Evangelization Part Two: Eric Sammons, Massa Damnata (again) and Bishop Robert Barron

January 23, 2023
A mainstream traditionalist argues for a return to a Massa Damnata view of salvation. I disagree.

I swore I was not going to comment on this but since my email box has been flooded with folks encouraging me to, I decided to go ahead against my instincts and offer some thoughts.  I am speaking of the recent essay by the traditionalist Eric Sammons in the online Crisis Magazine that goes by the provocative title, “Dare We Fear That Most Men Be Damned?” What he says in this essay is, from where I stand, deeply problematic and is indicative of a troubling mindset among many traditionalists. And since my chief concern in my research and writing these days is the issue of evangelization, and since Sammons repeats what has become traditionalist boilerplate on the topic of Hell and how we need to return to a Massa Damnata view in order to be properly motivated to evangelize, I decided to respond to Sammons before proceeding to my next essay on the theology of evangelization.

And what interests me the most about this essay by Sammons is that it does not come from the fringes of the American traditionalist movement but from one of its leading lights.  In other words, this represents rather common and mainstream traditionalist thinking and therefore what he says here is what we call in Poker a “Tell”, and in this case it is a “Tell” that provides for us a window into the mind of the average American traditionalist.  This is important to me since after my last essay on traditionalism – and indeed after everything I have written on traditionalism – I always receive messages from irritated traditionalists which claim that I am engaging in the construction of a straw man and that I set up unfairly exaggerated caricatures of traditionalism drawn from its fringes in order to criticize the movement as a whole.  In particular, my oft repeated criticism of traditionalism as espousing a “Massa Damnata” view of salvation that holds that most non-Catholics are on the path to Hell is held up for ridicule as a straw man exaggeration.  And yet, here is Eric Sammons, chief editor of the popular Crisis Magazine, saying that we need to return precisely to the view that most people are on the road to Hell in order to have the proper motivation to evangelize the world.  

And so to those who say that I am attacking a straw man I point to Mr. Sammons and say: Ecce Homo.  No less a light in the traditionalist world than Dr. Peter Kwasniewski posted a link to Sammons’ essay on his Facebook page and said it is the best article on the topic he has read in years.  Now, to be fair to Dr. K., he himself has stated that he does not endorse such Massa Damnata approaches, and yet the central thesis of the Sammons piece is that we must return to the view that most people are on the path to perdition, so it is hard to square Dr. Kwasniewski’s full-throated endorsement of this essay with his putative rejection of the essay’s central thesis!  You simply cannot have it both ways here so perhaps Dr. K. can explain his views further.  If the essay is indeed the best he has read on the topic in years, and since the central theological point of the essay is a Massa Damnata emphasis, then what we have here once again, and despite his claims to the contrary, is a “Tell”.  The mask is dropped, however temporarily, and we see that two of American traditionalism’s leading lights are pushing a Massa Damnata view of salvation.  Therefore, I think we can now set aside once and for all the claim that I am attacking a straw man.

However, perhaps what is going on here in both the essay by Sammons and in Kwasniewski’s endorsement of it, is not so much a full-throated affirmation that most are indeed going to Hell, but rather the use of the topic of salvation as a cipher for other ecclesiological issues that are the true target of their critique.  I would hope that this is the case since if they do indeed believe that most are destined for Hell then the image of God that such a view implies is, at the very least, deeply problematic.  But that is a topic for a different day.  For now I will focus instead on the essay by Sammons as an articulation of a rhetorical strategy for evangelization and as a negative judgment on Vatican II and those who defend its constructions on the topic of salvation.  

Central to this debate is the traditional Church doctrine of “extra ecclesiam nulla salus” (outside of the Church there is no salvation).  And Sammons is correct in his essay that there has been in the history of the Church a decidedly narrow interpretation of this doctrine. Indeed, there are many statements from popes and councils that seem to say that most non-Catholics, unless they repent and accept the Catholic faith and are baptized, will go to Hell.  Nevertheless, and as Sammons himself acknowledges, Vatican II offers a less exclusive and more expansively inclusive interpretation of the doctrine. This is found predominantly in Lumen Gentium and is a broadening of the doctrine that was subsequently endorsed by both John Paul II and Benedict XVI as well.  Specifically, Lumen Gentium highlights the role of the moral conscience in salvation and says that anyone who is sincerely seeking God and is following their conscience in that quest can indeed be saved even if they are not Catholics. There is a lot more to it than just that, of course, but that is the gist of it and Sammons acknowledges that this is indeed now the view of most people in the Church.

