The Service of Faith in a Religiously Pluralistic World (part 4)

Keynote address by the Very Reverend Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J., Superior General of the Society of Jesus | October 3, 2006

Part 4

The Society of Jesus, convened in 1995 as our thirty-fourth General Congregation, summed up this challenge in this way:

    In the context of the divisive, exploitative and conflictual roles that religions, including Christianity, have played in history, dialogue seeks to develop the unifying and liberating potential of all religions, thus showing the relevance of religion for human well-being, justice and world peace. Above all we need to relate positively to believers of other religions because they are our neighbors; the common elements of our religions heritages and our human concern force us to establish ever closer ties based on universally accepted ethical values…. To be religious today is to be interreligious in the sense that a positive relationship with believers of other faiths is a requirement in world of religious pluralism.10

In encouraging you to seek some concrete modes for helping your students, your colleagues and your community as well as yourselves grapple with differences in faith traditions, let me suggest that the categories developed by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and Congregation for the Evangelization of People help organize your approach to the mission of Xavier University. The four dialogues recommended by the Church were incorporated into the Society of Jesus’ way proceeding in 1995 in these words:

    a. The dialogue of life, where people strive to live in an open and neighborly spirit, sharing their joys and sorrows, their human problems and preoccupations,
    b. The dialogue of action, in which Christians and other collaborate for integral development and liberation of people,
    c. The dialogue of religious experience, where persons, rooted in their own religious traditions, share their spiritual riches, for instance, with regard to prayer and contemplation, faith and ways of searching for God or the Absolute,
    d. The dialogue of theological exchange, where specialists seek to deepen their understanding of their respective religious heritages, and to appreciate each other’s spiritual values.11

These four dialogues are already part of your way of being and acting at Xavier. I mention them as a way to help you reflect on what you are already doing so that you can consider how to organize and channel your energies in ever more effective ways, accomplishing your mission to educate the whole person. You, of course, are the best situated to organize and accomplish these dialogues, but clearly they are at the heart of what a university tries to do in its teaching, research and service. These dialogues take place in a particular place and time, within a unique culture. As you engage in these important dialogues of life, action, religious experience and theological exchange, it is important to keep in mind the profound impact that comes from the various cultures that situate Xavier.

From the days of Francis Xavier and Matteo Ricci to the time of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and the present, Jesuits have recognized the necessity of engaging cultures in their service of faith. Both appreciation and critique have characterized this engagement, gratefully acknowledging the goodness of human culture while rejecting whatever human customs are contrary to the revelation of the Gospel. Both remain essential today; and Xavier University, as Catholic and Jesuit, is well-situated to contribute to this dimension of the service of faith.

The Second Vatican Council encourages this combination of appreciation and critique in its document, “The Church in the Modern World”:

    In every age, the church carries the responsibility of reading the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel, if it is to carry out its task…

    Ours in a new age of history with profound and rapid changes spreading gradually to all corners of the earth. They are the products of people’s intelligence and creative activity… A transformation of this kind brings with it the serious problems associated with any crisis of growth. Increase in power is now always accompanies by control of that power for the benefit of humanity…

    Never before has the human race enjoyed such an abundance of wealth, resources and economic power; and yet a huge proportion of the world’s citizens are still tormented by hunger and poverty, while countless numbers suffer from total illiteracy. Never before have people had so keen an understanding of freedom, yet at the same time new forms of social and psychological slavery make their appearance. Although the world of today has a very vivid awareness of its unity and of how one person depends on another in needful solidarity, it is most grievously turned into opposing camps by conflicting forces. For political, social, economic, racial, and ideological disputes still continue bitterly, and with them the peril of a war which would reduce everything to ashes.12