Third Lent: “To Believe Each Other is the Devil is Heresy”

March 7, 2021

Something beautiful and life-changing, provocative and soul-inspiring is happening in the world today!  And who is behind this is none other than our Pope Francis.

Right now, at this very moment, Pope Francis is in Iraq, on the plain of Nineveh, where our great ancestor of faith in the one true God lived, before he migrated to what is now Israel and Egypt– Abraham.

Indeed, the spirit of diversity and multiculturalism is in the air. Pope Francis reminds us that our common identity is the fundamental insight from the Old Testament Book of Genesis that God made each man and woman in His own image and likeness.  Our God is a multicultural God.  No one culture owns God.  No culture on earth, no language on earth owns God.  God appears in black and white, brown and yellow peoples.

If we are going to live in peace, if we are going to share the resources of the earth, if we are going to bury the evil hatchet that separates and excludes others from ourselves, all of us have to grow in the grace and wisdom of accepting each other as more than equals, but as “true brothers and sisters.”

In 2019, Pope Francis signed the first interreligious document of human fraternity with the grand sheik of Al-Azhar, Ahmed el Tayeb of Egypt.  Both recognizing that the Christian and Muslim traditions have fallen into sectarian violent rhetoric and actions.  To wish each other death is a curse.  To believe each other is the devil is heresy.  How can the adherents of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism wish each other’s extinction if the one God of the covenant, in which all three believe, tells us that we have been created in His image and likeness?

Why is it that we are just beginning to grasp this now???  Intellectual blindness!  Political expediency!  Uninformed consciences!  Irrational fear!  Tribal sectarianism?  

“You are all brothers” is the theme of Pope Francis’ visit to Iraq this weekend.  Prior to his visit, a few months ago, Pope Francis released his latest, universal Encyclical: “Fratelli Tutti”- Brothers and Sisters All.  After decades of violence and internal strife in so many countries in our world today — including here in the U.S…

We are not going to get out of our present cycle of sectarian supremacies if we do not return to this fundamental principle of equality and the shared gifts of the universe that stare us in the face in the Book of Genesis.

When Moses announces today in the first reading what we have come to call The Ten Commandments, God speaks to us about a way of life, a spiritual DNA set of rules, given to us in the very gift of life itself.  God is God and anything that denies God’s image in us, is false, some other alternative reality that will lead us to idolatry.  God also promises that the negative consequences for such thinking which breeds sectarian hatred and violence will have its consequences to the third and fourth generations.

If we like rules to follow, then follow the rules that God has given which does not include any kind of [man-made] supremacies because all people, in all their varieties are equal.  God has never told us to go make ourselves into whatever image we, individually, might like.

Remember the famous quotation from the Russian writer, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, in “The Brothers Karamazov”: “I love humanity; it’s people I can’t stand.”

There can be many people who say by their thinking and by their actions that they can’t stand God and want nothing to do with his all-inclusive way of filling everything created with his divine life, and love, and goodness.

There are many people who have not experienced God’s love through the love of others and who are fearful, seeing anyone who does not think as they do or look as they look as the enemy.

This Gospel story today reminds us that Jesus was considered an enemy because he stood up to Jewish and Roman authority, clearly indicating that love was more important than rules and oppressed order.  The practice of mercy was more important than religious laws to control peoples’ behavior, rules that the religious authorities did not practice.

In fact, Jesus said, “destroy this temple and in three days, I will raise it up.”  Jesus was not talking about the temple, but about who he was as a child of God, created in the image and likeness of his Father, which no [man-made] supremacy could destroy.  More than the idols of attitudes and thinking we can create, Moses said “do not bow down before them or worship them.”

I was reading a report last Friday about a multiyear study called “The National Dialog” about how the Catholic Church engages youth and young adults, ages 18-39.  The conclusion was that young people understand the moral teachings of the Church, but what they struggle with is that many in the Church don’t live up to those teachings.

Here is one quote: “The respondents wanted a Church that is authentic, welcoming, less judgmental and less divisive.  They want the Church to address its authenticity gap.”

The authenticity gap: Clergy sexual abuse.  White supremacy among Catholics.  Clericalism and inequality of the roles between men and women in the Catholic Church today.  Building and finance over people and their spirituality.

Over the last seven weeks, we have seen Jesus starting to share the spiritual building block of a new spiritual movement.  Jesus never intended to create a worldwide institution called the Church.  As it grew, however, being well-meaning, it used the structures of the Roman Empire to give the fledgling Christian community a quasi-visibility.  And it has come down to us today in dioceses, buildings, outreaches, religious customs, a Catholic culture — we do not want the Church to be a marketplace like all the other marketplaces, buying and selling sacred rituals, prayers and promises.

Jesus presents himself today as someone who wants to drive out every kind of thinking and spirituality that is not authentic. 

Q Anon theories of one kind or another have circled world cultures for centuries.  Hundreds of years ago, they were called heretics and burnt at the stake.  Jesus also tells us today that he does not need anyone of us to tell *Him* about human nature.

The Catholic Church and the Christian faith, is more than culture with many trappings which people put on when convenient.

We remember St. Paul’s words today: “Christ is the power of and the wisdom of God… wiser and stronger than human strength.”

So, here is the question to think about this week: What does it mean that each one of us is made in the image and likeness of God?  And how does that have any effect on who we think that we are and what we do in our life?

There is a connection and God invites us to find it or else!

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