Archive for July, 2013

July 6, 2013

Some Notes on the Theme of Interreligiosity in Pope Francis’ Lumen Fidei

Upon learning that our beloved Pope Francis would call his encyclical Lumen Fidei, or the Light of Faith, I was immediately reminded of a key passage in Vatican II’s Nostra Aetate, or the Declaration on the Relation of the Church to non-Christian Religions, which reads:

She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of Truth which enlightens all men. (NA 2)

And as I downloaded Lumen Fidei from the Vatican website, I couldn’t help but be excited at the thought of how Pope Francis would tackle the question of the dialogue between religions. Reading through it produced within me not only a sense of affirmation that I am truly at home with the Church (even if I’m still far from truly dwelling in it!), but also a profound sense of joy and hope with the dialogue of religions, something I’ve grown to love after some time in Indonesia, and after some good professor-friends led me to this academic field.

What follows is in no way exhaustive of Pope Francis’ encyclical – indeed, if I had the time I could write more and more about it – but are rather notes that I tried to organize (I hope I didn’t fail!) around the theme of interreligiosity in light of Lumen Fidei, and of course in light of the Church’s position regarding the dialogue of religions.

1. The first part of the encyclical clearly establishes the continuity of the Jewish faith with that of the Christian faith, which we also find in Nostra Aetate (4), with the outright condemnation of anti-semitism. This is especially interesting since it is through this continuity that the encyclical develops key themes, such as the unity of sight and hearing, culminating with the face-to-face encounter with the Christ Jesus.

2. The emphasis on the Oneness of God – something that some Islamic Scholars of the Common Word Initiative have pointed out to be the key similarity with regard to Islam and Christianity. It is also of no surprise that this is mentioned explicitly in Nostra Aetate (3).

3. Perhaps controversial for some self-identified “pluralists” – the confession that all who see the light – who have loved precisely because they have been loved first – are also following in the “footsteps” of Jesus. One could immediately discern Rahner’s famous (or infamous) articulation of the “anonymous Christian.” This is also evident in the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith’s controversial document Dominus Iesus.

This third note, rather controversial as I have just mentioned, deserves our attention, not only because of the fact that it is controversial, but also because one can see in Lumen Fidei the more comprehensive articulation and explanation of this so-called “advental” view of other religions. I wager that – and I see it as the main point of the encyclical – one can understand the Christian responsibility towards other religions and other people for that matter only in the light of Faith, which professes the love of Christ exemplified in the Cross. It is quite difficult to explain this in purely theological terms, so allow me to tell you a story.

One of the most profound experiences that I had of learning to become a good Christian was  my stay in Indonesia. A staggering 90% of the population profess to be Muslim, and clearly from the get-go we were immediately the minority. Not that it was an intrinsically evil thing; quite the contrary, only through the experience of being a “small Church” – something much-loved by our beloved Benedict XVI – did I fully experience being one with the Church. It taught me three things:

1. Our sense of homogeneity can blur our vision and in turn produce a narrow understanding of what is “true.” This is elaborated in the latter part of Lumen Fidei as a confrontation with the modernist hope of the “universal brotherhood.”

2. What is “True” necessarily lies outside myself – in this case, the truth of the burning faith of the Muslims, and the truth – in the final analysis – that it is the love of God in the person of Christ that propels all of this. This “Truth” can be seen as a unity of Christ’s love with that of our love with our neighbour. This is also seen in Lumen Fidei, where it says that “the more Christians immerse themselves in the circle of Christ’s light, the more capable they become of understanding and accompanying the path of every man and woman towards God” (35). It is no wonder, then, that when the Common Word initiative was created, it emphasized “love for God and the love for Neighbour” as the essential meeting point of both Christianity and Islam.

3. All this culminates in the understanding that the Truth is none other than the encounter with Jesus’ love, most especially in the profound injustice of the world, where God makes His presence felt not to offer “arguments which explain everything; rather, a history of goodness which touches every story of suffering and opens up a ray of light” (57). We didn’t stay in Indonesia just for the cultural immersion; we also lived with the poor, and we encountered Christ even in the faces of those who do not profess Christ to be God, because in the end, it is the love that engulfs the world. And this love can be seen and felt, believed at and hoped for, because of the light of Christ.

If all light is centered on Christ (35) then it only demands that the Christian be receptive of this  light. This is the key insight of Lumen Fidei, in my opinion: that faith is a light that does not come from oneself – it is freely given, and as it is freely given, it is freely accepted, assimilated, and even rejected. One of the most profound experiences I had in Indonesia was when we were invited by some people in a Mosque to pray with them. We were taught how to pray, and in the end, we were also invited to feast with them. We only came to know much later that eating with that particular community also signified a kind of “baptism” into the community (to be sure, I am using the word “baptism” rather loosely; I am in no way saying that this is similar to the Christian baptism). None other than Lumen Fidei reminds us that baptism is not a change of a solipsistic identity; rather, it is a welcoming into the support and love of the community (43). For the Christian, it can only mean one thing: encountering Christ. So for me as that wayward Christian, it was a transformative experience not only because it gave me an opportunity to “know” in a very intimate manner the customs of the Islamic faith – more than that: I encountered the face of the Lord even in those who do not profess the same way.

So much for this post being “mere notes.”

To recap, we see in Lumen Fidei the unicity of Christ only in the light of faith, and it is in receiving this light through participation not only in one’s Church, but also in encountering other religions and religious people, that we come to an intimate encounter with Christ Jesus. So the Christian responsibility is none other than meeting people of different faiths and engaging in the “dialogue of witnessing,” or the “dialogue of life” as was mentioned in the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue’s Dialogue and Mission. And what kind of witnessing? – None other than being a witness of Christ’s love by loving others. Only one thing propels our being Christians and being in the world: the light of faith.

One more thing: this “light” has become too bright for some that it has scarred the world with untold suffering. Its intensity and superabundance always runs the risk of misinterpretation, turning it into a justification for murder and persecution. It has also become too bright for some who force down their homogeneity at the cost of one’s faith. Justin Martyr reminds us that precisely because it is true, that it can be rejected. Lumen Fidei, therefore, exhorts us to pursue the defense of this Truth, of this light that may seem too bright. And how do we embody this courage to defend the Truth? –

None other than the silent and humble work of love, exemplified in the Virgin Mary. It is no wonder why Lumen Fidei ends with a prayer to the Mother: a prayer of hope to Her children that we too may follow Christ, that in the end, when the world becomes too unbearable, we will find our Mother by our side as we suffer our crosses, borne from the desire to love more and more.

It seems fitting to end, I think, with the image of the Risen Lord towards the end of the Gospel of John: sitting by the seashore, cooking fish for us as we come closer and exclaim, “It is the Lord!” Not only is this important as this was one of the appearances of Jesus after he rose from the dead, but also because it is the Lord that awaits us as we go through the waters of our lives, and in the end lies the salvation of the world: the humble and gentle care of Jesus Christ who only wants to nourish us with the light of faith. It is therefore telling that this image of Christ is taken to be an eschatological image: the Gospel narrative says that this happened in the morning, when the sun has finally risen.

In the dialogue of religions, in living with others in the light of Christ, we can take this as our eschatological hope: when we face each other and work for the common good of humanity, when we confront the challenges and difficulties of our time (we are reminded of our brothers and sisters in Egypt), may we be sustained by the hope of this morning – a morning that, in the words of Richard Kearney, never ends.