The Path of Dialogue

The path of dialogue appears to be the true means for vocational discernment and personal fulfillment.

The present time is full of uneasiness, fear, and doubt about the future. First, it was two years of a pandemic that still continues to decimate lives all over the world. Because of it, we all had to close ourselves off, isolate, mask ourselves, and try to reduce close contact with others as much as possible.

Then, when we began to see a light at the end of the tunnel as the virus is becoming less deadly, war was imposed–a war that touches our daily lives, imposes itself on our televisions all the time, impacts our cities, and makes us feel the concrete consequences on a human and financial level.

War and COVID-19 seem to be insurmountable realities, and between a visible and an invisible enemy, the struggle seems to pass through closure and isolation. This is a widespread feeling, but it is by no means the way to overcome the harshness of present times.

On the contrary, in the fight against COVID-19, those who isolated themselves, protected themselves, and dared to be close to the sick and fight the disease (doctors, scientists, etc.), made the difference, saved lives, and opened doors so that today we can look at the pandemic as something that is on its final legs. The same will happen with war. What will we achieve in isolation? What is the meaning of our lives if we just close our eyes in resignation and mumble a cowardly “I can’t do anything”?

This is a time when extremism surfaces. Suddenly, we seem to have forgotten that the primary vocation of human beings is “to be human”, and therefore, to strive for the humanization (and not individualistic isolation) of relationships.

This humanization involves “coming together, expressing oneself, listening to each other, looking at each other, getting to know each other, striving to understand each other, seeking points of contact: all this is summed up in the verb ‘to dialogue’.  In order to meet and help each other, we need to dialogue” (Fratelli Tutti, n. 198).

Dialogue opens new paths, makes it possible to see further, and overcome obstacles without crushing anyone but rather to appreciate the differences as an added value to reach higher values.

It seems clear that in the face of armed conflict and the resulting wave of refugees arriving daily in our country, “patient and trusting dialogue is necessary so that individuals, families and communities can transmit the values of their own culture and welcome the good that comes from the experiences of others” (Fratelli Tutti, n. 134).

This is true both for those who are direct victims of war and for those who, not being in collusion with the oppressors, belong to their nationality (leading, consequently, to discrimination and violence by all).

What does this have to do with vocation? Well, the discernment necessary in any vocational journey is always an internal and external battle, and without dialogue it cannot be accomplished. The first great battle is with oneself. Consciously or unconsciously, we are all “superheroes” and “experts in the field”: “I know very well what I want; I don’t need to waste time or go around telling anyone about it.”

This seems to be the first catchphrase, almost always followed by an “I just can’t follow this path now, because…” Individualism and self-righteousness seem to be the first major obstacle. To talk to others, to see others’ points of view, to admit that others can help us and see further than we can, is an affront of all sizes.

Without realizing it, we also enter – on a small scale – into the logic of war: our supremacy over others! Our “needing no one” above our own happiness. This is the principle of any war, and in the case of vocation, the consequences are similar: if we don’t realize ourselves, life around us will never blossom, will never be fruitful, and will never bring anything authentic and good.

On the contrary, on a path of true dialogue, discernment develops. Our dreams and longings are either confirmed or take on a new configuration. Above all, with secure vocational foundations, we find greater security, solutions strength, and accompaniment.

The way of dialogue appears to be a true means to self-fulfillment. It is not a path that leads to fulfillment, but a path that is-itself-personal fulfillment. Vocation is not a thing, nor a date, nor an important milestone in life that one wants to achieve.

On the contrary, vocation is a realization, a daily making of oneself throughout one’s whole life. One cannot pretend to think that by something happening, everything will run smoothly; nor that at a certain moment, we will suddenly advance along the vocational path.

In fact, vocation is lived out as an excellent love relationship. We can’t simply think: “From date X I will begin to love Y.” Nor can we believe that we will love in a vacuum without something/someone to whom our love finds a relationship – isolated and individualistic love does not exist!

This is a journey full of challenges so we must not run away from some fundamental questions when the fear of dialogue assails us. How can we remain firm and faithful to our vocation at all times throughout our lives? How can we not fade in the face of obstacles and difficulties? How can we make our vocational journey a true experience of love?

It will certainly not be possible to face all these questions alone! We must think about the answer on two fronts. First, when we dialogue with those who think differently from us, we find clarity and solidity in the arguments that make us believe in the vocational path that we think is ours.

Then, it is through the dialogue we have with those who live according to a vocation that we think is the one that will fulfill us, that we find answers to our doubts, rediscover ourselves, and become more aware of who we are and what we dream of being. With this accompaniment of sincere dialogue, we find solutions where we only saw problems, and we realize that life is more than the apparent fatalism of obstacles.

Fear of closeness and fear of dialogue are the foundations of an unhappy and unfulfilled life. To risk without security is recklessness and can lead to catastrophic consequences. To dare to live rather than to survive is the badge of the daring who make dialogue their path and march there-never in isolation- building day by day the fullness of an authentic life. (Susana Vilas Boas)

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Father Javier Alvarado Ayala