The Challenge of Discovering the Presence of the Spirit in World Religions
Fr. S. Uvari Antony
In Christian belief, the word ‘Spirit’ refers to Spirit of God that started its functions at the moment of creation itself (Gen 1, 2). In the New Testament, Spirit is identified with the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of Truth and the Paraclete. It has a close relationship with Jesus, his earthly life and mission from his birth till the day of Pentecost. Fathers of the Church developed the theology of the Holy Spirit as the third Person of the Most Holy Trinity and its relation with the Father and the Son and continued its creative presence in the mission of the Apostles and the Church.
When the first Christians left the Church due to the persecutions of Romans and Jews, the Fathers insisted very much on the axiom ‘outside the Church there is no salvation’ (extra Ecclesiam nulla salus) and invited the lapsed ones to re-enter the Catholic Church in order to be saved. By insisting and upholding this idea, the Catholic Church did not recognize other Christian Churches positively from the beginning. In the same way, when the salvific message was proclaimed and extended to different nations and cultures, the Church did not recognize the richness of the indigenous cultures and religions positively for many centuries.
Since the Second Vatican Council the teaching of the Church has implicitly acknowledged the action of the Spirit in other religious traditions. She examines more closely her relationship with other Christian Churches and non-Christian religions in her task of promoting unity and love among men and women based on the plan of God who is the origin and maker of the whole human race that lives on the earth. Religions that are bound up with an advanced culture try to encounter the restlessness of human heart, each in its own manner, by proposing ways and means comprised of teachings, rules of life and sacred rites (NA 2). In keeping with the universal scope of Christ’s redemptive mission, the Council affirms the presence and operation of the Spirit among all peoples, cultures and religions from the beginning of history (GS 11, 41, 38, 22). It continues to speak of the spiritual and moral goodness and values in other religions and cultures (NA 2) and religious truth possessed by God’s providence (OT 16; LG 16; GS 92, AG 9). The Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions, but recognizes them as the seeds of the Word and often reflects rays of truth which enlightens all people.
Inspired by the teaching of the Second Vatican Council theologians have admitted the positive elements in other religions as ways and means of salvation. They have started to advocate the pluralism of religions in the world as a fact of experience and a sign of the times brought to the attention by the encounter of Christianity with great religions. However, many Catholics have the idea that one who participates or enters into dialogue with other religions loses one’s original faith and question the unicity and salvific universality of Jesus Christ. To respond to this negative attitude, theologian like Teihard de Chardin has explained that Christ is considered as the principle of unity and finality of the whole universe. Christ touched the universe not merely at a particular period of history, but penetrated it to the depth and divinized the world. In this way the divine light is not only reflected in Christianity, but in other religions as well.
Theologians in India/Asia also try to present the significance of Jesus Christ in relation to other religions in the multi-religious context of India. According to them dialogue with other religions with respect can in no way diminish the faith in Jesus Christ as the Saviour, but enrich our faith in Jesus Christ, because the paschal mystery of the Risen Christ is present wherever God’s grace is present and the salvific will of God operates through Christ and the Spirit. In the multi-religious context Christ is not visibly acknowledged, however his Spirit continues his work and leads all things to unity. The task of Christians is not only to carry Christ where he is not present, but also to discover him where he is, in mysterious ways unknown to us.
The Catholic Church in India as part of her mission has exhorted her members to enter into dialogue with other religions in the multi-religious context and to respect other religions in their otherness. Ecclesia in Asia also highlights that interreligious dialogue is a part of the Church’s evangelizing mission that has openness to other believers, a willingness to listen, desire to respect and understand others in their differences. For all this, love of others is indispensable (no 31). Hence the mission of the Church today is to educate others about Christ at the same time to recognize, preserve and promote the good things; spiritual and moral as well as the socio-cultural values found among the followers of other religions.
India, the cradle of many religions as well as a Secular State, is now challenged by religious fundamentalism along with its social discriminations and economic disparities. The political parties tend to divide the people for their vested interest in the name of religion and caste. Religious fundamentalism is a tactic consciously adopted and propagated by majority to suppress the minorities in the country and leads to violence and in some cases even to terrorism. Christians belonging to different Churches are challenged today by Hindu fundamentalists who look at Christianity as a foreign religion and Christians as second class citizens not belonging to India. Though different protests and rallies have been organized to raise our voices against their atrocities, still Christian and other minorities’ properties are being vandalized.
The Catholic Church in India which has oriented her mission towards the goodness of Indians in the field of education and health care for long time in cities and villages is also challenged by Hindu fundamentalism. The ways and means to face these challenges are: i) the Catholic Church, collaborating with other Christian Churches and Ecclesial Communities has to safeguard all Christians from the violence against them, churches and institutions in the name of religions, and provide them with good educations, health care and create job opportunity for their well-being; ii) the Church also has to involve in promoting peace and harmony among Indians without any distinction of caste and creed. In collaboration with the people of good will she should commit herself for the common good of the people in realizing the common projects for their goodness; iii) the Church can promote dialogue of life by building up interpersonal relationship in the families of different faith and accepting one another as brothers and sisters in the working places and other life situations; iv) the minorities together have to propagate their contributions for the development of the nation; v) continue to organize rallies and arrange protests against the injustice done to the minorities and to make them aware of the rights and duties in building up the country; vi) according to the signs of the time, the Church has to continue her mission to create and build up peace and harmony in our society.
About the Author:
Fr. S. Uvari Antony osm belongs to the Order of Servants of Mary (Servite) and resides at Jyothi Matha Alayam, Okkiampet, Chennai. He got his doctorate in systematic theology from Urbaniana University, Rome. He has been teaching theology in seminaries besides holding different responsibilities in different communities of his province in Tamil Nadu. At present he is the Provincial of Aikiya Annai Indian Province.