Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Discernment's Center

Why is it wrong for a Christian to claim that everyone is a child of God? After all, we believe one God (in the form of a Trinity of the Father, the Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit) created the universe and ultimately all humans. What many seem to be missing is that even though we are all created in God’s image, He gives a specific path for acceptance as His children. And this power is given through faith in the Son. Jesus Christ, Who came to the world, lived a perfect life, died and rose for our sins. God wants us to recognize that we sin and that our salvation comes through Christ. And God wants us to tell this to everyone we can--not to leave others in ignorance of Him.

In the Bible, John 1:12 (NABRE) says we are allowed to be children of God if we believe in the Word, Jesus Christ:
But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name…
In my opinion, this viewpoint can be seen only one way.

There are those who think God will accept everyone. Though we might think that persons who never heard of Christ may be allowed into His kingdom, we must remember that if we have heard of Him we have to evaluate our own faith. If you believe it doesn’t matter what religion other persons are, your own faith and therefore discernment are in trouble. Those who have the opportunity to know Jesus and shrug Him off as one of many choices are worse off than those who have never heard of Him. It is God’s business to decide who comes into His kingdom; it is our job to recognize that for those who do fully know about Him, belief in Christ is the only way to heaven.

This subject relates to another: many people want to see world peace, which we think of as certainly a worthy cause. Especially for those affected by war, it may seem of primary importance. Yet some Christians hold the importance of Earthly peace so high that their worldview seems to put it even above the centrality of Christianity. Here again we have the idea put forth that all religions have the same God, all are children of God. But if you believe Christianity as the only True answer, worldly peace is secondary to evangelization. We must carry the message so all can know Christ, even if it means worldly tensions.

As a Jesuit, Pope Francis claims to seek discernment. Discernment is a method by which a person determines his or her vocation, and also a life-long quest to seek God’s will. The Jesuits are a religious order founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola. In 1522-1524 Ignatius wrote recommendations for spiritual discernment in his book, The Spiritual Exercises. Through this, the members make great effort to tune themselves toward discernment of God’s will.

However, it has been shown that sometimes those who believe they are experts of God’s will have been wrong in their discernment. For example, this article (link HERE) from the New York Times describes the treatment of human slaves by Jesuits who ran Georgetown University in the 1800’s. They owned slaves and then sold these humans to plantation owners of the deeper South in order to financially save the school. Though slavery was legal at the time, it should not have been considered a moral choice by the Jesuits—those who claimed to know the will of the Lord. Even though the Bible mentions slavery, St. Paul was advising those who had to endure it due to outside influences, not endorsing it as a Christian institution. And the end--a solvent school--did not justify the means. Often when we are confronted with challenges, God will come through if we go to Him and wait for Him. They did not have to own or sell slaves.

Of course, we can't read their minds and as the article shows, some of the Jesuits did know that slavery was wrong but did not have the power to follow their consciences. Was the president of the university somehow deviated from the centrality of Christ alone? The secular Enlightenment was to eventually effect many so-called Christians in disbelieving Christ's miracles and even His divinity, reducing Him to a sage. Perhaps that worldview was already affecting the Jesuit academia. And Christ centered-ness is just the first step to proper efforts in discernment. Also we can have problems with pride or stubbornness which keeps us from considering other points of view.

Pope Francis seems to want Christianity both ways. He speaks of the need for only Christ for salvation (example HERE) but at other times telling everyone that we are all children of God, we all have the same God, or similar phrases (example HERE). He holds world peace very highly and wants to see all people get along. But this is simply not the same as putting Christ at the center. The view that it does not matter what you believe is called “Indifferentism” and at least sometimes seems to be held by the pope as well as many other Catholics.

Why is it central to being a Christian to believe in Christ for our Salvation? God gives us free will, and all humans have fallen short of perfection except for Christ. Our own sins should bring us to humility when we recognize them. The Father is just as well as merciful and imperfection of sins would keep the sinner ostracized from God's presence. The Father has chosen belief in Christ to be our doorway to Him. As stated above, Christ lived a perfect life and then died for our sins. Jesus should be given the credit for that, just as we want to be credited for our own achievements. But I believe some Catholics, as other Christians, are too casual about sins, the need for Christ for one’s redemption, and about faith in Him in order to go to heaven.

I believe that in order to have right discernment, the central starting point is belief in Jesus Christ as our Savior. Then we can be guided by God to wisdom in other areas. When we really believe this, our love for others should lead us to tell them about Christ, what He did for us, and that we all need to repent and believe that He, and only He, is our Savior.

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