THEOLOGICAL AND SPIRITUAL FOUNDATIONS
The Catholic Common Ground Initiative arose from the conviction that there are tensions and polarities present in the church today that threaten the unity that should characterize the community of faith. There are varying perspectives on the truth that result at times in heated arguments; these divisions can foster an acrimony that seems devoid of charity and results in a divisiveness that strains fidelity. The goal of the Initiative was to create an environment in which some of this divisiveness could be overcome.
Theologically speaking, the common ground sought by the Initiative is not something created but something that is to be found, or more correctly, experienced anew in prayer and brought to bear on our ecclesial life. The common ground is a community of faith that celebrates its unity; that is so acquainted with the truth that it is able to proclaim the Word in good season and bad; that others view and comment on by saying “see how they love one another”; and that experiences the tranquility associated with fidelity.
The theological foundations for this desire are rooted in scripture and in tradition. As Catholics, we look to Jesus who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life; who has sent the Spirit to us, a Spirit that draws us into the life of our Triune God. By baptism, we are initiated into and nourished in this life in the Christian community. That life in God fulfills the deepest yearnings of the human spirit and also calls us to live, as individuals and as a community, in the triune life of God—relationships of truth, love, and fidelity.
The dialogues are also rooted in our understanding of the dignity of the human person and in our recognition that by baptism the Spirit of God dwells in each member of our community. We approach one another, then, with respect, with an awareness that the Wisdom of God may speak to us through the least among us (Rule of Benedict), with vibrant belief in Jesus’ promise that “Where two or three are gathered, there am I in the midst of you” MT 18:20.
However, we are also keenly aware of our limits as finite persons. And as believers we know and experience in our own lives the profound alienation that sin has brought to us individually and collectively. We know the importance of the reminder in 1 John 4:1, that we must “test the spirits to see whether they are from God.”
We share a radical belief that in the person of Jesus Christ we have been saved from sin and that redemption is real. Christ is the beginning and the end of who we are and what we do. Above all, in Christ unity with our God and each other is possible; truth is our guide, love is the core of who we are, and faithful relationships a source of real fulfillment individually and collectively.
The church, as the sacrament of God’s presence in the world, carries on the mission of Jesus and witnesses to the unity to which we are all called. We believe that our pastors— the pope and our bishops, and through them local pastoral leaders—have been called by the Spirit to assist the community of faith in preserving this unity by authentically teaching the truth and preserving the church from error.
Because we also believe that the source and summit of our life as a community of believers is to be found in our common worship, we value liturgical prayer as a crucial part of our dialogues. It is our belief, and our experience, that in our liturgical prayer we encounter the Mystery that is the source of our unity, hear the Word that is truth, experience the sacrificial love of the cross, and are transformed individually and collectively. It is most likely here that our divisiveness can be overcome.
The Initiative is ultimately noted for its hopefulness. Where others see shadows or conspiracies, the Initiative sees possibilities. This hopefulness is not naïve or simplistic. It is Christian hope which means it recognizes that the cross is real, but despite the limits of the cross and the apparent finality of death, it believes in the possibility of that which is unseen: a dynamic family of faith.
Pope Paul VI in his encyclical Ecclesiam Suam notes that there is a transcendent origin to dialogue. The Word became flesh, God spoke and invited humanity to enter into a salvific conversation. Our dialogues have as their model this type of saving conversation, or as Paul VI said, “a dialogue of salvation.”
These dialogues take place in a context that Cardinal Bernardin made note of at the beginning of the Initiative: “a common ground centered on faith in Jesus, marked by accountability to the living Catholic tradition . . . .” Unlike some contemporary understandings of dialogue that would question whether it is possible to know an objective and transcendent truth, the Initiative dialogues are not a celebration of relativism but a search for a shared understanding of the authentic truth that comes from God and is taught by the church. To say it in other words, there are a prioris that determine the content and process of our dialogues. However, unity is a quest that at times seems elusive; truth is not easy to know, love can be difficult, and fidelity perceived as impossible.
Above all, the spirit of Initiative dialogues is one of civility and charity. Pope John Paul II in Tertio millennio ineunte (43) reminds us that in the church we should treat one another as brothers and sisters in Christ and indeed as other selves. If we maintain this perspective, we will be able to appreciate what is good in others, welcoming and fostering it. This attitude of which the late Holy Father speaks is one that makes possible the reconciliation that is fundamental to the unity of the church.
Just as the Catholic Common Ground Initiative is noted for its celebration of the virtue of hope, its dialogues are also noted for their celebration of the virtue of humility— humility before the Word of God; humility before the church’s magisterium; humility before our partners in dialogue; and humility before our own weakness and sinfulness.
Ultimately the success of the Initiative and its dialogues will be determined by how faithfully it lives out these important theological foundations.