I love having conversations with random people. And I get to do that very often, especially because I wear my collar around town everywhere I go.
Almost invariably, when someone strikes up a conversation with me —after a little bit of small talk about the Steelers or the weather, those fateful words almost always come spilling out of their mouth:
“Ya know, I grew up Catholic…. but…”
Oh Lord, deliver me from “buts.”
But they almost always come. In fact… I’m SHOCKED if and when someone doesn’t add a “but.”
But this. But that. Some stories are stories of tragedy. Betrayal, abuse. Somebody got hurt… somebody was ignored. Somebody was left out. A priest let someone down. These stories make me furious… The Church has failed many of Her children!
But… I have to tell you: Most stories are not stories of outright rejection — a kind of angry fist at God or the Church. No, sadly enough… most stories I hear are stories of decent people just drifting away from their faith…
And one big culprit, it seems to me — is the following vague claim:
“Yea, I stopped going to church, but… I don’t think you really need to go. Because… aren’t all religions basically the same?”
So many people say this, almost word for word. It’s as if someone gave them a script!
It’s such a bland script, too. So un-inspirational. I guess it’s sort of comforting to these people not to have to “commit” to any creed, but even refusing to commit is itself a choice!
Whatever the motivation, this idea — that “all religions are somehow basically the same” — has sadly encouraged a tragic number of Catholics to drift away from their faith… away from the Mass… away from the Holy Eucharist.
To be sure, there’s something true about what they may be trying to say. All humans do desire Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. We all naturally thirst for Meaning. All people, whether they admit it or not, are naturally religious.
The history of world religions is evidence of this. It is the human quest for transcendence — for something that answers life’s biggest question: “What’s it all about?” In that sense, at the very least, all religions have some commonality.
But we have to resist the temptation that leads us to then jump to the unreasonable and uncalled-for conclusion:
“So therefore, because there are so MANY religions out there, it’s clear that nobody really has the answer… it’s all personal opinion… it all depends on your upbringing. Just do the best you can to be a good person. Nothing else really matters. Because really… all religions are basically the same.”
To this, I give an unapologetic, absolute — NO!
But Father Anthony, why? Why are you so closed-minded????
Let’s try answering that question by meditating on today’s beautiful feast: The Feast of Epiphany.
On this holy day, we hear the fantastic story of the Magi, who travel from far in the East, from the land of the “rising sun,” to come and adore the newborn King.
If the story of the Epiphany teaches us anything, it’s this: Jesus is for everyone… and He is publicly available to everyone. All our readings this weekend point to the fact that Christianity has a universal, all-inclusive scope.
Isaiah tells us that the “nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance.” That is — all the nations will come to knowledge of the Truth in and through Jesus! “They all gather and come to you: your sons come from afar,” the prophet says.
The Magi are living proof of this. They are not Jews, and yet here they are… adoring Christ, the King of the Jews. This Savior is not just for the Israelite people. This is not just a local, ethnic religion. No, Jesus is the Light to all the nations!
As St. Paul puts it: “the Gentiles — aka, EVERYBODY —are now “coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”
But this “universality” and “inclusivity” is dramatically different than our pesky little phrase — “All religions… all beliefs are basically the same.”
How do I know this? Well let’s not forget the Magi’s absurdly long… and dangerous… journey to find the precise location of Jesus!
The Wise Men understood well enough there was A ROAD they had to travel, A WAY to the city of Bethlehem — There was A STAR they needed to follow! The night sky is FILLED with all sorts of nice, pretty stars, but only ONE would actually bring them face to face with the Savior!
In following that ONE unique star, they came at long last to a particular plot of land, a definite cave, a certain manger — to a scandalously particular baby who just so happened to be GOD Himself.
The Magi knew that the star was pointing them not just anywhere — but to an objective SOMEWHERE.
If the Magi hadn’t set their sights on that miraculous Star — if they had just wandered the deserts between Persia and Bethlehem, aimlessly believing that all roads basically go the same way, then they would have never come to that much-longed for “arrival” at the feet of baby Jesus.
All of this is quite crucially relevant for us today — because like it or not, we live in a culture that is constantly bullying us into thinking that “all religions are basically the same.”
I urge you: Resist this relativistic nonsense! Please! And teach your kids to resist it as well!
Relativism is simply not true.
It may seem like a nice, convenient way to avoid unwanted conflict or disagreement, but in the end, it is a lie that leads people away from God and away from His one true Church.
Ultimately, relativism doesn’t foster peaceful inclusivity — in reality, it produces King Herod, who seeks Jesus in order to eradicate Him. Why? Because Jesus has something definitive to say and do. Jesus calls to us saying: “Follow me — and nobody else!” Jesus is Truth in the flesh, and that is a threat to our comfort-zone and our own preconceived ideas.
Pope Benedict XVI — God rest his soul — once warned that we are currently facing “a dictatorship of relativism” that “does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.”
Why did he use such strong language?
Well, because he realized that if there is no real destination — no guiding star that can definitively bring us to the one-and-only Savior of the world… then what’s the point of asking for directions?
Just follow your heart! Trust your desires and your own ideas… It doesn’t matter where you end up. “Your truth is as good as my truth, man!” As long as you feel good along the way! After all, all religions are basically the same right?
Let me ask you: Can this attitude ever make us happy?
So many people are sad, directionless, and anxious… it’s as if they have no guiding star, no desire to go anywhere in particular. They have, in so many ways, accepted the dictatorship of relativism — and now they feel stuck in a blur of meaninglessness.
But the good news is… We have a goal. We have a Meaning! And his name is Jesus — the Son of God, the Way, the Truth and the Life!
As one of your priests and a spiritual father that desires you to have life and peace in the Lord — I know there is a lot of pressure today for you to doubt your faith in Jesus. I know there are so many people pushing you to embrace a convenient yet ultimately unhelpful relativism…
It’s very confusing out there. I get it. And I feel it too.
But I want you to know and rely on this: Jesus is alive. And He is here. Most especially, He is here in the Most Holy Eucharist. And He is loving you from here.
He is loving ALL people from here — including those wandering souls that still think that “all religions are basically the same.”
I suspect our Lord’s reply to them would be something like this:
“No, not all religions are the same. But I AM the same… yesterday, today, and forever. And whenever you want to come to Me — Come. I will not reject you. I will not condemn you. Just come!!!
Follow the Star that is still burning just as bright as it ever has — the Star of the Church, the Star of sound, infallible Magisterial teaching, the Star of the Seven Sacraments, the Star of validly ordained ministers, the Star of all Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Follow that way, and You will find THE Way. You will find Me with Mary and Joseph and all the saints who are with me. Come, fall on your knees, and adore.”
And so we come to the Sacred Liturgy — this place where Jesus can be Really, Truly, Substantially found — carried in the arms of Holy Mother Church, lifted high on this altar in EVERY SINGLE CRUMB of the Broken Bread and EVERY SINGLE DROP of the Precious Chalice — and we all fall down in adoration. Our knees buckle in the presence of such a unique and living Joy!
Who among us — after tasting this Bread of Life, this perfect Love poured out — could dare to say that “All religions are basically the same?”
Relativism is too small. Too boring for us.
There’s nobody else like Jesus.
He alone is LORD.
There is no other.