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 someone gave them a script!
It’s such a bland script, too. So demotivating. So paralyzing. 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 ultimate meaning.
The history of all world religion is a human quest for transcendence — for something that answers life’s biggest question: “What’s it all about?” In that sense, all religions have at least some overlap, of course.
So yes, we can (and should) affirm the good everywhere we find it. This builds trust and common ground. That’s important. Christianity is about embracing the fullness of reality.
But we have to resist the temptation that leads us to then jump to the unreasonable and uncalled-for conclusion:
“So you see, since 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 basically good person. Nothing else matters. Because really… all religions are basically the same.”
To this, I give an unapologetic, absolute — NO!
Let’s try answering that question by meditating on today’s beautiful feast: the Feast of the Epiphany. On this holy day, we hear the fantastic story of the Three 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. 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 us recall: The Magi’s absurdly long and dangerous journey!
The three Wise Men understood well enough that they could not meet this newborn Savior unless they took great pains to travel very far to the place where He could actually be found. And by a specific path, I might add!
There was A WAY to the city of Bethlehem. There was a Road they had to travel — a Star they needed to follow! They came at long last to a particular plot of land, a definite cave, a certain manger — to a scandalously particular baby, in whom all the fullness of divinity mysteriously dwelt.
The Magi knew that the star was pointing them not just anywhere — but to an objective SOMEWHERE. Mary and Joseph, cradling this precious little child, are a definable destination! The Holy Family is a locatable goal.
If the Magi hadn’t set their sights on that miraculous Star — if they had just wandered the deserts between Persia and Bethlehem, aimlessly trusting 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 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. Something worth believing… Because Jesus is Truth in the flesh, and that’s a threat.
Joseph Ratzinger, in a homily shortly after the death of Pope St. John Paul II and just before he was elected Pope Benedict XVI, warned that we are facing what he calls “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? Because Ratzinger recognizes that if there’s 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! Just trust your desires… It doesn’t matter where you end up. As long as you feel good along the way! All religions are sort of the same right? The goal becomes mere convenience and pleasure, and thus we’re enslaved to meaninglessness.
Look around. 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 accepted the dictatorship of relativism.
Ratzinger, along with the entire Catholic tradition, offers a radiantly beautiful alternative:
“We, however, have a different goal: the Son of God.”
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 confusing out there. I get it.
But I want you to know this and rely on this: Jesus is alive. And He is here. Most especially, He is here in the Most Holy Eucharist. He’s right here in the Tabernacle. And He is loving you from here. He is loving ALL people from here — including those wandering souls that think “all religions are basically the same.”
I suspect our Lord’s reply to that would be something like: “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 and humbly adore.”
And so, we come to the 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 the Broken Bread, and the Precious Chalice — and we all bow down in adoration. We come to church, not to “get something out of it” for ourselves, but to offer God right worship — to open the treasures of our heart, and surrender them to Him, the King of Kings. Like the three Magi long before us, we glorify Him through a sincere gift of self.
Who wouldn’t undertake any journey necessary to come at last to this unique place of intimacy and encounter? Who — after tasting this Bread of Life, this perfect Love poured out — could dare to say that “All religions are the same?”
There’s nobody else like the Lord. He alone is God. There is no other.