FUNDAMENTALIST websites were quick to declare:
“POPE FRANCIS RELEASES A ONE WORLD RELIGION PRAYER VIDEO SAYING ALL FAITHS THE SAME”
An “end times” news website claims:
“POPE FRANCIS MAKES PROCLAMATION FOR A ONE WORLD RELIGION”
And ultra-conservative Catholic websites declared that Pope Francis is preaching “HERESY!”
They are responding to a recent video initiative by the Jesuit-run global prayer network, Apostleship of Prayer, in co-operation with the Vatican Television Center (CTV). The minute and a half-long video can be watched below.
So, did the Pope say that “all faiths are the same”? No, what he said is that “most of the planet’s inhabitants consider themselves believers” in God. Did the Pope suggest that all religions are equal? No, in fact, he said the only certainty between us is that we are “all children of God.” Was the Pope calling for a “one world religion”? No, he asked that “sincere dialogue among men and women of different faiths may produce the fruits of peace of justice.” He was not asking Catholics to open our altars to other religions, but asked for our “prayers” for the intention of “peace and justice.”
Now, the simple answer to what this video is about is two words: interreligious dialogue. However, for those who confuse this with syncretism—the amalgamation or attempted amalgamation of religions—read on.
HERESY OR HOPE?
Let’s look at the three points above in light of Scripture and Sacred Tradition to determine if Pope Francis is a false prophet… or a faithful one.
I. Most are believers?
Do most people believe in God? Most people do believe in a divine being, though they may not yet know the One true God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The reason is that:
Man is by nature and vocation a religious being. —Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 44
As such, the drama of human history is one intertwined with a constant sense of the One Beyond, an awareness that has given way to various flawed and misguided religious expressions throughout the centuries.
In many ways, throughout history down to the present day, men have given expression to their quest for God in their religious beliefs and behavior: in their prayers, sacrifices, rituals, meditations, and so forth. These forms of religious expression, despite the ambiguities they often bring with them, are so universal that one may well call man a religious being. —Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), n. 28
Even Christians often hold a distorted view of God: they see Him as either a distant, wrathful being… or an all-merciful benevolent teddy-bear… or some other image upon which they project their own preconceptions based on our human experiences, especially those drawn from our parents. Nonetheless, whether one’s view of God is distorted slightly, or grossly, does not discount the fact that every person is made for God, and thus, inherently desires to know Him.
II. Are we all children of God?
A Christian might conclude that only those who are baptized are “sons and daughters of God”. For as St. John wrote in his Gospel,
…to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name. (John 1:12)
This is but one way that the Scriptures describe our relationship to the Holy Trinity through Baptism. Scripture also speaks of us as being “branches” to the Vine; a “bride” to the Bridegroom; and “priests”, “judges”, and “co-heirs.” These are all ways to describe the new spiritual relationship of believers in Jesus Christ.
But the parable of the prodigal son also provides another analogy. That the entire human race is like the prodigal; we have all, through original sin, been separated from the Father. But He is still our Father. We are all generated from the “thought” of God. We all share in the same ancestral parents.
From one ancestor [God] made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him – though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For “in him we live and move and have our being.” —CCC, 28
And so, by nature, we are His children; by spirit, however, we are not. Hence, the process of leading the “prodigal” back to Himself, to make us truly sons and daughters in full communion, began with the “chosen people.”
The people descended from Abraham would be the trustee of the promise made to the patriarchs, the chosen people, called to prepare for that day when God would gather all his children into the unity of the Church. They would be the root on to which the Gentiles would be grafted, once they came to believe. —CCC, 60
III. Is dialogue with other religions the same as creating a “one world religion”?
Pope Francis states that the goal of this dialogue is not to create a one world religion, but to “produce the fruits of peace of justice.” The backdrop of these words is both the outbreak of violence today “in the name of God” and the interreligious dialogue that took place in January of 2015 in Sri Lanka. There, Pope Francis stated that the Catholic Church “rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions” Catholic Herald, January 13th, 2015; cf. Nostra Aetate, 2 and that “It is in this spirit of respect that the Catholic Church desires to cooperate with you, and with all people of good will, in seeking the welfare of all….” One could say that Francis’ intention in interreligiou s dialogue, at this time, is to help ensure the welfare of peoples according to Matthew 25:
‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ (Matt 25:40)
In fact, St. Paul was among the first to engage in “interreligious dialogue” with the purpose of spreading the other, primary aspect of the Gospel: the conversion of souls. While the proper term for this is simply “evangelization,” it is clear that St. Paul uses the same tools we do today to initially engage the listener of non Judaeo-Christian religions. In the book of Acts, Paul enters the Areopagus, the cultural center of Athens.
