Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Truth Triumphs but is Not Triumphalistic

Father John J. Lombardi 

Why did St Catherine of Alexandria-after converting fifty philosophers who were sent to convert her-die for the Lord Jesus and Catholic Church?. . . Why are you, amidst so many religious choices, a Catholic or a Christian?. . .Why does Pope John Paul like visiting Assisi with other religious leaders? .. .Read on...

Regarding other religions, are you a:

TRIUMPHALIST (as in, "I'll conquer you with my doctrine,") or a LAXIST ("All religions are the same to me")? Or, are you, like other heroes of the Faith, a "CATHOLIC CENTRIST"? ... Remember: balancing between religious relativism and discomforting dogmatism is precarious. See below...

Amidst the springing spring, do you remember the Olympics-and how they "spotlighted" the Mormon Church? There was speculative conversation about the nature of their "mysterious religion" and just whether they are Christians or not. And who can forget "Nine-one-one" ("9/li")? With the six-month mark of the September terrorist attacks, Islam has been a source of study and conversation.

For Catholics this raises such question as: "Are all religions the same?" and, "As an informed and balanced Catholic, what should be my response to other religions?" Given the fact that both Mormonism and Islam are the fastest growing religions in the world, we should be updated regarding these important questions...

The Mormon religion teaches Jesus is "semi-divine" but not essentially "part of an eternal Trinity." Mormons teach God the Father has a body and is not pure spirit. They also believe that all souls are preexistent, "awaiting" a set of parents to unite and bring their spiritual souls into a sort of "incarnation" through birth. They also teach that persons can be baptized after death and that there are many "Heavens," "worlds" and "gods".

While Mormonism teaches these doctrines-which are counter to biblical teaching, the Vatican recently declared that Mormon baptisms are not valid (any baptism is invalid which doesn't invoke the Holy Trinity in a definite formula). This conclusion does not, however, make any judgment on their spirituality or upon individual Mormons themselves.

The Muslim religion teaches that Jesus Christ is a great prophet, but not divine, and that His Mother, Mary (Miriam), is to be venerated; they believe Jesus will come in some form of a "Judgment" of the world. The greatest of the prophets, Muhammad, the founder of their religion, delivered their holy book, the "Koran," which includes much of our Bible with substantially-changed other parts. Islam stresses the radical transcendence of God (dwelling way-far above us) and the need for submission to His divine, orderly plan (esp. five times a day through prayer, a pilgrimage to Mecca, etc.).

While both Mormonism and Islam present obstacles to the basic, unalterable teachings of Christ, there are some very good and true teachings. Both religions stress certain aspects of life and spirituality, which we Catholics, esp in the modern U.S.A.-need to relearn:

  • FAMILY-True Muslims and Mormons emphasize the importance of a mother and father and, if graced by God, children (the more the merrier: contraception is not favored). Families are essential, unbreakable and beautful "small communities" to learn about God, salvation and eternal life. These traits are sometimes disparaged in modern American life- Islam and Mormonism can help us regain these needed realities and Catholic identity.
  • PURITY OF BODY AND SOUL-both religions promote a certain abstemiousness of body and soul in the world. They stress the need for inner and outer cleanliness, and fasting and abstaining, often heroically, each year. They thus preserve and accentuate for us some "lost," holy practices which we should regain.
  • FAITH IN MODERN WORLD- with strong religious identities, Mormons and Muslims emphasize tightly knit communities, orthodox-solid schools of thought and missionary activity, bold temples of worship, and disciplines of learning and teaching of their faith. Can't we learn from all this?

As dedicated and balanced Catholics we need to acknowledge certain truths (in however a limited way) in these religions. Vatican II speaks of this: "Many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside its visible confines (of Catholicism). Since these are gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, they are forces impelling towards Catholic unity" (The Church, # 8). And while this is true, we need remember:

"The Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions.. . Yet she proclaims and is in duty bound to proclaim without fail, Christ who is the way, the truth and the life.. . in whom God reconciled all things to Himself, men find the fullness of their religious life." (Declaration on Non-Christian Religions).

Notice what was stated: i) we should honor truth manifested in other religions (not be "triumphalists"); 2) we also must promote the Truth of Jesus Christ (thereby avoiding "laxism"), realizing the fullness of spiritual life is in Him.. .The document, Dominus Iesus/The Lord Jesus, summarizes in a balanced way, thusly: "Nevertheless, God, Who desires to call all peoples to Himself in Christ and to communicate to them the fullness of His revelation and love, 'does not fail to make Himself present in many ways. . . which their religions are the main and essential expression even when they contain 'gaps, insufficiencies and errors." (#8)

GENERAL PRINCIPLES: The Catholic Church calls us to CONVERSE with other spiritual persons while not COMPROMISING. The Pope recently did this at the recent Assisi peace conference: this is part of our religion. The Lord Jesus Himself dialogued and discerned the beliefs of others (as we should), but manifested Himself as "the Way, the Truth and the Life "(+Jn 14:6). We should not give up our beautiful, 2,000-year Sacred Tradition of Bible teaching and Sacred Tradition (continuity) of the Apostles, Popes and saints because of pressure to conform (+Rm 12:2). As Catholics, the CENTRIST position regarding other religions teaches we should encounter others respectfully and propose truths without selfishness.

Catholic Christianity proposes ultimate, unique and liberating truths about itself and Christ, as the sole mediator between God and mankind. St Catherine died as a martyr because she believed this; Pope John Paul patiently engages others to help them know we Catholics are both loving and sincere regarding our Faith.

In Summary, regarding religious dialogue:

TRIUMPHALISM -uses the disguise of being "devoutly inflexible" and the tactic of using the Truth to assail others. Does Jesus want this? (Eph 4:15: "practice the truth in love") LAXISM--utilizes a disguise of being "sheepishly uncommitted" with others and the tactic of not truly searching/researching Truth of Christ and His Church. Did Jesus die for this? (Acts 4:12-under no other name (Jesus') can anyone be saved).

CENTRISM-both proposes Jesus as the Way and salvation in Him alone, and recognizes how others have learned about God and holiness.

MEDITATION--The Eucharist---The Sacrifice of Christ:

"I want to stress the centrality of the Eucharist for the life of the world to which the Lord has sent us as the seed of renewal. If the Church returns to her Eucharistic source, she will recover her authentic nature and strength, and that will relativize the urgent debates over organizational issues while it will highlight consecration to God and fraternal sharing that will enable her to overcome fragmentation and division. Moreover, the powerful presence of the sacrifice of Christ in the Eucharist keeps the Mass from being reduced to a gathering for a convivial meal. The Sacrifice stands for ever as a sign of contradiction, and is the place where we can verify the degree of our conformity to the radical message of Christ, in our relationship with God and with our brothers and sisters." (Pope John Paul II)

LENTEN RESOLUTIONS: How are you PRAYING more (intensely), ALMSGIVING (more generously) and FASTING/SACRIFICING (more heroically)? Imitate the Savior!

CATECHISM QUOTE: "Temperance moderates the attraction of the pleasures of the senses and provides balance in the use of created goods." (#183 8). How do you need this virtue more?

Read other Sermons by Father John J. Lombardi