Sammons, however, dismisses this more inclusive approach by claiming that it is ambiguous about what “sincerely seeking God” actually means with the implication of course that we are therefore free to interpret that phrase very narrowly, especially in light of previous doctrinal statements that necessitate the view that there are probably very few genuine truth seekers out there of the kind Lumen Gentium describes.  But I think this is a hermeneutically unsound assumption to make since it is very clear to those who have studied the document and its development carefully, that the Council fathers were indeed intent upon putting forward a more inclusive view of salvation and of expanding the interpretation of extra ecclesiam. Because if that was not their intent then why take up the topic at all, and at such length, and in an important dogmatic constitution, when all they had to do, if their intent really was to reiterate the status quo,  was affirm the older exclusivist tradition and move on?  The fact is that the statement in Lumen Gentium about moral conscience and that those who follow it sincerely can be saved is not ambiguous at all. It means what it says it means.  

And in so doing it is giving doctrinal weight to a more expansive view of the role of the moral conscience that had been developing in the Church at least since the time of Newman.  In other words, the theological pedigree of what the Council was endorsing was not hiding under some bushel basket somewhere and its broad outlines were there for all to see. And it is a bad interpretive move on Sammons’ part to ignore the trajectory of this intellectual pedigree since the trajectory makes clear – indeed, very clear – that what Vatican II was doing was developing a more inclusive Christology and, therefore, a far more expansive and inclusive interpretation of extra ecclesiam.  But this does not serve Sammons’ restorationist agenda, and not having the courage to say, simply and honestly, that he disagrees with Vatican II, he has to engage in the typical tactic of many trads to claim that Vatican II is hopelessly “ambiguous”.  

What is missed here is a real opportunity to confront the elephant in the living room.  And that elephant is, as Pope Benedict noted, that Vatican II is not in total material continuity in all things with the past.  This is why he preferred what he called a “hermeneutic of reform” over a simplistic hermeneutic of continuity or a radical hermeneutic of a deeper rupture.  Vatican II, he said, engages in some micro-ruptures with the past in order to recover elements of the Tradition that had been obscured, which means that the continuity it seeks is a deeper continuity with the broader elements of the Tradition which, paradoxically, requires small ruptures with those narrower construals of that Tradition.  Furthermore, Benedict claims that this is nothing new and that this is indeed what all great councils have done. They develop doctrine by deepening those doctrines in a manner that evinces a deep continuity with the christological core of Revelation even as it corrects distortions that have crept in.

But rather than seize upon this opportunity for a deepening of our theological understanding of the Tradition via the promptings of a fully valid ecumenical council with dogmatic constitutions, and rather than grappling with the significance of the Council as an example of rupture in continuity and what this implies, traditionalism chooses the path of a simplistic de facto rejection of the Council.  One could, for example, take the path of Msgr. Thomas Guarino who, in his book, “The Disputed Teachings of Vatican II”, shows quite clearly this dynamic of rupture in continuity at work in the Council and does so in highly nuanced ways, rather than taking the either-or path of total continuity or radical rupture.  It is a book well worth reading.

This is the kind of opportunity traditionalism misses and thereby consigns itself to the cranky margins when it could be instead a serious interlocuter in the conversation. I think for example as well of more traditionalist-leaning scholars like Matthew Minerd who thoroughly accepts Vatican II and is deeply appreciative of much of ressourcement theology, but who has also set himself the task of retrieving the scholastic tradition of people like Garrigou-LaGrange and pointing out the lost riches of the scholastic tradition, a tradition he thinks has been unfairly maligned.  This is how a traditionalist who is not hamstrung by restorationist fantasies can be a serious conversation partner and I for one welcome it.  

Traditionalism ignores this more nuanced hermeneutic and ongoing conversation and opts instead for two options which are in competition for ascendency within the traditionalist movement.  The first option is the one adopted by Sammons which says the Council is in continuity with the past, was merely and only “pastoral” (false) and therefore where it seems that it is not in continuity we are free just to ignore it as an ambiguity and move on with “restoring” the older views.  The second, which is more logically consistent and honest in my view, is to say that the Council was not ambiguous and that it departs from the Tradition in illegitimate ways and therefore should be rejected.  And if not rejected tout court, at least rejected in those problematical spots. Thus, there is the view of some that a future pope should just wield a line-item veto and take a red pen and draw a line through those particular aspects of the Council while leaving the rest intact.  

