Dialogue with Masons? Is There Any Point?

Some Cardinal named Ravasi has apparently called for dialogue with Freemasons. Here's a translation of the passage from his letter, provided by a reader of Rorate Caeli:

“…These various declarations on the incompatibility of the two memberships in the Church or in Freemasonry, do not impede, however, dialogue, as is explicitly stated in the German Bishops’ document that had already listed the specific areas of discussion, such as the communitarian dimension, works of charity, the fight against materialism, human dignity and knowledge of each other.

“Further, we need to rise above that stance from certain Catholic integralist spheres, which – in order to hit out at some exponents even in the Church’s hierarchy who displease them – have recourse to accusing them apodictically of being members of Freemasonry. In conclusion, as the German Bishops wrote, we need to go beyond reciprocal “hostility, insults and prejudices” since “in comparison to past centuries the tone and way of manifesting [our]differences has improved and changed” even if they [the differences]still remain in a clearly defined way.”

So, he's saying that it's still true that Catholics are not allowed to be Masons, but that it's okay to talk to Masons, and that since some decent people of good will are Masons, maybe we can find some stuff in common if we spend time with them. And then he's saying, "And for goodness sake, please don't just go, 'Oh, really? Are you sure you're not a Mason, Cardinal???' because we can do better than that."

In response, the internet said, "Oh, really? Are you sure you're not a Mason, Cardinal???"

But the part that has me really scratching my head is this:

There is widespread contempt for the word "dialogue." Errrrrbody hates dialogue. We all know that dialogue is squishy, meaningless, effeminate twaddle that impotent progressives favor because they're too limp-wristed to handle the truth. Dialogue is for camp counselors and Episcopalians.  Dialogue doesn't do anything. It's pointless, and is never effective. 

This is the first argument that gets trotted out every time someone says "dialogue." The second argument that turns up, hand-in-hand with the first one, is this:

But! Pope Leo XIII denounced Catholics who become Freemasons! He used the strongest terms possible to warn us away from becoming entangled with this pernicious threat! 

So I'm left wondering: If dialogue is really so meaningless and ineffective, what could possibly be the danger of having a dialogue with Freemasons? Pope Leo XIII is pretty clearly denouncing becoming a Freemason, and wants to keep Freemasonry out of the Church. Okay, so don't be a Freemason. 

Cardinal Ravasi, like Leo XIII, is also saying, "Don't be a Freemason" -- and he's saying: also, don't be such an "integralist" that you persuade yourself that Freemasons are subhuman, because they're not. Dun dun dunnnn.

It's lazy and obnoxious to automatically dismiss dialogue as liberal nonsense. "Dialogue" just means meeting with someone and being willing to talk and listen. When St. Francis met with the Muslim Sultan Malik Al-Kamil of Egypt, that was "dialogue." When Pope Benedict XVI met with Fidel Castro, that was "dialogue." When he met with Obama, that was "dialogue." 

Dialogue just means meeting, talking, and listening. Sometimes it does some good, sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes it's fruitful, sometimes it's not. Sometimes it does lead to dangerous entanglements, and we have to be careful that we don't open ourselves up so much that we allow harmful influences in; but sometimes it leads to better understanding, an increase in love, and yes, conversion of heart on both sides -- or at least a small movement toward conversion. It's a matter of prudence, and we need to know when to draw the line, when to be more open, and when to be more guarded.

I understand the instinctive dislike of the word "dialogue." I really do. It sounds like felt banners and burlap vestments and liturgical silliness. Well, get over it! We're adults, and we can think past our first visceral response. It is childish and incestuously vain to imagine that dialogue, as an idea, has no place in Catholicism. My friends, when I go into the confessional and tell Jesus my sins, and He tells me, "I forgive you," that is dialogue. Dialogue just means making contact. We are all in need of contact with God -- and, with very few exceptions, God comes to us through the mediation of other people.

Dialogue is not all we need. Just pure communication is not an end in itself. But it's a start, and if we refuse to start, how can we expect to finish?

All of life on earth is a kind of dialogue. Breathing in and breathing out is a kind of dialogue, and when we refuse to do this, how far will we get? When we refuse to engage in dialogue with other people, whether they're Masons or Muslims or Communists or public school kids or homosexuals or the Son of the Living God, then we are dead.