Sunday, August 14, 2011

Fr. Matthias Neuman's Homily for the 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Readings: Is 56:1-7; Rm 11:13-32; Mt 15:21-28

The three readings today all bear upon one of the main religious issues that runs through the whole of the Old and the New Testaments: namely, the religious status of those peoples outside the People of Israel. All three of our readings take a favorable and positive attitude toward those peoples. Paul, being the strongest, says that God has extended mercy to all peoples, not just the Jews. God’s mercy knows no bounds. Yet we know from sources in and outside the scriptures that there were a lot of dissenting opinions, including those that rejected any possible salvation for gentiles. Paul’s views ultimately determined the main Christian viewpoint and the publication of the Talmud around the year 500AD became the major Jewish approach. The Talmud states that those people who followed the seven laws given to Noah (Genesis 9) would be favorable and acceptable to God.

Of course, we know that Christianity often strayed significantly from Paul’s perspective in later centuries, even at times becoming quite exclusivist about the possibility of salvation for anyone outside the Catholic Church. Many of us lived in a time like that before the Second Vatican Council. When I was growing up, it was the common Catholic opinion that it was exceedingly difficult for anyone outside the Catholic Church to be acceptable and favorable to God. Thank God, the Second Vatican Council brought us back to St. Paul’s viewpoint about the abundant mercy of God extended to all people. The Council changed the views of Catholics toward other Christians, toward people of other religions, and even toward those who are non-believers. The Council called Catholics to a tolerance and appreciation of all peoples and all faiths.

Alas, we are living now in times in this country of ours where the public mood may seriously erode those views. The public discussion in government often sets the tone for the mood and thinking in the country as a whole. Sadly, that mood in government is one of total partisanship. There is no thought of compromise or tolerance in the partisanship mood. To read the analyses of political writers about Washington’s recent failure to come to a workable resolution to the budget and debt crisis makes for depressing reading indeed. There is no mood of compromise; it’s "all us or all them." No wonder the whole world is losing confidence in the United States.

But I’m actually even more concerned about that "no compromise or tolerance" mood drifting into the Catholic Church. That’s the kind of mood that makes anyone who is different in belief into an automatic enemy. That’s very dangerous for the future of ecumenical and interfaith attitudes. Signs of that polarizing attitude are already present in the Church, especially in some of our younger priests. One detects that some of them have little aptitude for any ecumenical or interfaith relationships. From there it’s only a short step to an "all us or all them" attitude.

It’s part of our Catholic Christian responsibility to make sure that doesn’t happen. What happened at and after Vatican II in the development of real tolerance and appreciation between faiths was a pure gift of God. Centuries had shown that we certainly couldn’t get there on our own. It’s a gift of God that needs to be accepted, nurtured and developed. That’s part of our Catholic Christian challenge in these partisan cultural times.

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