Yahweh is Salvation

Douglas P. McManaman
32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reproduced with Permission

Over the years I have had a number of friends and colleagues who said they have serious issues with the Church and the Catholic faith in general. What I have found about those who have issues with the Church is that they are under the impression that being a Catholic is fundamentally and primarily about taking a certain stance on a host of moral issues, in particular the hot button issues of the day. According to many, to be a Catholic is, essentially and fundamentally, to be against adultery, premarital sex, abortion, euthanasia, etc.

But this is a serious misunderstanding of what the Catholic faith is fundamentally. Christ commissioned the Apostles to proclaim not a series of moral teachings, but to proclaim the gospel. The word itself is from an old English word (godspel) that means "good news". He commissioned his apostles to proclaim the good news of the gospel. When discussing the fundamentals of the faith, it's always interesting to ask students just what is that good news. Interestingly enough, they are often stuck for an answer. The problem is that without knowing what the good news of the gospel really is, everything that follows such as the sacramental life and the moral teachings of the Church make very little sense.

But the good news is precisely the theme of these readings; it is the resurrection of the dead, which of course is grounded in the resurrection of Christ. Easter is the good news. Christ is risen, and the good news for us is that we too will rise to new and everlasting life if we live and die in him.

What is so interesting about that first reading from Maccabees is that the seven brothers freely chose to suffer a horrible death rather than violate the Jewish Law. They loved the "Law of their ancestors", the Law of God, more than they loved their own lives. What is particularly interesting about this is that they believed in the gospel before it had ever been announced by Christ, who had not even been born at the time of their martyrdom: "You dismiss us from this present life, but the King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life". And the last brother to die says: "One cannot but choose to die at the hands of humans and to cherish the hope God gives of being raised by him".

It is this tremendous faith of theirs and the hope of resurrection that explains their courage. And it is a lack of faith that God will raise us up, a lack of faith that God saves, that explains our own lack of courage, if and when we back down and refuse to remain faithful to God's word when doing so would mean suffering, or a loss of revenue, or status, or even a loss of a job. The seven Jewish martyrs of Maccabees loved the law of God more than their own lives, more than their own peace of mind, and they believed that God would raise them up and restore them. That is precisely what supernatural faith is.

Many of the greatest thinkers in history argue quite persuasively that human beings have a natural knowledge of God, and that God can be explicitly known to exist through the natural light of human reason. St. Paul says the same thing in Romans: "Ever since God created the world his everlasting power and deity--however invisible--have been there for the mind to see in the things he has created." That is why man is naturally a religious animal, as we see throughout the history of the world, in every culture. But to believe that God will raise us up and restore us to life is not a matter of reason; that cannot be determined through the natural light of human reason. To believe that God saves is the evidence that one has the gift of faith. And that is precisely what the name Jesus means (the late form of the Hebrew name "Joshua"): "Yahweh is Salvation". And so even to believe implicitly that God saves, as many of my Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh students do, is really to believe implicitly in Jesus.

Finally and most importantly, if God will restore everything that we freely give up for love of Him, if we really believe that he will restore us because he loves us, then the moral life ceases to be a burden. A life in pursuit of moral integrity, a life involving sacrifice and service to others becomes our joy, not a painful and heavy burden to carry. If a person does not have this supernatural faith, Catholicism can only appear to be a collection of burdensome rules and moral restrictions, and that's what it is for a great many people in this world - which is perhaps why they have issues with Catholicism. And that is why sometimes the only thing that can bring a person back to his or her senses, that is, back to the faith, is a crisis of some sort, one that compels him to call out to God in the dark, in the vivid awareness of his own limitations and powerlessness, because it is then, at that point, that God can reveal himself to us personally as the God who saves, who hears our prayer and rescues us. Then we are changed by a spirit of gratitude; then we will love the Mass and love the Law of God. The Mass is where we will feel most at home, and the moral life will no longer be the burden it once was.