By John Foley, SJ
This Sunday, we will hear that Christ alone is light to the people, to all the world–the FirstReading. Jesus’ preaching, his life, his death and resurrection are a revelation of God to every single person, no exceptions. Alright, but how can this be? What if God is present in other world religions? How can Jesus and his Christianity be the light ofthe world if other religions reach to God also? Is there not a contradiction here? Whatever else the 9/11 bombing of New York’s World Trade Towers did, it alerted many people in the United States to the reality of Islam, which had mostly escaped their attention. Tragically, just a few extremists brought this awareness, and they had very little to do with real Islam. Muslims are a great people who worship the same God that we Catholics and we Christians do. Their ideal, like ours, is love. They do have terrible fanatics, as we do, who will kill to achieve domination. These, in the same way that the IRA did for a great while in Northern Ireland, are a very small percentage of a religion that pledges eternal fidelity to the one God. The Spirit of that God is present in Muslims and Jews as well as in Christians. As St. Paul will put it this Sunday, we are all “members of the same body, and co-partners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” The question of which religion contains God more than the others reminds me of kiddies asking their parents which child their folks love the most. “If you love her more than me,” one will say, “then you don’t love me at all.” Now, now, children, we love each one of you in a special way, a way that is perfect just for you. Let us not ask which religion is the only true one. Let us not make all the others false-there is not really a competition. Religions are different approaches to God, and they each bring out a special aspect of who God is. Our jealousy and hatred of one another is an exact equivalent to dysfunctional families, in which each person has to fight to be recognized at all. Think of a world in which God loved only Christians and left all the others out in the cold. A much better way is to look at how each religion and belief helps the others. For its part, Christianity is a very special revelation to the world, because, in it, God enters the underside of human life. His suffering shows forth love in a way that is not full of rewards, but is still is crystal clear, instructive of just what the other ways need to hear. Because Jesus did not hesitate to suffer, even to suffer under the rule of sin, disgrace and death, he became a light to all nations. Not a light instead of other lights, not the light that puts all the others to shame, but the most rare and poignant one of all, whose glow gives fiber and strength and depth to each and every light that shines. So is one religion first? Maybe, but Catholic Christians would do well to seek last place and try to be servant of all. Especially if we would like to know why, on this Epiphany, Christ is the light to all nations.