Are all religions the same? Do they lead to the same God? There is a story about three farmers making their way to the mill with their produce. Each use a different route. The first goes around to the right which is the most difficult way with potholes and barriers. The second goes to the left, this route is easy and smooth but quite long. The third route is over the hill, this is the shortest but hardest. When they get to the mill, the owner is not interested in in how they got to the mill, only in the quality of their produce.
Does this suggest that God is not interested in our religious affiliation but only in the quality of our lives? I do believe that all persons regardless of their religious affiliation have a chance at salvation but at the same time I believe that religion does matter. This is suggested in Jesus’ remark in Matthew 5.14 “You are the light of the world…you are the salt of the earth.” Light and salt come to us in different ways and qualities. The light from a candle, a flashlight and a bulb vary considerably and I think this suggests that what we have to offer as the light of the world will vary as well.
In this respect I think that Catholics have something unique to offer the world. We bring something different to the table of life so to speak. The question remains; who are we as Catholics? What is the nature of our light and salt? Are we truly different? Some people believe that to be a Catholic is simple- attend mass, put money in the collection and receive communion. But I think it goes further than that.
If we look back at the history of the church, there are certain things that Catholics do particularly well. These things define who we are. First, Catholics have always promoted a personal God, a God who is knowable. To speak of a personal God is to talk of someone we can interact with. It also indicates that he is involved in our private lives, our most intimate thoughts and emotions. This God touches us at the deepest level.
I think we as Catholics specialize in this understanding of God and it is a God the world sorely needs. When you enter a Catholic church and attend our worship service this understanding of God becomes quite apparent. There is a sensory feel to our church buildings. In our churches we incorporate all the senses. We kneel and sit. The priest does not just walk in, we process with candles and incense. We have statues and pictures. It all suggests- God is real, to be experienced through all the senses.
Catholics take their cue from the 23rd psalm, a very personable piece of literature that expresses in an intimate way our understanding of God. In this psalm God:
“refreshes our soul”, “he comforts us, with his rod and staff”, “he anoints our head with oil” and invites us to “dwell in his house forever.” It does not get more personal than that.
This is the God we proclaim, this is our Catholic legacy. It is in line with the very first book of the bible where we read that after Adam and Eve our first parents had sinned, they hid from God in their shame and guilt. What happens next is amazing in the annals of religious literature. We read in Genesis 3.9 “But the Lord called out to the man, where are you.” God goes looking for man. He is a god who seeks out people. When last did you have someone look out for you, when you were lost, or alone or sick or afraid? This is our Catholic witness.
One theologian has suggested we keep a backpack of personal stories to share with others. It remains the most effective way to bring people to God. We must always address the question “What has God done for you lately?”
Catholics not only proclaim a personal God, we also believe in a God who makes demands on us. God has expectations for his people, like any good parent. The question remains- what does God expect of us? The answer is suggested in Luke 4. 16-19 which says that Jesus came:
“… to proclaim the good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”
In the history of the church we have taken these words to heart. It is essentially about recognizing the rights of others. Especially those with special needs. In the early church people were attracted to this spirit of brotherly care. It is recorded that the church “…offered cities filled with strangers, orphans, widows, the homeless, and the poor a new family and community, a new way of life that freed them from many of the fears that tortured their pagan neighbours.” While pagans would only help their brothers, Christians treated all men as brothers.
Catholics over the years have promoted this communal sense in specific ways. In terms of respect for others, friendship across class divides, the value of each individual and a commitment to justice and peace. This is how we have interpreted the demand that God places on his people. A demand to love others. Especially those who are at risk.
So when Jesus asks us to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth. It is not just a command to be nice or pleasant. It is a call to be a good Catholic.