There is a poster on the wall in my office that has followed me from place to place for several years. Through graphics, it shows how the sacred texts of 13 faiths from around the world each contain “The Golden Rule.” From Islam and Christianity to Traditional Native Spirituality and Confucianism, we all hold sacred some version of “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you,” which was the version I learned as a child. The poster on my office wall is part of an interfaith education initiative of Scarborough Missions (a Society of Canadian Catholics, priests and laity), and they have developed an impressive curriculum for engaging in interfaith dialogue, espousing such principles as “Dialogue can take place only between equals… Both must come to learn from each other,” and “The primary purpose of dialogue is to learn; that is, to change and grow in the perception and understanding of reality, and then to act accordingly.” In other words, if I greet others on a platform of respect and openness, I might learn something about other traditions and grow as a person in the process. I think this one part of today’s gospel resonated with me because I need a unifying dialogue, something we can all agree on and work towards. Not just interfaith dialogue. I need this in my life, and I think it is needed in our church, country, and world.
Some might relate to my mother’s stories of growing up in Minudie, Nova Scotia (essentially one road). On one side of the road there was St. Denis Catholic Church, then the Glebe House, then a one-room schoolhouse, and next to that a Universalist Church. My mother was strictly warned to never set foot in the Universalist Church, as this would be a sin and could possibly result in a black mark the size of hell on her soul that Jesus would find after she died, and it was time to count “the black marks”. Years later of course, I was not allowed to go to Vacation Bible School at the Salisbury Baptist Church because of the sin and the black marks and so forth, but I have gotten over it.
If not in the 1950’s, the Church today has something valuable to teach us about dialogue. One of the documents arising from the Second Vatican Council was Nostra Aetate: Declaration on the Relation of the Church to non-Christian religions, which “reveres the work of God in all the major faith traditions,” and was considered a major step forward in the Church’s relationship with other faiths. The first words of Nostra Aetate, written in 1965, struck me as ironic in 2022, and I wanted to finish with them:
In our time, when day by day mankind is being drawn closer together, and the ties between different peoples are becoming stronger, the Church examines more closely her relationship to non-Christian religions. In her task of promoting unity and love among humans, indeed among nations, she considers above all in this declaration what humans have in common and what draws them to fellowship. (1)
And I am not bitter about the Vacation Bible School.
Office of Evangelization & Catechesis
Archdiocese of Moncton