Through a Glass Darkly – Dealing with the Catholic Imperial Mind

1 Corinthians 13: 12  For now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then I shall know even as I am known. King James Version (KJV)

A very beautiful verse in the old King James Bible.  For clarity though let’s look at how it is given in other translations.

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face.  Now I know in part, but then I shall know as I also am known.  New King James Version (NKJV)

Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.  New International Version (NIV)

Now we are seeing a dim reflection in a mirror; but then we shall be seeing face to face.  The knowledge that I have now is imperfect; but then I shall know as fully as I am known.  Jerusalem Bible (JB)

Now all that I know is hazy and blurred, but then I will see everything clearly, just as clearly as God sees into my heart right now.  Living Bible (LB)

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity.  All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God knows me completely.  New Living Bible (NLB)

I wonder where this verse leaves us in the matter of ecumenism?  After all, if we believe that as Catholics we have a particular fullness of truth and still see through a glass darkly, where does that leave other denominations and, indeed, other faiths?

I can remember some years ago taking a Pentecostal friend of mine to morning mass in an attempt to share with him what I got out of it,  You can imagine my dismay when the priest gave a short sermon about the Catholic Church being the one true church.  My friend took it all in good part though.   This instance reminded me of Catholics being accused of having an “Imperial mind” and even a certain smugness as the parent body from which others have split.  This forgets, of course, that in a split both parties are damaged.

Indeed rather than using this scripture to prepare some kind of ranking for who has the darkest glass a recent teaching by Rick Joyner (Morning Star Ministries) on the God channel took a different view.  This was that none of us has a complete view in our glass and so we need to get together in order to get more of  a complete view.  The old fashioned mirrors were of polished metal and gave a rather dim reflection.  When silvered mirrors came in they initially gave a very good view but as they aged and bits of the silvering wore off they gave a patchy view.  I think this is more what Rick Joiner was thinking of.  If our patchy mirrors/glasses have different bits missing we would need to come together to get a complete view.  This would certainly be the case across the Christian denominations.

What does the Catechism say?

ccc838 – “The Church knows that she is joined in many ways to the baptised who are honoured by the name of Christian, but do not profess the Catholic faith in its entirety or have not preserved unity or communion under the successor of Peter.”  Those “who believe in Christ and have been properly baptised are put in a certain, although imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church.”  With the Orthodox churches, this communion is so profound “that it lacks little to attain the fullness that would permit a common celebration of the Lord’s Eucharist.

ccc839 – The relationship of the Church with the Jewish People.  When she delves into her own mystery, the Church, the People of God in the New Covenant, discovers her link with the Jewish People, “the first to hear the word of God.”  The Jewish faith, unlike other non-Christian religions, is already a response to God’s revelation in the Old Covenant.  To the Jews “belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, “for the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.”

ccc840 – And when one considers the future, God’s people of the Old Covenant and the new People of God tend towards similar goals: expectation of the coming of the Messiah.  But one awaits the return of the Messiah who died and rose from the dead and is recognized as Lord and Son of God; the other awaits the coming of a Messiah, whose features remain hidden till the end of time; and the latter waiting is accompanied by the drama of not knowing or of misunderstanding Christ Jesus.

ccc841 – The Church’s relationship with the Muslims.  “The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; they profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day.”

ccc843 – The Catholic Church recognises in other religions that search, among shadows and images, for the God who is unknown yet near since he gives life and breath and all things and wants all men to be saved.  Thus, the Church considers all goodness and truth found in these religions as “a preparation for the Gospel and given by him who enlightens all men that they at length have life.”

ccc845 To reunite all his children, scattered and led astray by sin, the Father willed to call the whole of humanity together into his Son’s Church.  The Church is the place where humanity must rediscover its unity and salvation……

So, the Catechism presents us with a mature attitude to acknowledge truth wherever we find it.  Instead of smugness we are presented with the awesome responsibility of sharing the Gospel without putting peoples’ backs up, remembering that 1 Corinthians Chapter 13 is mainly about love.  Ours is not an easy message, as St Paul puts it; “We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.”  1 Cor 1:23 (NIV), but it has a simplicity  “If your lips confess that Jesus is Lord and if you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, then you will be saved.”  Romans 10: 9 (JB)

By way of contrast have a look at St Peter sharing the Gospel with Jews at Pentecost (Acts Chapter 2) and Paul sharing the Gospel with Greeks in Athens (Acts 17: 16-33).

Cleaning our Glass – Have a look at Revelation Chapter 4 and think of the Mass.    The Mass is our window into heaven and the mass is often described as heaven on earth.  Scripture becomes for us a lens, or a window, rather than a mirror.  Familiarity with scripture is our polish.

If the task ahead of us still seems too daunting then consider this; “We are only the earthenware jars that hold this treasure, to make it clear that such overwhelming power comes from God and not from us.”  2 Cor 4:7 (JB)

Our message is – “If God can save me, He can save anyone.”

Amazing Grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!

I Corinthians 2:9  “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.”

I John 3:2 – Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.

We look forward to that day when our true selves, hidden in Christ Jesus, will be revealed.  When we leave behind our Imperial mind and see him as he is with our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Alleluia!  Amen!

Footnote – Consider this – When Paul was writing there was no Catholic Imperial Mind. There were only Christians. So the context of the verse, 1 Corinthians 13: 12, is that the best is yet to be. What we have now is but a pale reflection of what we will have then, an eternity of seeing God in all his glory, in the company of the Risen Glorified Christ, and we will be changed so that we can appreciate Him fully. Amen.