25th Sunday Ordinary Time B September 24, 2006

Homily — 25th Sunday OT B September 24, 2006

Pope meeting with a delegation of Muslim Leaders from the U.S. in April 2006

To paraphrase a line in the 2nd Reading:

Justice is peacefully sown for those who cultivate peace. In other words, Justice is peacefully spread when we nourish and labor over peace making.

As probably all of us know by now, our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI a few weeks back visited his home land of Germany. While there, the Pope gave a speech to professors at the University of Regensburg where he used to teach. In the speech, the Pope briefly quoted a Byzantine Emperor of the 14th Century. The quotation, 32 words long, as we know greatly offended many Moslems throughout the world.

The Holy Father has at least twice publically stated that the medieval Emperors words “do not in any way express my personal thought”.

While that infamous quotation of 32 words doesn’t express Pope Benedict’s personal thought, the rest of the University Speech, some 3,735 other words, does express the Pope’s personal thoughts, and probably his official thought as spiritual leader of the Catholic Church.

So what else did Pope Benedict actually say to those University Professors? What was the Pope’s talk supposed to be all about?

Ironically enough, the Pope’s talk was all about cultivating peace between our Western Culture and the Eastern Islamic Culture! For the Pope says in the talk that both cultures are in “a dilemma which nowadays challenges us directly.” Our two cultures are clashing; we don’t understand one another at all, and this is leading to tensions and even violence and war on both sides.

The Pope says in the speech that to get out of this”dilemma”, both cultures need to change:

1) The Islamic Culture must stop spreading their faith through violence and oppression.

and 2) Our Western Culture must stop relegating God and Religion to the sidelines of society, as if faith were merely a private affair. In doing so, Benedict says our Western Culture becomes “incapable of entering into dialogue with other cultures.” Furthermore, Our banishing God from society is seen by other cultures as “an attack on their most profound convictions”.

Both of these issues must be addressed and corrected by both cultures. Which culture is better? We think ours is, they think theirs is. Jesus in the Gospel says that the greatest must be the child-like servant, eager to serve others as if they were superior to them, eager to learn from others about the good other cultures possess.

Furthermore, Pope Benedict says that the root cause of both culture’s problems lies in the same faulty notion of who God is: We both fail to see that the One, True God is reasonable.

Why should Islam not spread their faith by violence and oppression? Because God is rational, and violence is irrational.

(The Church admittedly has been slow in learning this, but she has learned it, and now repents and is ashamed of the times in the past when people may have been coerced into our faith through violent means. And so, kind of like a sober, recovering alcoholic who tries to convince a fellow alcoholic to join AA, the Pope is inviting Moslem leaders to reject the literal interpretation of jihad (Holy War) that many Moslems still hold, in favor of a spiritual interpration of waging jihad on one’s own sinful tendencies.)

The Pope mentions, however, the main problem Islam faces in changing. It is that Moslems have tended to have what is called a voluntaristic notion of God. In other words, God is all will and no reason, totally transcendent, totally beyond our human knowledge.

In other words, if you were to ask a Moslem why God commands what He does, he or she would tend to answer “He commands it because He is Allah” or “Because the Koran says so”. Period, end of story.

Whereas, Catholicism has traditionally tried to give reasons why God does what He does. In the words of St. Anselm, our “faith seeks understanding.” We attempt to do this because we hold that God is reasonable, He doesn’t act against good reasoning. Pope Benedict says “the faith of the Church has always insisted that between God and us . . . there exists a real analogy, in which unlikeness remains infinitely greater than likeness (God is so beyond and above us – ed.), yet not to the point of abolishing analogy and . . . language.”

The hopeful news is that the concept of a rational God isn’t totally foreign to the Moslem religion. In the High Middle Ages, the Moslem World began to produce theologians and philosophers who spoke of God in rational ways, very similar to how Catholic theologians and philosophers speak of Him. That big movement however suddenly died out in Islam centuries ago, never to be resurrected. The Pope in this speech is inviting the Moslems to start it up again.

But the Pope is also calling us Americans and Europeans to
resurrect a serious intellectual study of God and religion in our world today. For in our Western Culture, the place a reasonable God is most banished from is the world of Academia.

