Polarization in Ecclesial Conversation – An Addendum

Thanks to those folks who read through my previous blog post addressing my concerns about the polarization in ecclesial conversations.  This is just a “quick” footnote with a couple of references.  I was commenting on a comment on this in a LinkedIn group, and decided some of what I added there should be reflected here for other readers.

The previous posting jumps around a bit… so thanks for your patience and perseverance too if you made it through it!

I wish now that I had referenced in the posting the October 24, 1996 address by Joseph Cardinal Bernardin on the Common Ground project.  Below is a link to that text, which I think would be interesting for your review.  It is appropriately – I think – titled “Faithful and Hopeful”!


The Common Ground Initiative begun then is now coordinated out of the Bernardin Center for Theology and Ministry, housed at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.  Here’s a link to that specifically:


I am always inspired by Cardinal Bernardin.  I am an alum of CTU – an institution which I love – and fortunate to have been part of the Bernardin scholars program.  Through it I had the opportunity to meet and speak with a number of individuals who knew Cardinal Bernardin well and who could share not only his story, but his spirit.  I am forever impacted by that opportunity and those interactions.  I also entered CTU with great interest in the Common Ground project.  I had worked in parish, school and diocesan office settings for nearly 25 years and seen many times a tension and loss of energy that – in my opinion – took away from what could be invested more helpfully for the mission we are all committed to.

Cardinal Bernardin wrote regarding the Catholic common ground project: “My aim was to help Catholics address, creatively and faithfully, questions that are vital if the Church in the United States is to flourish as we enter the next millenium.  At every level, we needed, I felt, to move beyond the distrust, the polarization, and the entrenched positions that have hampered our responses.”  October 1996, this was.  It’s 16 years later.  What do you think?  I think his words are quite relevant, perhaps even more so.  I invite you to give this document and others a thorough reading of your own.

I also wanted to assure readers that I was NOT suggesting that, for the sake of refraining from polarizing and potential conflict, we avoid dialogue in order to experience some “peace” between us.  Such peace is not really peace.  We know this in any number of relational contexts — the silent treatment or the grudging presence that is not presence but quite obvious animosity.  We are the Body of Christ – called to build something wonderful together – not just ‘get through’ being in the same room, in the same house!  We need each other.  And we are poorer without all of us.  Do we believe this?

Honest and passionate dialogue is a desparate need today intrachurch.  Such dialogue is sometimes feared, and often not easy.  True dialogue, spoken from where we humbly and actually are, is messy (see Acts of the Apostles this Easter season!).  But we MUST find ways to dialogue, and dialogue from that attitude of faithfulness and hope as we are members of this one body.  We must find ways to do so that reflect the message we wish to convey.  And we must find ways not to judge or condemn each other as “in” “out” “not committed” “narrow” “eclectic” “cafeteria” “conservative” “liberal” or any of the other labels that are sometimes used to belittle the others’ experience, education, faithfulness.  That we fear to enter dialogue, I understand.  We may not feel “safe” with each other:  it is a risk with no guarantees.  And yet, I am greatly saddened.

Dialogue is a skill and an art… which must be taught.  In some ways this is an adult faith formation issue.  It can also be introduced well with younger adults and adolescents.  (Yes, I worked in youth ministry for LOTS of years.  Young people want to hear from each other and learn.  They are ripe to learn some of the hows to do so, and how NOT to do so.)

Dialogue-readiness is also a spiritual formation issue.  There is humility and trust involved – yes, with the dialogue partners – but also before the God who calls us all his children, his beloved ones, his coworkers in the vineyard of the Lord, his disciples, his friends – and who bids us not to fear.  St. Francis de Sales oft quoted line comes to mind:  “Be who you are, and be that perfectly well.”  Dialogue participants need to be who they are – not just be a position, but be the story and the faith journey they are – and trust that the one who fearfully and wonderfully made each of us (psalm 139) can strengthen us all, teach us through our attempts, and bring something new to life.

The mission in which we are engaged as collaborators in our short life times is God’s mission.  And when I read today “Behold I am doing something new” in scripture, I’d love to witness this being fulfilled in the ways we talk with and about each other…  appreciating and affirming what we bring to a work larger than us that God leads.  Something new can always come.   Of course it can.  This is the work of the Spirit, and we get to engage the work and be taught by it all at once.  How fortunate we are!  We are on a great adventure, and what a tour guide and companion we have in Christ, who walked with us, and does today!  I hope that – with him with us – we can together enter the places and spaces for dialogue without threats and fears and judgements, and find peace in collaborating with what God is inviting us all to now in this time of great need.

I pray too that we face together the fields where the Gospel needs proclaiming and hearts need comforting, where earth needs healing and wars need peace-ing, where amazing atrocities and everyday relating need reconciling, where people need bread and homes and a caring touch.  Can we bring joy and hope to the struggles of our day?  Can we mobilize and look at our ways of interacting with each other through the lens of what we need to act toward together – and who we need to be together?

I hope so.

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One thought on “Polarization in Ecclesial Conversation – An Addendum

  1. Amen. (I think that one word says it all! Wonderful post!)

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