Contemplata aliis Tradere

A meagre contribution to the mission and work of the Order of Preachers: my reflections, thoughts, ideas and the occasional rant on matters mainly theological, philosophical and ecclesiastical, drawn primarily from my reading and experience of life and the world. Striving to be always Catholic, firmly Christian and essentially Dominican, flavoured with dashes of Von Balthasar.

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Location: Oxford, United Kingdom

A son of the English Province of the Order of Friars Preachers (Dominicans); born in Malaysia but have lived in the USA, Singapore, the UK & the Philippines for varying durations. A pilgrim and way-farer, a searcher for Truth on the journey of Life... "Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, There’s always laughter and good red wine. At least I’ve always found it so. Benedicamus Domino!" - Hilaire Belloc

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Salvation for All by Faith

NB: This has been posted ahead of the date above.

The passage from Isaiah in today's Liturgy: "My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples" (Is 56:7), is seen engraved in the sanctuary of the Oratories in Birmingham and London (left). It is a fitting reminder of the New Covenant in Christ Jesus which is commemorated in the Holy Eucharist. For in the Eucharist, the "new and eternal covenant" is established with all peoples. As Pope John Paul II said: "the actions and words of Jesus at the Last Supper laid the foundations of the new messianic community, the People of the New Covenant" (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 21) and this New Covenant is made between God and all peoples, Jew and Gentile alike.

These are the people who come to the mountain of the Lord to offer the acceptable sacrifice of the Lamb, Jesus Christ in the Eucharistic sacrifice. As the writer of Hebrews put it:

"But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, The Judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel"
(Heb 12:22-24).

This vision actualised in Hebrews as an image of the earthly liturgy which finds its fulfillment and perfection in the heavenly liturgy is foreshadowed in Isaiah's prophecy which we hear in the First Reading.

Such a universalist vision of Liturgy and indeed of the worship of the true and living God is echoed with joy in the Responsorial Psalm and it is right that all nations resound with joy, for they have found salvation in Christ. This gift of salvation which is ours in Christ is unique in the history of religions. Never before and never since has mankind encountered such graciousness from God. Christianity is unique because it offers salvation to all; this is its message of good news and the Church's preaching and missionary effort is not primarily about proselytization but an unselfish sharing of good news with others. As the then-Cardinal Ratzinger wrote:

"It was not the drive to power that lauched Christian universalism but the certitude of having received the saving knowledge and the redeeming love to which all people have a claim and for which, in the innermost depths of their being, they are waiting."
- (Truth and Tolerance, 55)

As such, Dominus Iesus, 15 proclaims with joy:

"From the beginning, the community of believers has recognized in Jesus a salvific value such that he alone, as Son of God made man, crucified and risen, by the mission received from the Father and in the power of the Holy Spirit, bestows revelation (cf. Mt 11:27) and divine life (cf. Jn 1:12; 5:25-26; 17:2) to all humanity and to every person.

In this sense, one can and must say that Jesus Christ has a significance and a value for the human race and its history, which are unique and singular, proper to him alone, exclusive, universal, and absolute. Jesus is, in fact, the Word of God made man for the salvation of all. In expressing this consciousness of faith, the Second Vatican Council teaches: "The Word of God, through whom all things were made, was made flesh, so that as perfect man he could save all men and sum up all things in himself. The Lord is the goal of human history, the focal point of the desires of history and civilization, the centre of mankind, the joy of all hearts, and the fulfilment of all aspirations. It is he whom the Father raised from the dead, exalted and placed at his right hand, constituting him judge of the living and the dead". "It is precisely this uniqueness of Christ which gives him an absolute and universal significance whereby, while belonging to history, he remains history's centre and goal: ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end' (Rev 22:13)".

This historicity of the Gospel is vital, and sets it apart from other religions, which are more abstract. As Ratzinger says again: "[Christianity] is the activity of God himself making history... Its meaning is, not that divine reality becomes visible to man, but that it makes the person who receives the revelation into an actor in divine history" (Truth & Tolerance, 42). No other religion knows such love, such union of divine and human, such revelation of God's love which takes flesh in a person, Jesus Christ.

The Gospel today presents us with an action of that Word which is unique, a turning point perhaps in His life on earth. The Lord is moved by the Canaanite woman's faith to pity and he heals her daughter. St Matthew, who was writing to a Gentile audience, includes this episode perhaps to encourage his audience; to point out that salvation is theirs on account of their faith. And herein lies another essential element of Christianity which sets it apart from other religions. One is saved not by anything one can do or even earn. It is just faith in the saving power of Christ, the "Son of David".

I have to admit that on a superficial level, today's Gospel is difficult to understand because Christ seems rather callous. He firstly ignores the woman's pleas, then makes a claim of exclusivity to the Jewish people and only finally, after a strange discourse which likens the Gentiles to dogs, does He accede to her request. It is said that this reticence was in order to test the Canaanite woman's faith and perseverance.

Moreover, Jesus expresses a Semitic viewpoint that is reflected in St Paul who also says that the Jews' rejection of Christ is "the reconciliation of the world" (cf Rom 11:15). This implies that in God's plan of salvation, the Jews (His 'children') come first and then only, on account of being rejected by them, opens the way of salvation to the foreigners, the Gentiles. Hence, then-Cardinal Ratzinger wrote that, "according to Christian faith, on the Cross Jesus opens up and fulfills the wholeness of the Law and gives it thus to the pagans, who can now accept it as their own in this its wholeness, thereby becoming children of Abraham." (Many Religions - One Covenant, 41). It is noteworthy that what we see in Christianity is not a rejection of the Torah (the Law) but a fulfillment of it and we Christians become also children of Abraham (cf Eucharistic Prayer I, which refers to Abraham as our "father in faith".) Thus, the difference between the Old and New Covenants is that "the Old Covenant is particular and concerns the 'fleshly' descendents of Abraham. The New Covenant is universal and is addressed to all people." (ibid., 66)

We have cause to rejoice that the wonderful gift of salvation in Christ is thereby open to all believers in Him. Today's Liturgy celebrates that and moreover, reminds us that it is Faith in Christ and perseverance that He requires of us. Indeed, the Lord may test us to see if our faith is true. Jesus also tests the Canaanite woman and she reveals the depth of her need of Him and humbles herself before Him, whom she calls "Lord", which in Matthew is always a reference to the Godhead.

We who have been granted the grace of the New Covenant are called to share her great faith, her humility in prayer, her realization of humanity's utter need of God and her perseverance. Something of this faith and perseverance is shared with and indeed can be learnt from the Jewish people, our 'elder brothers in Faith', who await their Messiah. As Ratzinger says: "The Church, too, waits for the Messiah she already knows, the Messiah who has yet to manifest his glory. Obedience and promise are inextricably linked in the Christian faith... the obedience of faith accepts the Word that comes from eternity and is uttered in history, transforming it into love, in the present, and so opening the door of hope." (ibid., 105-6)

The picture above is 'White Crucifixion' by Marc Chagall (1887 - 1995).


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