Thursday, June 30, 2011

Lightening the Burden of the Oppressed

An Exegetical Reflection on the Gospel of the Fourteenth Sunday, Year A, Matthew 11:25-30, July 3, 2011

One of the reasons why our country cannot provide adequate service to the people is the government debt. Since about 1/3 of the yearly total budget is earmarked for servicing the country’s debt, or more exactly, to its interest payment, only a paltry sum goes to health, education and other public services. And because, for many years, the Philippines resorts to borrowing from creditors to pay its debts, the country continues to sink deeper in debt. No doubt about it, the government debt, both internal and external, is enerous. It condemns its people to hopeless poverty and misery. And it making debt service a priority of the budget, the government practically ignores the welfare of the people. No wonder, many people have been clamoring for its cancellation—the government debt is a burden that consigns many to a miserable life.

Life can be like the country’s debt, onerous, but it is always the poor who carry the weight. This is true not only of today but also of Jesus’ time. As we noted two Sundays ago, Jesus, during his public ministry, saw the poor in the eyes of prophet Ezekiel--tired, leaderless, and neglected: “Woe to the shepherds of Israel who have been pasturing themselves. Should not shepherds, rather, pasture sheep? You have fed off their milk, worn their wool, and slaughtered their fatlings, but the sheep you have not pastured. You did not strengthen the weak nor heal the sick nor bind up the injured. You did not bring back the strayed nor seek the lost, but you lorded it over them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered for lack of shepherd and became food for wild animals” (Ezek 34:2b-5a). But if the poor people felt that life has become burdensome, this was not simply due to the political leaders who failed in their responsibilities to the sheep.

It was also because the religious leaders laid heavy burdens on them. In his denunciation of the Pharisees, for example, Jesus said: “They tie up heavy burdens [hard to carry] and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them” (Matt 23:4). The way the Pharisees and the teachers of the law interpreted the commandments of God has become burdensome to the poor people. The law on the Sabbath is a good example. In their interpretation of the law, the Pharisees had to ask what activities constituted work and therefore were prohibited on the Sabbath—matters which probably were never envisaged by Moses himself. In Matthew, we encounter people known as sinners (Matt 9:10), and in the consensus of present-day scholars, the term refers to people who by their very profession could not, according to the teachers of the law, observe the commandments. The law was intended to give life to those who keep them (Ezek 20:13), but because of wrong interpretation, it became an onus for the poor.

What must the poor do to liberate themselves from the heavy load? At the time of Jesus, the poor people had options. They could follow the Pharisees in their meticulous observance of the law, in the hope that God would ultimately liberate them from all evil. Some did join the social bandits, not only to ease the burden of poverty, but also to get even with the rich. Others later on joined the revolutionary movement—which engulfed the whole nation in the end. Today, several choices present themselves. The poor can go to the street to denounce the various burdens that the government imposed on them and ask that they be scrapped unconditionally. Or, since they cannot lick them, they can join as well the corrupt and the greedy in fleecing the government, with the thought that, after all, justice cannot follow them. Or, one can participate in the materially rewarding occupation of the Abu Sayyaf—banditry and kidnapping. Of course, for many these may seem reasonable, but definitely, these do not have basis in Christianity. The Gospel offers only Jesus to lighten the load: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28).

Jesus is the only one who can refresh us—not the meticulous observance of the law, not the politicians, not money, not rebellion. For one thing, “he is meek and humble of heart” (Matt 11:29). He can understand the feelings of the poor, because he himself became poor, though he was rich (Phil 2:5-7). He was born to a poor family, had nowhere to lay his head, and his grave was not even his own. As the parables show, he looked at realities through the eyes of the poor. Because he had no mission other than to do the will of his Father, he was meek and humble, like the servant of God (Zech 9:9, First Reading). For another, he is the Wisdom of God. Indeed, Matt 11:28-30 very much echoes the invitation of Wisdom: “Come aside to me, you untutored, and take up lodging in the house of instruction. How long will you be deprived of wisdom’s food, how long will you endure such bitter thirst?… Submit your neck to her yoke, that your mind may accept her teaching, for she is close to those who seek her, and the one who is in earnest finds her” (Sirach 51:23-26). He can invite us to take his yoke (Matt 11:29)—obedience to his word and his life, because it is he alone to whom the Father has revealed everything (Matt 11:27).

