As my concept of God was widening many years ago, I began to say that there are many paths to God. As true as I believe that to be, I don’t say it anymore; I have come to see, instead, that there are many paths with God. Who would ever deny that the late Mahatma Gandhi or the present Dalai Lama or the Orthodox Jew across the street are persons very much in touch with that reality we call God? We Catholics may regard ourselves as especially fortunate because we have been born into, or have come to, the Christian faith; but obviously that is not possible for all people, who therefore know the incomprehensible God in ways different from ours.
But, Jesus said that there is no other name on earth by which we are saved except his and that there is only one path to God, whom he called Father, and that path is himself. That appears at first to be an unresolvable contradiction to what you just heard me say; but actually it has everything to do with how literally we interpret the scriptures. Fundamentalists, both Catholic and Protestant, take those words attributed to Jesus at their face value and insist that only those who follow them literally will achieve eternal life; all others are damned to eternal punishment. Others of us say that Jesus’ words can be understood for their true and intended meaning only in the context of his entire life and message, and that therefore adjustments have to be made to uncover the truth.
The responsibility of the Christian faith community is not as easy as accepting lock, stock, and barrel every word found in the Scriptures, but to use our intelligence—our power to reason, our imaginations, our memories—in the sometimes hard work of ferreting out the real truth of what has been handed down to us.
There is one such adjustment we all make without hesitation or debate: we hear Jesus say that he is the vine and we are the branches and we recognize immediately that he is using a metaphor, the meaning of which we grasp at once. That’s the way it is in all human speaking and writing and thinking: we shift back & forth between the literal and the figurative. So did Jesus and those who originally wrote about him.
I assume that Jesus understood that his message could not possibly reach the whole world during his lifetime or for centuries beyond. But he knew that all human beings are God’s beloved creatures, and he could never have thought or taught that any one of them would perish through no fault of his or her own. Truth be told, I am among those who hold that no one, no serial killer or murderous dictator, goes to everlasting torture. To those who would have the good fortune of knowing and following him Jesus made an attractive promise: that he himself would nourish them along the way of life, that they would not be left to depend only on their own limited resources.
Many times in my past it was that lifeline that I needed, and the passage of time has shown again and again that it did not fail. The goal of our prayer life, whether private or communal, is to respond to the invitation, “Remain in me as I remain in you.”
Life doesn’t get any more secure than that!
Today is Mother’s Day, a time set aside by our grateful nation to honor and thank and sincerely praise all those good women who said yes to life by conceiving and bearing and raising children.
How easily those words trip off the tongue, but how much they signify – conceiving, bearing, raising! Our mothers’ commitment was not for a moment of courageous action but for a lifetime of daily efforts and generous love and personal sacrifices that created the favorable circumstances in which their beloved offspring could become their best possible selves.
There are no words in the English or any other language that can even begin to measure up to the dimensions of their gift to us. We are left with the feeble, but most heartfelt, words of a traditional blessing: Happy Mother’s Day!