“Can’t we all just get along?”
Ya’ll remember that? It was a statement made famous by Rodney King after he was brutally beaten (unjustly, I might add) by a bunch of LAPD officers.
I think we do this in the Church sometimes as well. We desperately want everyone to get along. The fact of the matter is that Truth is Truth and the Truth will always divide us. The reason for that is that some embrace Truth and others do not. It’s rather hard to “get along” with those who do not embrace Truth when you do.
I bring this up because of something I heard a priest say recently at Mass. He said that the “Catholic Church has never taught that you must be Catholic to be saved.” Now I know that I’m gonna step on some toes with this post but that’s okay. In the words of my mama, “You can get glad in the same pants you got mad in.”
I feel like this is an issue that I must address. With respect to the priest, he is flat out wrong. The Church has taught that there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church on many occasions, for many years. We’ll get into that in a moment, but I just have to say this:
This whole idea of ecumenism is problematic. This idea that we all need to go along to get along is creating more problems than it is solving. The refusal of the modern Catholic Church to stand on the Traditions of the Church is not helping in this idea of “evangelization.” In fact, I say that ecumenism is unloving. If we truly believe (as Catholic Christians) what both Holy Scripture (and Jesus Himself) and Holy Tradition says, then we are actually unloving and damning people to Hell if we don’t proclaim that truth.
The current hierarchy of the Church (and pretty much for the last 50 years or so) seem to be obsessed with not offending anyone, except traditional Catholics. Truth has the tendency to divide. Jesus Himself laid down some hard lines, saying things like ‘you’re either with me or against me’ and other such hard-line things. It’s really only been in the more modern era that we all seem to be scared of standing firm.
So, to the priest on Sunday who said that, and to you, dear reader, let me say unequivocally that the Church has been quite clear on this historically and indeed Holy Scripture is quite clear on this. There is no salvation outside the Church.
Now, we need to unpack that a bit.
Let’s start with Holy Scripture. In the gospel according to St. Mark, chapter 16:15-16 we read,
“And he said to them: Go ye into the whole world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved: but he that believeth not shall be condemned.”
The “he” here is Christ speaking to the Apostles. So, on its face, this is really clear. Those who believe AND are baptized shall be saved. Those who do not believe are condemned. So, two things are necessary: belief and baptism. Without those two things, you cannot be saved.
Ok, believe what?
Jesus says, in John 14:6,
“Jesus saith to him: I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No man cometh to the Father, but by me.”
First and foremost, we are to believe that Jesus and Jesus alone is the way to the Father. In other words, we must believe that He is God and His life, death, burial and resurrection has saved us from our sins and provided us restoration with God the Father and eternal life in His presence. If we then believe that, what does that mean we are to do? You can’t just believe and do nothing about it. Belief that doesn’t change the way you live is not belief at all. Jesus told His Apostles, in Matthew 28:19,
“Going therefore, teach ye all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”
We are to believe and be baptized. St. Peter reiterates this in Acts 2:38,
“But Peter said to them: Do penance, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of your sins: and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.”
St. Paul tells us, in 1 Corinthians 12:13,
“For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Gentiles, whether bond or free; and in one Spirit we have all been made to drink.”
And again, in Ephesians 4:5,
“One Lord, one faith, one baptism.”
So, if we are baptized into Christ (as He commanded), then we are baptized into one body (the Church) and there can be only one as St. Paul reminds us. If Jesus came to build a visible Church (see Matthew 16:18), then it stands to reason that there can only be one Church. As St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:13,
“Is Christ divided? Was Paul then crucified for you? or were you baptized in the name of Paul?”
No indeed. Christ is not divided. There is only one Lord, one faith, one baptism. So, if there is one Lord, one faith and one baptism, there is only one Church; One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Therefore, to be part of the body of Christ, the Church that He built through His Apostles, means that you must be part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. This is clear from Holy Scripture.
And has the Church Herself taught this? Yes. Over and over and over again.
