Monday, October 9, 2006
"You will know them by their fruits" Matthew 7,20
Lest my last post be taken too narrowly, it is important to logically approach some of the conclusions arrived at and axioms accepted in that post in order to explore where such an investigation leads us and to see what difference it makes, or should make, in our lives. Therefore, I wish to point out that if heterodox belief leads to heterodox practice, then orthopraxis flows from orthodoxy, at least to some degree. While I am the first to admit that the two are not point-for-point correlative, there must be some correlation. For example, Jesus tells his disciples, when John reports that the disciples "saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us", that "whoever is not against us is for us" (Mk 9,38-40).
Of course, as the title of post indicates, it is by a person's actions that we know whether s/he is for Christ the Lord. The New Testament reading that accompanies the reading cited above from St. Mark's Gospel on the Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time for Year B of the lectionary cycle, from the second chapter of St. James' letter, tells us, "If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,' but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead. Indeed someone might say, 'You have faith and I have works.' Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works. You believe that God is one. You do well. Even the demons believe that and tremble." A key point, easily missed in this passage, reads "You believe that God is one. You do well" (Jas 2,19).
It is important to establish, not just a biblical basis for what I want to convey, but a basis in the teaching of Jesus himself. It is easy to find many people who are not only NOT Catholic, but who are not even Christians, who produce good works as a good tree produces good fruits. A wonderful example of this is Mahatma Ghandi, who knew the Gospels and loved the Lord Jesus and very much saw the Lord Jesus as an avatar, the incarnation of a deity, like Vishnu. Now, Ghandi's understanding is not a completely orthodox understanding of the person of Jesus Christ as expressed in Sacred Scripture, or by the Councils of the Church, but neither is it entirely false. Such a view of Jesus certainly led him to produce good fruits. So, let Ghandi serve as a paradigm to show the truth of Jesus' own words that whoever is not against Him is for Him (Matt 12,30; Mk 9,40; Lk 9,5). Once when the missionary E. Stanley Jones met Ghandi he asked him, "Mr. Ghandi, though you quote the words of Christ often, why is that you appear to so adamantly reject becoming his follower?" Ghandi replied, "Oh, I don't reject your Christ. I love your Christ. It's just that so many of you Christians are so unlike your Christ."
Using Ghandi as our paradigm, we can show that God is recognized as One outside the monotheistic faiths (i.e., Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) by the other two great religious traditions, Hindu and Buddhist; the latter of which derives from the former in a manner akin to the way Christianity derives from Judaism. This is made evident in a letter, written by Ghandi to his physician, who was concerned about the amount of fasting Ghandi was doing: "My helplessness is a very patent fact before me. I may not ignore it. I must ever confess it. There is a beautiful Tamil proverb that says: 'God is the sole help of the helpless.' The truth of this never came upon me with much force as it has come today. Handling large masses of men, dealing with them, speaking and acting for them is no joking matter for a man whose capacity God has so circumscribed. One has, therefore, to be ever on the watch. The reader may rest assured that I took the final step after I had realized to the full my utter helplessness. And I cried out to God. That cry must not be from the lip. It has to be from the deepest recesses of one's heart. And, therefore, such a cry is only possible when one is in anguish. Mine has expressed itself in a fast, which is by no means adequate, for the issues involved. My heart continually says: Rock of Ages cleft for me/Let me hide myself in Thee".
Notice in the excerpt, beside his use of the words of a Christian hymn, Ghandi's constant reference to the One God. Atman is brahman is a Hindu axiom (Hindu being a Western term to describe the religion, comprised of the religions, of the Indian subcontinent), the meaning of this axiom is something close to all is one (and you thought the Hard Rock Cafe was onto something). This, again, is not an orthodox Christian understanding of Being, but, as with Ghandi's understanding of the person of Jesus Christ, it contains a deep Truth. Truth is a unified whole and, by its nature, is universal. All is one, however, is pantheism. Christianity rejects pantheism because we see God as separate from and greater than His creation. However, the unity recognized and longed for in the axiom atman is brahman comes to close to what Jesus prays for in His great high priestly prayer, found in St. John's Gospel. In this passage, Jesus prays to His Father: "I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me " (Jn 17,20-23).