I was in Providence Thursday stopped at a traffic light, and in front of me was a car with Brown Universities new logo which the University adopted two years ago. It’s the same as the Old Logo, except the old University motto “In Deo Speramus” — In God we Hope” — has been dropped. It seems that the powers that be at Brown University no longer hope in God.

It is sad that many Professors and Intellectuals today have abandoned rational faith in God, especially since in the past, universities and intellectuals were very religious minded. How did we get to this point of dropping God and theology from higher education? The Pope gives three factors which have all led to a divorce between reason and faith:

1) The Protestant Reformation, which overemphasized private interpretation of Scripture and personal relationship with God to the detriment of communal, institutional religion, making religion more emotional than reasonable;

2) The Rise of the Natural Sciences (Physics, Chemistry, etc), which “narrowed the radius” of science and reason to the physical, whereas in the past the definition of science and reason also encompassed the spiritual; and

3) A faulty notion of inculturation (adapting the New Testament Teachings to different groups of peoples), which in order to make the Gospel message more “relevant” to a certain culture and time, sees certain essential parts of New Testament teaching as being only relevant for the 1st century Greek culture and therefore disposable today.

In response to the above factors, the Pope says we Westerners need to broaden our definition of science and reason to include not just the physical but also the spiritual. And He says that while we should try to make the Gospel relevant to all Cultures and Peoples, we cannot change the truth that the New Testament God is a God of Reason.

To prove this, Benedict quotes the famous opening lines of the Gospel of John, commonly translated as follows: In the beginning was the Word . . . . and the Word is God.

But what we normally translate into English as “Word” in the original Greek is “Logos.” Thus, St. John wrote: In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos is God.

But the word Logos not only means “Word”, Logos also means “Reason”! It is where we get the word “Logic” from.

So, Pope Benedict says, John 1:1 could also be accurately translated as saying In the beginning was Reason, . . . . and Reason is God.

Therefore, Benedict says “violence is incompatible with the nature of God, and not acting reasonably is contrary to God’s nature.”

(In many ways, this important university speech is Part II of the Pope’s First Encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (God is Love). Yes, Benedict says, God is Love, but God is also Reason.)

So there in a nutshell is what the Pope was trying to get at. And where the Pope thinks both the Christians and the Moslems need to change.

Moslem Spiritual Leaders and Western University Leaders are two tough crowds to dialogue with, but Pope Benedict is hopeful that he has God’s grace and the best interest of all parties on his side.

Let us pray my brothers and sisters for our Holy Father in his difficult job as the successor of St. Peter. And may we remember the words of the Apostle James, that Justice will be peacefully sown, peacefully spread, throughout our vast diverse world, if and only if you and I do our part in cultivating the peace our Lord Jesus, the Logos made Flesh, wishes to teach us.

One Response to “25th Sunday Ordinary Time B September 24, 2006”

  1. Mike Dubois says:

    How true this is…but yet may I add, Fr. Woolley, that we in the western world…need to change on another account…we need to stop judging others by their looks. What I mean is this: Since 9/11 every person we see with a turban on we condemn because we think back to that day that has haunted us ever since. How many of us pass quick judgement in our minds and hearts to someone who is innocent just because he/she is of the Muslim faith and how they dress? If we are so called “Christians”, we need to act like it. We fail in our culture to “love one another as the Lord has loved us”, yet we are so quick to pass judgement on others who had nothing to do with what happened on 9/11.

    Yet another thing…we are prejudice too. If Black people commit a crime…we condemn them…yet if a white person does the same thing…we are not as harsh as we would be towards a black person. Now I’m not saying this about everyone…but I’m sure most people would pass a judgement in their mind. We all know this. But yet, how about that same black person who is very holy in his/her faith…and yet many of us would not even give this person a chance in our minds. I can say this because I am guilty of this…in my mind…but yet I strive to be the best Christian I can be.

    May we as Catholics continue towards peace in our world and may we start within our own communities.

    Lord Jesus, Prince of Peace, guide us towards everlasting peace in our world and may we continue to be peacemakers towards those we meet. Amen!