Amidst problems that the nation faces, people who are supposed to be in the know—what with their trainings abroad and degrees attached to their name--are inclined to think that the Jesus way is neither easy or light—in fact, it is impractical. They like to depend on their own wisdom. But have their solutions given the people a better deal? One is tempted to say that they like their own solutions, because, from a biblical point of view, God’s wisdom has been hidden from them (Matt 11:25). But the Lord says: “Stand beside the earliest roads, ask the pathways of old, which is the way to good and walk it, thus you will find rest for your souls.” (Jer 6:16). However, only the humble will recognize God’s wisdom. Therefore, they alone will take Jesus’ yoke—which is easy and light—and learn from him, and certainly, in the end, “find rest for themselves” (Matt 11:28).*

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Eucharist, Greed and the Poor in Our Midst

Exegetical Reflection on the Gospel of the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of the Lord, Year A, John 6:51-58, June 26, 2011

Last Sunday (June 19), Federico Pascual raised a rhetorical question in his column Postcript, “Why spend P400 million in rehabilitating Macabalan Port in Cagayan de Oro when a French contractor of modular ro-ro (roll-on, roll-off) ports has a standing offer to build a new wharf and passenger terminal for only P143 million?” Palace watchers described this as “patently disadvantageous to the government,” while former Senator Nene Pimentel called in “plain and simple highway robbery.” And what motives people to do this—greed? This calls to mind the twists and turns in the court battles among lawyers over the coconut levy in the Philippines. “The levy,” as Neal Cruz put it in simple terms, “was imposed and collected by the government for public purposes to benefit coconut farmers. It is clear that it is a public fund. The clarity and simplicity of it is clear to laymen; it is only lawyers who make it confusing.” It being an enormous sum, many want to take hold of it. In an earlier column, Cruz asserts: “Greed is still the top sin of Filipinos. And ironically, the richer they are, the greedier they become.” Hence, “while there are billions of sequestered pesos and dollars still out there waiting… there will always be ‘commissioners’ who will try to negotiate a compromise for a piece of action. Treasure hunting is a popular endeavor in the Philippines. It is easier to dream of instant riches than to work hard for it. And the coco levy… [is] like the fabled Yamashita treasure that continues to boggle the imagination and whet the appetite of scores of treasure hunter.”

Greed is the exact opposite of what today’s feast of Corpus et Sanguis Christi implies—which is sharing so others might live. But that is going ahead of what should be noted first. Today’s Gospel is the second part of Jesus’ discourse on the bread of life (John 6:35-58). Whereas in the first part (vv 35-50), the nourishing heavenly bread is the teaching of Jesus, in this second one (vv 51-58), it is the Eucharist. Though both parts speak of giving life, they differ in that, while in the first part eternal life is given through belief, in the second it comes from feeding on the flesh and drinking the blood of Jesus. Thus, this section has a Eucharistic theme, and exclusive so. Raymond Brown notes two impressive indications that the Eucharist is in mind. First, the narrative stresses the eating of Jesus’ flesh and the drinking of his blood—which cannot be taken as a metaphor or symbolically. Rather, if Jesus’ words about eating his flesh and drinking his blood are to have any favorable meaning, they must refer to the Eucharist, reproducing the words of institution in the Synoptics. Second, what Jesus says in v 51 (“The bread that I shall give is my flesh for the life of the world”) resembles the Lucan form of the words of institution (“This is my body which is given for you”), and most likely preserves the Johannine form of the words of institution. Thus, for John, eternal life is given to those who communicate the body and blood of Jesus.

The objection at the beginning of this section, “how can he give us his flesh to eat” (v 52) probably reflects the Jewish criticism of the Johannine Christian community ritual, since Jews were forbidden to eat meat with blood (Lev 17:10-11). But as the whole section indicates, the eating of his body and drinking of his blood have nothing to do with cannibalism. Rather, they are about sacramental communion. After giving up himself in the sacrifice on the cross, he will give himself in the sacrament. And considering that in the Old Testament, “the body and blood” expresses human life, the Evangelist most likely implies that in the Eucharist the communicant receives the whole living Jesus. In other words, Jesus is totally present in the eucharistic bread and wine that the believer receives. In the sacramental communion, Jesus shares his very life with the communicating believer: “The man who feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood remain in me and I in him” (v 56). No wonder, Paul declares to the Christians in Corinth, “Is not the cup of blessing we bless, a sharing in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread we break, a sharing in the body of Christ?” (1 Cor 10:16). For John, however, there is first of all a mutual indwelling in the Eucharist: Jesus remains in the Christian, and the Christian remains in Jesus. Moreover, just as the life of the Son and the Father is one (cf John 14:10), so the man who receives the Eucharist shares the very life of God himself.

