The Hospitality of Abraham, Julia Stankova
A corny joke tells of a man of undefined faith who dies and gets to heaven. An angel shows him around. As they tour the celestial spheres, they merrily chat away until they come to a high wall when the angel suddenly bids the man to be quiet. In a hushed tone, the angel explains: “Behind this wall are the Catholics. And they think they are the only ones here.”
The great commission of the Gospel for today’s solemn Feast of the Blessed Trinity underpinned the drive of missionaries for centuries. Generations of European missionaries, not least from Ireland, went to “heathen” places, driven by the idea that the “poor infidels” will end up in hell if they were not baptised. The Dominican Order was founded “for preaching and the salvation of souls”. Thank God, this idea is broader than the notion of baptism as the golden ticket to heaven. Salvation happens in this life too. Pope Francis highlighted this in his recent letter on the occasion of the 800thanniversary of the death of St Dominic: “Dominic’s great call was to preach the Gospel of God’s merciful love in all its saving truth and redemptive power … faith and charity, truth and love, integrity and compassion” are inseparable.
The breakthrough in our relationship with other faith traditions came with Vatican II, particularly with Nostra Aetate’s acknowledgement that other religions “often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all people”. God lets himself be found in many ways. Karl Rahner famously spoke of “anonymous Christians” – not with the intention of devaluing other traditions, but to indicate that everyone is included in our highest hopes. The emphasis in our encounter with other faith traditions has changed since: from a grim focus on their conversion to dialogue and collaboration for mutual enrichment and the benefit of all.
Can we lightly put aside Jesus’s call to evangelise and let everyone get to heaven their own way then? We might be tempted to say yes, especially in face of an increasingly secular society, where sharing one’s personal beliefs is widely considered an issue of embarrassment. However, the best (and maybe only) answer to this question is to check in on our own faith. Evangelising is telling good news. What does faith mean to me? Who is God for me? Timothy Radcliffe speaks of the biblical invitation to find our home in God – “a place where we may flourish and be ourselves”. What if our part in evangelising is simply an extending of this invitation to share our home and life with others – and then see what happens? What if the compulsion to tell of the Gospel is not the crippling fear of eternal damnation but rather the explosive serenity of pure joy? Thanks be to God for our baptism!
Sr. Sabine Schratz OP
- The Primitive Constitutions of the Order of Friars Preachers; https://www.op.org/documents/#810-860-wpfd-1_lco-book-of-constitutions-and-ordinations-home-doc-en-5fbf8ea66d4ae
- Letter of His Holiness Pope Francis to Brother Gerard Francisco Timoner, O.P., Master General of the Order of Preachers for the VIII centenary of the death of Saint Dominic of Caleruega, 24 May 2021; https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/letters/2021/documents/papa-francesco_20210524_lettera-centenario-sandomenico.html
- Nostra Aetate, 28 October 1965; https://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decl_19651028_nostra-aetate_en.html
- Timothy Radcliffe, Welcome Home, 28 March 2004; https://www.torch.op.org/torch/welcome-home