On the eve of the feast of Saint Francis of Assisi, 4 October 2020, Pope Francis published his third encyclical letter: ‘Fratelli tutti‘.
As the person in charge within an international congregation that fulfils a clear mission in the world, more specifically in the world of education and health care, on the basis of its own charism, Bro. René Stockman offers here a short summary of each chapter followed by a more personal reflection.
Chapter 6: Dialogue and friendship in society
Seeking rapprochement, expressing oneself, listening to each other, daring to look each other in the eye, getting to know each other and trying to understand each other, finding common ground: these are tried and tested ways to arrive at a true dialogue. Some, however, flee reality and entrench themselves in their own little world from which they attack the others. There is a profound difference between dialogue and what we know today as an exchange of opinions on social media. Such debates are very often manipulated and have only one purpose: to have the truth on their side. That has nothing to do with anything other than power and personal gain.
Authentic dialogue presupposes that one is open to the views of the other person on the basis of the conviction that there is some truth in every view. In order to achieve this, one does not have to agree entirely with what the other person is saying, but one looks for common ground.
The question is whether the media today serve this kind of dialogue. There is a lot of exchange over the internet, but that is no guarantee that there is also dialogue. Dialogue is always about sincerely seeking the truth, serving the weakest, and building the common good.
Some people believe that there are neither absolute nor objective truths. They cloak themselves in relativism. The fact that every human life is sacred and inviolable bears no compromise. This relativism is very harmful to society and to mankind as such. We must realize that there are actions that are intrinsically wrong, regardless of the circumstances and the intention in which they are committed. It seems that the distinction between good and evil is becoming blurred in this world and is being replaced by an ethics based on what seems advantageous to us and what is disadvantageous to us.
We also need to be aware that much of what is proclaimed through the media is anything but true. There is a great deal of manipulation involved, and there is a danger that we will allow ourselves to get carried away by what the media are proclaiming as dominant ideas and no longer be open to what is true and real.
In a pluralistic society, dialogue is essential, but it must always be based on a clear personal stance coupled with openness to the views of others. We will see, however, that there are values that are not negotiable; that, too, must remain clear in any dialogue, but it must not be an obstacle to continuing the dialogue. Such a dialogue will even put certain truths in a clearer light, without necessarily expecting or demanding consensus on them.
Let us work towards a culture of encounter. It is the path that leads to true and profound peace that cannot be built just like that. It is a slow process in which one listens patiently to each other and accepts that the other has the right to be himself and can also be different. At the basis of such a culture of encounter is, of course, mutual respect, which must be developed towards each other. If this is lacking, the main focus will be on the differences that will always exist. Focusing solely on differences is tapping into a source that leads to a great deal of violence with which we have recently been so heavily confronted.
That is why the culture of encounter must lead to what can be called a social and cultural pact, in which people understand and accept that they never have a monopoly on the whole truth but, at the same time, have the right to express their convictions. These need not be opposites. The criterion will always be respect for and promotion of the personal and common good. We can learn a lot from Saint Paul, who was very clear about his conviction and did not hide it, but at the same time stood up for proper relationships, based on benevolence, gentleness, and respect. The Pope wonders whether we can still say these three words to each other: “excuse me”, “pardon me”, and “thank you”. It could not sound more practical.
A short chapter on an essential theme in which the importance of having a good dialogue is the connecting thread. There is no need for much comment, because what is said sounds so recognizable, even within our Congregation. It will always be necessary to strike a balance between having one’s own views, being able to put them into perspective when we listen attentively to the arguments and reasoning of the others, and at the same time realizing and accepting that there are general truths that are not negotiable. The latter is perhaps the most difficult and the most challenged today, since certain dialogues are blocked because it is no longer accepted that there are still universal values that do not allow for compromise. The trick is then to keep the dialogue open and arrive at a renewed form of being together, where respect for each other takes precedence over continuing to fixate on differences. Unity in diversity, without compromising what is truly fundamental and absolute: the absolute inviolability of all life.
As children of our time, we will not be insensitive to a certain degree of relativism, in which we too easily close our eyes to what is objectively wrong, and blur the distinction between good and evil, in our own lives and in the society to which we belong. Here, too, we must have the courage to swim against the tide at times and not allow ourselves to be carried away by a destructive relativism.
Bro. René Stockman,
Superior General of the Brothers of Charity
Source: Brothers of Charity Website