WOVEN TOGETHER THROUGH HUMILITY: SOCIAL DIALOGUE AS A CONTRIBUTION TO PEACE
Humility has been the defining characteristic of Pope Francis’ 10-month old papacy; so ingrained is his recourse to humility that its thread runs through the entire warp and woof of Evangelii Gaudium, like a muted backdrop of color. In the section entitled “Social dialogue as a contribution to peace” the pattern of humility is more prominent, as though it is meant to specially catch our attention. “The Church speaks from the light which faith offers,” Francis quotes, adding, “the light transcends human reason, yet it can also prove meaningful and enriching to those who are not believers, and it stimulates reason to broaden its perspectives.”
The broadening of perspective itself demands a measure of humility, a willingness to say, “I know what I know, and truth is truth, but because I am secure in that knowledge, I am willing to hear what you know, and specifically what you know of the truth. Let us talk, then, let us listen; let us be fully present to each other, enough so that we might hear each other, see each other, that together we may absorb truth — the one single immutable truth, shorn of relativism — into ourselves. Let us receive it like a potent dye to our worsted wool, and thus enhance the design of humanity within what God alone weaves.”
And so, he calls for states and nations, in their role as promoters of the common good, to engage in their duties with “profound social humility” — enough to hear the voice of faith, and to consider what the Church has learned in its 2,000 year involvement with the spinning thread of history. He asks something similar of science: exploration without ideological interest. “Whenever the sciences – rigorously focused on their specific field of inquiry – arrive at a conclusion which reason cannot refute, faith does not contradict it.”
Francis strikes corresponding notes when he calls for ecumenical dialogue — for respect between all baptized people; a willingness to remember that Christ desired our Oneness. Then, even as we discuss and disagree, we are still -- through the thread of humility -- still together in the weave, part of a wholeness, even if we cannot see it, because we are too near, too much in the thick of it. Christian unity is essential, as is concentration “on the convictions we share,” and to which we must give witness. “The immense numbers of people who have not received the Gospel of Jesus Christ cannot leave us indifferent.” Here, the hue of humility is bright with trust in the Holy Spirit.
With our Jewish brothers and sisters, humble co-operation can work for social justice informed by our mutual interest in mining “the riches of God’s word.” And beyond that — because we serve the Master who weaves all, we must seek to see others (and to be seen by them) as recognizing the commonality of humanity that makes us willing to share our “joys and sorrows”. This is, again, a call to humility: to see the person before us — regardless of belief, or of non-belief -- as first a human imbued with dignity by virtue of his existence as a created creature, beloved as any of us.
“True openness,” Francis writes, “involves remaining steadfast in one’s deepest convictions, clear and joyful in one’s own identity” while being “open to understanding those of the other party”. This is, of course, a very fine and delicate sort of weaving. It requires steadiness, for no stitches can be dropped, or the whole social fabric becomes weakened: “What is not helpful is a diplomatic openness which says “yes” to everything in order to avoid problems, for this would be a way of deceiving others and denying them the good which we have been given to share generously with others.”
We cannot say “yes” to everything, but we can say “yes” to God. Our Savior tells us that after loving God with all of our heart, mind and soul, our very next duty is to love others with the love God has for them.
This is sublime, subversive humility, and in public life it can be misunderstood as weakness. Rather, service to this scriptural order is a source of strength. To love another with the love God has for them enables us to hold steady, even in the face of contempt, because we see the hatred for what it truly is: a lack of Christ, an ignorance that can be informed in the light of that his love, if it is truly reflected in us. Engagement with non-believers and atheists, then, as with all the rest, when taken up with threads of respect and humility, can be “a path to peace in our troubled world.”
Elizabeth Scalia is a Benedictine Oblate and the Managing Editor of the Catholic Portal at Patheos. She is a writer, speaker and a regularly-featured columnist at First Thingsand at The Catholic Answer and the author of Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life. She blogs as The Anchoress at Patheos.com.