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April 29, 2013

Anyone who spends much time reading the teachings of the Second Vatican Council cannot help but notice the repeated use of the word "dialogue." Catholics are called to dialogue with other Christians, non-Christians, atheists and the modern world. Dialogue is a feature that ought to exist, not only between Catholics and those outside the Church, but within the Church itself.

Make no mistake, all this dialogue does not mean an indifference to truth; truth is always the framework for dialogue and truth is its goal. But an attitude of dialogue is essential. For too long, the Church had put up walls against the rest of the world. Those walls now had to come down, and there had to be real engagement between the Church and the world.

In his book on Vatican II, Sources of Renewal, Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope John Paul II, found that the council had made a willingness to enter into dialogue an essential aspect of being a believing member of the Church. The future pope wrote, "In answer to the question, 'What does it mean to be a believing member of the Church?', the council states that it means being convinced of the truth of revelation and at the same time maintaining a dialogue."

In one respect, the teachings of Vatican II are not revolutionary; they are in continuity with the past. However, this teaching is revolutionary. It calls for a radical change of attitude. If the pre-conciliar Catholic Church was marked by rigidity and a rejection of all things not explicitly Catholic – and, to a large extent, it was – this "teaching" calls us into solidarity with all people, Catholic and non-Catholic. It calls us away from an attitude of judgment and toward one of dialogue.

The council called us away from a too-narrow understanding of the nature of faith. Faith is not only an adherence to the truth of the propositions put forward in the Creed; it is our response to the encounter with the person of Jesus Christ.

Dialogue is incompatible with the attitude that says, "We have the truth and we will help you understand it." Rather, dialogue leads to an enriched faith for all who risk taking part in the dialogue.

In his book, On Heaven and Earth, Pope Francis warns against "rigid religiosity" and "fundamentalism" among Catholics. "This type of rigid religiosity is disguised with doctrines that claim to give justifications, but in reality deprive people of their freedom and do not allow them to grow as persons," the future pope wrote.

The encounter with Jesus that is the foundation of faith will lead, not to rigid religiosity, but to joy, peace, patience and all the fruits of the Spirit. The spirit of dialogue is a confident faith, a faith eager to be enriched still further and that looks forward to dialogue with joyful anticipation.