“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?!
Have you ever found joy in a strange place or at a strange time? It’s like you are in your darkest hour and suddenly find joy. An example from my life was when my sister died. It was one of, if not the, darkest times in my life. And yet, joy came from and during that dark time. During that time, my relationship with my parents was renewed. Joy in the darkness.
Our readings this week are sort of like that. In the traditional calendar, this Sunday is known as Laetare Sunday. What, you may ask, is that? Laetare Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Lent, takes its name from the Latin word which begins the entrance antiphon (introit) for that day. Laetare means rejoice, and this Sunday is marked by a relaxation of the penitential character of the Lenten season. This is Laetare Sunday when we consider the joy before us of the Easter season, joy in the solemn time of Lent.
Joy is one of those things that gets really misunderstood and is wrongly defined. We tend to think that joy and happiness are the same thing. They are not. Happiness is an emotion, a feeling that all is going well for you. Happiness, in our human experience, is largely tied to stuff; a good job, marriage is good, feeling fine, that sort of thing. Joy, on the other hand, is a much deeper thing. True joy is not based, necessarily, in the emotional realm. Joy is a deep-rooted experience that comes from a settled feeling of contentment and is usually not based on stuff.
Joy is not happiness.
So, even during a penitential season like Lent, even while we meditate on our sinfulness and mortify our flesh and do penance, we can have joy. Our joy, as followers of Christ, comes from something that is outside of us. All the readings from this week resound with this theme of joy, from the Introit to the Gradual, the Epistle and Gospel.
Epistle: Galatians 4:22-31
Gospel: John 6:1-15
Our Epistle text is really interesting as it relates to joy. In fact, you may read it and wonder how it has anything to do with joy. The situation that St. Paul is referring to in this text is found in Genesis 16. I’m not going to go into that but, if you like, you can go back and read it. What St. Paul is talking about here is primarily found in what St. Paul calls the “children of promise.” And what is meant by that?
St. Paul reminds us of the story of Abraham having two sons born to him; one from a slave woman and the other from his wife, Sarah. He says in verse 23 that the son born of the slave was “born according to the flesh” but the son (Isaac) that was born of his wife Sarah was “by promise.” What does that mean? Abraham was promised a son. Through that son all nations would be blessed. But Abraham and Sarah couldn’t wait on that promise. They took matters into their own hands, so to speak, and decided they would preempt the promise of God and have a son by the slave woman.
But God’s purpose was not be denied or thwarted, no matter how much Abraham took matters into his own hands “according to the flesh.” God’s promised son was born despite Sarah’s manipulation and Abraham’s capitulation.
There’s something here for us as well: Let us trust in the promises of God and trust His timing. Taking matters into our own hands mostly leads to disaster and sin. We can always rely on the promises of God.
But, St. Paul tells us that he’s reading this story, also, in an allegorical sense. These two sons are “the two testaments.” One, born of the slave, is born under the law. The other, born under promise, is “free.” And Paul relates this to what he calls “Jerusalem.” In Paul’s treatment of Jerusalem, we see the Church. Look at verse 26. St. Paul tells us,
“But that Jerusalem, which is above, is free: which is our mother.”
He is referring to the Church. The Church is our mother. And we, St. Paul tells us, are the new children of promise. Look at verse 28. The promise of God is salvation by the gift of grace. Isaac did nothing to earn it. He was merely born. So now, the child of promise is one who is born of faith, not of the flesh, as St. Paul tells us.
That is us. We who are of the faith are the children of promise.
In turning to our Gospel, we are tempted to think these two texts have nothing to do with one another. This is the miraculous feeding of “a very great multitude.” How many people exactly that is we do not know. What we do know is there were about 5000 men. That’s men only. Jesus miraculously feeds them by multiplying the loaves and fishes.
What we see here is a pre-figuring of the Eucharist. Jesus is giving a foretaste of what is to come after His ascension. The 1955 St. Andrews Daily Missal tells us that this is the Easter Sacrament, promised to the baptized children of the promise. What joy is ours, that THE Child of the promise, who is Christ the Lord, has become for us the Lamb that was slain on our behalf! But not just slain; risen indeed! This is the Easter promise of the Child.
There is One who, for us and for our sins, would be born. He would be the Child of promise in which Isaac is pre-figured. He would be the Seed that will bless the nations. He would be the Seed of the Woman who will crush the head of the great serpent, our enemy!
Now we, like the Psalmist can say,
“I rejoiced at the things that were said to me: We shall go into the house of the Lord.” (Ps. 121:1)
What joy is ours, we who rejoice in the promise of the Child! He, being the Firstborn of many brethren, has become for us our sacrifice. Now, with great joy, we go to the house of the Lord, to the house of our Father. There, in the Easter Sacrament, in the Eucharist, we may taste the joy of our salvation!
One day….oh, one day, dearly beloved! One day we shall see our Lord Jesus Christ face to face! One day we shall see the Eucharistic Lamb who was slain! One day we shall see the great Child of the promise, our Elder Brother, Jesus! With the Father, in the bosom of Mother Church, He has gone before us and He has won our salvation!
What promise, what joy is ours in Christ our Lord!