Origen, Irenaeus, St. Fulgentius, St. Jerome, Venerable Bede, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, Peter Canisius, Robert Bellarmine, Pope Pelaguis II, Pope Gregory the Great, Pope Leo XII, Pope Boniface VIII, Pope Pius IX and Pope Pius XI are just a few of the men and Fathers of the Church who have clearly taught and believed this doctrine throughout the history of the Church.
Furthermore, the Fourth Lateran Council, the Council of Florence, the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the declaration, Dominus Iesus (from the year 2000), which states,
"…it must be firmly believed that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and baptism (cf. Mk 16:16; Jn 3:5), and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through baptism as through a door…” all affirm this teaching. So, where this priest, or anyone else, got the idea that the Catholic Church has never taught that you must be Catholic to be saved is quite beyond me.
Now, to talk about the 10,000 lb elephant in the room…Does that mean that Protestants are not saved?
What I can say without equivocation is what I’ve said before. Jesus came to build a visible Church. He did not build many visible churches; He built One Church and commanded us to follow Him within that framework, starting with baptism. Therefore, it follows that those outside the visible Church are not part of the Church and must become part of the Church in order to obtain all the graces of God.
However, that does not mean that God is not merciful. If I may quote Dominus Iesus again,
“…for those who are not formally and visibly members of the Church, salvation in Christ is accessible by virtue of a grace which, while having a mysterious relationship to the Church, does not make them formally part of the Church, but enlightens them in a way which is accommodated to their spiritual and material situation. This grace comes from Christ; it is ... communicated by the Holy Spirit; it has a relationship with the Church, which, according to the plan of the Father, has her origin in the mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit."”
A word, if I may, about these statements from Dominus Iesus. For far too long, the Church has equivocated and given vague ambiguity where clarity and precision are due. The word “pastoral” has been thrown around with regularity since Vatican II in the Catholic Church. I feel like Inigo Montoya, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” To be pastoral does not mean to equivocate and dodge the issue by platitudes and being ambiguity. To be pastoral means that we state the truth, no matter the outcome, because souls are at stake. If we fail to state the truth and preach the truth, we are, in fact, being unloving and, indeed, not pastoral.
I will not equivocate with the truth. There is no salvation outside the Church. As a Protestant convert, I came face to face with that myself, so I won’t now dodge the question. There is no salvation outside the Church. Period. Full stop.
The bottom line is this: The Son of God, the second Person of the Holy Trinity, came to earth. He lived, ministered, died, was buried and raised from the dead so that we, by faith in Him, may be restored to relationship with God the Father. Faith in Him demands that we be obedient to His commands, including being part of and submitting to His mystical Body here on earth. That is the Church.
Rather than see this as confining, let us see this for the grace it is! God has given us a very great gift in the Church. Why wouldn’t we want to be part of the Body of Christ, the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church?!
We live a double life.
Not at times but all the time. At least, this is true of those of us who are members of the Body of Christ, those who have been saved by God’s grace. We live a double life in a sense. On one hand, we are redeemed by the blood of the Lamb who was slain. But on the other hand, we still struggle against sin, the flesh and the devil. How can this be? There’s very much of a both-and situation going on here, a now and not yet.
This time in the Church calendar can be a little strange for us as well. We have begun what is called “Passiontide.” This time begins on First Passion Sunday (today) and ends on Holy Saturday. Why do we do this? I want to offer an extended quote from the 1956 St. Andrew’s Missal in explanation,
“During these last two weeks of Lent, leading up to Easter, the Church is at pains to make us relive with her the events which went before and surrounded our Savior’s death, and which, above all others, were decisive in effecting the salvation of the world.
Passiontide, by its close connection with Eastertide even now sets before us our Redemption in the Blood of Jesus, but it is the remembrance of the sufferings of Christ and the humiliations of His Passion to which the Church now turns particular attention. Before applying to our souls the fruits of grace in the triumphant celebration of our Savior’s Resurrection, she desires to make us follow Christ step by step in the dire struggle which He underwent in order to redeem us.
