The light of the nations

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Is 49: 3.5-6

The Lord said to me, ‘Israel, you are my servant, through whom I shall manifest my glory.’ And now Yahweh has spoken, who formed me in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him and to re-unite Israel to him;-I shall be honoured in Yahweh’s eyes, and my God has been my strength.- He said, ‘It is not enough for you to be my servant, to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back the survivors of Israel; I shall make you a light to the nations so that my salvation may reach the remotest parts of earth.’

We understand that this passage is a prophecy that refers to our Lord Jesus Christ. He has not come only to gather the lost sheep of Israel, but He has become a light to all nations. All must know that He is the Son of God!

Jesus is not just a light among other lights. He is the “the real light that gives light to everyone” (Jn 1:9). Every true light comes from Him and finds its fullness in Him. This aspect is very important to understand the necessity of mission. There is a tendency today to give all religions the same value and put them on the same level, claiming that we must recognise and appreciate the good in each of them.

It is true that we can identify and recognise the good in other religions, for in them too the “seeds of the Word” are present, and every glimmer of true light comes from the “Father of lights” (Jas 1:17). But this in no way means that it is not necessary to confess Christ as the only “light of the nations”. We can never renounce this certainty! If the Church were to forget it, she would become unfaithful to her Divine Bridegroom, Christ.

The Church can never be content merely to serve the poor or to promote good humanitarian or political causes in this world. This is not enough! Above all, she has the mission to proclaim the faith, for only by encountering the One who is the light, can man also become a light, however small. And many small lights will bring light into this world!

The tendency to give all religions the same value is also creeping into the Church. But this cannot be so! It is true that, if we compare the fervour with which each person practises his or her own religion, we could see that there are believers of other religions who, with what they received, have gone further than we, who as Catholics have received the fullness of grace and truth (Jn 1:16-17). Sacred Scripture also teaches us this lesson, for example, in the figure of the Good Samaritan. Although he was not a Jew, he acted better than those who had gone before him, even though they knew the truth better (Lk 10:25-37). On another occasion, Jesus praised the faith of a Roman centurion and said that in all Israel he had not found such great faith as that of this man, who was not a Jew (Mt 8:10-12).

But, on the other hand, when Jesus speaks to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, he tells her clearly that “salvation comes from the Jews” (Jn 4:22). Thus we too are called to testify: Christ is the light of the world, from him comes salvation! He is the only way to the Father (Jn 14:6)!

In his statement “Dominus Iesus”, the then Cardinal Ratzinger, while Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, wrote very clearly on this subject:

“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. One cannot attribute to these, however, a divine origin or an ex opere operato salvific efficacy, which is proper to the Christian sacraments. Furthermore, it cannot be overlooked that other rituals, insofar as they depend on superstitions or other errors (cf. 1 Cor 10:20-21), constitute an obstacle to salvation.”

It is necessary to bring the Gospel in full and unabridged to all nations, just as our Lord entrusted it to us (cf. Mt 28:19-20), without allowing ourselves to be confused by other tendencies. These are not grounded either in the Word of God or in the sound doctrine of the Church. Consequently, such tendencies rather obscure the light of the Gospel, instead of placing it on the candlestick (cf. Mt 5:15). Certainly St. Paul would say to them: “By no means” (Rom 6:1b)!

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