However, to receive the Eucharist is not only to be involved in the very life of God himself. If one shares in the life of the Son and the Father, he is joined to the whole body of believers. It is in this sense that Paul, in the second reading, speaks of the sharing in the body of Christ. “Because the loaf of bread is one, we, many though we are, are one body, for we all partake of one loaf” (1 Cor 10:17). In receiving the Eucharist, Christians are joined to Christ and to one another. They are established as one community in which Christ is a communal possession. Consequently, Christians who receive the Eucharist cannot be greedy or engaged in monopoly, still less take what do not belong to them. To the contrary, by the very act of sharing in it, they commit themselves to share their life and possession with other members in the Christian community. The rich, for example, cannot continue receiving the life of God without sharing their wealth with the poor, for that would be anomalous.

In light of this, a Christian cannot but make a crusade for the writing off of foreign debts by poor countries; indeed, in the light of the meaning of the Eucharist, wealthy nations and institutions must right the wrong in the international economic order in which the poor get poorer, and the rich get richer. On a positive note, this teaching reminds us of a plan, made some time ago when Jojo Binay was still the mayor of Makati, of the rich barangays in Makati to support the poor barangays. We were told that the mayor came up with a new budget sharing, named “Paluwagan sa Barangay.” It was reported that under this scheme that responded to the appeal of the poorer barangays, each barangay in Makati would submit its list of priority projects to the city council. But it would be the engineering and public works department that would select the projects, and the size of the budget allocated for barangay-based projects would determine the number of projects to be approved. The cost of one project of a barangay was to be equally divided among the city’s 32 barangays, including the rich ones. This was Makati’s way of improving on the current practice in which the budget of each barangay is determined by its real property tax share and internal revenue allotment (IRA), the poor barangays receiving small budget allocation.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Racist Mentality and Poking Fun at Colored People

An Exegetical Reflection on the Gospel of the Trinity Sunday, Year A, John 3:16-18, June 19

On June 1, 2011, the Department of Health-Food and Drug Administration (DOH-FDA) issued a warning against using intravenous skin whitener (Glutathione 4) because it could lead to death. But the product is so popular, because it is claimed to whiten the skin. Probably millions of Filipinos want to change their color because, according to them, the whiter you are, the more beautiful you become. That is why entertainers have to whiten themselves, if they do not want to appear ugly and be laughed at. But as Nestor Torre correctly pointed out in one of his columns, “it really is quite funny-peculiar to see Filipinos, many of whom are rather dark-complexioned themselves, poking fun at black people… For their part, our black entertainers should also stop poking fun at themselves and their coloring. They’re aiding and abetting the cruel bias of the racists, which won’t change for the better until they are bluntly made to realize that black can be beautiful and is definitely not funny! Above all, it’s we, the members of the local entertainment audience, who have to change. For decades now, we have poked fun at people just because they have dark skin, or flat noses, or are ‘vertically challenged,’ or look and speak ‘funny’ or come from the Visayas—all superficial factors that don’t define the kind of persons that they really are. And yet, because our colonizers have successfully taught us to use Caucasian standards or beauty as our own, we look down on non-whites, not realizing that we are in fact poking sadistic fun at ourselves!”

Torre finds our racist attitude wrong on the ground that color does not define who we are and that it has a cruel, painful effect on others. On the feast of the Trinity, however, we as Christians are given a deeper basis for rejecting it. But before going into that, let us see first the principles that the Gospel teaches us: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him may not die but may have eternal life” (John 3:16). With these words, John makes it clear that the purpose of Jesus’ coming is to give us eternal life, which is John’s term for salvation. Elsewhere, however, John describes the purpose of Jesus’ incarnation and death in terms of gathering people: “Jesus would die for the nation—and not for this nation only, but to gather into one all the dispersed children of God” (John 11:52). If salvation is about gathering people into one community that experiences the life of God, then we can say that it is Jesus who, by his coming, communicates this divine life to the community. No wonder then that elsewhere in the New Testament, we are told that this life that comes from God first of all flows to Christ who in turn shares it with the community: “In Christ the fullness of deity resides in bodily form. Yours is a share of this fullness in him” (Col 2:9). A similar teaching can be found in the letter addressed to the Christians in Ephesus: “May Christ dwell in your hearts through faith and may charity be the root and foundation of your life. Thus you will be able to grasp fully, with all the holy ones, the breadth and length and height and depth of Christ’s love, and experience this love which surpasses all knowledge, so that you may attain to the fullness of God himself” (Eph 3:18-19).

