Isaiah's stirring words: “You shall be radiant at what you see, your heart shall throb and overflow, for the riches of the sea shall be emptied out before you, the wealth of nations shall be brought to you” (60:5). The six verses of the Epiphany First Reading fittingly describe what the Magi doubtless were seeking, what they found, and, therefore, what they guarded against the infiltration of hatred and envy.
About a month ago there was an article circulating the Internet in which Pope Francis announced rather sweeping changes in the Church. The article was a fabrication, another argument for a Catholic fact-checking site à la "Snopes" (cf. my last post). A careful reader could tell simply by reading the whole title, which included a reference to the “Third Vatican Council.” That event hasn’t happened; but whenever groups of Catholics get together and talk about what they like or don’t like about the Church, one can jokingly refer to such gatherings as sessions of the “Third Vatican Council.” Guys held them in the seminary all the time.
The article, I must say, caused quite a stir among my friends: for some of them quite a letdown, for others quite a relief. We are now used to Pope Francis raising eyebrows, to the extent that even my heart skipped an anxious beat. It unmasked my careless reading! I had to hand it to the writer, who peppered the article with alleged statements that had a ring of truth to them alongside the patent falsehoods. In the article’s title Francis declared, “All religions are true,” a statement easily open to various interpretations. With patience and attention we can trace out the nourishing grain of truth.
According to the actual Second Vatican Council, all human hearts bear within themselves the desire for God, and the call to communion with God. God put that there, so that people might acknowledge the love that holds them in existence and entrust themselves to that Love (cf. Gaudium et Spes 19; cf. CCC 27). As social beings, men and women have partaken together in prayers, rituals, sacrificial offerings, and other attempts to transcend themselves and reach the mysterious Force at work in the world. These actions have been motivated, at least in part, by the patently evil actions and attitudes in the world, which in more candid moments people recognize even in their own hearts.
We’d be astounded to realize how pervasively our fears can animate our religious and spiritual activity. At the same time, the Scriptures seem to depict God’s greatest interest: moving hearts to the joy of knowing and being known by Him. If that joy is long in coming, or if it seems slippery to the touch, we should not be surprised. The absence of joy and the striving for joy are universal currents. The Catholic faith is God’s comprehensive portfolio, His lavish proposal, more than matching our human strivings for God with God’s revelation to human beings.
All of the Popes since the Second Vatican Council have encouraged the faithful to behold the threads of truth, goodness, and beauty that run through the various religions of the world, even the shards of fractured Christianity. Such an appreciation diminishes not at all the staggering splendor of truth, goodness, and beauty that the Triune God has unfolded for the world in the Catholic faith.
Why, then, do people fall away from this faith? Why do they seek other sources of religious expression, or, with increasing popularity, seek none at all? Have we Catholics a ways to go in terms of how transparent and engaging our witness of faith can be? Instead of basking in the truth, goodness, and beauty at our disposal, we may sometimes engage in a sort of unhelpful critique, the equivalent of applying sunblock because of overly sensitive skin. The risks of exposure we deem too deep.
Whatever acts of prayer, study or sacrifice we can do to rediscover the joy of our Catholic faith, be they large or small, they will move hearts to seek the Lord and do Him homage. We can take cues from the Magi, from the saints, and from each other. Do not be ashamed of that faith. Seek inspiration and sound direction, and boldly implement it each day, so that nobody may be excluded from God’s great endowment.