When I was touring the Incan ruins in Peru, the guide told me ninety-eight percent of Peruvians were practicing Catholics. Interestingly enough, a majority of these Catholics also claimed their Incan heritage and cherish the pagan rites of their ancestors and incorporated these rites and spiritual disciplines into their lives.
How were they able to be both pagan and Catholic? They were able to reconcile their faith and the pagan beliefs of their ancestors through the idea of “sanctification”.
Sanctification is a theological term that falls under the umbrella of “Justification”. St. Paul said, “we are justified” in Jesus; therefore, we are saved through the spirit of Christ. This idea of justification leads to our salvation. From the Catholic perspective the idea of sanctification is an ongoing process. Although we identify God through our Christianity, there is work to do to attain salvation. As was written in the Letter of St. James, both our faith and works ultimately save us.
Jesus prays to God by saying, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.
I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent them and have loved them as you loved me”. (John 17: 17-23)
Sanctification ties us to the recognition of Christ in our lives. Through the act of sacraments, our ritual practices, our active nature in our prayer lives, our contemplative nature, and willingness to bring the sacred to others through our blessed actions of service, we are sanctifying ourselves to Christ.
We also need to see that others sanctify themselves through their faith. The Catholic Church acknowledges the importance of other faiths and Pope Francis recently stated we need to be open to the cultural diversity of the world and honor the worship practices of others stating that it is God’s “permissive will”.
Carol Glatz recently reported that Pope Francis said, “We should not be afraid that God has allowed different religions to be in the world, but we should be frightened if we are not doing the work of fraternity and walking along with our brothers and sisters”. The Vatican document Nostra Aetate also asserts this and values the interfaith dialogue of the major faiths of the world.
We cannot deny the ideas we encounter in our lives. How do we embrace the ideas of other faiths and sanctify them? How is our knowledge sanctified to God? How does our trust in understanding align itself with God’s will through our faith?
When we are tolerant of other faiths and reach out in the name of ecumenism and interfaith dialogue, we not only round out our knowledge, we go deeper into how we demonstrate our own faith.
We are sanctified by the little things we do in the name of God for the good of the world. When we smile an acknowledgement of another’s dignity, we bless. When we go the extra mile to let one know he is not alone, we are enriched. When we quietly go about our business with holy intent and enact rituals to honor ourselves, we are sanctified to the presence of God within. Our interest in other faiths creates solidarity. When we act in the name of peace, we are sanctified to the world.
I consider my Irish heritage and avow myself to the rich traditions of Ireland. I honor the rich stories and myth, the approach to community and dynamic foundations of an earnest desire to live a rich life and enrich the lives of others. I am reminded of the old Irish wakes of my ancestors and how they honored the memory of the dead. I recently carried on this tradition in my own way when a relative recently passed. The celebration of life is a time-honored ritual in Irish culture and confronts the issue of life and death in a meaningful and powerful way. Her memory was carried into the night and throughout the weekend.
Peruvians have integrated their heritage through symbolic expressions and are mindful of their faith through both faiths Catholic and pagan. The statuary of Mary is the equivalent of the pyramids designed to bury their dead. Artists have artistically symbolized through Mary’s garment the triangular representation of the tomb. The triangular design of pyramids is represented in the figure of the womb of Mary. It is a subtle way of honoring both Mother Mary and Mother Nature in one.
In Peru their heritage is rich and the traditions set forth in that country die-hard. They’ve integrated their past spiritual heritage with their present day beliefs and know that they will one day experience fullest glory with God in the afterlife through the powerful teaching of Christ.