Salvation or eternal life is therefore achieved when Christians share Jesus’s life of love that has its origin in the Father. Because they share in the life of the Father and Jesus, Christians therefore become one with the Father and his Son and with other Christians who receive this divine life. Understandably enough, the same letter describes Christians as “one new man” (Eph 2:15). Consequently, there cannot be division in the Christian community. Precisely because God, by sending Jesus to communicate his life to us, shows himself as the Father of the community, all of us who share his life have become brothers and sisters. Whatever and whoever we are, we form one family where there is no division: “Each one of you is a son of God, because of your faith in Christ Jesus. All of you who have been baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with him. There does not exist among you Jew or Greek, slave or freeman, male or female. All are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). The early Christians saw the implication of this teaching. Luke tells us, for example, that in the early Church, the Christians were one in heart and in mind. No one claimed anything as his own; rather, everything was held in common (Acts 4:32). In other words, the Christian community is a place where people are accepted and welcomed.

The basis for accepting and welcoming every Christian to the community is simply the fact that he is a Christian—he partakes of God’s divine life. Consequently, in a Christian community, there cannot be any discrimination on any basis—be it sex, power, merits, wealth, culture or race. Earlier, we noted that discrimination of colored people is wrong on the ground of its superficiality and its effect on others. But a meditation on the Gospel provides us with a deeper basis: we have become one with Christ. All of us share in the status of being God’s children. Therefore, no one can claim superiority over others. In the words of the Latin American bishops, “we are all fundamentally equal, and members of the same race, though we live our lives amid the diversity of sexes, languages, cultures, and forms of religiosity. By virtue of our common vocation, we have one single destiny” (Puebla 334). No doubt this statement is based on the Constitution of the Church: “Although by Christ’s will some are established as teachers, dispensers of the mysteries and pastors for others, there remains, nevertheless, a true equality with regard to the dignity and the activity which is common to all the faithful in the building up of the Church” (Lumen gentium, 32). This why is our racist streak---poking fun, for example, at colored entertainers and at our colored neighbors—is wrong, and nothing could make it right.

If we stressed this implication of the Gospel today, it is with the purpose of showing that the doctrine of the Trinity need not be taken as an esoteric teaching that has no connection with the everyday life of the Christian. In the past, we looked at God in himself, and we tried to explain the Trinity in terms of Greek categories that are difficult to comprehend unless one has a background of Greek philosophy and culture. Here, however, we simply tried to present how the Trinity is experienced in our lives, and we found that, among others, our faith in God as Father and in his Son makes us realize that it is wrong to discriminate people on any basis, precisely because of their fundamental equality that is guaranteed by God’s sending his Son to the world so that it may be saved. In this sense, Nestor Torre hits the nail on the head: “Let’s all agree to stop being racist and sadistic—right now.”

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

From Tower of Babel to Church of Communion

An Exegetical Reflection on the Gospel of Pentecost Sunday, Year A, John 20:19-23, June 11, 2011.

Since all political parties in the Philippines are expected to offer platforms through which they can help solve national problems, would it be a sound idea to bring them together to discuss the ills of the country? One could not agree more. It might recalled that, a decade or so ago, an “All Parties Conference” summit was organized to bring together 12 national parties, 8 regional parties and 12 party-list groups, to address problems of our political system. But amid the disclosure of the result of a UP survey indicating that Filipinos were becoming disenchanted with our kind of democracy and system of government, the summit, which has “Modernizing the Political Institutions of a Democratic and Prosperous National Community” for its theme, opened on sour note, as one daily headlined it. The LDP (Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino), the PDP-Laban and the Reporma-Lapiang Manggagawa boycotted it. The party-list groups Bayan Muna, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan and Sanlakas refused to join it. Each opposition party. of course, had its own agenda for not coming to it, but nationalism, reconciliation and communion could hardly be invoked. If anything, all this shows how fractious and fragmented we could get—a dubious distinction that could be duplicated in many attempts to forge national unity.. If this event had any indication, it is that we are still far removed from being a people of reconciliation and communion.

