I am going to read a piece of nonsense to you, issued just about a week ago by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. But first I want to make two disclaimers:
Nothing that I say this morning should be interpreted to mean that I am suggesting that anyone should be treated badly simply because they do not share our Catholic Faith. While the Church believes that it has the gift of salvation that can be bestowed upon any and all men and women, it has never been the Church's policy to force anyone to accept our beliefs or to persecute those who do not accept them. Some of the media have been saying otherwise this past week, claiming that the Church has always tried to force the conversion of Jewish people to the Faith -- suggesting that the Inquisition was a program of such forced conversions -- and even going so far as to blame the Church for the persecution by the Nazis.
The second thing I want to do is to assure you that even though the statement I am about to quote come from the Bishop's Conference of the United States, it is absolutely not a statement of Catholic doctrine -- quite the opposite, it clearly contradicts the immemorial teachings of our Lord and His Church. And, quite frankly, of all the deviations from the Faith we have seen in bishops since the Second Vatican Council, this is probably the most blatant, as it cuts to the very heart of our Lord's purpose for becoming one of us and adopting us as sons and daughters of God the Father. I hope that a swift condemnation will be forthcoming from the Holy See -- but I am not optimistic, particularly in light of the utter failure to act on the scandals we heard so much about earlier this year.
Let me explain why this statement is in error. And let me begin by recalling to your minds the circumstances surrounding the fall of our first parents, Adam and Eve from grace.
You will recall that Adam and Eve were created able to directly converse with God, and through their own efforts to do things that were pleasing to God. In our terminology, we would say that they were created in the "state of grace." We know too, that they enjoyed certain preternatural virtues, like freedom from toil, ignorance, and physical suffering. And we know that all of this was lost to mankind through the sin of Adam -- that through what we call "original sin" men were reduced to purely natural creatures, who could no longer directly approach God or do anything to earn His favor. More important, even than the certainty of suffering and death, we lost any possibility of eternal happiness with God in heaven. But the Scriptures tell us that no sooner had this happened than God promised to send a Redeemer to set, at least, this last part right.2
Now even before the time was ripe for God to send that Redeemer, He did intervene in human affairs to offer moral guidance to those who might accept it, and to tell such people how He wanted to be worshipped. We all know the story of Able, and that of Noe.3 We know that God designated Abraham as the father of the race from which the Redeemer would be born, and that He gave fairly detailed instruction for the behavior of His people to Moses.4 Ultimately, God's people would dwell in the Promised Land of Israel, and worship God according to His instructions, and the real presence of God would dwell with them -- the Sheckinah in the Temple at Jerusalem. But God's presence was contingent on the fidelity of the people and was occasionally removed as He punished them for idolatrous behavior that God compared with human adultery.
Understand that even by keeping the entirety of God's law and ritual prescriptions and offering the animal sacrifices demanded, God did not raise his people up to the state of grace. To use a New Testament metaphor, they were like the hired help who could stay out of trouble by doing as they were told, but not like sons and daughters who could please the Father simply by their love. The pious Jew of the Old Testament might even be rewarded with eternal life, but he might have to wait for centuries in limbo before Jesus Christ came to open the gates of heaven. The Redeemer would have first to redeem.
We know that the price of that redemption was one final sacrifice to God. The perfect sacrifice of God's own Son on the Cross. And we know that as that Sacrifice reached completion, the veil enclosing the "holy of holies" where God dwelled in the Temple was ripped from the top down to the bottom.5 The Presence of God would no longer dwell in the Temple -- the Old Covenant had been canceled and the New Covenant placed in force -- indeed the Temple would cease to exist and the animal sacrifices would come to an end, and those who had been God's people but called for the crucifixion of His Son would be evicted from the city in a few short years.
This New Covenant -- the relationship of God to all people and not just a chosen few had been predicted in the Old Testament. Isaias the prophet, for example tells us: "On this mountain the Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines ... the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces ... He will destroy death forever."6 "I come to gather nations of every language; they shall come and see My glory ... distant coastlands that have never heard of My fame or seen My glory; they shall proclaim My Glory among the nations."7
Perhaps even more to the point, and predictive of the New Covenant and the new Sacrifice, God says through Malachy: "I have no pleasure in you ... neither will I accept any sacrifice from your hands, for from the rising of the sun even to its setting, My name is great among the nations; and everywhere they will bring sacrifice to My name, and a pure offering."8
And what exactly did this Son of God say? How was the individual man to acquire the graces of redemption? He instructed the Apostles: "Go an make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you."9 "Go into the whole world and preach the Gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized shall be saved, but he who does not believe shall be condemned."10 The New Order bishops would have us believe that this did not apply to the Jewish people. That the "nations" were only the gentiles, the non-Jews! That "whole world and every creature" applied outside of Israel. They have no explanation, of course, for the fact that the Apostles all attempted to make converts of the Jews before moving on to other territories. In the Acts of the Apostles, before being persuaded to baptize the Centurion, Cornelius, Saint Peter tells us, "He sent His word to the children of Israel," "He charged us to preach to the people and to testify that it is He who has been appointed by God to judge the living and the dead."11 Up to this point Peter seems not to have considered baptizing anyone other than a Jew. "The faithful of the circumcision (the baptized Jews) were amazed because the grace of the Holy Ghost was poured out on the Gentiles."12 In the very next chapter God abolishes the Kosher food laws, there is further amazement about the baptism of gentiles, and it is clearly stated that up to that time the Apostles had preached exclusively to Jews. And even the great missionary to the Gentiles, Saint Paul, throughout his travels, always goes first to the local synagogue to see if he can make converts there.
Now, once again, I am not suggesting that anyone -- Jewish or otherwise -- ought to be forced to become a Catholic. I am not suggesting that anyone who is not of our Faith should be persecuted or mistreated in any way. Quite to the contrary, the greatest evil that any of us could work on another human being would be to keep him from the knowledge of Jesus Christ or deny him the saving waters of eternal life. No greater hate could you have for a man than to refuse to pray that he might believe and be baptized.
It is most important to recognize that there is only one Truth -- one Way. There cannot be one truth for Jews and another for Gentiles, any more than there can be one truth for Americans and a different one for Africans and Europeans. We who are Christians must believe the words of Jesus Christ: "I am the way and the life and the truth. No one comes to the Father but through Me."13
Pray for the conversion of the Jewish people; and of the Moslems and others while you are at it. And pray for the conversion of Bishops!
1 "Reflections on Covenant and Mission,
"Consultation of the National Council of Synagogues and the Bishops
Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, August 12, 2002.) Published
by the Office of Communications, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
http://www.usccb.org/comm/archives/2002/02-154.htm -- emphasis added.