Missionaries are called to enter the world of the other as servants. How can that truly happen? The Catholic tradition proclaims that God’s saving love is offered to all. How will we communicate that offer in a way that respects others, yet invites an encounter with Christ?
“…the Church has always held and holds now, Christ underwent His passion and death freely, because of the sins of men and out of infinite love, in order that all may reach salvation. It is, therefore, the burden of the Church’s preaching to proclaim the cross of Christ as the sign of God’s all-embracing love and as the fountain from which every grace flows.” [Second Vatican Council, Nostra aetate, no. 4, 1965]
Almost fifty years ago, the Roman Catholic Church re-iterated her core teaching on her relationship with the other faiths (monotheistic, theistic, or other), and reaffirmed the values inherent in these faiths, as well as the common ground we share for the protection of the rights of all. Based in the common religious experience of the human person, the Church points to the reality of God that is greater than any one faith tradition and emerges both in the consciousness and actions of human persons. There is in the human person,
“…a certain perception of that hidden power which hovers over the course of things and over the events of human history; at times some indeed have come to the recognition of a Supreme Being, or even of a Father. This perception and recognition penetrates their lives with a profound religious sense. (NA, 2)”
Likewise, our actions reveal our faith:
“We cannot truly call on God, the Father of all, if we refuse to treat in a brotherly way any man, created as he is in the image of God. Man’s relation to God the Father and his relation to men his brothers are so linked together that Scripture says: “He who does not love does not know God” (1 John 4:8). (NA, 5)”
As missionaries – servants of Jesus who gently enter the world of another to serve and to proclaim the good news that we have found – we will necessarily encounter people whose religious perspective differs from our own, sometimes in profound ways. Sometimes they will be among the people oppressed by poverty that we have been sent to serve. At other times, they may be our fellow servants. How will we welcome the truth of these children of God without compromising our on faith and its directives? I’d like to propose four parameters.
- Listen for the truth. Spend a long time trying to hear what the other person is saying about their experience of God – positive or negative – and try not to compare it with your own.
- Serve without judgment. Allow your proclamation of the Gospel be living witness rather than spoken testimony.
- Pray and reflect. What new truth about God is being revealed in your encounters? What, in your interactions, has a power which “…draws us to fellowship (NA, 1)”?
- Wait in hope. If a chance for sharing your own faith emerges, don’t be shy. But don’t force it. It is not a failure if you do not experience the possibility of explicitly sharing your faith in Jesus. Mission is is shared task, much like farming. Perhaps you are preparing the soil for another.
The insights of the Church in her teaching on inter-religious dialogue sometimes suffer from the teaching’s foundations in the Classical western philosophical tradition that sees truth as unitary, and something to be held. This is a tension we will always live with. We cannot not proclaim Christ as the “way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), but how we proclaim it makes all the difference. A missionary has a chance to respectfully encounter and engage others, and the church asks that all missionaries carry out their task to this end:
“…that through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, carried out with prudence and love and in witness to the Christian faith and life, they recognize, preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values found…”(NA, 2)
Listen for the truth. Serve without judgment. Pray and Reflect. Wait in hope.