. We can connect on the importance and difficulty of always living from the place of being a child of God. We can realize our failure of loving and welcoming others correctly. We also acknowledge our different experiences of this teaching. These are truths.

Dialogue is not one person telling the other a truth and the other person automatically agreeing and accepting. We must have the willingness to learn, listen and grow as a result of dialogue.

If we are to establish and continue a relationship with “the human race,” then we must interact with each other, especially as people of faith.

Finally, I would go further to state dialogue is part of our call to holiness and a work of love; a position I have come to after watching Jesus dialogue with others in the Gospels. 

Claire McMullin is a campus minister at the Catholic Newman Center at the University of Houston.

Photo by Nina Strehl