Pluralism and Mothers Day 2017

Mothers Day and Modern Pluralism

If you’re like me, then you have friends and neighbors who aren’t Catholic. I have friends who are atheists, protestants, and even other religions. It makes hearing today’s reading a little disconcerting for me when I think about trying to get along with them. In the Gospel today, Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (Jn 14:16)
How do I resolve the conflict that arises between my faith in Jesus while also respecting my Muslim or Buddhist friends and neighbors? In my gut, there is this feeling that I think God loves them and doesn’t want to condemn them, but how do I justify my gut feeling with the words of Jesus in the Gospel? Or do I succumb to a sense of relativism that pervades our modern world. What is true for you is true for you and what is true for me is true for me and there is no common ground for us to find. Do whatever you want. It’s all relative.

First, let us expose the problem of proof-texting, the act of taking one small quote from the Bible and applying it universally as if the entirety of the Bible does not need to be considered. Yes, we can find some text in the Bible like Jn 14:16 but we can also find text in the Bible such as Acts 16:35 in which Saint Peter proclaims “Rather, in every nation whoever fears God and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.” If we proof-text, then which one is right? It’s confusing if we don’t look at the broader context.

Jesus himself was a Jew living in a pluralistic world, and rather than demonstrate Jewish superiority, he used examples of Samaritans (a different religious group) to demonstrate true religious integrity. A pattern resembling Jesus’ behavior has been well observed in the history of the church, even though it often gets overlooked. In the Second Vatican Council, the Church validated the theological notion of the Anonymous Christian and wrote an important document entitled Nostra Aetate in which we as a church recognized God’s handiwork even in revelations outside the Judeo-Christian covenants.

The questions being addressed here are probably much bigger than we can discuss in a single article and they probably require a more in depth response including a good read of Cardinal Ratzinger’s Dominus Jesus, but I think the fact that as a country we are celebrating Mother’s Day provides unique insight into the problem of pluralism and relativism. Let me explain.

Can we understand the love of a Mother? I both can and can’t. On one hand, I know the way my mother has loved me. It has been tremendous, heroic, and surpassing what makes human sense. I liken this love to the love of God that I know though Jesus Christ. At the same time, my mother’s womb bore other children whom she also loves, in other ways, equally transcendent, and wonderfully met. I don’t understand her love to them and there are times when it seems to contradict my own feelings. How can she love us all when my brothers and sister disagree and fight with each other?

And yet she does. Believing in her love and her love for her children is not because her love suffers the plague of relativism, rather it is love in its perfection. I know that I can only trust in her love for me (not her love for my siblings) because it is what I have come to know, but I also know she loves them none-the-less.

So there is some truth to the Church’s very nuanced understanding of today’s Gospel. The only way we can know God is through Jesus and at the same time, God’s love radiates throughout all creation, including to my friends and neighbors who are not Catholic. It is a mystery. Yes, but none-the-less true.

-David Heimann, Pastoral Associate



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