As a catholic, can i take part in a puja and eat the prasad offered? Saturday, 23rd week in ordinary time – 1 Corinthians 10:14-22
When you compare chapter 8 and chapter 10 of St Paul’s letter to the Corinthians you might wrongly arrive at the conclusion that Paul is contradicting himself. Paul clearly states that that he does not recognize the power of any idol; in his words, “no idol in the world exists and there is no God but one.” (8:4) What Paul is simply stating is that no idol has any power before the worship of the one true God. Hence in this context he says, eating food offered to idols (so called gods – verse5) makes no difference. “Food will not bring us close to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat and not better off if we do (8:8) Yet he is emphatic that most Christians may not have the ability to grasp this understanding. Remember, Paul is speaking to the Corinthians, many of who were recent converts from paganism. Hence, so as to not cause scandal and cause other Christians to stumble and think its ok to eat food offered to idols, Paul says it is best not to eat such food.
Today’s text will take this explanation one step ahead. Paul begins in 10: 13 to explain that all of us are tested. We may think our testing is unique and special but temptation is a common human experience. Yet each one is tested according to their spiritual growth and God won’t let you be tested beyond your ability of endurance; if so, Satan would destroy us the minute God would allow us to be tested beyond our capability of endurance. To help us deal with these earthly temptations, God provides a way of escape when faced with such temptations. He provides the way; he does not force us to use the way! Therefore, we have the choice to say no to sin and take the way of escape that God gives us. To be tempted is not sin, but to surrender to temptation is sin.
In this context Paul once again goes back to what he began to teach in chapter 8 and begins with the words, “therefore…”(verse 14). Paul is now talking of how God provides a way for us to resist the temptation to cause scandal to others by eating meat offered to idols.
Clearly, Paul does prohibit the consumption of meat that is sold in the market that may even be offered to idols or eat food from the market that may have had a prayer of thanksgiving said before the food was cooked or sold (10:25). Neither is a Christian prohibited from eating food in the home of an unbeliever (person of another faith). In fact, Paul says in 10:27, if you are “disposed” to go to such a home “eat what is set before you without raising any questions on the grounds of conscience.”(10:27). BUT If you go to a non-believers house, and you are told (or you are aware) that what is set before you or given to you is offered in sacrifice to the idols then you are not to eat it. In short if you participate in a religious ceremony and are offered the same food offered to the idol at the ceremony, you are not to eat that food. (10:28).But if you simply go to the home of a non-believer, you may eat what is set before you. Note there are two elements here that are mandatory; I take part in the religious ceremony and I am offered the same sacrificial food offered in that ceremony, then I am not to consume it.
Let us now come to the text of today which will also throw up another set of challenges and nuances. Paul in 10:14 asks the Christians of Corinth and us to ‘flee from the worship of idols.’ Remember he says, we may be tested but God gives us a way out and that choice to take that way out or not determines if we commit sin or not. Paul is thus saying, ‘do not put yourself in a sin situation where you may have to participate in the worship of idols.’ Assume that you are invited to an office puja or a friend’s place where the host clearly intends to have a religious ceremony in which an idol is worshipped; it is your duty to decline politely and respectfully lest you find your self asked to also worship the idol and in order not to ‘offend’ your host, you bring sin upon yourself.
Paul says that there may be some who think, ‘what’s wrong with participating in a puja; after all, I don’t believe in what I am doing. I have a modern world view and am not narrow minded.’ This is not a question of your mind or your world view but a clear religious teaching. Remember the principle that Paul gave us; by your actions you cause scandal to the community and lead others to sin!
But before we go on to the next point let us place this text in context lest we lose the plot. Paul is speaking to the Christians about what goes on in the pagan temples in CORINTH. Please do not apply this teaching with a brush to all religions as each religion may understand idol worship differently. (Having said that I am reiterating what Paul said, “ no idol worship,”) Paul is stating that what goes on in PAGAN TEMPLES may not be as innocent as it may seem; as MAY be the case in other religious beliefs too.
Paul asks them to consider this; Just as participating in the one bread and the one cup at the Lord’s table signifies a unity of understanding of what and who is being received and what and who we become as a consequence of what we receive; in the same way, when one eats from the table, the food offered to an idol do you not become one in the faith of that belief system and of that god?
Just as the Christian practice of communion speaks of unity and fellowship with Jesus, so these pagan banquets in Corinth, given in the honour of idols, spoke of unity with demons who took advantage of misdirected worship. To eat at a pagan temple banquet was to have fellowship at the altar of idols. So eating this food offered to idols is not as innocent as it may seem.
Paul is not saying that the idols of the Corinthians were demons. He is saying that demonic spirits take advantage of idol worship to deceive and enslave people.Without knowing it, idol worshippers are glorifying demons in their sacrifice. He is stating that demons take advantage of man’s ignorant and self-serving worship. If you must eat, eat and drink the body of Christ which alone has the power to nourish you.
There may be some who will still say that “as long as we participate in the Lord’s Table, we are safe in Him.” Paul answers that they disgrace the Lord’s table when they fellowship with idols. Paul is clear, only he, the true God has the right to be worshipped and is offended when we worship other gods,”
Lest we forget, “ I AM the Lord YOUR God, you will have no other gods before me.
Finally on a pastoral note, so as to not be confused.
1. Avoid vigorously any situation where in you might find yourself being asked to worship an idol especially if your non participation may ‘hurt your host.’
2. Idol worship is a BIG NO-NO for Christians.
3. If you know that some food is ‘blessed’ on the occasion of a religious ceremony and given to you and you have not participated in the religious ceremony, you MAY consume that food but it is best avoided and could be politely declined or may be respectfully given to someone else of the same faith as the person who has offered you that food.
4. You cannot participate in a religious ceremony where any other God is worshipped. If you are simply present because of a matter of compulsion or co-incidence and you have ‘participated’ either consciously or unconsciously in that religious rite, then you must not consume that food . If you do YOU CANNOT PARTAKE OF THE TABLE OF THE LORD before you make your confession.
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