Father Eugene Hemrick

In his final address, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin said, “A dying person does not have time for the peripheral or the accidental. He or she is drawn to the essential, the important — yes the eternal.”

Two days before he died, Msgr. Philip J. Murnion, priest and sociologist noted for parish studies, wrote to the U.S. bishops: “If I were to sum up my final plea to you, it would be: ‘dialogue, dialogue, dialogue!'” For Msgr. Murnion, dialogue was the linchpin needed to keep our church vital.

Soon to be canonized Pope Paul VI, in the encyclical “Ecclesiam Suam,” pointed to the indispensable role dialogue fulfills in creating church renewal and listed its four essential characteristics.

First is clearness above all else. Pope Paul lauded it as an “invitation to the exercise and development of the highest spiritual and mental powers a man possesses.”


History shows that one of Ulysses Grant’s greatest powers as a general was crystal clear orders that left little doubt about their meaning. Carefully crafted ideas have produced some of the most unimaginable feats ever, whereas confusing ideas have sometimes caused irreparable damage.

The second characteristic of dialogue is meekness. Pope Paul proclaimed, “It would indeed be a disgrace if our dialogue were marked by arrogance. … It is peaceful, has no use for extreme methods, is patient under contradiction and inclines toward generosity.”

Simply put, meekness dispels ill dispositions that stifle open conversation. It is inviting, genuine and warm.

The third characteristic of dialogue is trust that Pope Paul points out is “not only in the power of one’s words, but also in the goodwill of both parties to the dialogue. Hence dialogue promotes intimacy and friendship on both sides. It unites them in a mutual adherence to the good, and thus excludes all self-seeking.”

Trust bonds hearts, promoting heart-to-heart conversation. It is the assurance of openness and authenticity.

The fourth characteristic is prudence. The pope wrote, “The person who speaks is always at pains to learn the sensitivities of his audience, and if reason demands it, he adapts himself and the manner of his presentation to the susceptibilities and the degree of intelligence of his hearers.”

Here we are implored to put ourselves in the shoes of another and see life from his or her side. We send the message, “I don’t know everything about you; I am earnest in entering into your world.”

If more people made these principles of dialogue their dying wish, Isaiah’s vision of swords being bent into plows would undoubtedly permeate our lives more fully (Is 2:4).