…he debated in the synagogue with the Jews and with the worshipers, and daily in the public square with whoever happened to be there. Even some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers engaged him in discussion. (Acts 17:17-18)
The Epicurean’s were concerned with the pursuit of happiness through sober reasoning while the Stoics were more akin to today’s pantheists, those who worship nature. In fact, just as Pope Francis affirmed that the Church acknowledges what is “true” in other religions, so too, St. Paul acknowledges the truths of their Greek philosophers and poets:
He made from one the whole human race to dwell on the entire surface of the earth, and he fixed the ordered seasons and the boundaries of their regions, so that people might seek God, even perhaps grope for him and find him, though indeed he is not far from any one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being,’ as even some of your poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’ (Acts 17:26-28)
COMMON GROUND… EVANGELICAL PREPARATION
It is in this acknowledgment of the truth, of the good in the other, of “what we hold in common” that Pope Francis finds hope that “New avenues will be opened for mutual esteem, cooperation and indeed friendship.” Interreligious Dialogue in Sri Lanka, Catholic Herald, January 13th, 2015 In a word, “relationship” forms the best basis and opportunity, ultimately, for the Gospel.
…the [Second Vatican] Council spoke of “evangelical preparations” in relation to “something good and authentic” that can be found in persons, and at times in religious initiatives. In no page is explicit mention made of religions as ways of salvation. —Ilaria Morali, Theologian; “Misunderstandings About Interreligious Dialogue”; ewtn.com
There is only one mediator to the Father, and that is Jesus Christ. All religions are not equal, nor do all religions lead to the One true God. As the Catechism states:
…the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it. —CCC, n. 848
But how grace works in souls is another matter. St. Paul says:
Those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. (Rom 8:14)
The Church teaches that it is possible that some are following the Truth without knowing Him by name:
Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience — those too may achieve eternal salvation… the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men. —CCC, n. 847-848
We cannot stop at only “friendship” with others. As Christians, we are obligated to communicate the Gospel, even at the cost of our lives. So when Pope Francis met with Buddhist leaders last summer, he clearly enunciated the proper context of the meeting—not an attempt to merge Catholicism with Buddhism—but in his own words:
It is a visit of fraternity, of dialogue, and of friendship. And this is good. This is healthy. And in these moments, which are wounded by war and hatred, these small gestures are seeds of peace and fraternity. —POPE FRANCIS, Rome Reports, June 26th, 2015; romereports.com
In the Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis speaks about the “art of accompaniment”cf. Evangelii Gaudium, n. 169 with others that extends to non-Christians, and in fact, prepares the way for evangelization. Those who are suspicious of Pope Francis need, again, to read his own words:
Interreligious dialogue is a necessary condition for peace in the world, and so it is a duty for Christians as well as other religious communities. This dialogue is in first place a conversation about human existence or simply, as the bishops of India have put it, a matter of “being open to them, sharing their joys and sorrows”. In this way we learn to accept others and their different ways of living, thinking and speaking… True openness involves remaining steadfast in one’s deepest convictions, clear and joyful in one’s own identity, while at the same time being “open to understanding those of the other party” and “knowing that dialogue can enrich each side”. What is not helpful is a diplomatic openness which says “yes” to everything in order to avoid problems, for this would be a way of deceiving others and denying them the good which we have been given to share generously with others. Evangelization and interreligious dialogue, far from being opposed, mutually support and nourish one another. —Evangelii Gaudium, n . 251, vatican.va
PAUSE BEFORE YOU SHOOT
There are some in the Church today who are very much alive to the “signs of the times”… but not so alert to proper hermeneutics and theology. Today, like most of the culture itself, there is a tendency to quickly jump to conclusions, to take shallow assumptions for truth and sensational claims as gospel. This is manifesting particularly in the subtle attack on the Holy Father—a root judgment based on shoddy journalism, faulty Evangelical claims, and false Catholic prophecy that the Pope is a “false prophet” in kahutz with the Antichrist. That there is corruption, apostasy, and the “smoke of satan” wafting through some of the corridors of the Vatican is self-evident. That the validly elected Vicar of Christ will destroy the Church is nothing short of heresy. For it was Christ—not me—who declared that the office of Peter is “rock” and that “the gates of hell will not prevail”. That does not mean that a pope cannot do some damage by timidity, worldliness, or scandalous behavior. But that is a call to pray for him and all our shepherds—not a license to make false accusations and slanderous statements.
I continue to receive letters telling me that I am “blind”, “beguiled” and “deceived” because I am, apparently, “emotionally attached” to Pope Francis (I guess it’s not only Francis under the wrath of judgment). At the same time, I am sympathetic, to a degree, with those who take exception to this video (and we cannot assume that Pope Francis has approved of it let alone seen how it was edited together.) The way the images are presented carry a whiff of syncretism, even though the Pope’s message is consistent with the Church’s guidelines on interreligious dialogue.
The key here is to discern what the Pope is saying in light of Sacred Tradition and Scripture—and it is most certainly not what a handful of sloppy journalists and bloggers have concluded. For example, none of them reported what the Pope had to say during the Angelus the day after the video was released:
…the Church “desires that all the peoples of the earth be able to meet Jesus, to experience His merciful love… [the Church] wishes to indicate respectfully, to every man and woman of this world, the Child that was born for the salvation of all. —Angelus, January 6th, 2016; Zenit.org
I want to recommend to my readers a new book by Peter Bannister, a brilliant, humble, and faithful theologian. It’s called, “No False Prophet: Pope Francis and his not-so-cultured despisers”. It’s available for free in Kindle format on Amazon.
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