Question: Major religions address God by different names. Are we all praying to the same God? And since most of the world does not acknowledge Jesus, what can they expect in terms of judgment?
— Ed Eddy, Fort Myers, Fla.
Answer: Whether we are praying to the same God is assessed on a case-by-case basis. A special understanding is given to the Jewish people. Of them, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “The Jewish faith, unlike other non-Christian religions, is already a response to God’s revelation in the Old Covenant. To the Jews ‘belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises ...” (No. 839). They direct their prayers to God the Father as we do, though they do not understand God as Trinity or accept Jesus or the Holy Spirit as God. And yet it is fair to say they do direct their prayers to the same God, though imperfectly understood, to whom we direct our prayers, though more perfectly understood.
As to the Muslims, they are monotheists, and, as the Catechism notes, “These profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day” ( No. 841).
Of other non-Christian religions, the Catechism says that God is clearly the common origin and end of the whole human race (see No. 842). Further, “the Church recognizes in other religions that search, among shadows and images, for the God who is unknown yet near since he gives life and breath and all things and wants all men to be saved” (No. 843).
As to what the majority of people can expect, especially those who do not know or obey Christ, the Church expresses hope, but also warns that though their salvation apart from Christ is possible, that does not mean it is probable. For the Catechism also reminds that sin requires the remedy of faith, but very often, deceived by the evil one, men have exchanged the truth of God for lie. Thus unbelief or imperfect belief is a form of darkness that hinders salvation and needs the healing of true faith.
So, in the end, there is only one God and all yearning for God is somehow directed to him. But there are often errors in the ways people understand him. And thus it is essential for the Church to correct errors, and draw everyone to the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic faith in which there is the best hope for salvation.
Christmas at parish
Question: My pastor does not allow us to celebrate Christmas during Advent, tells us not to decorate our homes and forbids parties on church grounds until Dec. 25. Is this right?
— Phil, New York
Answer: The liturgical environment has stricter rules than Catholics are necessarily obliged to follow in their own homes. While it may be ideal that our homes perfectly reflect the liturgical cycle, many Catholics begin decorating earlier in the month of December.
As for celebrations on church grounds, that is a matter of pastoral judgment. Most pastors are relaxed about this, understanding that cultural influences can be respected out of regard for the wishes of people to celebrate conveniently.
I would encourage you to listen carefully to your pastor’s teachings and strive to keep Advent as much as possible.
Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.