Sunday 26 May 2013

Not because we understand

Street in Rome
Conversation on a tram in Rome between a Pakistani young man and a Salesian priest:
Hello, how are you! Are you from India?
Yes, I am. And you, are you from Pakistan?
Yes, I am a Pakistani. What are you doing in Rome?
I am a Catholic priest, I am studying here.
And what do you do as a priest?
I belong to a society that works for young people who are poor and in difficulty.
You are a wonderful young man, but I am sorry for you.
Why? Why are you sorry for me?
Because you are going to go to hell.
That was the first time I had ever had this kind of interreligious dialogue. I was a bit shocked. The conversation continued.
Why? Why do you think I am going to go to hell?
Because you believe all these dirty things about God. That God has a son. Do you think God has a wife? 
I understood then the problem. I understand now that this is the standard Muslim objection to Christianity. It is as old as the Kor'an. So I went on:
I think you are going to hell.
Then it was his turn to be surprised. Probably no one had ever told him that he would be going to hell. So he asked, quite shocked:
Do you believe God is great? Allahu akbar?
Of course.
Do you believe then that he will be greater than our human mind, much greater than anything we can understand?
Of course.
Well, we believe that God is three, and that yet he is One. We believe not because we understand, but because we have been told. What the scripture says, we must believe. 
He was silent. He did not know what to say. He took my address and said he would contact me.

A very different type of inter-religious dialogue! But not disrespectful, I think.

We believe, not because we understand, but because we have been told. If we had not been told, we would never have dared to confess: I believe in God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, One God. (That is how Arabic-speaking Christians, and probably also Hebrew-speaking Christians, here in the Holy Land say the Sign of the Cross: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Though I think some of them say Allah instead of Father, I do not quite know why.)

St Augustine suggested and St Thomas developed what is called the 'psychological analogy' in an effort to attain a "limited yet most fruitful understanding" of the mystery. But John Paul II, according to some, has proposed a new analogy, an analogy from love. And I think it is something well worth considering in our effort to talk about the Trinity. When a man joins a woman in love, they become one without losing their twoness. And that is why marriage is a sacrament: it is a revelation of the love that is God, where there are three and yet one. And that is the vocation of the human race: to be one without  losing our diversity. And to be one with God, without losing our identity. Is that not the true direction of non-dualism?

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