When St. Paul spoke in Athens, he referred to the one, true God, Whom no pagan image can represent. The true God does not need our service. Rather, He freely gives us all that we have and are. He has made the whole world and the entire human race. He is everyone’s God, the only God.
St. Paul appealed to the fact that everyone, somewhere within him- or herself, knows this God. God is, after all, closer to every individual human being than he is to himself.
“I am the Good Shepherd,” says the Lord Jesus. “I know mine and mine know me…I will lay down my life for the sheep…and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock and one shepherd.” John 10:11, 14, 16
The Lord Jesus shepherds His sheep. After He rose from the dead, He instructed the Apostles and prepared them for their mission. Then He ascended into heaven. Christ continues to shepherd His Church through the pastors He has chosen.
A year ago, Pope Benedict came to visit us here in the United States. He encouraged us in the faith. At his Mass at Nationals’ Park, he told us why he came:
In the exercise of my ministry as the Successor of Peter, I have come to America to confirm you, my brothers and sisters, in the faith of the Apostles. I have come to proclaim anew, as Peter proclaimed on the day of Pentecost, that Jesus Christ is Lord and Messiah, risen from the dead, seated in glory at the right hand of the Father.
When Pope Benedict was here with us, he did what a loving shepherd always does: He tried to protect us from the wolves by warning us about the temptations that beset us.
The Holy Father identified four distinctively American sins: materialism, “privatized religion,” false individualism, and relativism. Today, let’s focus on the temptation of privatized religion.
Now, before we expose the fallacy, let’s acknowledge this: Every individual person is indeed free before God. No one can compel anyone else to believe anything. Our friendship with God arises from the depths of our souls—the most intimate, interior part of who we are. There is, in fact, something, uniquely private about religion.
Nonetheless: This personal, private part of religion is not the whole story. Religion is fundamentally a matter of objective truth. There is one God, and none of us are Him.
The one true God of all creation sent His one Son into the world to be the Savior of the entire human race. Christ founded one Church. The Church of Christ has one supreme pastor. There is one true religion, which God Himself gave us to follow. And the true religion governs us in public, as well as in private.
Here is how the Pope put it:
Any tendency to treat religion as a private matter must be resisted. Only when their faith permeates every aspect of their lives do Christians become truly open to the transforming power of the Gospel…
God is preparing a new springtime for Christianity. What is needed above all, at this time in the history of the Church in America, is a renewal of apostolic zeal.
In our country, we have fallen into the trap of thinking that it is not “nice” to assert that one religion is true and that the truth makes demands on us in every sphere of life. Instead of standing up for truth, we have a collection of meaningless bromides that we use to avoid debating theology, like:
“It doesn’t matter. We all worship the same God.”
Or: So-and-so joined the church “that works for him” or “that meets his needs,” or “where he feels comfortable.”
Or: “In religion the important thing is to be true to yourself.”
All of these are nonsense, because there isn’t a god for every individual person. There is only One. Our duty is to seek the truth about Him, and to cling to it once we have found it.
The American fallacy of privatized religion is what has given rise to the idea of religious ‘denominations.’
Don’t get me wrong: we love and respect our Protestant and Orthodox brethren. We acknowledge all baptized people as Christians.
But there is only one Church. Christ founded one Church. He shepherds one Church.
The disagreements which produced the various denominations are important. It is not ‘ecumenical’ to pretend that the disputed points—for which our ancestors were willing to die—don’t matter. Religious ignorance is not ecumenical. What is truly ecumenical is to make the effort to study and understand the important questions so that educated discussion is possible.
Of course, any baptized person can sin against the unity of the Church. We Catholics sin against the unity of the Church all the time—by failing to live in the truth.
So let us repent of our sins and dedicate ourselves to the cause of truth. God has a plan to gather everyone into His Church. Let us each do our part to see that this plan is fulfilled. Catholics, let’s go public.