This brings to mind the famous story of the tower of Babel (Gen 11:1-9) in the First Reading of Pentecost Vigil. According to the narrative, the people of Shinar wanted to build a city with a tower, but God punished them. As can be inferred from v 4 (“to make a name for themselves, lest we be scattered”), it seems that they sinned not only for trying to make a name for themselves on their own initiative and quite independent of God, but also for refusing the command of God to fill the earth (1:28). Of course, others think that their sin consists in trying to build a tower with its top in the sky (11:4) as a sign of pride and rebellion against God, but there seems to be no basis for this conclusion. At any rate, as used in the narrative, the story is meant to teach us about the ongoing sin of man and, when read together with the next chapter, which focuses on Abraham, about true greatness whose origin is God (12:2), and about the birth of Israel through whom all nations will be blest. Originally, however, the story was an aetiological legend about the origin of the diversity of languages and nations. In v 7, the Yahwist writer uses the word balal, which means to mix, to confuse: “Come, let us go down and confuse the language.” The city, with its tower, was left unfinished because Yahweh confounded the speech of the builders; hence, its name became Babel, or confusion. In English, the word babble means confused or incoherent speech. Because of the confusion of language, people could no longer understand each other; on the contrary, unable to reach agreement, they could not be united. Hence, the quarrel among nations, and their lack of communion and reconciliation. Because they could not get through their head, they were fractious and fragmented.

Today, we celebrate the feast of Pentecost. For Christians, it is not simply the 50th day after the Lord’s resurrection; rather, it is also the time when the Church, through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, received its mission to bring all people to God. Thus, in the Gospel, Jesus gives the Holy Spirit to the early Church: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you. Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive men’s sins, they are forgiven them. If you hold them bound, they are held bound” (John 20:21.23). Pentecost signifies that the risen Lord is active in the world, reconciling all men to God and to one another. Thus, one of the theological meanings of the event is that Pentecost is a time of reconciliation and communion. Indeed, from linguistic evidence, there is no doubt that the account in the First Reading (Acts 2:1-11) is meant to reverse the experience of Babel. Luke says that the Jews who came from every nation under heaven and were staying in Jerusalem witnessed the outpouring of the Spirit on the apostles, “they were much confused because each one heard these men speaking his own language. The whole occurrence astonished them” (Acts 2:6). If in the story of the tower of Babel, people were confused because of their different languages, here the Jews who came from every nation on earth were confused because each one heard the apostles speaking in his own particular language. Thus, Pentecost overcomes the division of men at Babel. That is why Luke uses tongues as of fire (v 3) to convey this signification. This means that through the tongue of the Spirit, which is ultimately charity, all men will be reconciled. Pentecost is thus a time of reconciliation and fraternal communion.

It might be difficult to expect our political parties to be reconciled to one another and establish fraternal communion so that the country could move toward achieving the kind of society that our constitution envisages. But a Christian always expects that the Church be a community of reconciliation and communion. And precisely because the Spirit that was poured out at Pentecost is active in the Church, such a community could be promoted if Christians are to be informed with a spirituality of communion. According to John Paul II in his Tertio Millennio Adveniente, this spirituality means that we are able to think of our brothers and sisters in the faith within the profound unity of the mystical body; it means sharing their joys and sufferings; it implies the ability to see what is positive in others; it means knowing how to make room for others, bearing their burdens, and resisting temptations that constantly beset us and provoke competition, careerism, distrust and jealous; and above all, it means our contemplation of the Trinity dwelling in us. If people can see this spirituality shining on our faces, they will certainly recognize the miracle of Pentecost working in the Church and, who knows, our political structure and system could be affected in the long run. And the Babel among our political parties will be transformed into reconciliation and communion.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Are All Religions and Sects the Same and Equal?

An Exegetical Reflection on the Gospel of the Feast of Ascension, Year A, Matt 28:16-20, June 5, 2011

One time, I happened to meet a man in his 50s who has gone to various Christian denominations and sects. In the end, he settled for a born-again community that he felt answered his affective needs. I recalled that he believed all religions were the same, and so it did not matter to him which religion was true. What was important for him was that the particular sect he had chosen assured him that he was saved. This line of thought that all religions are the same—this is rather common even among the educated. Of course, when one scans the spectrum of religions, he may observe that they appear to be all the same—they teach about God (under different names) and good behavior, they observe certain rites, and call everyone to conversion. No wonder, some people would advocate pluralism in religion. They would tell us that all religions are of equal value, and are ways to salvation, and what is decisive is that one follows the religion he professes. Indeed, others go even as far as saying that what one believes does not matter; what is decisive is what he does.

