Mark 9:38-48; 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
When we were kids, on the way to Mass, we would often drive past nice-looking churches. I’d ask, “Bakit ‘di tayo ‘jan magsimba? Ganda ng simbahan ‘o.” Then, my mom would say, “’Nay, hindi ‘yan Katoliko!” with a shudder! So, I grew up with the impression that non-Catholics were, well, to be shuddered at. In fact, I thought Christian meant Roman Catholic, period. So, I didn’t think Protestants were Christians. Add to that, this: during Holy Week, when we were noisy, lola would yell, “Sige kayo, kukunin kayo ng mga Hudyo!” Mga Hudyo! I grew up thinking: Jews were kidnappers. And so were Muslims! Why? Because when we went out to play without permission, mom would say, “Sige kukunin kayo at ibebenta ng moklo,” which was and still is a very pejorative term for ‘Muslim.’
All that sounds funny now, right? But I’m sure you’re aware that maaaany Roman Catholics still think that in heaven, there’s only one religion: Roman Catholicism. Few of us are even aware that Roman Catholicism is only one kind of Catholicism, one tradition of several. There’s Armenian Catholic, Byzantine, Coptic, Ethiopian, East/West Syriac, Maronite Catholic. In the Jesuit parish in Beirut, for example, there are three masses every Sunday: Roman Catholic, Maronite, and Eastern Syriac. If people miss the Roman Catholic mass, they just attend one of the other two and receive communion there. No problem. See, that’s the thing with us, Pinoys in the Philippines. Our Catholicism is almost exclusively Roman. So, many of us grew up thinking that Christians meant only Catholics, and Catholics meant only Roman, and worst, that God admits only Roman Catholics in “heaven.” Katoliko lang ang masasalba, we say.
Well, that’s no longer our theology today, sisters and brothers. Salamat sa Diyos. Salamat kina Pope John Paul, Pope Benedict, Pope Francis. Our concept of salvation is much wider today. In fact, it’s more Christian, ibig sabihin, more Christ-like, more charitable. It’s even more Catholic, ibig sabihin, more universal, more inclusive. Hindi lang po Katoliko Romano ang masasalaba. Lahat po ng mabuting tao, na may malasakit sa kapwa, may puso sa mga dukha, namumuhay nang marangal, marunong humingi ng tawad at magsisi sa kasalanan, hindi mapang-api, hindi marahas magsalita at mamuhay, hindi pumapatay, etc. In other words, non-Christians who live out the core human and humane values we find Jesus exemplifies, they have an equal shot at salvation as we. Where is that in the Bible? “There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward.” Sisters and brothers, it took centuries before we got to this kind of theology: God’s universal salvific will. But it was there all this time: Jesus healing, feeding, forgiving, teaching people regardless of their race, creed, social status, gender, etc. God’s universal salvific will. And lest we forget, Jesus wasn’t Roman Catholic.
Now comes my confession. You know, sisters and brothers, I have no problem accepting that God can and will save good people of other faiths and religions. My problem these days, and God forgive me—is people who are Christians and Catholics, who go to Church, and are blessed with intelligence, a good education, a good life—but steal billions that aren’t theirs, to fatten their already bursting bank accounts, and for good measure, to gratify their machismo with Lamborghinis and Ferraris, while well over 80% of our people go jobless, hungry, ill, and dead. Billions that could’ve gone to frontliners, ayuda, oxygen tanks, charity hospitals, medicines, contact tracing, vaccines—but split by a few hands and parlayed into even fewer pockets of men who consider themselves Christians, Catholics, parishioners. Patawarin po sana ako ng Diyos, pero hiraaap na hirap akong isipin na masasalba sila ng Diyos, itong naturingang desenteng Katoliko at Kristyano, pero nagsisinungaling at nagnanakaw sa ikahihirap, ikasasakit, ikamamatay ng libu-libong tao. I know God has a universal salvific will. But rich liars and thieves make it so difficult for me to imagine God saving them. And this speaks more about me than of God, I accept. But I confess just the same: I find it easier to imagine kind-hearted and honest atheists going to heaven, than for self-professed believers who enrich themselves… while people line up for free food and medicine, a decent cremation, burial. Paano po n’yo nahaharap ang Diyos pagkatapos ng bawat araw ng patung-patong na kasinungalingan? I feel like asking the you-know-who’s. Kapag nagkukurus po kayo ng sarili, tapos nagdarasal ng Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be, para po saan? ‘Yung rosary pong ipupulupot ninyo sa rearview mirror ng bago n’yong Ferrari, o si Lamborghini na pababasbasaban n’yo kay pader, anong kinalaman niyan sa Diyos? E Diyos na rin po ang nagsabi: “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. Better to live maimed, than with two hands go into unquenchable fire. If your foot causes you to sin, or your eye, cut it off, gouge it out. Better to live crippled, blind in one eye today, than with everything intact, be thrown into Gehenna, where worm does not die, nor fire quenched.” Hindi po kayo natatakot? Kung ‘di po kayo takot sa libu-libong nahihirapan dahil sa pagnanakaw ninyo, ‘di po ba kayo natatakot sa Diyos, sa sinasabi niya sa Gospel ngayon tungkol sa por-eber?
Sisters and brothers, God has a universal salvific will, yes. Jesus showed this to us, loud and clear. But if we’re saving only ourselves by freely swindling our neighbor big time—and to their hunger, illness, and death—maybe, there really is, as they say, hell to pay, “where worm does not die nor fire quench.”
Tawag lang po kayo, kayo pong mga kinauukulan. Marami po kami ritong handang tumulong sa inyong pagbabalik-loob: iboboluntir ko po kami, nina Fr Nono, Fr Jason, Fr Cesar, Fr Jun Viray, Fr Mon, Fr Francis—all of us who say mass here, we can accompany you back to God; we, who are sinners, too. But you should be willing to part with what you stole, to give it back, to free yourselves from its curse. It’s not too late. There is still a right and just way out of this hell.
*image from the Internet