Tuesday, September 17, 2013

How Atheists (and Others) Can Be Saved

"Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day; he saw it and was glad" (Jn 8:56). According to these words of Jesus, Abraham’s faith pointed to him; in some sense it foresaw his mystery. So Saint Augustine understood it when he stated that the patriarchs were saved by faith, not faith in Christ who had come but in Christ who was yet to come, a faith pressing towards the future of Jesus.[13] Christian faith is centred on Christ; it is the confession that Jesus is Lord and that God has raised him from the dead (cf. Rom 10:9). All the threads of the Old Testament converge on Christ; he becomes the definitive "Yes" to all the promises, the ultimate basis of our "Amen" to God (cf. 2 Cor 1:20).

The history of Jesus is the complete manifestation of God’s reliability. If Israel continued to recall God’s great acts of love, which formed the core of its confession of faith and broadened its gaze in faith, the life of Jesus now appears as the locus of God’s definitive intervention, the supreme manifestation of his love for us. The word which God speaks to us in Jesus is not simply one word among many, but his eternal Word (cf. Heb 1:1-2). God can give no greater guarantee of his love, as Saint Paul reminds us (cf. Rom 8:31-39). Christian faith is thus faith in a perfect love, in its decisive power, in its ability to transform the world and to unfold its history. "We know and believe the love that God has for us" (1 Jn 4:16). In the love of God revealed in Jesus, faith perceives the foundation on which all reality and its final destiny rest.
Lumen Fidei 15

Reflection – Tuesdays with Francis time again, although this week we’ve been with him already for a couple of days. Actually this section of Lumen Fidei is directly relevant to the imbroglio over the recent statements by the Pope that have ruffled people’s feathers.

We’ve been marching, very beautifully, through the Old Testament journey of faith of Abraham and others, and now come to the great leap forward in faith from Abraham and Moses to Jesus Christ.

This is where the words of the Lord quoted here come in: “Abraham saw [my day] and was glad.” All the genuine faith of Israel, all the striving of the prophets to faithfully communicate God’s word, all the efforts of godly kings to order the nation to God’s law, all the sacrifices of the priests, all the sincere and heartfelt obediences of all the people of the covenant are now shown to have been, implicitly, faith in Christ. Christ is the Word of God, Christ is the Law of God, Christ is the acceptable sacrifice, Christ is the New Covenant. And so every choice for the word, the law, the sacrifice, the covenant is ultimately a choice for Christ, even though the full revelation was not yet given.

But the Church has understood, and extended this same gracious reality, to all people. Lumen Gentium 16, the Vatican II Constitution on the Church, makes it clear that the salvation won by Christ can be operative outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church. We simply do not teach, and in fact have formally condemned as heresy, the idea that one must be a member of the Roman Catholic Church to be saved.

We have to step carefully here, as there are great pitfalls on all sides. Everyone who is saved is saved by the blood of Jesus Christ; there is no path to heaven except through the Way, the Truth, and the Life. And everyone Jesus saves, He saves by making them a member of his body, the Church. There, we enter into great mystery, as the visible institution of the Catholic Church, which is truly the Church and from God, reaches out in the Spirit and in the invisible order of grace to embrace people who may know nothing of the matter, and even be indifferent or hostile to what they perceive the Church to be.

It is all about God’s mercy. He wants all men to be saved and come to the fullness of life and truth and beauty and goodness in Christ. So a person who through no fault of their own does not know Christ or the Church as that beauty, truth, and goodness of God, but who really is choosing the best truth, the deepest goodness, the most beautiful way of life that he or she knows to choose, is implicitly choosing Christ.

He is the Truth; someone striving to life in truth is striving to live in Christ. He is the Goodness of God; someone striving to live a morally good life is striving to live in Christ. He is the beauty of God; someone striving to live in beauty is striving to live in Christ.

Now of course we are supposed to evangelize and present the fullness of truth of the Gospel and the Catholic faith to all men and women. We are all sinners, and the world is a dangerous place full of the enemy’s snares. It is much easier to be saved within the visible Church and the sacramental graces it is a conduit of, and the clear teaching it provides. But the grace of salvation, which is the merciful love of God, is at work in every human life, to bring everyone to conversion and repentance and openness to the grace of Christ.

And we simply leave it at that. We do not try to judge or sort out who is really sincere and who is self-seeking, who is on the path of salvation and who is not. That’s none of our business. Our business is to live our own life in God, in faith, hope, and love, and to proclaim Christ loud, long, and with love to the four corners of the earth, using every bit of ingenuity and creativity at our disposal to do so. So let’s get on with that today.