Thursday, May 4, 2023

Saint Socrates Is a Comforting Concept

In the Gospel reading at Mass this weekend, we hear one of my favorite verses. In the 14th chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus tells his followers: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, if Jesus was a mere man and not divine, this is one of His many statements that indicates He either was a liar — a deceiver who knew the truth about himself but claimed to be God anyway to fool his gullible followers — or a lunatic — a psychologically disturbed man who really thought he was God but actually was not. There’s no middle ground. If you say Jesus was good and wise, then His statement this week must be true, and that means He is God. If He was not God, that is, if He was a mere mortal with severely elevated self-esteem, then the things He said about Himself were simply off the charts into La-La Land. 
This is one of my favorite Bible verses because it’s so blunt and to the point. I’m a big fan of clear and plain statements, as I often completely miss the point with subtle, nuanced, allegorical teachings. Put it this way: if I had been one of Jesus’ apostles, I would’ve turned to Peter or John at least 10 times each day and asked, “What was THAT supposed to mean?!” Especially when Jesus was on a roll telling parables.

Even though I like this blunt statement from John’s gospel, a lot of people do not like it at all. Jesus doesn’t really leave any room for other paths, or other faith traditions, or other religions, does He? The Lord frankly says that He, and He alone, is the one, true path to the Father and eternal life in Heaven.

Boy, oh boy, does that make people angry, especially in our current culture, which is steeped in relativism and the idea that “whatever is true for you is true.” Making a blunt declaration that the only way to Heaven is through Jesus Christ is the height of intolerance.

However, there is another way to look at this. Jesus indeed says that He alone is the way, truth, and life. But maybe He’s not being quite as narrow as it seems at first glance. If Jesus is the Truth — the true Truth, with a capital “T” — then anyone who sincerely seeks the truth is seeking Jesus, although he or she might not realize it.

Brilliant author and professor Peter Kreeft says that he has no problem using the term “Saint Socrates,” because that ancient Greek philosopher (who lived centuries before the time Jesus walked the earth), always sought the truth. Kreeft speculates that in seeking the truth, Socrates was seeking Jesus, but just didn’t know it at the time. When he died and his soul stood before the throne of God, Socrates might have exclaimed, “Ah, there you are! I’ve been searching for you my whole life, but I just didn’t know your name until now.”
In my mind, this view is quite feasible, knowing what we know about God’s nature and personality. After all, He is a God of mercy and forgiveness. He does not take delight in seeing souls lost for all eternity. He wants each and every one of us to enter into the joy of Heaven. In other words, if God were a school teacher, He would be grading our final exam on a HUGE curve.

The idea that someone who sincerely seeks the truth is actually seeking Jesus without realizing it, is the one concept that keeps me from despair. That’s because I now have so many friends and relatives who are ex-Catholics, I can’t even count that high. 

As long as they sincerely seek the truth, there is still hope. Lot’s of hope, in fact, because besides being a God of mercy and forgiveness, our Lord is the God of hope.

Jesus is the way and the truth and the life. Anyone who seeks the truth will one day discover that the truth has a name, the name above every other name: Jesus. 

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