I try to not read my homilies, and instead preach off of notes, but when I really want to make sure I get the wording right, I do preach off of a text.
Some have asked for it so here it is in text version as well. If it helps, great, if you were one who threatened to use it for toilet paper - feel free to do that as well!
We hear a lot in today’s readings about other faiths and peoples. The prophet Isaiah talks about how people will be sent to the corners of the world to spread the message of the Gospel. Jesus also talks about how the scribes and Pharisees will be locked out of heaven while representatives from all areas of the world will be entering the kingdom.
This raises a very relevant question – “What does Christ and His Church teach about the issue of how we are to relate to and approach other faiths?
First of all – the answer of the average person toady is summed up in one word – relativism. Pope Benedict’s first homily as Pope talked about what he called the dictatorship of relativism. He said it is our biggest problem as a world today.
What is relativism? It is the mindset that says “You’ve got your faith, which works for you, and I’ve got my faith, which works for me. Therefore, there is no need to talk about differences.”
Relativism says that all religions are equal because they all point to some higher divinity. This means, then, that all the religions are just paths to a common destination. Relativism tells me that the only thing I should be worried about is trying to find the path that suits me best.
This position of relativism is the ONLY position we are allowed to take as good peaceful likeable Americans.
I remember being in college, which was a melting pot of faiths, and I remember being so proud of myself for reaching the conclusion of relativism. It seemed at the time like the enlightened and mature stance that separated me from being a fanatical close-minded Pharisee.
That, though, is why Pope Benedict says it is a dictatorship – because for relativists there is no alternative but to be a relativist.
So what’s wrong with relativism? When we look deeper, when we go beyond what’s nice or likeable, if we really think about it for very long we realize that not all religions can be equally as true. If two religions contradict each other or disagree with one another (And all of them do contradict each other on some major issues) then some have to be more right than others.
As Levi Strauss once noted, if all religions are equally true then cannibalism is only a matter of taste, and isn’t actually WRONG.
Relativism reduces religion to nothing more than a coping mechanism, religion is a panacea, it is a good chat with Dr. Phil, something that helps me cope with stress or any of my other problems. A relativist says that if Catholicism suits you, great. If not – no need to worry about leaving it behind.
Some people shut off at this point. They will say “Here goes the Church, pounding its chest, bragging about how it has the truth, and everyone else is locked out of the kingdom and is wrong.”
However, let us think about this for a minute together. I know a priest who works for the Vatican in Greece. His job is to have dialogue with the Greek Orthodox Church to continue looking for common ground and a reuniting of our two Churches. He said everyone there considers him to be a heretic, but he said it is oddly refreshing. He said it is actually more helpful because the Greek Orthodox recognize the serious differences between themselves and Rome, and they recognize that those differences MATTER! A relativist would never even start having a dialogue in the first place because there is not really any need for there to be a discussion if religion is just a coping mechanism for me.
I teach at Ritter with a guy who sought me out to talk about things of the faith on several occasions. He isn’t Catholic, but he has told me on several occasions that he respects the Church for at least going out there and saying, “this is what we believe, we think it matters, and we think these beliefs have consequences.” He said he likes the fact that the Church says there are things that are right and wrong.
He told me at the Ritter game last night that he wants to join the RCIA program.
Two summers ago, the Vatican released a statement saying that we could no longer properly refer to other faiths as "Churches" i.e. the Anglican "Church" or the "Baptist Church." Many took this to be arrogant and were very upset, but many protestant theologians in our country thanked the Holy Father for clarifying why the Church believes what it believes. You can't have dialogue with someone unless you know where they stand.
So what does the Church say about other religions? At the 2nd Vatican Council, the Church said that the Catholic Church contains the fullness of the truth. Other people outside the Church may still come to know God in two ways A) God reaches out to them or B) they may encounter Christ in some of the elements of the Catholic Faith that other religions share with us. Some big common elements that some faiths share with us would be Baptism or Scriptures.
So what do we do? What does Christ and His Church call us to? Do we go and stand outside protestant churches or Buddhist temples with leaflets telling them we’re right and you’re wrong? We have the fullness of the truth and you don’t? Do we go looking for a fight, or at least someone to argue with so that we can have the satisfaction of being right?
Of course not – and that’s what the Pharisee’s don’t get. The Pharisees were trying to use THEIR OWN power to make converts. We don’t win people by doing stuff like that – we win them over by being people of love who are never afraid to say what we believe, and why. We are called to be people who have found the priceless pearl of Christ, and if we understand the Church rightly, we want all people here with us, in the Church, because this is where others will find the fullness of the Truth. To tell someone lovingly and with compassion that they do not have the fullness of the truth, or EVEN TO IMPLY IT, is hard, just as disciplining a child is hard. It is easier to be a child’s friend and not have to say the hard things, which is why St. Paul is encouraging his people to do just that.
In the end, we have to believe that what we are doing matters, that our Catholic Faith is more than just a coping mechanism that happens to suit me nicely, we have to believe that the Catholic Faith is not just one of many paths to God. Some religions are content with being labeled a path to God, but we are not. Catholicism is not just a path to a later goal, Catholicism and Christ are not separate – one is not a path to the other. Jesus says in today’s Gospel “go away I do not know you.” Some will say “my Lord, I thought you were a prize I receive later,” but in reality he is here now.
The Scriptures are clear – Christ and His Church are inseparably welded together by the fire of the Holy Spirit – our Catholic Faith is no mere path because Christ is here now, and we consume him and he dwells in our midst, and that makes all the difference.