Spirituality of the Readings

Light to the Nations

This Sunday we will hear that it is Christ alone who is light to all peoples, to all the world (First Reading). Jesus’ preaching, his life, his death and resurrection, these became a revelation of God to every single person, no exceptions.

But how can this be? What if God is present in other world religions? How can Jesus and Christianity be the light of the world if other religions reach God also? Is there not a contradiction here?

Whatever else the bombing of New York’s “World Trade Towers” did, it alerted many people in the United States to the existence of Islam. Tragically, it was the few extremists that brought this awareness, but they have very little to do with real Islam. Muslims are not some small sect of people far away with strange and negligible beliefs. They are a great people, who worship the same God we do. Their ideal is, like ours, love. They are an integral part of this country.

But, as some Christians have done sometimes in the past, Muslims have terrible fanatics among them who would kill to achieve domination. Like the IRA in Northern Ireland, these form a very small part of a religion that pledges eternal fidelity to the one God. The Spirit of God is present in Muslims and Jews as well as in Christians. As St. Paul will put it this Sunday, “in every nation, whoever fears God and acts uprightly is acceptable to him”!

The question of which religion gets to have “the” right to God reminds me of children asking their parents which child they love most. “If you love her more than me,” one will say, “then you don’t love me at all.” Now, now, children, we love each one of you in a special way, a way that is perfect just for you.

So, in the first place, let us not ask a definitive answer about “the only” true religion, thus making all the others false. There is not really a competition. The religions are different approaches to God, and each reveals a special aspect of who God is. Jealousy and hatred of one another is an exact equivalent to dysfunctional families where each person has to fight to be recognized at all. Think of a world in which God loved only Christians and left all the others out in the cold.
A much better way is to look at how each religion and belief helps the others.

At root, Christianity gives a special revelation to the world: Jesus' suffering shows forth love in a way that is crystal clear, revealing what the others always need to hear. God enters the underside of human life, something we might never have known. He does not hesitate to suffer as we do, even to suffer at the hands of sin, disgrace and death. He became a light to all nations—not a light instead of other lights, not the light that puts out all others, but that most rare and poignant beam of all. His glow gives fiber and strength and depth to each and every other light that shines.

So which religion is first? Catholic Christians would do well to seek last place and try to be servant of all. Especially if we would like to know why, on Epiphany, a tiny baby is light to all nations.

John Foley, SJ

Fr. John Foley, SJ is a composer and scholar at Saint Louis University.

**From Saint Louis University

Kristin Clauson