Sunday, April 25, 2010

Fr. Matthias Neuman's Homily for the 4th Sunday of Easter

Readings: Acts 13:43-52; Rev. 7:9-17; Jn 10:27-30

Our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles describes one of the momentous turning points in the history of Christianity: the decision of some followers of Jesus to invite those people who were not of Jewish ancestry into full membership in their group. In the words of Paul and Barnabas: "We now turn to the Gentiles." Of course, at the time this passage from Acts was being written, the Gentile mission had been underway for almost fifty years. The Letters of Paul show that clearly. Those letters also show that by this decision Paul and the other Christian missionaries did not mean to neglect Jews. As Paul tried to show clearly in his letter to the Romans, Jews are justified through their observance of the Law of Moses, while Gentiles are justified through faith in Jesus Christ. God in His infinite mercy has given the grace of justification to both Jew and Gentile. That conviction was ultimately to make Christianity into a world-wide faith.

I would like to pause for a moment and reflect on the dynamics of that decision, which was made by many others besides Paul and Barnabas (See Romans 16). It was an incredible act of religious outreach that shaped (and is still shaping) the course of human history. It also constituted something decisively new in human religious history. That required confidence, boldness and generosity. That Christian outreach was based on their conviction of the boundless mercy of God.

Right now we are living in the midst of another such possible momentous turning point in human religious history. I’m referring to the international meeting of Christianity and Islam. Now I realize that most of you know practically nothing about any of this, and I myself know very little. But it is a topic of massive import for the future of world history and for the future shaping of both faiths. The two faiths are in imminent collision in many areas around the world. The choices are: 1) to move closer in some type of mutual cooperation, or 2) to distance and alienate themselves from each other. In the latter case, open conflict is only a step away—as we can see happening right now in Nigeria, where Christians and Muslims are massacring each other in large numbers. The situation is dire in many areas of our world. Let me read you just a little section: "On both (Christian and Islamic) sides are vast centrifugal forces unleashed by fundamentalist and extremist movements... These far outweigh the centripetal forces set in motion by hundreds of interfaith and intercultural centers all over the world. The fundamentalists are better organized, more experienced, better ordinated and more motivated." (A Common Word: Muslims and Christians on Loving God and Neighbor, p. 6)

At the same time the door is open for an unprecedented step in communication between these two great religions. It all began three years ago with an address that Pope Benedict XVI gave; in that address he made an unfortunate reference to Islam as "evil and inhuman." In response to that address a group of 138 Islamic religious leaders issued a document which may become one of the great religious documents of world history. It is an open invitation to Christian leaders to understand, mutually appreciate and cooperate with Islam as two great religious faiths of the world. It is called "A Common Word" and testifies to the fact that both Christianity and Islam are based on the two commandments: love of God and love of neighbor. If we both can recognize and acknowledge that, then there is so much more that we can cooperate on. Most of all, we can stop vilifying and fighting each other.

Most of us here today are not going to have the opportunity to interact with or dialogue with people of the Muslim faith. But we do have the chance to deal with views of Muslims and opinions about Islam held by our Christian friends and relatives. And that’s where we can make a difference. When we hear people make disparaging remarks about Islam, we can say "Wait a minute. Let’s be a little more careful in our judgments." Then we can truly carry out the task of being peacemakers.

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