4 Easter B #50
Acts 4, 8-12
1 Jn 3, 1-2
Jn 10, 11-18
Saint Mary’s Church, Marlboro, N.Y.
April 26, 2015
Deacon Tom Cornell
It’s over! Suddenly it was over, that long, hard winter. Then, just as suddenly, winter made a reappearance: hail on Thursday, snow squalls on Friday. But be reassured. The earth is coming back to life. Nature does her hardest work this time of year. Everything is coming up. Life is good.
Jesus rose from the dead to assure us of life, eternal life, life everlasting. God created man a little lower than the angels, the Psalmist tells us, but when the Eternal Word of God took flesh in the Virgin Mary’s womb, God elevated man above the angels. The Apostle John tells us that now we are sons and daughters of God, but what we shall be, in the Resurrection, what we shall be has not yet come to light, but when it does, we shall be like God for we will see Him as He is. Try to take that in! We shall be like God! We shall see Him as He is! If we really believe this wild horses could not keep us from Sunday Mass every Sunday, to meet Jesus in breaking open the word of the Gospel and in the breaking of bread! And why should we fear death if we can believe this? As we age and one bodily system after another fails us, we fear death not for ourselves but for our children and theirs. That is the most terrible loss. But even then, God is good. God is merciful, compassionate. He suffers with us.
“There is no other name,” Luke tells us in Acts, no other name by which we are to be saved. Jesus is the only savior, the sole mediator between God and humankind. There is no other. Does that mean that non-Christians cannot be saved? There was a time, before the Second Vatican Council, when some people might say so, as hard is to imagine today.
I’ve told this story before but some of you might have missed it. It happened at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, in the office of Abraham Joshua Heschel, the most influential rabbi of his generation, in the spring of 1967. Heschel had been asked by Cardinal Bea in Rome to go to the Vatican with a team of Jewish leaders to help prepare for the Council. That was a first. No Jew had ever been asked to help prepare for an oecumenical council of the Catholic Church. When they gathered, at a private meeting with Pope Paul, Cardinal Bea asked, “What would the Jews hope to see come out of the Council?”
They were astounded. This is how I remember Heschel answering. “This is what I told them. ‘We Jews face very extinction. There are four threats. First, the Enlightenment hit our people unprepared so that in a generation’s time the observance rate fell precipitously. With non-observance comes inter-marriage; that’s factor two. That means children lost to Judaism. Three, we lost one out of every three of our people to the Nazi Holocaust. Four, the State of Israel is in a precarious position surrounded by enemies. On top of all that, you people are trying to convert us! How would the Church understand it, and how would you take it personally, Your Holiness, if the religion that Mary taught little Jesus in their home in Nazareth were to disappear from the face of the earth?’ The answer: ‘I never thought of it that way. But we’re going to!’ ”
The result of this consultation was the document Nostra Aetate, In Our Age, on the relation of the Catholic Church to Non-Christian religions. The Council Fathers condemned all forms of anti-Semitism and repudiated the view that all the Jews of His time or their descendants are guilty of Jesus’ death. They held that God’s covenant with the Jews stands and has never been withdrawn or revoked. The Church honors the truths that can be found in all religious traditions, but she recognizes the special and unique relationship we have with the Jewish people, as wild olive branches grafted onto the good root stock of Israel.
The Council called upon people of all faiths to put aside past hurts and to work together for the common good, for justice and for peace. We recognize and honor the truths found in all religions. But Jesus remains the sole savior, the One who saves not only Catholics and Christians but Jews and Muslims and Hindus and Buddhists and even those who claim they have no faith but seek truth and goodness with a sincere heart.
God’s greatest gift to us is our faith. Can you believe that at last we will be like Him for we will see Him as He is? If that is so, we can stand up to anything, as the 41 Coptic martyrs did only a few weeks ago in Egypt. They were given the chance to renounce their Christian faith, but they gladly died with the word Jesus on their lips, Jesus, Jesus.“I do believe, Lord. Help Thou my unbelief!”