A Penitent Blogger

Mindful of my imperfections, seeking to know Truth more deeply and to live Love more fully.

Quid sum miser tunc dicturus? Quem patronum rogaturus? Cum vix iustus sit securus?
Recordare, Iesu pie, Quod sum causa tuae viae: Ne me perdas illa die...

Sunday, October 01, 2006

God and the outsiders

Much has been said in the past few weeks about inter-religious dialogue: particularly in reaction to Pope Benedict's quotation of a Byzantine emperor's opinion about Islam (and the reaction to that reaction).

Today's first reading and Gospel seem quite appropriate to the topic: referring to the gifts of God being manifested by people outside of the visible, official circles. In the first reading (Numbers 11:25-29), two Israelites exercise the gift of prophecy, even they were not physically in the group gathered by Moses. In the Gospel (Mark 9:38-48), a man outside the group of Christ's disciples is invoking Jesus' name to expel demons. In both cases, these events cause consternation for the "in" crowd, but not for Moses or Christ.

Jesus replied, "Do not prevent him.
There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name
who can at the same time speak ill of me.
For whoever is not against us is for us."

One must be careful not to overstate the degree to which these other people were "outsiders." In the first case, the "outsiders" were not only Israelites but had been among those selected to receive some of the spirit that was on Moses: they simply had not been physically present with the group. In the second case, the "outsider" was almost certainly a member of the Jewish people and was explicitly calling upon the name of Jesus: he simply was not in the group of disciples (but neither was he against them).

Nevertheless, these readings caution us about excluding the possibility of God's action beyond our expectations.

God can and does work in mysterious ways, even outside the visible body of Christ, and we as believers can and should find many opportunities to work together with those who do not believe as we do. Yet in no way does this lessen the unique and universal role of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (without whom there is no salvation) nor does it lessen the unique and universal mission given to us by Christ.

In its 2000 Declaration "Dominus Iesus" (the Lord Jesus), the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, under the leadership of then-Cardinal Ratzinger, struck a very careful balance in this regard.

"Certainly, the various religious traditions contain and offer religious elements which come from God, and which are part of what 'the Spirit brings about in human hearts and in the history of peoples, in cultures, and religions' (John Paul II, Redemptoris missio, 29). Indeed, some prayers and rituals of the other religions may assume a role of preparation for the Gospel, in that they are occasions or pedagogical helps in which the human heart is prompted to be open to the action of God.

"One cannot attribute to these, however, a divine origin or an ex opere operato salvific efficacy, which is proper to the Christian sacraments. Furthermore, it cannot be overlooked that other rituals, insofar as they depend on superstitions or other errors (cf. 1 Cor 10:20-21), constitute an obstacle to salvation."
(from Dominus Iesus, 21)

"'Indeed, God "desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim 2:4); that is, God wills the salvation of everyone through the knowledge of the truth. Salvation is found in the truth. Those who obey the promptings of the Spirit of truth are already on the way of salvation. But the Church, to whom this truth has been entrusted, must go out to meet their desire, so as to bring them the truth. Because she believes in God's universal plan of salvation, the Church must be missionary'.... Thus, the certainty of the universal salvific will of God does not diminish, but rather increases the duty and urgency of the proclamation of salvation and of conversion to the Lord Jesus Christ."
(from Dominus Iesus, 22)

God wills all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

Our mission is to help make that happen, not by force or personal disrespect, but through word and work by the mandate and the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.