Summary: We must seek to meet those who have no connection to religious tradition but sincerely seek truth, goodness and beauty. Ultimately, Jesus Christ is the what and the whom they seek.

Thursday of 5th Week of Easter 2017

Joy of the Gospel

The words of today’s Gospel could be a reflection on the Beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Ultimately our food, our clothing, our housing and our health care are not ends in themselves, but rather means to the end of self-preservation and growth of all kinds. We “eat to live,” but if we forget the difference between means and ends, we can fall into the epicurean mode of “living to eat.” So many in the West have adopted a materialistic lifestyle, have become consumerists, rather than consumers. We really can’t take it with us, and we really do need to simplify our lifestyles and consider ourselves stewards of what we own. The early Jerusalem church, though, took it to an extreme, adopting an early form of communism, and it led to eating up their capital. The ultimate result is that the Jerusalem church was, all during Paul’s ministry, a drain on all the other Christian churches of the Empire. Remember, they were also fighting a constant battle against the Jewish leaders and Romans who were trying to destroy them. For that kind of battle, one needs resources. Ultimately, by the divine power and astute politics, the Church won freedom of religion and even became the official religion of the Empire.

The Pope continues in his encyclical: ‘The Synod Fathers spoke of the importance of respect for religious freedom, viewed as a fundamental human right. This includes “the freedom to choose the religion which one judges to be true and to manifest one’s beliefs in public”. A healthy pluralism, one which genuinely respects differences and values them as such, does not entail privatizing religions in an attempt to reduce them to the quiet obscurity of the individual’s conscience or to relegate them to the enclosed precincts of churches, synagogues or mosques. This would represent, in effect, a new form of discrimination and authoritarianism. The respect due to the agnostic or non-believing minority should not be arbitrarily imposed in a way that silences the convictions of the believing majority or ignores the wealth of religious traditions. In the long run, this would feed resentment rather than tolerance and peace.

‘When considering the effect of religion on public life, one must distinguish the different ways in which it is practiced. Intellectuals and serious journalists frequently descend to crude and superficial generalizations in speaking of the shortcomings of religion, and often prove incapable of realizing that not all believers – or religious leaders – are the same. Some politicians take advantage of this confusion to justify acts of discrimination. At other times, contempt is shown for writings which reflect religious convictions, overlooking the fact that religious classics can prove meaningful in every age; they have an enduring power to open new horizons, to stimulate thought, to expand the mind and the heart. This contempt is due to the myopia of a certain rationalism. Is it reasonable and enlightened to dismiss certain writings simply because they arose in a context of religious belief? These writings include principles which are profoundly humanistic and, albeit tinged with religious symbols and teachings, they have a certain value for reason.

‘As believers, we also feel close to those who do not consider themselves part of any religious tradition, yet sincerely seek the truth, goodness and beauty which we believe have their highest expression and source in God. We consider them as precious allies in the commitment to defending human dignity, in building peaceful coexistence between peoples and in protecting creation. A special place of encounter is offered by new Areopagi such as the Court of the Gentiles, where “believers and non-believers are able to engage in dialogue about fundamental issues of ethics, art and science, and about the search for transcendence”. This too is a path to peace in our troubled world.’

This “Court of the Gentiles” is called “A space for dialogue with people of no religious affiliation. Its inauguration was in Paris on 24th and 25th March, 2011, the Feast of the Annunciation.” The initiative was the idea of Pope Benedict XVI, and became an “initiative of the Pontifical Council for culture: 'the Courtyard of the Gentiles.' It deals with encounter and dialogue, a space of expression for those who do not believe, and for those who are asking questions about their faith, a window open to the world, to contemporary culture and to the voices that resonate.’” We should pray for those who are beginning this journey, and listen in coming weeks to Pope Francis’s vision for evangelization.

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