As Catholics, are our good works enough to get us over the finishing line or must there be an essential element of faith that works in tandem with our good deeds to get us there?
As Catholics living in the 3rd millennia do we acknowledge and understand St. Pauls reference to Abraham “as the father of all nations;” or the patriarch of the covenanted people of Israel?
What do today’s readings and the above questions have to do with the predicament that we as a nation and members of a global family find ourselves in at present. I am referring particularly to the result of last weeks referendum and the escalation of the situation between Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza?
It is quite easy for us to interpret Paul’s message to the Romans as justifying the life of a Christian by faith alone. We all to often make this mistake.
Paul’s letter demonstrates how “righteousness comes through faith” rather than works.
As Catholics we often ignore this message, often pointing to counter-arguments such as, “faith without works is dead.”
But this argument over “faith versus works,” in my opinion is flawed because it fails to address the fundamental message of Romans 4:13 -18. This is related to how St. Paul interprets and reconceives Abraham as “father of many nations”.
I have no issue with the notion that “righteousness comes through faith.” However, I do have an issue when the righteous, an elite faith group excludes others.
My interpretation of Romans, and what Paul unequivocally does, and goes to great length to point out is that Abraham’s faith does not exclude unbelievers, but rather uses it to include and bring into the fold the Gentiles to build up the Body of Christ.
Faith, and hope can and does open any doors. With this notion in mind, faith opens the door to the outsider. In doing so, it expands the church, seeing it evolve into an expanding community of all nations.
St Paul’s mission to universalise the Body of Christ faced great opposition from the ethnic partisans (Gentiles) in the community in which he ministered to. These individuals threatened the understanding of what it meant to be a child of Abraham” or the “chosen ones” echoing the sentiments of today’s psalm. For the Gentiles that opposed Paul’s teaching, Abraham was the Patriarch of the people of Israel whom God ha made a covenant with, not the “father of many nations”.
Today, our world continues to wrestle in crucial ways with the same challenges that Paul was faced with by his opponents. The greatest challenge facing his communities was that of ethnic reconciliation!
This sadly is also one of the greatest challenges facing us today as a nation, globally and even in our churches.
We are tempted to keep the foreign other out- at a distance due to a resurgence in nationalism; consumerist attitudes tempt us to socialise, worship only with those people of the same socio-economic background as ourselves; those who look, sound and have the same philosophical outlook on life as we do.
I believe that in Romans, Paul challenges us to broaden our vision of who our brothers and sisters are.
The challenge being to follow the witness of Abraham, our father in faith so that our churches, our nation and global societies may incorporate all so that we become communities of many nations.
Michael Schiano has been a member of St. Brigid’s parish since 1990. As a parish member, he has served on the Parish Pastoral Council, Liturgy Committee, and Bereavement Team and is a member of the Passionist Companions. He has been an educator in the Archdiocese and has held positions in middle management and executive leadership positions. He currently works in Aged Care in the roles of Pastoral Care Co-Ordinator at Brigidine House, Randwick; St. Anne’s Hunters Hill; and Chaplaincy, Pastoral Care Officer at Calvary Ryde.