It is an amazing and heartwarming thing these days to realize that the Catechism of the Catholic Church, published almost 40 some years ago, as an adult compendium of Catholic belief, can be found in the most unlikely places! Not only can it be found in all the major secular book stores but is now readily available as an e-book download for Kindle and other e-readers! While the popularity of this important resource to the Catholic faith is indeed inspiring, I also hear some comments that worry me a bit. "Monsignor, I'm so happy that we have this catechism. Now, there will be absolutely no doubt about what we believe as Catholics!" or "It's good to know that with the Catechism, all questions about the faith will be answered in black and white."
There is no question that this authoritative resource will prove to be an important point of doctrinal reference as to what it is we believe as Roman Catholics. But, we should never fool ourselves into thinking that the unfathomable riches of the mystery of God can somehow be captured completely in human words and concepts. I think all of us have seen the unsettling effect that Religious fundamentalism can have in our world - whether its an "Ayatollah" persecuting the "infidels" in Iran, a jihad against reason, or a Baptist preacher that unabashedly states that all Jews, Hindus, Moslems and Buddhists are going to hell because they have not accepted Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior. That's a heck of a lot of folks going to hell! The tendency toward a simplistic and fundamentalist approach to the realities of faith is a temptation inherent in all religions - including our Catholic way of life.
The late Fr. Aidan Kavanagh states that Fundamentalism of whatever sort is a mindless regression into fantasy undertaken out of an obsessive fear of risk and ambiguity. The tendency inherent in all religious fundamentalism is the temptation to believe that one has all the answers. It is the temptation toward an intolerance that cannot accept the fact that God could possibly work outside of one's own religious tradition or doctrinal system. It is the arrogance to believe that we're right and everyone else is wrong.
In God's word today, we see this kind of mentality at work, when the seventy elders in our first reading from the Book of Numbers questioned whether the spirit of prophesy had actually come down upon Eldad and Medad who were not among their group - their "inner circle," if you will. They wanted Moses to stop them from prophesying in the camp. Moses, however, saw the real problem when he said to them, "Are you jealous....would that all the people of the Lord were prophets! Would that the Lord might bestow his spirit on them all!” A similar theme is recounted in the Gospel of Mark. One of the twelve, saw one who was not of their inner circle casting out a demon and tried to stop him. But Jesus, rebukes him, and reminds him that the power of God can work even outside the disciples.
And so, the word of God and the power of God can indeed work wherever God wishes. As Catholics, we are graced to have been so richly blessed in the knowledge and love of God. Through the Spirit alive in our Church, the integrity of the Gospel has been authentically handed down within the Church and its leaders for 2000 years. Yet, as reminded in the Scriptures this day, this privileged grace should never be the pretext for an arrogant self-righteousness that thinks that we, as Catholics, have cornered the market on God and His ways. Nor should it be a pretext for a discrimination that fails to reverence the presence of God and his mysterious ways in all people of good will and sincere conscience.
Perhaps, the Church herself has stated its reverence and respect for other paths to God best when she proclaimed at the Second Vatican Council:
The Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in [other] religions. She has a high regard for the manner of life and conduct, the precepts and doctrines which, although differing in many ways from her own teaching, nevertheless often reflects a ray of that truth which enlightens all people....The Church reproves, as foreign to the mind of Christ, any discrimination against people or any harassment of them on the basis of their race, color, condition in life or religion. [Nostra Aetate 2,5]
In light of these thoughts, our opening prayer today is a fitting prayer for all men and women who search for God in their lives no matter where that path may lead:
Continue to fill us with your gifts of love. Help us to hurry toward the eternal life you promise and come to share in the joys of your kingdom.