Hey everyone. Sorry I haven’t been posting lately. In all honesty, there’s nothing too interesting going on here aside from the 110-degree heat on Friday.
However, I did want to share with all of you a really interesting and, in my opinion, refreshing homily that I heard at Mass on Saturday. First, a little background: I attend Mass with two (non-Catholic) friends, but as they don’t really know of a church and I have a declared denomination, they follow me there. One of my friends is a Methodist, one a (former?) Baptist. The Methodist friend–let’s call her Jane–tends to have very similar theological beliefs to me–for instance, supporting gay marriage, being pro-choice, and most importantly, believing that a truly loving God would not deny the gift of salvation to anyone. My other friend–let’s call her Monica–is a bit more theologically conservative, reflecting her upbringing, but she also has her own doubts about that theology, brought on by witnessing the deep suffering and tension and plight of the Palestinian people, and a confusion about a religion that believes only its believers will have salvation.
I used to hold a similar belief, when I was a theologically conservative teenager. But as many of you know, I had a long period where I was very confused, or ambivalent, about the truth of Christianity–or any religion! When I came back to Christianity, though, I was also filled with the belief that a truly loving God, like the one described in the New Testament, would not deny mercy, forgiveness, and eternal life to anyone. It has been my position that God’s forgiveness is for everyone, not just for a specific group of people.
Monica and I discuss that over and over again, because she, for reasons of her upbringing or some other reason, could not find a Scriptural basis for this belief. This is understandable, because I had never even tried looking for a Scriptural basis for what I felt to be intuitive truth. We’d always let the conversation go–until Mass on Saturday.
It turns out that the readings on Saturday/Sunday’s Mass applied perfectly to our discussion. They were the following (I’ve copied from the New King James, which isn’t a Catholic Bible but may be more accessible):
“For I know their works and their thoughts. It shall be that I will gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come and see My glory. I will set a sign among them; and those among them who escape I will send to the nations: to Tarshish and Pul and Lud, who draw the bow, and Tubal and Javan, to the coastlands afar off who have not heard My fame nor seen My glory. And they shall declare My glory among the Gentiles. Then they shall bring all your brethren for an offering to the LORD out of all nations, on horses and in chariots and in litters, on mules and on camels, to My holy mountain Jerusalem,” says the LORD, “as the children of Israel bring an offering in a clean vessel into the house of the LORD. And I will also take some of them for priests and Levites,” says the LORD. (Isaiah 66: 18-21)
And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons:
“My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD,
Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him;
For whom the LORD loves He chastens,
And scourges every son whom He receives.”
If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten?
Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed. (Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13)
And He went through the cities and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem. Then one said to Him, “Lord, are there few who are saved?”
And He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open for us,’ and He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know you, where you are from,’ then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets.’ But He will say, ‘I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity.’ There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out. They will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and sit down in the kingdom of God. And indeed there are last who will be first, and there are first who will be last.” (Luke 13:22-30)
These readings have a common theme that the priest linked to–namely, that the salvation of God is universal. While we find that our Christian faith means that the salvation of God is best expressed in the person of Jesus Christ, we humans cannot begin to fathom exactly what God can do outside of our small prism.
The priest noted a couple points–first, that we, as a consequence of human nature, tend to see ourselves as being right and therefore better than everyone else, even a little bit; whether it is with family, religion, political beliefs, what have you. Second, he mentioned that it is a constant in all major world religions that salvation is universal–but that nobody wants to talk about it or knows how to talk about it, since we think about life through our own prism.
In the first reading, the point he took away from it was that God is gathering “all nations and tongues” together–that is, even in the Old Testament (not noted in casual reading for God’s especially forgiving nature) God is promising salvation for all people–and even will make non-Levites and non-descendants of Aaron priests, a crazy idea at the time.
In Hebrews, we are reminded that God chastens us all (while the English translation uses “sons” we ought to think of it as “sons and daughters”) equally.
And in the Gospel, Jesus tells us that salvation, yes, is offered to everyone, but we also have the opportunity to deny that salvation. But this is a willful choice–not an unknowing or unwilling one; we cannot know how God’s mercy extends, or indeed how God manifests Himself in other religions. It is my position that Christ is present in some form in all religions, whether as the necessary savior for all mankind, as we believe him to be, or as that constant element that all religions seem to hold in common; common beliefs, common threads, common values. Or as something else entirely–if there’s one thing I know, it is that I don’t know the mind of God.
Anyway, it was a really, really good homily. I wish I could have a recording or a text of it because it was far better than I’ve presented it. Lastly, he noted that Catholics in particular used to hold a very exclusive vision of the kingdom of Heaven; but now, while reading the Bible and seeing new things that are revealed with increased wisdom and guidance, we are very, very unsure about how to talk about universal salvation and the sheer fact that everyone, be they Christian, Hindu, Muslim, or atheist, gets a full chance and a full opportunity to experience God’s mercy.
Food for thought.