Saturday, 12 May 2012

Dialogue or Communion?

The placing of the words "dialogue" and "communion" in opposition to each other, as suggested by the title of this post, is, when those words are properly understood, a nonsense. Dialogue, correctly understood, is at the service of communion, correctly understood; and this is true at the level of ordinary human relations and it is true at the theological level of relationships in the Church.

The word "dialogue" can be easily transferred from its context of dialogue between the Church and the modern world, between the Church and other believers, to a context of "dialogue within the Church". The former might be defined after the manner of this paragraph from Vatican II's  Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes (n.10), which comes at the end of the Constitution's introductory survey of the situation of man in the modern world, (I have added italics to focus on where this passage suggests a definition of dialogue, though it cannot be removed from the context of the whole paragraph):
The Church firmly believes that Christ, who died and was raised up for all, can through His Spirit offer man the light and the strength to measure up to his supreme destiny. Nor has any other name under the heaven been given to man by which it is fitting for him to be saved. She likewise holds that in her most benign Lord and Master can be found the key, the focal point and the goal of man, as well as of all human history. The Church also maintains that beneath all changes there are many realities which do not change and which have their ultimate foundation in Christ, Who is the same yesterday and today, yes and forever. Hence under the light of Christ, the image of the unseen God, the firstborn of every creature, the council wishes to speak to all men in order to shed light on the mystery of man and to cooperate in finding the solution to the outstanding problems of our time.
And for the latter we might turn to Pope Paul VI's call, in his first Encyclical written at the time of the Second Vatican Council, for the Church to come to a deeper self-knowledge. This passage is from the Encyclical Ecclesiam Suam n.9, and represents the first of three priorities that Paul VI identified for his Pontificate (the pontifical "We" seems rather anachronistic to a generation used to its not being used by more recent incumbents):
...We are convinced that the Church must look with penetrating eyes within itself, ponder the mystery of its own being, and draw enlightenment and inspiration from a deeper scrutiny of the doctrine of its own origin, nature, mission, and destiny. The doctrine is already known; it has been developed and popularized in the course of this century. But it can never claim to be sufficiently investigated and understood, for it contains "the publication of a mystery, kept hidden from the beginning of time in the all-creating mind of God . . . in order that it may be known . . . through the Church." It is a storehouse of God's hidden counsels which the Church must bring to light. It is a doctrine which more than any other is arousing the expectation and attention of every faithful follower of Christ, and especially of men like us, Venerable Brethren, whom "the Holy Spirit has appointed to rule the very Church of God."
Vatican II's Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, contains the following paragraph (n.23) that can be seen as a summary of the practical, visible meaning of communion in the Church. It should be fully understood by reading other passages of Lumen Gentium about the sharing of the lay faithful in the priesthood of the Church and the collaboration that should exist between a bishop and his co-workers, his priests and deacons. One should use the word "collegiality" in the sense expressed here, and not in a democratic sense.
This collegial union is apparent also in the mutual relations of the individual bishops with particular churches and with the universal Church. The Roman Pontiff, as the successor of Peter, is the perpetual and visible principle and foundation of unity of both the bishops and of the faithful. The individual bishops, however, are the visible principle and foundation of unity in their particular churches,  fashioned after the model of the universal Church, in and from which churches comes into being the one and only Catholic Church. For this reason the individual bishops represent each his own church, but all of them together and with the Pope represent the entire Church in the bond of peace, love and unity.
For the priest, deacon, religious or member of the lay faithful this has a very practical import. Communion in the Church is achieved by communion with the local Bishop, whose communion with the Holy See then assures communion with the universal Church. In many cases, this communion with the local Bishop is mediated through an affiliation with a particular community, namely a parish.

It is important to analyse the statement from the recent meeting in Ireland "Towards an Assembly of the Irish Catholic Church" in the light of these understandings of dialogue and communion:
“Over 1000 people, representative of a broad range of opinions in the Catholic Church, gathered today at a meeting called by the Association of Catholic Priests. The meeting agreed on the need to recapture as a matter of urgency the reforming vision of the Second Vatican Council.

The meeting called for a organised dialogue in the Irish Church, a dialogue that would work towards establishing appropriate structures that would reflect the participation of all the baptised. This dialogue should take place at parish, diocesan and national levels, and should address all issues facing our people at this time of crisis. We call on all who are concerned with the future of our Church, including our Church leaders, to participate in this dialogue.

Despite all the difficulties, despite the fear, today was a real experience of hope and of the presence of the Spirit among us all.”
[See also Fr Hoban's reflection on the day here.]

Absent the idea of dialogue as a deeper study of the doctrine of the nature of the Church as suggested by Pope Paul VI. Absent any reference to the structures of communion as taught by Lumen Gentium. In other words, absent the genuine understanding of the "reforming vision of the Second Vatican Council".  The reference to dialogue at parish, diocesan and national levels seems deliberately aimed at undermining the structures of diocesan communion, and replacing them with an alternative set of structures, topped by a "national assembly".  The office of the Bishop, who represents his local Church according to the teaching of the Council, is reduced to that of "Church leader" and replaced by a kind of alternative authority in the to be established new structures.

Or, if one is to use the words in their wrong senses, it really is a question of "dialogue" or "communion", but not both.

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