Approach dialogue with respect, bishop tells US leaders

Bishop Kevin J Farrell of Dallas speaks during a press conference at the 2012 USCCB Fall General Assembly Credit Michelle Bauman CNA CNA US Catholic News 11 14 12 Bishop Kevin J. Farrell of Dallas speaks during a press conference at the 2012 USCCB Fall General Assembly. | Michelle Bauman/CNA.

U.S. Supreme Court justices and government officials at an annual Mass invoking the Holy Spirit's aid were reminded of the important role of respectful dialogue in the search for truth and unity.

"We can and should debate, refine positions, truly listen to each other and seek consensus on essentials and respect details that may well be different," Bishop Kevin J. Farrell of Dallas preached at the 61st annual Red Mass in Washington, D.C.

"If dialogue means anything, it means not only that we take another seriously but it means that we revere the other as a fellow human being with gifts and talents from God."

The Red Mass is an annual Mass of the Holy Spirit offered for the sake of judges, lawyers, diplomats and government officials, a tradition dating back to 13th century France.

The D.C. Mass was held at the Cathedral of St. Matthew on Oct. 6, the day before the start of the Supreme Court's 2013-2014 term.

In his homily, Bishop Farrell discussed the symbolism of the Red Mass, pointing to the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, which brought clear speech, insight, wisdom, and the common good, along with communication, humility, and "praying and speaking in God's name over trying to make a name for oneself."

The bishop lamented that the U.S. is currently facing "a time of highly polarized and polarizing rhetoric" which divides people and causes confusion.

"Among the things that we celebrate at this Mass today is the countercultural reality of God's very Spirit hovering over us … and, as the Holy Spirit did at that first Pentecost, he now bestows wisdom, clarity, insight and, yes, unity."

Unity is separate from uniformity, he clarified, because people can be united despite their differences.

"I deliberately said unity because the Holy Spirit is the source of unity on all that matters and the source of variety in and among the differences we have that make us who we are."

Catholic theology itself is not a place of uniformity, but of spirited debate, he said, noting that although they remained united "in essentials," there was diversity in the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure, who were teachers as universities were arising in the Catholic world.

"The same is true in the Church today and should be in our world today," the bishop said. "We exacerbate tensions and deepen polarizations when we caricature another's position and, worse, when we caricature another person."

While there is room for disagreement on some issues, he continued, "there can be no place for derision or smugness."

Catholics have a right to voice their beliefs with conviction in the public square, the bishop said, while also being respectful of those in the pluralistic society who do not share their views.

Honest and respectful dialogue requires us "to strike a balance in our words and rhetoric so that conviction should never become stridency and saying things with commitment should never become caricaturing anyone else's positions or beliefs," Bishop Farrell reflected.

"Petty partisanship and ever-politicizing rhetoric should have no place at all when men and women of goodwill come together to serve the common good."

The bishop said that in order to have "the possibility of unity in diversity," we must "admit our differences in honesty," without "narrow-mindedness" or "mean-spiritedness."

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"When we see and revere in the other person of a different color or creed or ethnic background the image and likeness of God, then we together can move forward as God's pilgrims on this good earth," he stressed.

"When we respect differences of opinion in dialogue, we respect and revere the differences that provide variety and give texture to this great country of ours, made so by others having welcomed our forefathers and mothers."

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