We are believers
who are attempting
a forum for conversation
within the Catholic Church
Our aim is to prompt
among the community
mindful of the diversity
of expressions of faith
in contemporary Australia.
This springs explicitly
from the spirit of
Pope John XXIII
and Vatican II:
"Let there be unity
in what is necessary,
what is unsettled,
in any case."
(Gaudium et Spes, n.92)
I. History of SIP
In July 1994 a small group of Catholics met in Sydney to discuss renewal in the Church. Out of that grew Catalyst for Renewal Incorporated (CFR). CFR has committed itself to promoting conversation as its contribution to renewal within the Catholic Church. In 1995, Michael Whelan and Geraldine Doogue piloted the first of CFR's forums for conversation: Spirituality in the Pub (SIP). Since that initial experience of SIP at the Bellevue Hotel in Paddington, the idea has been variously reproduced and adapted in many other places and now involves many people in its organization. CFR's other forums for conversation include: an 8 page journal - The Mix - published 10 times each year; Catalyst Dinners; Forums for the Future; Reflection Mornings and Occasional Lectures.
CFR with its focus on conversation is a sign of the times. In recent generations, both within the Church and wider society, there has begun a massive, profound and rapid shift. This is reflected at all levels of our human experience - our institutions, customs, perceptions of right and wrong, good and evil, our expectations of governance, our appreciation of symbols and rituals etc. Among other things, amidst this flux, and the opportunities and dangers it offers, we need to remember the value of people and human relationships. We need each other in our struggles to connect with God at work in the world. Good conversation can contribute immeasurably to this. SIP belongs in the middle of all that!
II. THE STRUCTURE
The structure is simple. We approach a hotel manager and ask permission to use a room in the hotel - preferably a room apart from the main bar. Normally the use of the room is free. The hotel owner gets the benefit of the extra patronage. A theme is chosen to be explored over say six or eight evenings. A schedule is set with specific topics in that theme given for each evening. Two speakers are each invited to speak for up to fifteen minutes on the topic set. That is followed by say five to ten minutes when people can refresh their drinks, go to the bathroom, speak with each other. Then there is about forty to fifty minutes of open forum when people can make statements or ask questions. Start on time, finish on time. There is an MC who says as little as possible. The purpose of the evening must never be forgotten: Good conversation! Avoid anything (like advertising this or that other event) that will encroach on the conversation. Send around the basket to help cover costs of printing and telephone calls etc.
III. CULTURAL AND HISTORICAL CONTEXT
In recent history, societies within the Western world until roughly the 1960's tended to be very self-confident. In hindsight we may say the confidence was misplaced, but, for the most part the confidence was there. Boundaries were clear, the differences between success and failure, right and wrong were clear also. The way ahead was clear. After all, it was in the hands of "leaders" who "knew" about these things. The bulk of the people had little or no say in, or knowledge of, the decision making processes that, at times, dramatically affected their lives. People mostly accepted their lot, did as they were told. There was, seemingly, no need for dialogue. Or, if there was to be dialogue it should only occur between "those who knew". There was a general acceptance of the status quo.
IV. THEOLOGICAL CONTEXT
The Church was part of this cultural and historical context and reflected its limits and possibilities. Pope John XXIII - reading the signs of the times - called for adaptation and renewal. In particular, the Church had to take both the Gospel and the world more seriously. Pope Paul VI picked up on that same spirit in his first encyclical - Ecclesiam Suam (1964) - some eighteen months before the final session of the Council which Pope John had called. Pope Paul focused most particularly on the need for dialogue. The following references give some indication of Pope Paul's vision for the Council and the Church in the years ahead:
(The origins of the dialogue): The fatherly and holy conversation between God and humanity, interrupted by original sin, has been marvelously resumed in the course of history. The history of salvation narrates exactly this long and changing dialogue which begins with God and brings to humanity a many-splendored conversation. It is in this conversation of Christ amidst the human family that God allows us to understand something of Himself, the mystery of His life, unique in its essence, trinitarian in its persons; and He tells us finally how He wishes to be known; He is Love; and how He wishes to be honored and served by us: Love is our supreme commandment. The dialogue thus takes on full meaning and offers grounds for confidence. The child is invited to it; the mystic finds a full outlet in it. (Ecclesiam Suam n.70)
(A special kind of relationship implied):
This type of relationship indicates a proposal of courteous esteem, of understanding and of goodness on the part of the one who inaugurates the dialogue; it excludes the a priori condemnation, the offensive and time-worn polemic and emptiness of useless conversation. (Ecclesiam Suam n.79)
(To all the baptised): An attitude of preservation of the faith is insufficient. Certainly we must preserve and also defend the treasure of truth and of grace which has come to us by way of inheritance from the Christian tradition. "Keep safe what has been entrusted to thee," warns St. Paul. But neither the preservation nor the defense of the faith exhausts the duty of the Church in regard to the gifts which it possesses. The duty consonant with the patrimony received from Christ is that of spreading, offering, announcing it to others. Well do we know that "going, therefore, make disciples of all nations" is the last command of Christ to His Apostles. By the very term "apostles" these men define their inescapable mission. To this internal drive of charity which tends to become the external gift of charity we will give the name of dialogue, which has in these days come into common usage. (Ecclesiam Suam n.64)