Either way it amounts to the same thing: restorationism.  The heart and soul of traditionalism is the explicit affirmation that since the modern Church is an unmitigated catastrophe that the best path forward, the path of common sense, is to restore the pre-conciliar, Tridentine form of the Church in liturgy, theology, and discipline.  And that restoration also includes the recovery of hard integralist understandings of the relationship between Church and State as well as the rehabilitation of Massa Damnata approaches to salvation.

This is why I am not certain that traditionalists like Sammons and Kwasniewski really do believe that most people go to Hell.  Because in reality it seems to me that what is really going on is that they merely adopt the view as an important cog in the gears of the restorationist project. It is rhetorical more than it is deeply theological and is simply one part of a larger ideological package of ecclesial restoration. Sammons for example, does not claim that most people will in fact go to Hell. He claims instead that we need to *think* that most people go to Hell in order to be properly motivated to evangelize.  Ironically, he is ambiguous here at best.  And perhaps here one is permitted, even in the midst of deep disagreement with this restorationist project, to have a certain sympathy with their motives since the modern Church is indeed a hot mess and, as traditionalist Gregory DePippo has noted, what the current pontificate demonstrates is that the hermeneutic for the Council provided by John Paul and Benedict is by no means determinative on a practical level and that the progressive misuse of the Council is alive and well.

Nevertheless, and any sympathy notwithstanding, traditionalism is itself a hot mess of simplistic diagnoses of the causes of our current malaise, simplistic and often obtuse theological constructions that far too easily categorize any theology that strays beyond scholasticism as modernist, far too dismissive attitudes  toward Vatican II, and the promotion of restorationist counter-proposals that are often completely bonkers.  

And I would argue that one of those things that is bonkers is the idea that the Church must once again return to preaching that it is very, very hard to be saved if you are not a Catholic and that those who are saved outside of the visible Church are very few indeed. I suppose that reasonable people can disagree as to whether such a view is indeed bonkers, and I will leave it to my readers to decide for themselves on that score, but from where I sit I think it is not only bonkers but off-putting in the extreme.  I think the idea is the product of the traditionalist social media echo chamber since I find it impossible to believe that anyone who is seriously involved in pastoral ministry and evangelization in the broader world on any level thinks that this is an evangelical bird with functioning wings.  I know from my own experience as a teacher for twenty years of typical modern undergraduates that the positive theological message of theosis and sanctification as the most proper fulfillment for any human life, and the linking of that message to a profound christological anthropology and a deep Christian humanism, is far more fruitful than the message of Massa Damnata judgment for most people and its forensic, penal-code eschatology.  But hey, that’s just me.

Therefore, I utterly reject, root and branch, the notion that we must return to Massa Damnata preaching in order to reenergize our evangelization.  And I would be content to just leave it at that – as a mere theological disagreement – and move on, were it not for the fact that traditionalists like Sammons frequently engage in straw man caricatures of their own (oh the irony) of some very fine and orthodox people in the Church simply because those people are not Tridentine restorationists and preachers of Massa Damnata Hell cowbell.  For example, Sammons once again raises the issue of Bishop Barron’s now famous interview with Ben Shapiro (will it ever end?) wherein he accuses Barron of engaging in “loose evangelization” since he did not issue a direct and explicit invitation for Shapiro to convert lest he fall into damnation.  This has become a tiring and standard traditionalist trope and Bishop Barron has become their bête noir.  He is their white whale.  But what is interesting to me is what their reaction to this interview, and to Bishop Barron’s evangelizing style in general, tells me about what it is traditionalists think we should be doing in our evangelizing.  And all I can say is thank God Shapiro chose to speak with Barron and not Eric Sammons. Because I would wager that Shapiro would find the Catholicism of Barron far more attractive, and far more conducive to a potential conversion to Catholicism, than he would the Catholicism of Sammons.  In fact, I think he would find the Catholicism of Sammons positively repulsive.  And I remind you, Sammons is in the mainstream of the trad movement.

Let’s begin with the obvious and that is the fact that Shapiro chose to interview Barron in the first place. Obviously Shapiro, a genuinely open minded guy who is open to the movement of God in non-Jewish traditions, found something in Barron’s various videos and writings that was attractive.  He found Barron intriguing and someone with whom he wanted to have a theological conversation.  And please do not tell me that it is because Shapiro was smitten with Barron’s alleged religious relativism and latitudinarianism. Because those are things that Shapiro does not like.  He is not going to interview a progressive Catholic prelate who thinks all religions are basically the same.  What he must have seen instead was that Barron was someone with a robust and orthodox adherence to the Catholic faith – a fact that Shapiro respects -- but who is nevertheless someone genuinely interested in engaging in a serious theological conversation with those who are not in that camp.  And guess what? That is a good thing. I highly doubt Ben Shapiro will be calling upon Mike Voris, Taylor Marshall, or Eric Sammons anytime soon and thus the claim by Sammons and others that Barron’s “loose evangelization” will not be an effective tool for inducing conversions becomes prima facie problematic.  

