Sunday, April 29, 2012

Homily for 4th Sunday of Easter by Fr. Matthias Neuman

One of the Second Vatican Council’s shortest documents was the "Declaration on the Relations of the Church to non-Christian Religions." (October, 1965) However, some theologians believe that in the long run this document might become one of the council’s most significant achievements. Almost immediately it opened up a new, positive dialogue between the Catholic Church and Jewish communities. Since then there have also been developing dialogues with Buddhist, Hindu and Islamic groups. Previous to Vatican II none of those dialogues and positive interactions would even have been imagined. Some of those early pre-council Catholic viewpoints even judged non-Christian religions to be the work of the devil. The general mood between religions was confrontational and adversarial. Vatican II opened up a whole new world of cooperative interactions....which was one of Pope John XXIII’s explicit intentions for the council. Our scripture readings today contain several passages which have played a big role in those inter-faith discussions. In the first reading from Acts of the Apostles it states, referring to Jesus, "There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved." That might seem to be a real roadblock. But, as with just about every passage in scripture, there are several ways of understanding this passage. A tight reading would require an explicit acknowledgment of faith in Christ to be saved. However, taken in a purely objective sense, this text does not require that a person has to openly acknowledge Jesus for this salvation to occur, only that all salvation in fact happens through him whether a person realizes it or not. The same holds true for that section in the gospel which says: "I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold." Is this referring to other Christian communities besides the one the evangelist is writing to? Or does it possibly refer to some people beyond the Christian communities altogether? At the very least these passages show us that discussion over inter-faith issues was already underway in the 1st century. Most of us here don’t deal with inter-faith issues or have regular contacts with people of non-Christian faiths, but some of us do. Still it’s important for all of us to know that the Catholic Church has a very positive outlook on all World religions. As Catholics we believe that—in ways unknown to us—our God works through them. The Vatican II Declaration said it very clearly: "The Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions. She has a high regard for the manner of life and conduct, the precepts and doctrines which, although differing in many ways from her own teaching, nevertheless often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all people. ... The Church urges her sons and daughters to enter with prudence and charity into discussion and collaboration with members of other religions." (Nostra Aetate, #2) Recent popes have provided leadership and example in this endeavor by their joining in common prayer services with members of many other religions. The historic meetings of Pope John Paul II at Assisi with leaders of various world religions to pray for peace comes immediately to mind. I mentioned these things because it is important for all of us to know the Church’s positive outlook on World Religions. Because there still are a lot of Catholics who don’t know that and we can help them understand it. That’s part of modern evangelizing and it falls upon all of us.  

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