(Speaking specifically to priests): And before speaking, it is necessary to listen, not only to the other's voice, but to the heart. People must first be understood—and, where they merit it, agreed with. In the very act of trying to make ourselves pastors, fathers and teachers of people, we must make ourselves their brothers. The spirit of dialogue is friendship and, even more, is service. All this we must remember and strive to put into practice according to the example and commandment that Christ left to us. (Ecclesiam Suam n.87)
(In general, of the way the Church must engage the world): The dialogue is not proud, it is not bitter, it is not offensive. Its authority is intrinsic to the truth it explains, to the charity it communicates, to the example it proposes; it is not a command, it is not an imposition. It is peaceful; it avoids violent methods; it is patient; it is generous. Trust, not only in the power of one's words, but also in an attitude of welcoming the trust of the interlocutor. Trust promotes confidence and friendship. It binds hearts in mutual adherence to the good which excludes all self-seeking. In the dialogue, conducted in this manner, the union of truth and charity, of understanding and love is achieved. In the dialogue one discovers how different are the ways which lead to the light of faith, and how it is possible to make them converge on the same goal. Even if these ways are divergent, they can become complementary by forcing our reasoning process out of the worn paths and by obliging it to deepen its research, to find fresh expressions. The dialectic of this exercise of thought and of patience will make us discover elements of truth also in the opinions of others, it will force us to express our teaching with great fairness, and it will reward us for the work of having explained it in accordance with the objections of another or despite his slow assimilation of our teaching. The dialogue will make us wise; it will make us teachers. Many, indeed, are the forms that the dialogue of salvation can take. It adapts itself to the needs of a concrete situation, it chooses the appropriate means, it does not bind itself to ineffectual theories and does not cling to hard and fast forms when these have lost their power to speak to men and move them. (Ecclesiam Suam nos. 81-85)
(Dialogue among Catholics): It is our ardent desire that this conversation with our own children should be full of faith, of charity, of good works, should be intimate and familiar. We would have it responsive to all truth and virtue and to all the realities of our doctrinal and spiritual inheritance. Sincere and sensitive in genuine spirituality, ever ready to give ear to the manifold voice of the contemporary world, ever more capable of making Catholics truly good men and women, men and women wise, free, serene and strong; that is what we earnestly desire our family conversation to be. (Ecclesiam Suam n.113)
IV. DIALOGUE AND THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES
The word "dialogue" - in Latin, "colloquium" - is used more than one thousand times in the Vatican Documents and subsequent Church documents from Rome to our present day. It clearly represents a major part of the Church's thinking and vision emerging powerfully from the Second Vatican Council. Is it any wonder? When we start to reflect on the nature and implications of dialogue it not only throws us up against human nature and its yearning for connection and loving relationship, it reminds us of the nature of God - the eternal loving relationships of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Dialogue points to the heart of our humanity as well as the heart of our faith. When we enter on the path of genuine conversation we are moving more deeply towards our nature as human beings baptized into Christ, members of the Mystical Body. There is, potentially, a rich spirituality in human conversation. The pastoral instruction on the uses of the modern means of communication (Communion et Progressio (1971)) puts it nicely:
"Communication is more than the expression of ideas and the indication of emotion. At its most profound level it is the giving of self in love" (n.11).
SIP is one modest but potentially very lifegiving attempt to provide a contemporary forum - what better place than a pub! - where dialogue and conversation can emerge with transforming force. The idea is very simple. Two competent speakers share their thoughts and questions on a matter of some significance. This acts as a stimulus for good conversation. What is intended is something much richer and more transforming than mere intellectual debate or discussion can achieve. This is a gathering of God's people. Lives can change here if we are open to the possibilities.
V. OBSTACLES AND FACILITATING CONDITIONS
Obstacles to good conversation include:
|unacknowledged and/or unresolved inner conflicts - language and interchanges become loaded with extraneous agenda and emotion;|
|people are alienated by process or the manner of an individual, especially if the individual is moderating the conversation; anxiety to "find the answers" - attempts may be made to force the conversation or people to a false conclusion;|
|argumentative or combative style of interaction with others; harsh or aggressive manner;|
|success (!) - may tempt you to expect more of this forum than it can offer;|
|a room or crowd that is just too big!|
Facilitating conditions for good conversation:
|self-awareness - minimizes possibility of loading words and interchanges with extraneous agenda and emotion;|
|a genuine desire for renewal in the Church - a renewal which begins with oneself;|
|recognize that the process is every bit as important as the content - allows variety and diversity of opinion;|
|willingness to listen with patience, care and respect, taking people seriously;|
|good quality speakers;|
|a moderator who can run proceedings with a soft touch;|
|a genuine desire to join with others in the struggle for what is true and good;|
|predictability - start and finish on time, keep it moving, do not let any one person dominate;|
|a good sense of humour!|
|a kind publican who will offer a suitable room and hospitality;|
|keep the focus - SIP is simply about conversation in the spirit of the Gospel.|