As an example of what he calls Barron’s loose evangelization Sammons brings up the now famous line from Barron that Jesus is the “privileged way” to salvation and then accuses Barron of fudging on the centrality of Christ since he did not say that Jesus was the “only way”.  I am going to be blunt here.  Sammons is being deliberately deceptive here. Either that or he is monumentally obtuse theologically.  Because the repetition of this canard has by this point become an exercise in sinful – because willful and mendacious – mischaracterization of Barron’s views.  And I make that charge since very soon after Barron makes this “privileged way” comment in the interview he goes on to say that all salvific grace, even if given to those outside of the Church, comes through Christ.  He says all salvation and all grace comes through Christ and through his Church.  And for all of their vaunted knowledge of Church doctrine, traditionalists seem singularly incapable of seeing in Barron’s words nothing more than the actual teaching of the Church;  Namely, all salvation comes through Christ, and all salvific grace is christological, but that salvation can be extended to those outside of the Church in various ways.

Does Sammons disagree with this teaching of the Church? I would hope not since if he does it makes him a Feeneyite, and possibly even a heretic.  Sammons deliberately misleads his readers by deliberately omitting these qualifying words of Barron that make it clear that he grants total soteriological priority to Christ.  Furthermore, there is not a single traditionalist I know who has ever bothered to look at Barron’s serious scholarly work.  Because it they had they would have encountered a great book that goes by the strange title, “The Priority of Christ”.  That is an odd title to give to a book which was written by a man who is apparently a religious relativist.  The book, of course, makes it abundantly clear that he is not a relativist, and his interview with Shapiro makes that clear as well. And this would be clear to any fair theological observer, but Sammons is not a fair observer.  He uncharitably reads into Barron’s remarks the worst possible interpretations and quite contrary to the evidence at hand.  And quite frankly, any trad who continues on with this line of thinking is just making a total fool of himself at best and outing himself as a mean-spirited liar at worst.  Barron could not have been more clear on the point of the priority of Christ in salvation.  And for Sammons to dredge this up yet again is an indication of a fundamental lack of charity and a fundamental act of indecency to a prelate who has brought far, far, more people into the Church via Word on Fire than Sammons could ever hope to achieve in his wildest trad fever dreams.  

Watch the whole interview for yourself.  The discussion about salvation for non-Catholics happens at the 16:20 mark.  But all of it is instructive.  And ever the dangerous modernist, Barron begins the interview with a lengthy analysis of the proofs for God’s existence from Thomas Aquinas.  And he ends it with a discussion of Jesus as the fulfillment of Judaism.  Wow, such liberal revisionism and loose evangelization.  

One can only conclude therefore that his objection is to Barron’s use of the word “privileged”.  But all Barron is doing here, albeit in a different terminological register, is making the very traditional distinction between the ordinary and extraordinary means of salvation.  The ordinary path is that of explicit faith in Christ and explicit entry into the Catholic Church via water baptism.  This is indeed God’s “privileged” way of salvation.  The extraordinary path is the path of those who, though outside of the Church through no fault of their own, pursue the best lights of their moral conscience in their seeking after God.  And the clear indication that this is the distinction Barron is making can be seen in the fact that immediately after discussing the “privileged” ordinary way he speaks at length of Newman’s idea that the moral conscience is the aboriginal vicar of Christ in every soul.  Not the vicar of Buddha or Krishna, but of Christ.  

But these details are too much bother for Sammons to note since they would interrupt his narrative of the “loose evangelization” of Robert Barron. One can perhaps object that the use of the word “privileged” is unfortunate and a bit ambiguous. I would disagree, but for the sake of argument let’s say this is so.  But a charitable reading of the whole interview would make it quickly and abundantly clear that what Barron means here by “privileged” is “the ordinary means of salvation.”  And a fair and honest interlocutor would say so, even as he disagreed with the use of the term as “unfortunate.”

