About this blogger:
Ronda Chervin received a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Fordham University and an MA in Religious Studies from Notre Dame Apostolic Institute. A widow, mother, and grandmother, she currently teaches philosophy at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut. Write to her at chervinronda@gmail.com.
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“One would be straying from the straight path were he to wish the altar restored to its primitive table form; were he to want black excluded as a color for the liturgical vestments; were he to forbid the use of sacred images and statues in Churches; were he to order the crucifix so designed that the divine Redeemer's body shows no trace of His cruel sufferings; and lastly were he to disdain and reject polyphonic music or singing in parts, even where it conforms to regulations issued by the Holy See.”
— Ven. Pope Pius XII (20 November 1947)

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The Right Kind of Interfaith Dialogue
published 19 December 2012 by Dr. Ronda Chervin

WAS AROUND right after Vatican II when the words ecumenical and inter-faith first became familiar in Catholic circles. Ecumenical dialogue was about seeking common ground with non-Catholic Christians. Inter-faith was dialogue with those in religions not based on Christianity such as Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and others.

In the name of such dialogues there was a drift toward marginalizing everything in the Catholic Church that was NOT shared with others. This led some of us to almost boycott any dialogue with non-Catholics. But, then, occasionally I found myself at some meeting with those of other religions where the common-ground was explored with joy! For example, how about praying outside abortion clinics with non-Catholic pro-lifers? How about pre-Christmas get-togethers in various Churches to sing together with a homily designed not to score points but to just enjoy a common belief? How about Jewish leaders teaching us how to make a Christian seder during Lent? How about making friends with non-Catholics who come to activities in our Church and finding unexpected common-ground – a Lutheran pastor who loves the rosary; a Methodist minister who votes based on moral values?

Recently, one of my daughters gave me a set of “thrillers” that takes place in Tibet and features Buddhist monks doing non-violent resistance against vicious Chinese communists. I didn’t think I would like these books by Eliot Pattison, an international lawyer living in America. However, after about 100 pages I realized that Pattison was presenting the spiritual life of monks in such a way that any Christian could find common-ground and inspiration.
I was reminded of a letter of John Paul II written within a decade of his death about other religions in relationship to the one, true, Catholic faith. Instead of concentrating on the differences, his emphasis was on this startling and beautiful image: Think of a source of light from above. The light that comes directly from above down to the earth is the light received by the Church Jesus founded. But off that flood-light there are lesser rays of light that reach other peoples, then expressed through different symbols.

So, with regard to Buddhism, instead of concentrating my mind only on how deficient it is because there is no clearly defined Personal, Creator, God of Love, coming to each of us individually and in the mystical body, why not think also about what is in common? Reading Pattison’s book I meet Buddhist monks of sublime tranquility as they struggle to overcome hatred of a horrible enemy, communist torturers of prisoners. Is there not a special grace from the true God for such monks who become linked in this virtue of forgiveness to saints of ours such as Maximillian Kolbe in the Nazi camp? The light to see that the supernatural world transcends earthly goals, isn’t that a grace from God to these monks?

Even as I participate in evangelization in such groups as Legion of Mary, for who could know Jesus in our Church and not want everyone to know Him, should I not be a little ashamed that with all the graces of the sacraments and the continual outpouring of Christ’s love to me in prayer I am sometimes not as forgiving or supernatural-minded as these Tibetan monks?
Since such an inter-faith dialogue is not with any Buddhist physically present to me, but with characters in a novel, it is, of course, easier to avoid confrontation.

My prayer: God of love, creator of all of humanity, we don’t know why, in spite of evangelization by so many missionaries, there are still so many non-Catholic religions. Help me not to be so focused on what is lacking in them that I cannot grow myself spiritually by reading of the great deeds and attitudes of these heroes and heroines of other faiths.