Are the world's religions different doors to the same temple?

Father John A. Kiley

In his instruction “Laudato Si,’ On the Care for Our Common Home,” Pope Francis warns his readers that the empirical sciences alone cannot explain the whole of reality. He reminds mankind that, for all its modern blessings, science is unable “to grasp the ultimate meaning and purpose of things.” He therefore warns, “Any technical solution which science claims to offer will be powerless to solve the serious problems of our world if humanity loses its compass, if we lose sight of the great motivations which make it possible for us to live in harmony, to make sacrifices and to treat others well.” Accordingly, in this document heavy with discussion of biodiversity, desertification, global warming, climate change and greenhouse gas, the pontiff calls upon the religions of the world to return to their roots: “…religious classics can prove meaningful in every age; they have an enduring power to open new horizons.” He goes on to observe, “…by constantly returning to their sources, religions will be better equipped to respond to today’s needs.”

On this coming Sunday, when Catholics celebrate Jesus Christ as Universal King and Lord of all, it will be refreshing for some and alarming for others to heed the pontiff’s words above in which he refers to the “religions” (plural) of the world, to “religious classics” and “sources” (again both plural) of the world’s various creeds. Is the pope here bordering on religious indifference? Is one religion as good as another? Are the world’s religions simply different doors to the same temple, different trails to the same summit? On the contrary, Pope Francis is not denying the salvific universality of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is indeed the King of the Universe and the Lord of All. All salvation is mediated through Jesus Christ, whether knowingly, as with Christians, or anonymously, as with the great world religions. Rather, while in no way slighting Christ, Pope Francis insists that the world’s great religions can be profoundly motivating. Even the no-nonsense document Dominus Jesu issued under Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger affirming the centrality of Jesus Christ in the work of salvation offered this broad acknowledgement: “Certainly, the various religious traditions contain and offer religious elements which come from God, and which are part of what the Spirit brings about in human hearts and in the history of peoples, in cultures and religions. Indeed, some prayers and rituals of the other religions may assume a role of preparation for the Gospel, in that they are occasions or pedagogical helps in which the human heart is prompted to be open to the action of God.”

Catholics should well be inspired by the prayerful demeanor of the Dalai Lama, by the simplicity of an Amish homestead, by a solemn liturgy at Westminster Abbey, by the peaceful zeal of the Society of Friends, by the regularity of Islamic public prayer and by a tent revival on the American plains. It would be wrong not to understand that the Spirit is at work in these pious activities. But a believer would be even more mistaken to ignore the unique revelation offered through faith in Jesus Christ as found in the Roman Catholic Church. Not out of a sense of pride or exclusiveness, but rather, out of a sense of humility and gratitude on this solemnity of Christ the King, Roman Catholics profess liturgically, solemnly and universally that Jesus Christ is the authentic “compass,” the singular way, the true shepherd, the fullness of truth, who wonderfully and generously reveals himself through the ministry of the Church. On this final Sunday of the Church’s year, the faithful acknowledge that there is no authority beyond Jesus, there is just deeper and deeper involvement with him. Christ is king, unmatched in authority, unrivalled in dominion, unequalled in sovereignty.

In 1925, Pope Pius XI instituted the Solemnity of Christ the King on the last Sunday of October (on which day the Protestant world celebrates Reformation Sunday — surely no coincidence). With uncanny foreknowledge, Pius saw the rise of the age of dictators: notably Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Mussolini, Franco, Hirohito. In contrast to these usurpers, the pope wisely chose to remind the world that Jesus Christ is doubly king of the universe. He is king by natural right as the Son of the God who created the world; but is also king by acquired right as the man who redeemed the world by his own Blood. The Catholic world rightly celebrates Christ’s kingship by a colorful festival each year, but even more rightly celebrates his kingship by the daily example of a committed Christ-like life.