But once again this is a poker “Tell”.  Because once again the mask slips and what is revealed is that what it is that Sammons really objects to is the actual teaching of the Church in Lumen Gentium.  The entire essay makes this clear.  We must return to the Massa Damnata at all costs and to heck with Lumen Gentium, to heck with a more inclusive Christology, to heck with hoping for the salvation of all sinners, to heck with the moral conscience as the pathway to God for billions of people, and to heck with the Church that says such things.  We need more Hellfire preaching and we need it now.  And you do not have to be a universalist or even a Balthasarian “hoper” to see that there is something profoundly pathological about this.

Sammons and his traditionalist allies dislike Robert Barron because he is the most successful public face of the Church of Vatican II right now.  He is a cipher for all that they hate. He is judged to be dangerous not because his approach is unsuccessful, but because it is.  And this is another mask-dropping Tell.  Because despite all of their denials to the contrary, they hate Barron because they really do hate Vatican II and reject it.  They hate almost everything about the modern Church.  They hate the Novus Ordo.  And I don’t mean that they think, as I do, that it needs a deep reforming.  They want it gone and the TLM restored.  Nothing short of that will do.  And Barron is not on board with that restorationism.  Forget that when he was rector of a seminary he encouraged his seminarians to learn the TLM.  He is not pure enough and he does not reject the Novus Ordo and he accepts Vatican II and he is really good at what he does and so he must be opposed.  Heck, I have even seen on social media leading traditionalists claim that Fulton Sheen got “squishy” and “questionable” in his old age. Why? Because he accepted Vatican II enthusiastically and he embraced the Novus Ordo.  Folks, these are not straw man caricatures I am critiquing.  This is how these people think.  This is not fringe.  Think for a second what it means that many, many traditionalists in the mainstream think that Fulton Sheen and Robert Barron are enemies of the true faith.

We have in all of this a real revelation of how they think about evangelization.  And so in conclusion I want to return to the Shapiro interview.  The accusation is that because Barron did not issue Shapiro and explicit “come to Jesus” altar call moment that he was not therefore proposing Christ to Shapiro for his consideration.  But in reality he was.  Unless one assumes that there really is only one way to evangelize and only one way to propose Christ to serious seekers.  And that is the path of aggressive in-your-face “sinners in the hands of an angry God” proposals that throw down the gauntlet and warn of Hell should the Jesus proposal not be heeded.  And quite frankly, and ironically, it all sounds a bit evangelical Protestant doesn’t it? There is no subtlety here in how grace builds on nature and what consequences this has in our pedagogy of evangelization.  There is instead a very evangelical protestant emphasis upon a one-and-done “Jesus ultimatum” complete with the threats of Hell should one falter in the moment of decision.

But as I said, Barron did propose Christ to Shapiro if you have the eyes to see. Shapiro asked Barron “am I screwed unless I convert?”  What was Barron supposed to say at that moment? “Yes and you better accept Jesus or else you are in danger of Hell because your Judaism is utterly devoid of salvific value unless you get baptized”? Barron knew well rather that Shapiro’s query was a rhetorical question in search of theological nuance. He knew that Shapiro knew that the Catholic Church teaches that Jesus is the path to salvation.  And so he further knew that what Shapiro was really after was a deeper question. Namely, “is there any point of contact, any common ground, any spiritual continuities between your faith and mine? Are we merely reduced to dueling eschatologies of mutual condemnation locked in perpetual competition, or is there some deep point of mutual resonance here?” Shapiro is a public conservative intellectual deeply concerned about our culture and our politics.  And so lurking behind his question as well was the question of inter-religious cooperation in the project of resisting the worst elements of modernity. And in that project Shapiro sees in Barron a natural ally.  

In other words, this was a sophisticated intellectual conversation in a theological tonality between two serious intellectual interlocuters.  And Barron ended by going on an extended discussion of Jesus as the fulfillment of the great institutions of Judaism in Monarchy, Temple, and the prophets.  In other words, he ended by telling Shapiro that the deepest point of continuity between the two faiths is Christ.  He proposed Christ to Shapiro as the deepest answer to his question. Thus, rather than condemning Barron for lacking in hell-fire bluster, we should sit back in admiration and thank the good bishop for giving us a lesson in how to evangelize someone with respect.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not bring up one other aspect of the interview that is so often ignored by traditionalists.  And that is precisely Shapiro’s Judaism.  Do Sammons and the other trad critics of the interview even pause for one moment of serious introspection and historical remembering? Because for  almost all modern Jews when they hear the word “Jesus” or “Catholic” they do not think nice thoughts.  They think instead of words like “Deicide”, “Christ killer”, “pogrom” “Ghettos”, “Inquisition”, and, yes, “Holocaust”.  They think of the deep antisemitism of traditionally Catholic countries like France, Spain, and Poland.  They also think of the social ostracization from within Judaism for those few Jews who do convert to Christianity.  Therefore, any serious Catholic theological interlocutor must be aware of this unique and sad historical relationship of abuse between the Church and Jews.  Barron understood this and Sammons does not.  You do not go into a serious effort at theological conversation with a religiously serious Jew with your Jesus guns ablazin’.  If you do you will most certainly be shown the door.  Bishop Barron acted wisely and prudentially, treading softly but with deep christological seriousness.  And anyone who cannot see that is merely grinding some rather dull theological axes and is religiously tone deaf in the extreme.