The unity for which our Lord prayed is achieved most visibly, most concretely and actually in and through the eucharistic sacrifice. "For the liturgy, through which the work of our redemption is accomplished" we are told in Vatican Council II's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, "most of all in the divine sacrifice of the eucharist, is the outstanding means whereby the faithful may express in their lives, and manifest to others, the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the true Church. It is of the essence of the Church that she be both human and divine, visible and yet invisibly equipped, eager to act and yet intent on contemplation, present in this world and yet not at home in it; and she is all these things in such wise that in her the human is directed and subordinated to the divine, the visible likewise to the invisible, action to contemplation, and this present world to that city yet to come, which we seek. While the liturgy daily builds up those who are within into a holy temple of the Lord, into a dwelling place for God in the Spirit, to the mature measure of the fullness of Christ, at the same time it marvelously strengthens their power to preach Christ, and thus shows forth the Church to those who are outside as a sign lifted up among the nations under which the scattered children of God may be gathered together, until there is one sheepfold and one shepherd."
The late theologian, Fr. Jaques DuPuis, S.J., who taught theology in India for over thirty years, and then at Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University, wrote in his wonderful book, Christianity and the Religions: From Confrontation to Dialogue, "the New Testament is not about one people of God being replaced by another, but about the expansion of the people of God beyond its own limits through the extension of the church . . . to the nations." Fr. DuPuis was called-on-the-carpet in his later years by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for his book Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism, which was not condemned, or corrected, but merely recognized as a work of advanced theology that, by its very nature, contains ambiguities.
Nonetheless, this calling-into-question of his fidelity caused him great pain. In Christianity and the Religions he wrote that, in the wake of Vatican II's Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, entitled Nostra Aetate (which I urge anybody reading this to read in its entirety- it's short), "No longer does it suffice to ask whether and what religious traditions have to do with the mystery of the salvation of their adherents in Jesus Christ. More positively and profoundly, the question is what positive meaning the religious traditions themselves have in God's single overall plan of salvation. Without a pretense of being able to fully discern the divine plan for humankind, the question is nevertheless posed of whether the religious pluralism in our world today, as was once thought spontaneously - not without some negative prejudices against the religious traditions - that all men are destined by God to become explicitly Christians, even if most of them do not reach this destiny of theirs, while the reality in which we are living seems to indicate just the opposite? Is not God perhaps 'greater than our hearts (1 Jn 3,20) ["for God is greater than our heart and knows all things"] - and his plan of salvation larger than our theological ideas?" In other words, like Immanuel Kant, who asked in his Critique of Pure Reason, not whether human beings can know, but how we know, Fr. DuPuis asks not whether non-Christian religions positively contribute to the salvation of their adherents, which is always the salvific work of Christ, especially through the eucharist, but how these religions positively contribute to the salvation of adherents, a salvation that God desires for everyone (1 Tim 2,3-4). So, just how God accomplishes "the work of our redemption" in and through the eucharistic sacrifice is mysterious. This sacrifice is effacacious for the redemption of humanity, but it often works in unseen ways, as Fr. DuPuis indicates.
Our faith is not a box we put ourselves into to shrink the world down to a size we can deal with and more easily comprehend. Neither is faith a shielded corner into which God consigns us. Faith in Christ, which is a gift from God, is a vista that gains us a bigger and more breath-taking view that opens up the mystery of Being, from whence we get a broader view of God's awful (meant in the sense of full of awe, not "bad") and beautiful creation. As dear Frater Tom (Merton) puts it, "If I affirm myself as a Catholic merely by denying all that is Muslim, Jewish, Protestant, Hindu, Buddhist, etc., in the end I will find that there is not much left for me to affirm as a Catholic: and certainly no breath of the Spirit with which to affirm it."