When Martin Luther renounced the Catholic Church’s traditional framework and declared the Bible to be the sole rule of faith, he received a considerable amount of support from the Christian nations of northern Europe. Much of Germany, Switzerland, Holland, Scandinavia, the Bohemian region, and later on England bought into his embrace of Scripture and his dismissal of tradition. But now the question was, “Fine! But whose Bible do we accept as authoritative?” Do we accept Luther’s Bible who taught, for example, that Jesus is present in the Eucharist along with the bread and wine? Or do we accept Zwingli’s Bible who taught that the Eucharist remained totally bread and wine and merely symbolized Jesus’ presence? Then again we might accept John Calvin’s Geneva Bible which put the Eucharist completely on the back burner and exalted the spoken word, the message from the pulpit, as the chief vehicle for God’s grace.
Such Biblical strife throughout northern Europe was only somewhat resolved at the conclusion of the Thirty Years War which determined that faith was not a question of religion at all, but rather a question of politics. “Cuius regio, eius religio.” Whose region, his religion. If one lived under a Protestant ruler, one had to be Protestant. If one lived under a Catholic ruler, one had to be Catholic. So religion was no longer a matter of Biblical motivation but rather a matter of political manipulation. Southern Europe was hardly pestered by this decree since both the rulers and the people around the Mediterrean Sea were all quite Catholic. But Catholics in England, Huguenots in France and Anabaptists in Germany experienced continued persecution.
Eventually, after much religious contention, Western society further concluded that religion is not a political question after all. Believers should be free to select their own religion. Religion was not a matter of government decree but a matter of personal choice. The new American administration, coming on the scene at this point in history, made “freedom of religion” a pillar of its new constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”
Now freedom of religion sounds great from an individual point of view. Non-interference by a government with one’s religious preference is indeed a modern blessing. But this political benefit sadly turns religious commitment completely upside down. There really is no freedom of religion; it is not mankind who chooses to approach God. Rather it is God who has chosen to approach mankind! And God has chosen to approach mankind through his Son Jesus Christ who, in turn, established the One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church as God’s distinctive vehicle of salvation. Hence, in the final analysis, there is only one completely authentic religious choice: Accept God’s Will and become Catholic.
Now those pious souls who have persevered this far in their reading are probably thinking that Kiley is out of his mind. Most of the world would be damned if this thinking were valid. But God is a gracious God and is quite generous with his benefits. While the fullness of truth indeed resides within the Catholic tradition, there are clearly elements of Catholic truth that exist in various portions throughout the believing world. As Vatican II instructs: “…the unique mediation of the Redeemer does not exclude, but rather gives rise to a manifold cooperation…” Protestants who treasure their Bible, Muslims who are faithful to their prayer, Hindus who are loyal to their disciplines, Buddhists who treasure the earth’s resources, and even agnostics and atheists who acknowledge natural truth are actually participating even in a small way in the broader truth that God has entrusted through his Son to the Catholic Church.
The challenge is no longer to look upon religion as a choice by man, but rather as a revelation from God. Mankind does not find God; God finds mankind and chooses to reveal his eternal truths to humanity. Catholics who humbly, yet proudly believe that God has shared with them through his Church the fullness of truth must take the words of St. Paul in this Sunday’s second reading most seriously: “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingly power: proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching (3 Tm.4:1-2).” The root of religion is not the believer’s choice of God; the root of religion is God’s choice of the believer. The faithful are charged to let their neighbors know that, through Christ, every person is chosen and is urged to give a wholehearted response to God’s summons made fully available through the Roman Catholic Church.