Inter-religious Dialogue: Included in the Job Description of Every Catholic

Below is from a homily given by Deacon Matt Dulka at St, John the Baptist Parish (where the Maryknoll Western Regional Mission House is located) on June 30, 2013 (13th Sunday of Ordinary Time) that talks about inter-religious dialogue as part of job description of every baptized Catholic.

For most of us we were infants when we were baptized and don’t remember it. But, three things happened. First, all your sins were forgiven, second you were initiated into the Catholic family and third you got a job description. That job was to carry on the mission of Jesus. So I have two questions for us. First, is that a full time job or can you be a part time Christian? My second question is what’s included in the job description of being a Christian?

The first reading and the Gospel seem to make it clear that it’s a full time job. As we heard in the first reading, Elisha was a farmer and when he got his call, he got rid of his plow and oxen and never looked back. And in the Gospel, we hear Jesus inviting people to join him who have all sorts of excuses of what they wanted to do first. Jesus is clear, he needs disciples that are 100% committed. You’re either all in or not.

I don’t think I need to belabor this point. Last Sunday Deacon Noe asked us the questions whether we were all in. Remember? At least at the 9:30 mass I heard the great responses. And he challenged us to sign up for ministries in the parish. So how many us got rid of our plows and oxen this week? If you didn't it’s not too late and it’s not too late to sign up for ministries in the parish.

So it’s a full time job, which brings us to the second question, what’s in the job description? Let’s look at the first part of the Gospel story. It raises the question of what is our job as Christians when we encounter people who reject us, who don’t want to join us or who don’t share our faith.

We hear in the Gospel that Jesus is in Galilee and decides he needs to bring his mission to Jerusalem. To get there the quickest way, they head through Samaria. Jews and Samaritans saw each other as enemies and most of this animosity between them was based on religion. In fact, when the Samaritan villagers hear that Jesus is headed to Jerusalem, the site of the temple, they refuse to welcome him.

The disciples don’t take this well and want Jesus to call down fire upon them to destroy them. Jesus rebukes them, making it clear that this is not the way to respond to those who reject us or don’t share our religious beliefs. So, it looks like bringing down fire on people is NOT in the job description of being a Christian.

This story invites us to look at whether we’d react any differently than the disciples? My guess is that most us are like the disciples and often times we are very quick to call down fire or send people to hell, especially on those who have rejected, hurt or offended us. Sometimes it’s on people who simply don’t agree with us. If you don’t believe me, check out Facebook.

I was reminded this week of how automatic that response can be. I was at Kaiser in Oakland and had to park in the garage there. I don’t know if you been there but it’s a madhouse with too few parking spots. So people drive around forever, competing over the few open spots, often cutting each other off to get the one space that just opened up. By the number of middle fingers I saw and all the honking I heard, I imagine a lot folks there were quite willing to send others to hell, and I must admit that the thought crossed my mind as I almost got hit.

But we also have a tendency at times to send whole groups of people to hell whom we don’t even know. Where I was growing up in the Midwest, it was mostly Catholics and Lutherans, and I got the message that only us Catholics got to go to heaven. Our Lutheran neighbors were nice, but don’t get too close, because you know where they’re headed.

Thankfully Vatican II corrected the way we understand others who don’t share our faith. Sure, we believe that Jesus is the best way to understand who God is and to experience God’s kingdom in this life and then next. But, we also came to realize, that in ways known only to God, he loves all his children that they too can experience his love and salvation. And, we also came to appreciate that we should reject nothing in other religions that is true and holy.

Pope Francis gave a homily about this few months ago with regard another Gospel passage when the disciples also wanted to bring down fire on people who weren't part of their group. This is from his homily:
"The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! 'Father, the atheists?' Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class. We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all.

And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: We need that so much. We must meet one another doing good. 'But I don't believe, Father, I am an atheist!' But do good: We will meet one another there."
This idea of Pope Francis that we can engage in dialogue and even work together with those from other religions, and even with those who don’t believe in God at all, isn’t new. When Pope John Paul II wrote the encyclical on mission he said that mission happens in variety of ways. We are all familiar with some of these ways, such as witnessing God’s love and proclaiming who Jesus is; but inter-religious dialogue is also an official path of mission, and it’s one where the goal isn’t necessarily a membership drive or to get the other person to switch teams.

The goal is to better understand the other as a fellow human being and how they experience God. And, in that encounter we can grow in deeper appreciation of our own faith. If we do that without prejudice, but rather with respect and compassion, we will discover ways in which we can live and work together in peace.

Who does this inter-religious dialogue? It’s not just popes and bishops, or theologians. We all can do it. Pope John Paul II called on all Catholics to engage in this "dialogue of life," in “which believers of different religions bear witness before each other in daily life to their own human and spiritual values.”

How does this happen? We do this all the time. How many of us work with people from different faith experiences? Or go to school with them? How many of us have friends or family members who aren’t Catholic? In our everyday life we’re showing them what it means to us to be a Catholic and they’re showing us what it means to them to be whatever they are. We do this all the time, whether we are aware of it or not.

Sometimes, however, we need to go out of our comfort zones to seek these encounters. I want to share with you an experience I had recently of being involved in this “culture of encounter” and “dialogue of life” right across the parking lot.

In April, over at our Maryknoll Mission Center, in the former convent, we had a weekend retreat with 8 Catholics and 8 Muslims. It was our second in a year. The goal of the retreat was simply to see if everyday Catholics and Muslims could come together for a weekend, to eat together, to share stories, to share faith and maybe even pray together.

I must admit I was anxious before the first one. I didn’t really have any Muslim friends or understand much about Islam. And it was a little awkward at first. However, we may have came together as strangers but we left as friends. Particularly sitting around the table at meals, we shared stories about our families, our jobs, our hopes, our fears. Everyday stuff. And we shared our faith. Catholics trying to explain who Jesus is to Muslims and Muslims trying to explain who Mohamed is to Catholics We also looked at how we might be able to work together, side by side, for some common good.

What struck me the most was their sharing of their challenges of being immigrants, the struggles of learning a new culture and language. Most them were from Turkey and working high tech jobs in Silicon Valley. I’m not an immigrant, but my grandparents were and it made me wonder about their experiences. But what most disturbed me most was hearing about how things changed for them after 9/11. How all of sudden many of them were now seen as as “suspect,” the “other,” and even the “enemy.” Many experienced prejudice simply because they were Muslims.

I knew that something had changed in me when the horrific Boston Marathon bombing happened shortly after our retreat. Now I had a new concern. It was whether there would be repercussions against by new Muslim friends solely because they were Muslim.

So what do we take from the readings today? Being a Christian is a full time job and when we encounter people who reject us or disagree with our religious beliefs, it is NOT part of the job description to call down fire to destroy them or damn them eternally to hell.

Rather, Jesus challenges us to check our reactions and see it as a graced moment, an opportunity to encounter God in a new way and grow deeper in our own faith and relationship to the holy. And, I think he also challenges us not to wait for the chance encounter with someone who doesn't share our beliefs, but instead to be proactive and go out of our comfort zone to engage in what Pope Francis calls the “culture of encounter.”
If we have the courage to do that I think that we will not only discover God in a new way, but we will make some great new friends, and get a glimpse of heaven, right here and now.

Matt Dulka is a deacon of the Oakland Diocese assigned to full time ministry with the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers as the Regional Director for Mission Education and Promotion