It would seem, however, that today’s Gospel does not accept that line of thinking. From a Christian point of view, the most decisive act of God in history is his revelation in Jesus. As we noted in the previous Sundays, that revelation was unfortunately rejected. Jesus’ preaching of the Kingdom of God and his demand of conversion fell on deaf ears; in fact, his enemies crucified him, and they thought that was he end of him. But God was with him. The Father raised him from the dead. His cause—the Kingdom of God—was entirely correct, and the resurrection vindicated him. Hence, the mission he began must be continued. That is why, in today’s Gospel, Jesus gives his disciples the so-called Great Commission: “Full authority has been given to me both in heaven and on earth; go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations. Baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Teach them to carry out everything I have commanded you” (Matt 28:18b-20a). Since Jesus could no longer personally continue his mission, because he has already ascended to the Father, the Christian community where his Spirit lives on must carry on the cause. The disciples must proclaim the Gospel, and those who accepted it have to be brought to the community through faith and baptism. That is why the Church continues to send missionaries to bring people to the fold.

Does this mean that we will have to reject other religions? There is no question about it—today we are in the age of inter-religious dialogue. We can no longer go back to the time when Christians had almost nothing good to say of other religions. Nowadays, we seek dialogue, trying as we do to explore areas where we can agree with believers of other faiths, mindful as we are that God can speak, too, through other religions. Of course, in the practical level alone, dialogue is important. For us, Filipinos, dialogue with our Muslim brothers is of paramount significance. In the words of the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP-II), “(1) our history as a Christian people has pitted us against them in a long series of religious conflicts, and lowland Filipinos still suffer today from its psychological and cultural effects. And (2) we are part of the Asian region and Asia contains the bulk of the world’s Islamic countries. We need, therefore, to take a closer look at inter-religious dialogue as an imperative of mission.” Part of this dialogue that has to be encouraged is the dialogue of life. The PCP II was happy to note that “in the areas of Mindanao and Sulu where Muslims and Christians live and work together, a dialogue of life is taking place. In daily life they witness to each other to their own religious values and both contribute to the building of a just society.”

But inter-religious dialogue cannot mean a compromise of the Christian uniqueness and the command of Jesus to carry on his work. As the Declaration of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Dominus Iesus (On the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church) says, “it would be contrary to the faith to consider the Church as one way of salvation alongside those constituted by the other religions, seen as complementary to the Church or substantially equivalent to her, even if these are said to be converging with the Church toward the eschatological kingdom of God.” x x x “With the coming of the Savior Jesus Christ, God has willed that the Church founded by him to be the instrument for the salvation of all humanity (cf Acts 17:30-31). This truth of faith does not lessen the sincere respect which the Church has for the religions of the world, but at the same time, it rules out, in a radical way, that mentality of indifferentism “characterized by a religious relativism which leads to the belief that ‘one religion is as good as another’” If it is true that the followers of other religions can receive divine grace, it is also certain that objectively speaking, they are in a gravely deficient situation in comparison with those who, in the Church, have the fullness of the means of salvation.”

Therefore, even as the Church advocates inter-religious dialogue, she cannot surrender the mandate that Jesus gave to the Church in today’s Gospel. She must preach the Gospel to all nations, and those who accept it must be baptized and admitted to the historical embodiment of the Kingdom of God. “Following the Lord’s command (cf Matt 28:19-20) and as a requirement of her love for all people, the Church ‘proclaims and is in duty bound to proclaim without faith Christ who is the way, the truth and the lie (John 14:6). In him, in whom God reconciled all things to himself (cf 2 Cor 5:18-19), men find the fullness of their religious life.” Says the Declaration: “Indeed, the Church, guided by charity and respect for freedom, must be primarily committed to proclaiming to all people the truth definitively revealed by the Lord, and to announcing the necessity of conversion to Jesus Christ and of adherence to the Church through Baptism and the other sacraments, in order to participate fully in communion with God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Thus, the certainty of the universal salvific will of God does not diminish but rather increases the duty and urgency of the proclamation of salvation and of conversion to the Lord Jesus Christ.”*