Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Gift of the Gospel

~translation via Papa Ratzinger Forum of the Question-and-Answer session with the priests and deacons of Rome
Question (from an Indian priest currently serving in Rome): should we interpret 'fullness of salvation' in a qualitative or quantitative sense? If it is quantitative, then there is some difficulty. The Second Vatican Council says there is a possibility of light even in other faiths. In the qualitative sense, beyond historicity and the fullness of faith, what are the other things to show the uniqueness of our faith in terms of inter-religious dialog?

Let us come to the questions you posed. I do not have before me the exact words of the document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that you referred to. In any case, I would like to say two things:

On the one hand, dialog is absolutely necessary - to know each other reciprocally, to respect each other and seek to collaborate in all possible ways for the great aims of mankind and for its great needs, to overcome fanaticisms and create a spirit of peace and love. This is in the spirit of the Gospel, whose sense is precisely that the spirit of love, which we learned from Jesus, the peace of Jesus which he gave us through the Cross, should be universally present in the world.

In this sense, dialog should be true dialog, respecting the other, and accepting his otherness. But it should also be evangelical, in the sense that its fundamental aim is to help men live in love, and to do what is possible so that this love may expand everywhere.

But this dimension of dialog that is so necessary - that is, respect for the other, tolerance, cooperation - does not exclude the other, namely, that the Gospel is a great gift, the gift of great love, of great truth, which we cannot keep for ourselves alone, but which we should offer to others, knowing that God gives them the freedom and the light necessary to find the truth. The Gospel is our truth, and therefore, it is also the road I take.

Mission is not imposition, but offering the gift of God, leaving it to His goodness to enlighten persons so that the gift of friendship with the God who has a human face may be extended. That is why we want to - and should - always testify to this faith and the love that lives in our faith.

We would be neglecting a true duty, human and divine, if we leave others alone and keep the faith that we have only to ourselves. We would be unfaithful to ourselves, if we did not offer this faith to the world, even while respecting the freedom of others.

The presence of our faith in the world is a positive thing, even if no one is converted. It is a point of reference. Representatives of non-Christian religions have told me: For us, the presence of Christianity is a reference point that helps us, even if we do not convert.

Let us think of the great figure of Mahatma Gandhi: while he was firmly bound to his religion, the Sermon on the Mount was to him a fundamental reference point, which shaped all of his life.

That is the ferment of the faith - even without converting him to Christianity, it had entered his life. I think that this ferment of Christian love which comes clearly through the Gospel is - besides the missionary work which seeks to widen the spaces of the faith - a service that we render to mankind.

Let us think of St. Paul. Recently, I re-examined more deeply his missionary motivation. I spoke to the Curia about it in our end-of-the-year encounter. He was motivated by the words of the Lord in his eschatological sermon: before any happening, before the return of the Son of God, the Gospel must first be preached to all men. A condition so that the world may reach its perfection, its opening to Paradise, is that the Gospel is announced to everyone.

He put all his missionary zeal to that the Gospel could reach everyone possible in his generation, in answer to the Lord's commandment to announce it to all men. His desire was not so much to baptize all men, as to make the Gospel present in the world, and therefore, to fulfill history as such.

I think that today, seeing how history is going, we can better understand that this presence of the Word of God, that the announcement of it reaches everyone to act as a ferment, is necessary so that the world can achieve its purpose.

In this sense, yes, we desire the conversion of everyone, but let us allow the Lord himself to act. What is important is that whoever wants to convert has the possibility to do so, and that this light of the Lord may appear in the world for everyone as a point of reference, as a light that helps, without which the world cannot find itself.

I do not know if I have explained myself well enough: dialog and mission not only do not exclude each other, but one requires the other.

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