|What do we make of this?|
Different religions? Secular society?
No reason to be afraid, according to Pope Benedict. Check out this Q&A from Light of the World:
Q: The Catholic Church sees herself as the locus of God's unique revelation. She claims to give expression to God's message, which raises man to his highest dignity, goodness, and beauty. The only problem is that this is increasingly hard to convey to people nowadays, especially when you consider the quantity of what you might call competitors in the religion market. During a meeting with artists in Lisbon, you said that the "dialogue with the world" involved a coexistence of truths.
A: It is not the same this to say that Christ is the Son of God in whom the full presence of the truth about God finds expression and to say that various kinds of truths are also present in other religions, that they have something like fragments, or beams of the great light, that, in a certain respect, they even represent and inner movement toward him. The claim that God is present in Christ and that the true God himself thus appears and speaks to us in him does not rule out that the other religions also contain truths - but that is just the point: truths that, as it were, point to the Truth. In this sense, dialogue, which is meant to make reference to him evident, is an intrinsic consequence of the situation of humanity.
This is a remarkable point. Yes, we are to safeguard the Truth above all, and never compromise. But, we do so in charity. Running away, condemning, these do not get us anywhere, nor do they evangelize society.
The Pope reminds us that if God is the Creator, His entire creation contains his signature. Sure, some have taken it and mangled it so that it is barely recognizable. But, if you are willing to do the work, and "be not afraid," even in an increasingly secularized world of competing religions, you can find truth. This is the starting point of conversation. Condemnation is not.
This is why great art (even "secular") is profound, why the Greek tragedies shed light on Christ, why I love rock and roll. You can, if you look hard enough, find fragments of truth, and the "religious longing" in every human heart made manifest in everything we do.
This reminds me of a lesson from St. Therese of Lisieux that she explains in Story of a Soul:
There was a particular sister who got under her skin. Therese realized this and began a new practice of focusing on the other sister's virtue, instead of only on her vice. Eventually the other sister realized Therese's charity and said, "Tell me, Soeur Therese, what it is that attracts you to me so strongly? I never met you without being welcomed with your most gracious smile!" St. Therese writes: "What attracted me was Jesus, hidden in the depths of her soul, and I answered that I smiled because I was happy to see her (not adding, of course, for spiritual reasons only)."
The lessons of Pope Benedict and St. Therese speak loudly, as we often encounter those who differ from us in many ways.