Religious difference and the responsibility of joy

Filed in Relationships by on November 20, 2014 0 Comments

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Just recently, the Pontifical Urbaniana University in Rome dedicated a new building to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. He wrote an occasional letter entitled “Renunciation of the truth is lethal to faith”. The letter is set out in full here.

In it, he discusses the relationship between religion and faith and the many twists and turns it can take. It is a limpid description of themes that have been fundamental to his work. It starts as a reflection on the international community of students that make up the university and the missionary command of Jesus that is the basis of this community. From this community, he moves to the larger community, that of the various religions and asks: what is the basis for this community? Can it simply be dialogue, with dialogue understood as being separated from a commitment to truth? Or: does such a notion instead reveal a failure of community, lack of faith in real communication, which hope always springs from faith in truth?

Benedict XVI then discusses how Christianity views it relationship to other religions in light of its knowledge of Jesus, as well as the mixed nature – positive and negative – that is the reality of any religion.

However, at the end, he spells out another way of looking at this issue, one that is so simple, so persuasive:

And yet there is a simpler way to justify this task today. Joy demands to be communicated. Love demands to be communicated. The truth demands to be communicated. He who has received a great joy cannot simply keep it to himself, he must transmit it. The same applies to the gift of love, through the gift of recognition of the truth that manifests itself.

When Andrew met Christ, he could not help but say to his brother, “We have found the Messiah” (Jn 1:41). And Phillip, to whom the gift of the same encounter was given, could not help but tell Nathanael that he had found him of whom Moses and the prophets had written (Jn 1:45).  We proclaim Jesus Christ not in order to procure as many members as possible for our community, and much less for the sake of power. We speak of him because we feel the need to transmit the joy that has been given to us.

We will be credible proclaimers of Jesus Christ when we have truly encountered him in the depths of our existence, when, through the encounter with him, we have been given the great experience of truth, love, and joy.

Part of the nature of religion is the profound tension between the mystical offering to God, in which we give ourselves completely to him, and responsibility for our neighbour and the created world. Martha and Mary are always inseparable, even if now and then the accent may fall on one or the other. The point of encounter between the two poles is the love in which we touch God and his creatures at the same time. “We have come to know and believe in love” (1 Jn 4:16): this phrase expresses the authentic nature of Christianity. Love, which is realized and reflected in a manifold way in the saints of all times, is the authentic proof of the truth of Christianity.

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Fr Jerome Santamaria

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Fr Jerome Santamaria is a priest of the Archdiocese of Melbourne, Australia.

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