Most of us converts, sooner or later, end up with one sticking point or another on our journey into the Church. For some, it is the doctrine of purgatory. For others, it might be the role of Mary, or praying through the saints, or some Catholic devotional practices that to an outsider seem totally weird. It is rare for the emotional acceptance and the intellectual acceptance of Catholicism to be on the same place at the same time. Often, they aren't even in the same continent! It is also amusing to note how often the issues that start out as the biggest barrier often end up as the strongest conviction - at least that is what I have seen as I have read conversion stories. Would you believe that my biggest problem with Catholicism was the Church's teaching on sexual ethics?
I'm not a professional apologist, I'm basically a well-read and thoughtful convert. I can give the answers to the objections that I had to the faith, but it is much harder to think through issues that weren't a problem for me! There is so much that I don't know, that I haven't investigated, that I take on faith. Roma locuta est. Some things I accept because Rome has spoken. To my mind, the point of my profession of faith was that I recognized the authority passed on from the Apostles in an unbroken chain. I may be (and often have been) disobedient. I'm a sinner, not a saint, though I hope and pray that I'm improving with age. I hope that I can avoid trying to justify my sins by arguing that the Church is wrong to call them sins. I'm glad that the church will still have me - that she is a hospital for sinners not just a museum for saints. I pray that I will be granted the time I need here on this earth to "work out my salvation in fear and trembling".
I have a friend, a devout Christian friend, who has asked me a question that I have tried to answer to the best of my poor abilities. It has to do with salvation - not necessarily her own salvation, but the salvation of others. I personally have not given a lot of thought to the salvation of others - maybe I should? But my personal attitude is to share the Truth as I have found it, to pray for those others, and to leave their salvation in the hands of God.
My friend has questions about a section of the Catechism. She was reading through the Luke E.Hart Series, What Catholics Believe, Section 5 Jesus Christ:(Published by Knights of Columbus)
"Because adherents of other religions do not acknowledge that salvation comes through Christ, and sometimes do not even accept anything like the Christian understanding of salvation, this does not necessarily mean that they cannot receive the salvation offered through Christ. (CCC) 1260 "Since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partakers, in a way known to God, of the Paschal mystery." Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity.
Scripture teaches that God "wants all men to be saved" (1 Tim. 2:4 ). Christ's salvation is intended for all. (CCC) 605 At the end of the parable of the lost sheep Jesus recalled that God's love excludes no one: "So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish." He affirms that he came "to give his life as a ransom for many"; this last term is not restrictive, but contrasts the whole of humanity with the unique person of the redeemer who hands himself over to save us. The Church, following the apostles, teaches that Christ died for all men without exception: "There is not, never has been, and never will be a single human being for whom Christ did not suffer."
So, does the Catholic church teach and believe that it is not necessary to have faith in Christ to have eternal life in Christ, be born again, saved from sin, death, hell and the grave, etc......?
I know that God is certainly "able" to save anyone, but has God Himself not said that if we do not know the Son, we cannot know the Father? Would God not somehow supernaturally reveal Himself as Christ to such a person as described above if he or she were never able to hear the gospel, or to intellectually understand it ? ( like, for example a mentally handicapped person).
(me again) I have to believe that God will reach out somehow and save those who seek him with sincerity. I prefer to leave the details to Him. But I also worry, with my friend, that the two paragraphs of the CCC quoted above can be interpreted in a manner that encourages indifferentism, the false ecumenism that haunts our culture. I don't think that the Church has ever said that it doesn't matter who one worships or how one worships. Quite the contrary. I think that she has repeatedly said that once one is convinced of the truth of the doctrines and dogmas, that the church is the pillar and foundation of that truth (1 Timothy 3:15), then obedience delayed is obedience denied.
But do these statements mean, for example, that an Islamist terrorist who believes that suicide bombing is the will of God, may yet end up in Heaven? Please remember that the operative verb is "can be saved" - not "will be saved". Very important fine point of meaning!
I think that what the CCC states is that such a scenario is not impossible - that a moment of death conversion is possible (though I would find it highly unlikely but I have to remember that I am not God - thank God!). Is that fair? Is that just? That a man who finally receives the Word at the last moment should have the same reward as one who has spent a lifetime working for the Lord? That Cardinal Newman and Oscar Wilde should both eventually claim a place at the banquet table of the Lord? (after whatever time is spent getting the dross burnt off in Purgatory, of course).
Consider the parable of the workers in the vineyard Matthew 20:1-16
1 The kingdom of heaven is like to an householder, who went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard.
2 And having agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard.
3 And going out about the third hour, he saw others standing in the marketplace idle.
4 And he said to them: Go you also into my vineyard, and I will give you what shall be just.
5 And they went their way. And again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did in like manner.
6 But about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing, and he saith to them: Why stand you here all the day idle?
7 They say to him: Because no man hath hired us. He saith to them: Go ye also into my vineyard.
8 And when evening was come, the lord of the vineyard saith to his steward: Call the labourers and pay them their hire, beginning from the last even to the first.
9 When therefore they were come that came about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny.
10 But when the first also came, they thought that they should receive more: And they also received every man a penny.
11 And receiving it they murmured against the master of the house,
12 Saying: These last have worked but one hour. and thou hast made them equal to us, that have borne the burden of the day and the heats.
13 But he answering said to one of them: friend, I do thee no wrong: didst thou not agree with me for a penny?
14 Take what is thine, and go thy way: I will also give to this last even as to thee.
15 Or, is it not lawful for me to do what I will? Is thy eye evil, because I am good?
16 So shall the last be first and the first last. For many are called but few chosen.