Many readers will fondly remember the last Jubilee year—indeed, the Great Jubilee Year—commemorating the two-thousandth anniversary of the incarnation of God’s Son in history. St. John Paul II understood this event to be the apex of his pontificate and, for many of us, the image of the frail, beloved pontiff opening the Jubilee door of St. Peter’s Basilica remains etched in memory.
Pope Francis has now led us into the second Jubilee year of the third millennium, this Jubilee of Mercy. Seeing mercy as the very substance of the Church’s proclamation to the world, our Holy Father asks Christians to fix their gaze upon the Merciful One—and receive the gift of mercy he offers—so that each will become a true “oasis of mercy” for others.
While Pope Francis is encouraging catechists to teach the mercy of God, he goes further in asking for what could be called a methodology of mercy. He writes that the Church’s very “language and gestures must transmit mercy.” What might this mean in the pastoral context of catechesis and evangelization? This is an important question with a multitude of answers.
As I’ve considered this, I am reminded of the pope’s historic address to the U.S. Congress on September 24, 2015. During this speech, he employed the term “dialogue” twelve times. He repeatedly described his presence in the United States as an attempt to enter into dialogue with the American people.
There are some who might blanch at the idea of the Vicar of Christ exercising his teaching office by entering into dialogue. Faced with today’s aggressive relativism and pervasive cultural deference to ideas frequently unreasonable and untrue, the concept of “dialogue” might appear to diminish the Church’s voice in the world into merely one among many. I believe, though, that Francis’ personal insistence on the dialogical approach is a vital element of his methodology of mercy and is a key to our own evangelistic fecundity today.
Entering into genuine dialogue with another means entering a conversation where truly hearing the other is equally important to helping the other understand one’s own position. This kind of authentic exchange requires one to empathically listen and receive the concerns and convictions being voiced, to not only “put oneself in the shoes” of the other, but to actually aim for real understanding. This can be done, even if one is not in agreement with the other’s position. Such an approach to communication bespeaks a profound respect, kindness, and a sincere desire to truly understand. Certainly our Holy Father believes—showing us by his own example—that this must be the way forward in fruitfully proposing Christ today. If others are going to truly hear the truth of Christ, it is necessary that they must at the same time be heard. Such an approach is merciful as it represents a desire for genuine solidarity with the other, even when disagreement is present.
This approach is not new to the magisterial vision for evangelization. The General Directory for Catechesis, after all, suggests that evangelization be approached in stages. “The proclamation of the Gospel and the call to conversion” comes only after (and, arguably, amidst) “dialogue and presence in charity.” Only when another person is loved, respected, and accepted might there be an authentic opening to the Truth of which we are all so desperately in need.
There is, however, a tension here. The process of dialogue can also be frequently promoted by those who espouse a relativistic view of the world. True proclamation of an objective reality is, for them, an impossibility—and therefore all that remains is subjective expression. An approach to dialogue within evangelization that moves proclamation to the periphery is disingenuous. While Jesus most certainly entered into dialogue with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, that dialogue (“what are you discussing?”) prepared them for proclamation (“was it not necessary that the messiah should suffer these things…”).
Cardinal Timothy Dolan has described well the need for dialogue–accompaniment and proclamation–call to conversion. He wrote recently, “If we only accompany but do not convert, then we simply walk beside people farther into the night, away from the community of faith in Jerusalem If we only question and listen, then we withhold from people the saving news of salvation.” The Cardinal suggests we learn from the full Emmaus account, as he suggests our mission today is “to draw near, to accompany, to question, to listen, to rebuke the lack of faith, to teach the truth of the Gospel, to reveal Christ, to restore hope, to convert, to return to the Church.”
Such a methodology, truly expressive of the language and gestures of mercy, has much to offer today’s catechists as we engage contemporary people with the proposal of Christ.
Dr. James Pauley is associate professor of Theology and Catechetics at Franciscan University of Steubenville.
 Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus, arts. 10-13.
 Ibid., art. 12.
 General Directory for Catechesis, art. 47.
 Luke 24:13-35.
 Cardinal Timothy Dolan, “Lord, To Whom Shall We Go?” Catholic New York, Oct26, 2015 (accessed at http://cny.org/stories/Report-on-the-Synod,13240).
This article originally appeared on page 5 of the printed edition.