Today's Wisdom

Those who do not pass from the experience of the cross to the truth of the resurrection condemn themselves to despair! For we cannot encounter God without first crucifying our narrow notions of a god who reflects only our own understanding of omnipotence and power
Pope Francis

Saturday, June 21, 2014

True Religion?: A Lecture by Henri Boulad, S.J.

On Friday June 20, 2014 Fr. Henri Boulad, S.J. spoke at St. Elizabeth Church in Toronto on the topic of True Religion. What is true religion? 

1. Concept of "The Chosen People"
Henri Boulad surveyed world religions and found that each one of them considered its adherents to be "the Chosen People" of God. That was the case in the Roman, African, Hindu, Egyptian and Greek religions of ancient times and the idea of chosen people is highly elaborate in Jewish, Islamic, and Christian identities. Each considers itself to be the privileged people that God blesses and protects against their enemies. However, in the Gospel we detect in Jesus' words to the Samaritan a different meaning for true religion of God. The encounter with the Samaritan woman is found in the Gospel according to St. John:  [So he came to a city of Samar'ia, called Sy'char, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob's well was there, and so Jesus, wearied as he was with his journey, sat down beside the well. It was about the sixth hour. There came a woman of Samar'ia to draw water. Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink." For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. The Samaritan woman said to him, "How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samar'ia?" For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.]  (John 4: 5-9). 
Here, in talking to a woman excluded as heretic and enemy by the Law of Moses, Jesus stretches out the Law to include her and the rest of the enemies in his "New Covenant." When he tells her about her past and current status, she replies with astonishment "Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain; and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship." Slowly Jesus reveals to her God's plan for humanity: ["Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." The woman said to him, "I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ); when he comes, he will show us all things." Jesus said to her, "I who speak to you am he."] (John 4: 21-26). "I am he" is also the same ancient expression that God uses to describe himself to Moses (Exodus 3: 14). In this Gospel, God (who is one with  his Son Christ) has spoken in the words uttered by Christ Jesus.

2. Worship of God in spirit and truth
How should we understand worship of God in spirit and truth? the free spirit not burdened with sin?
The development of the concept of freedom is found in the Old Testament text too. In Genesis, God creates man and woman in his image and likeness (Genesis 1: 26). It is the person created in his image that has both mind and free will. In the Wisdom book of Sirach, freedom of the person is again affirmed as it is written [Do not say: “It was God’s doing that I fell away,”for what he hates he does not do. Do not say: “He himself has led me astray,” for he has no need of the wicked.](Sirach 15, 11-12). 

3. We will be judged according to our good deeds regardless of religious rites
You and I are responsible in a way for our thoughts and acts. We reap what we sow collectively and individually. It is written that everyone's judgment at the end of time will be pronounced by Christ according to what the person did in his present life to "those least ones" [“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’ Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”] (Matthew 25: 31-46). 

4.  Why go to Church? Why be baptized? Why receive the sacraments?
If God will judge every person according to his deeds, then what kind of religion should anyone follow? If by baptism you become a Christian, then you and I can question "Can God be fooled by the number of people who are immersed in water to become Christians?" What is baptism? Baptism is not the rite of being immersed in water or being sprinkled with water. In baptism, the person dies to himself everyday with Christ, is buried with Christ, to rise with Christ (See St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans 6: 1-11). In baptism we receive the Holy Spirit of God in order to live for God in the others. You participate every Sunday in Mass, not as a decorative act or a theatrical play, but to receive the incarnate God himself, Christ whose mystical body is the Church. This sacrament is also life-giving in the Spirit. The Eucharist gives us strength to fight the good fight against selfishness and desires to possess God and the world and helps us by the power of the Spirit to accept to be rather possessed by God's love.  

5. Who can we hope will be with God in his kingdom?
Does this mean that only Christians (or Catholics) can be saved? According to St. Augustine, there are those within the visible Church that do not belong  to her and there are those outside her visible boundaries that belong to her. For eternal salvation, Vatican II officially declares: Non-Christians who seek the truth following the dictates of their conscience can attain salvation through the grace of Christ (Nostra Aetate) for God desires that everyone attains the kingdom of heaven (Luke 12: 32). Indeed, the Catechism of the Catholic Church recognizes the goodness found in other religious traditions as a preparation for the Gospel (No. 839-843). In Dominus Iesus following the teachings of Vatican II and earlier Ecumenical Councils going back to Apostolic times, Christ is the sole mediator through whom alone every person can attain eternal life.  The declaration also states that the fullness of truth and grace is found in the Catholic Church, and yet other religions contain elements of goodness that help their adherents to be open to God's salvific grace in Christ. The Church continues to be renewed and reformed by the Spirit. It is therefore not good to separate oneself from the Church in order to contribute to its own renewal. This is how open is the Catholic Church in her teachings in line with ancient tradition and teachings of Christ.  But this means that everyone of us has a responsibility to practice the above teachings of Christ and his Church in everyday life.You and I need to constantly be renewed in Christ so that non-Christians and atheists may also see the light of Christ and be converted enthusiastically.

6. True Religion
Christ is the goal and God of true religion. His Church is the instrument par excellence that offers higrace in teachings, sacraments (that are signs  of God's hidden grace) and actual charity to all. Rituals are not what saves. We have to work our eternal joy and salvation with Him and his Spirit.  It is in the relationship with God the Father of all, his Messiah and his Spirit that you and I can have eternal joy. As St. Ignatius of Loyola taught, we find the Triune God in every relationship we have with his creation - a relationship that the Spirit of Truth helps us to attain here and now through constant conversion and renewal. 

Today's Quote

"Behold I make all things new." (Revelation 21:5)


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