In a recent interview with Scalfari, an avowed atheist and founder of La Repubblica newspaper, Pope Francis said, “I believe in God. Not in a Catholic God; there is no Catholic God, there is God.”
This seems to be a startling statement from the leader of a religious organization guiding billions of followers. After 2000 years of dogma and religious exclusivism – the teaching that only Catholics are saved and the rest go to hell – this is a welcome breath of fresh air and common sense.
Religious exclusivism was always nonsensical. Even as human beings, we would not wish an eternity of torturous hell and fire upon our worst enemy. If God would truly be so dastardly as to send all non-Catholics to eternity of fire, it would imply God is less intelligent and compassionate than we are.
Pope Francis seems to acknowledge this. God is universal and belongs to all people of all faiths in the entire universe. God is not Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Taoist, Moslem or any other denomination. These are what we human beings are. These are the means by which we reach God who ultimately transcends all human constructs and dogma.
Pope Francis is indirectly telling his followers that God cannot be confined to any one faith. God is infinite, transcendental, and ineffable. In other words, God cannot be reached through words but through a mystical experience.
The way of mystical experience has been advised by various saints and sages of all faiths, including Christianity.
Usually, vast religious organizations have not formed around mystics. This is precisely because they espoused individual spirituality and not communal dogma.
Yoga has been one such path of mystical experience and spiritual freedom for thousands of years in India. Today, millions of people in the Western world are taking up yoga and experiencing a glimpse of the Divine.
It may not be surprising at all if we were to find that Pope Francis and many people in his hierarchy practice yoga and meditation behind closed doors.
Indeed, it may be because of such a practice that Pope Francis appreciates the truth of mystical experience and made the milestone statement he did.
~ Sanjay C Patel