Thursday, June 21, 2012

Condemnation or Collaboration?

   While I was still in the clergy, I spoke on Vatican II in a synagogue one evening.  A young man got up and said, "I just graduated from college.  For the past two years, I had the same Catholic room mate.  Every day he said to me that if I don't become a Catholic I'm going to go to hell.  What do you say about that?"

   I smiled and said, "Well, here you are in a synagogue, so it looks like you're still a Jew."  He smiled back and said, "Yes, I am."  I said, "Do you mean to say that, after all that your room mate said, you still believe God wants you to be a Jew?"  "Yes," he replied.  I smilingly insisted, "You mean that in your heart of hearts, you believe God wants you to be a Jew?"  "Yes," he repeated.  I concluded, "Young man, if you become a Catholic, you're going to go to hell."  Everybody gasped.  I explained, "If you become a Catholic, you'd be a hypocrite, and God doesn't want anyone to be a hypocrite."

   Years later, I was speaking in a Protestant seminary.  A young man arose and asked, "Who belongs to the church of Christ?"  I said, "Everybody whose life is marked by consistent love and good will."  He said, "Sir, you're confused!"

   One of the complaints today from people who oppose Vatican II is that Catholics no longer work to convert non-Catholics.  Even worse, we now see that non-Catholics could be saved, even while remaining true to their own faiths.  Our explanation is not pleasing to everyone, including both Catholics and non-Catholics, but in simple terms, here it is.

   God offers himself to everyone, and people receive God in very many ways: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Native religions, etc., etc.  The one test of whether or not a person is living in and with God's grace is love and good will.  Not an occasional act of love.  Even Hitler was capable of that.  We mean a life marked by a consistency of love and good will.  This applies also to agnostics and atheists.  Given our natural incompleteness, which makes us prone to sin, we cannot live in a consistent commitment to loving ourselves, others and nature and living in good will to all without accepting God's grace. 

   Therefore, to us, since all the grace of God comes through Christ, who is all of humanity and all of creation united to God, we say that all of humanity and the whole world are saved through Christ.  

   Theologically, we say that there is one global church of Christ, and that it extends beyond the visible boundaries of the Catholic church.  We say that the Catholic church enjoys the fullness of the global church of Christ, and others partake in that fullness.  We ask non-Catholics to respect the way we see, just as we require ourselves to respect the way they see.  Certainly, we should want everyone on earth to enjoy the fullness of faith that we enjoy.  We can discuss our differences in an ecumenical spirit, but any temptation to argue or accuse should be overcome by our commitment to work together in love, for the common good, with a preferential option for the poor,sick, vulnerable and outcast.     

   To Catholics who are still on the lookout for heretics and dissidents, the only approach to people not like themselves is conversion or condemnation.     

Reference:  Vatican II, The Constitution on the Church, Nos. 13-17


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