Tag Archives: St. John

4TH SUNDAY IN LENT 2018

I once heard two Baptist ministers on TV say that anyone who does not profess Jesus to be his or her Lord and Savior is doomed to everlasting damnation. No exceptions. Innocent ignorance and good intentions notwithstanding, anyone who does not accept Jesus as the one and only Savior is condemned to everlasting torture.

Here we are once again with a Gospel reading that seems to say what we find impossible to accept, something we know to be unreasonable and untrue. You just heard the words attributed to Jesus by the Gospel writer, this time St. John, that whoever does not believe in Jesus as God’s only Son and the Savior of the world has already been condemned. What are we to make of such a statement? Well, I suggest that this is what we do with it:

1. We start with the fact that through the entire first century, the infant church did not have the bible that we have today; there was a word of mouth tradition, the faith being passed on from person to person and generation to generation under the leadership of the apostles and their successors. The church was like a classroom that had a teacher and an eager body of learners – but not yet a textbook. The formation of the Christian faith community came first; the textbook — the bible — was being developed and refined at the same time.

2. We admit that both the Old and the New Testaments contain many vengeful statements, as they are called, that sound hard, even cruel, and we realize that they have to be understood in the context of love. I think no one has expressed that better than the authors of the brilliant little book, Good Goats: Healing Our Image of God. Listen to this quote from page 13: “…we use vengeful punishment language all the time in our homes and families. Such statements are exaggerations (hyperbole) that can be safely used only in a context where everyone understands that they are not to be taken literally…”

Later on the authors say that when Jesus intervened in the about-to-take-place stoning of a woman accused of adultery, he was telling the scribes and Pharisees that they were not to interpret literally those words of Moses which commanded the violent execution of such a sinner.

3. We must read or hear the bible always with common sense! We can be sure that Jesus and the Spirit of God expect that of us. If I tell you that I am blue today, I assume you know that the comment has nothing to do with my skin color, but only with my mood. If you tell me that there were a million people at the dinner last night, I know you mean many, not a thousand thousand. Similar adjustments and accommodations that we make all the time must also be made when we are reading or hearing the ancient scriptures.

With these guidelines in mind, we can be certain that Jesus is not saying what the two ministers interviewed on TV claimed he was saying: that those who don’t know or follow Jesus are on their way to eternal damnation. No, what he was saying is that the first and most basic duty of every human being is to try to find the truth in all things and then to live by it, to look for the light and to walk toward it and then in it. Truth and light will lead us to goodness and love. Jesus is truth and light, and all persons, regardless of their religion, who make goodness and love the essential standards of their lives, walk in the company of Jesus, whether they recognize him or not.

Saints are in every religion – and many are in none! Let us love and respect one another, as Jesus wants us to.

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SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, 2017

I don’t have to look far: I see within my own extended family young adults who are no longer practicing members of the Roman Catholic Church, in which they were faithfully raised. Were this 1947 or 1948, they would have been told by a Catholic priest by the name of Father Leonard Feeney that they were on their way to eternal damnation. Father Feeney was excommunicated from the church for his extreme and heretical views when I was still a teenager intensely interested in this theological warfare that would help to define the church at least for the rest of the century.

Not quite at such fever pitch, the struggle goes on. There are those who hold that the goal of the church is to convert everyone to Catholicism. If we Catholics believe that belonging to the church is a good thing, then, of course, we should be eager to share it with others. I can give, as you can, I’m sure, many important reasons why membership in the church is one of the greatest blessings of my life. But whether or not we should be concerned about getting everyone into the church, even if that were possible, is another matter. And whether eternal salvation requires membership in the church remains a question that must be faced and answered in the light available to us today.

St. John said that the Spirit of God blows where it wills, and yet for centuries the Catholic Church has maintained that eternal life awaits only those who, “in some way” belong to it. Jesus spoke of his followers as the leaven in the loaf. I have made bread often — in a machine, I must admit, and I know that the leaven, the yeast, is one of the smallest of the ingredients that make up the dough — but it’s the one that lifts all the others by an age-old process of chemical interaction.

Don’t you agree that that’s the way we should see ourselves as church? Only one of the almost countless religions in the world, but having enormous influence for good? For what reason would we put limiting restrictions on that clear declaration we just heard from the prophet Isaiah, “I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the world.”

Every time Pope Francis does or says something that makes the global news media, I think of that promise: one man standing in the person of Jesus and representing millions of us, lifting up the world from its miseries and its troubles and pointing out the light of the Risen Jesus that shines among us even when we are willfully or carelessly blind to it. He does that by his sincere words of faith and hope and love, his awareness of the presence of the good and ever-loving God in our midst. In our own smaller venues, we, each and all of us, are empowered to do the same.

I believe there is no need for us Catholics to claim everyone for Roman Catholicism or even for Christianity; we need only recognize all other persons as creatures of the one God and leave to the Spirit whatever should and may come next. We are to live the Gospel of Jesus as fully and as faithfully as we can: taking stands for justice & peace, acting mercifully, living in reconciliation & forgiveness, sharing generously, and always making decisions dictated by our well-formed consciences. We are to carry our personal crosses with patience and good cheer, no matter how they came to us, hoping, expecting, and celebrating in good times and in bad.

I hope the new year has begun well for you and that it will continue to unfold in that way.