By Deacon Jon Dal Din
People of different faiths, I am in contact with regularly, all consider their scriptures as the Word of God. They have such reverence and devotion to the Word that they would automatically add the epithet ‘Holy’ to describe their scriptures as indeed we do when we often talk about the Holy Bible. This Year of the Word may be a good opportunity to reach out to people of other faiths and share the scriptures with them.
From a Christian perspective, we know we have a very close connection with the Jewish community because, what we call the Old Testament includes the Torah (first five books of the Bible), historical books and writings of the prophets. Our scriptures have much in common with many other faiths. The Muslim scriptures (the Holy Quran) share many stories with both Jewish and Christian traditions, including Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Mary. We also have much in common with other religions. The Magi were probably Zoroastrians.
I am always amazed at how much people of different faiths know about our faith and scriptures and how little we know about theirs. Perhaps this is an opportunity to explore the Word of God, according to other religious traditions. The stories may be different but the message is very similar. Saint Justin, an early Christian writer, who died in 165 CE, noticed this in the early days of Christianity. Through his research, prayer and study, he considered that the scriptures of different faith traditions and the writings of many philosophers contained ‘Seeds of the Word’ and ‘Rays of Divine Truth’. In his informed, educated and inspired opinion, the Word of God is present in all scriptures.
1800 years later, the Catholic Church picked up this idea during the Second Vatican Council, when, in 1965, it published the Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, usually referred to as Nostra Aetate. Most Vatican publications use the first two words of the Latin text as the title of the document. ‘Nostra Aetate’ translates as ‘In our time’.
The declaration states that,
“The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings, which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless, often reflect a ray of that Truth, which enlightens all people”.
The Declaration continues exhorting Catholics, through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, carried out with prudence and love, in witness to the Christian way of life, “to recognize, preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values found among these people”.
Surely, this is an initiative worth exploring and following. There are plenty of opportunities to take part in ‘Scriptural Reasoning’ sessions, where Christians, Jews and Muslims come together to explore each other’s scriptures on a particular theme. Faith leaders, experts or scholars, often lead these sessions, but not always. There is then an opportunity for participants to share their own understanding of the scriptures. Sometimes, many people turn up and we have to break up in small groups for sharing. It is an excellent way to meet people of different faiths and share the scriptures together. It is not the only way.
If you are holding any activities connected to deepening your love and knowledge of the scriptures, you may consider inviting a Rabbi, an Imam or any Jewish or Muslim person to share their understanding of the scripture. We did this, at parish level, during the Year of Mercy and it brought many members of the local faith communities together for a most enjoyable and enlightening evening of sharing food, dialogue and encounter.