Like most children of the ’50s and before, I feared sin and its effect on my immortal soul. I believed that God spied on my every word and deed, kept a record of every venial sin and was unforgiving of my mortal sins (could a child commit a mortal sin?) until I was absolved by a priest. Let me tell you, this isn’t a loving God. It’s a God of conditional love, who loves IF: IF you obey his commandments; IF you are faithful; IF you go to church. IF, IF, IF. And less surprising is that this is not the God revealed in Christ Jesus.
You might remember the now ‘old’ (1969) Eucharistic prayer where the institution narrative says Jesus’ blood was ‘shed for you and for all’ and how the new translation now reads: ‘poured out for you and for many’. This caused a refreshed debate on universal salvation. That is, salvation is available to all by virtue of God’s infinite mercy.
This is no modernist argument. It has persisted since the second century to the present. The majority Christian opinion has held that salvation is for a select group alone. Jesus’ disciples have busily excluded each other from salvation from the very beginning – starting with Samaritans, Gentiles followed quickly by various Trinitarian/Christological heretics, gnostics and a plethora of others, including Americanism (condemned by Leo XIII in 1899).
Despite the Church’s history of exclusion, Vatican II’s Nostra Aetate acknowledged other world religions affirmingly, acknowledging that certain aspects of these faith traditions “reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all people” (NA, 2). It also affirmed that the Church “rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions” (NA, 2).
And so, from Matthew (15:21 – 28) we hear the story of the Canaanite woman whose daughter is being tormented by a demon. After being rebuffed by Jesus, she cries out to him that though not of the House of Israel, even the house dogs are able to eat the scraps that fall from the master’s table. Her faith is rewarded, and her daughter made well. Jesus welcomed all. Especially outsiders, especially the marginalised. In his letter to the Romans (11:29) God chooses us and neither will he revoke his choice nor abandon us. That is unconditional love. That is divine love.
In our schools we are often privileged to introduce young students to this loving God, no matter their religious, racial, cultural, political or economic status. It is our responsibility to ensure that we have the opportunity to meet and know this wonderful and awesome God, revealed to us perfectly in Jesus.
Mr Peter Douglas
Director of Faith and Mission