Thus the long retreat of Lent draws to a close, as we contemplate that unique contest, which could alone wrest man from sin and earn salvation for him. It is essential that we should be reminded of this and it is a source of great consolation for us. Our personal effort at self-correction and reparation is not thereby rendered useless, but it is only effective and of value in union with the Passion of Him who took on Himself the sins of the world and expiated them all. Through that mysterious solidarity, which exists between all members of the human family, Jesus, Son of God made man, takes the place of His guilty brethren. He takes our sins upon Him…”He was made sin for us,” says St. Paul, “so as to bear our sins in His Body on the tree.””
This, then, is Passiontide and today is First Passion Sunday. Our readings for today are going to reflect the dual nature of our reality as I introduced this reflection with.
Epistle: Hebrews 9:11-15
Gospel: John 8:46-59
We are presented in our Epistle text today with a vision of our Lord Jesus that is at once profound, slightly disturbing by modern standards, and glorious. We are told that Christ is our High Priest. We are given the image of expiation and sacrifice. The writer says,
“Neither by the blood of goats, or of calves, but by his own blood, entered once into the holies, having obtained eternal redemption.”
To a Jewish person of the 1st century, this would have made perfect sense. In the sacrificial system under which they lived, put in place by God, expiation for sin only came through sacrifice. In fact, later in this chapter (Hebrews 9:22), the writer tells us that, without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sin, calling to mind Leviticus 5:11, Leviticus 17:11 and Ezekiel 43:18.
The writer goes on to offer the perfect sacrifice of Christ for our meditation and great joy. If the blood of goats and oxen offer expiation, how much more, he asks us, does the perfect blood of the unspotted Lamb of God cleanse us?! And so, under the “Old Covenant” blood was shed for the remission of sin, now a new and better covenant has been fulfilled in our sight. By the shed blood of Jesus, a New Covenant has come forward that we who are covered in the blood of Christ may enjoy our eternal inheritance.
Here we see His glory and prestige as our great High Priest, yet His great humility and sacrifice in giving up His own Body and Blood for the salvation of the world. By His blood, a new covenant ensues. By it, we are made free.
And yet, we see in our gospel reading, the increasing hatred of the Jewish authorities toward Jesus. They even accuse Him of not only casting out demons with the help of the prince of demons but of being possessed of a demon Himself. What sacrilege and blasphemy! And then, in their minds, He commits the ultimate blasphemy. He calls Himself God. Look at verse 58 of our gospel reading,
“Jesus said to them: Amen, amen I say to you, before Abraham was made, I am.”
They take up stones to kill Him. Seems a bit harsh by our modern standards. But lest we took quickly consider our modern standards, remember that it was YHWH Himself who told Moses in the burning bush His most Holy Name: I AM WHO I AM (Exodus 3:14). Make no mistake. Jesus was very clearly calling Himself God, the eternal One, and therefore unequivocally referencing His divinity.
The Jews understood this and tried to kill Him for blasphemy.
Such a sharp contrast put before us in our readings today. This is the dichotomy set before us in Passiontide. On one hand, we see the fruit of grace in the celebration of Easter anticipated. On the other, we see the torment He endured on our behalf.
This is happening today as well. Our world (at least some of it) will recognize Jesus as a wise man, a great teacher, perhaps even a holy man. But the Second Person of the Trinity, the Son of God who is indeed divine by whose death we are reconciled to God? No, that cannot be Truth to the world. For, if it is Truth, it demands something of us. The person of Jesus the Christ demands our faith and our obedience and for that, the world cannot stand Him. Our modernist world cannot stomach objective Truth, a Truth that exists outside our own selfish worldview of personal autonomy and what we believe is our own personal transcendence. Here is where our flesh conflicts with Christ. Here is where we don’t want to be.
But here we must be. In the middle of this duality, this dichotomy. We have the glorious and great High Priest on the one hand and the bloody corpse of the God-man, Jesus, on the other.
We cannot look away. We dare not. We must lean in, look closer, embrace our discomfort in fasting and penance so that we may join in His suffering.
By it, we are purified and offer ourselves as a sacrifice to our Savior.
In it, we join our Savior in His Passion and in His glory.