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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

A brief word about salvation

From Monday night's RCIA class:

"The Bible is not a personal book because when you read it as such you will always find your truth. Scripture serves a liturgical function. It represents the public documents of a church community and as such is meant to be read and heard in public, not alone. The Bible is talking about overturning worlds and you can't overturn worlds on your own."

And so began our discussion of the Gospel According to Luke. Father Bob is teaching us to be "scripturally suspicious" to be detectives in understanding what the scriptures are really trying to convey.

He is quick to point out that the word of God is not limited to the Bible. Writing, music and art all have something to say about the universal messages in the Bible. The church, to its detriment, mistakenly thinks it has a lock on some of these themes. Take peace, for example. Let's hope that much more than the church is talking about the need for peace in our world.

By way of example we listened to a recording of Judy Collins singing, "Song for Sarajevo" with a choir of children from Sarajevo singing along with her:

But when I close my eyes I dream of peace,
I dream of flowers on the hill,
I dream I see my mother smiling.
When I close I my eyes I dream of peace.

It was difficult to sit there and not feel the tears welling as you imagine the life of a child during the Balkans War. I fought the tears, others in class did not.

God speaks to us through love and relationships or through a loved one's tender touch just as he does through music, art and writing. This is salvation, from the Greek word salve, which means "to heal." Father Bob says that 99.9 percent of Catholics believe salvation is something you receive only upon death.

"If life is a test to see if we can get to heaven, then what are we living for? That would mean that God is mean and small. If you have to earn it, then it's not salvation. And if you're being good so you can go to heaven, then that's not being good, it's being scared. Eternal life is having God with you. You don't get it upon death, you take it with you."

The ultimate expression of healing (salvation) is forgiveness. We don't forgive because it's the only power we have over the person who has hurt us. It's our only way to punish them. Luke's gospel is about Jesus' resurrection over and over. When he heals the paralyzed man who was lowered through the ceiling on a stretcher he tells him to "stand up," which is code for "be alive." There's no word for resurrection in ancient Hebrew or Greek so it is translated into "stand up."

Through this miracle, Jesus shows us that we, too, have the power to forgive, to say "stand up" to someone, to restore them to health and life. (Once again he turns their world upside down.) Hatred must be passed on by memory; it must be bred in order to stay alive. That's why ethnic conflicts run so deep. Healing the person and the community are part and parcel of Luke's gospel.

"We are both forgiver and forgiven; healer and healed. Jesus says we have to see ourselves as both."

Next Monday is the last class until late January. I won't be able to attend because Patrick's Christmas Concert is that night. But I'm looking forward to reading the article he has assigned us on salvation. I won't be able to pick it up until next week, but I suspect it has something to do with universal salvation.

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