Finally, Sammons and other traditionalists never seem to see the irony in accusing Robert Barron of undermining the process of evangelization due to his Balthasarian leanings when Robert Barron has created the largest and most successful evangelization platform in the modern Church. By their logic, instead of founding Word on Fire, his theology should have propelled him to a deep indifference to evangelization.  He should be on a beach somewhere in the tropics by now sipping on drinks with umbrellas in them.  And I could use myself, and others like me, as a counter-example as well.  I do not think most people are going to Hell.  I am a Balthasarian “hoper” in that regard.  And yet I have devoted my entire life to spreading the Gospel and, if I may say so myself, I have been pretty darn successful at it.  Go figure.  Therefore, the risible and deeply problematical claim that we will not evangelize without a Massa Damnata fear factor in play as motivation is demonstrably false in almost self-evident ways.  “But wait”, you might say, “hasn’t evangelization fallen off these days?” I cannot answer that since I am not aware of any deep study on the matter by competent people.  And I doubt folks like Sammons are aware of any such studies either.  Their claims are anecdotal and subjective and are merely grounded in the fact that the Church in the West is in decline and the missionary religious orders are dying.  But whatever the causes of all of this, does anyone seriously believe that the decline in missionary vocations and the decline of the Church in the West is because we no longer think most non-Catholics are going to Hell? Perhaps that is the cause.  But I doubt it.  

For example, are the highly secularized post-Christians of Western Europe in this condition because somewhere along the line they lost their fear of Hell?? Or is it more likely that they lost their fear of Hell because they lost a belief in Hell, and in Heaven, and in Christ?  And in God.  And could we not perhaps also opine whether they lost their faith in these things precisely because they viewed the faith as a judgmental pile of Massa Damnata fury devoid of a deep appreciation of, and love for, humanity? Is not modern secularism at least in part a rejection of the perceived anti-humanness of the Church in these kinds of infernalist ways? And is not the falling away of religious vocations and of evangelical zeal in the Church the result of the importation of these forms of de facto cultural atheism into the Church herself?  Is modern religious indifferentism really just the result of a denial of the “most people go to Hell” idea? Or is the cause-effect relation here in the reverse?

Traditionalists never seem to consider such things and are content to play in the sandbox of some of the most naïve and simplistic explanations imaginable.  And it would all be harmless, except that it isn’t.

I once knew a delightful Hindu priest named Arun.  He ran a Hindu Temple in Edison, New Jersey and when I taught for a time at an all-girls Catholic prep school in Princeton I would take my World Religions course to his Temple.  He spoke to the girls of God in the singular, which led one of my students to ask him, “Mr. Arun, you speak of a single God and yet your Temple is filled with statues of all kinds of gods.  I am confused. Is Hinduism monotheistic or polytheistic?” Arun smiled broadly and replied with energetic emphasis, “Yes! It is both and it is neither!” What then followed was a deeply engaging conversation about Hinduism and Catholicism. Arun was very ignorant of Catholicism.  And I did not throw at him any “come to Jesus or else” ultimatums.  But after four years of doing these trips to his Temple I told him I had been hired by a university and would be moving away.  He hugged me and said, “I have come to truly appreciate Catholicism and Christ more because of these encounters, my brother.  May God be with us both and maybe someday I too will worship Christ as God.”

Arun died ten years ago.  And I hope he is in Heaven.  I think he is.  More loose evangelization I guess.

My next essay will be a further examination of a christological, cruciform, model for evangelization.  And hopefully, it will shed further light on why I think the model of evangelization proposed by traditionalists like Sammons is not only prudentially unwise, but deeply unsound theologically.  I don’t mention them at all, but what I say will provide the deeper theologically rationale for why I think the traditionalist path is of no help in the long run. And now I am done talking about traditionalism for a long, long time.

Dorothy Day, pray for us.

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