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Pope Francis’ recent homily about salvation, and even more so Father Thomas Rosica’s comments about it, has led to much speculation, confusion and even anger about one of the most essential questions in the faith: the question of who goes to Heaven and who goes to Hell. Maybe it’s good to shine a small light on this difficult theological topic.
First of all, let’s start with the words that Pope Francis spoke in his homily of 22 May:
“The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all!”
The Church has always upheld the universality of redemption in contrast to some Protestant communities, who have limited it to a certain group of predestined faithful. A glance on the Catholic Encyclopedia page about this topic points our attention to some Scripture passages which bear this out. I’ll quote a few, but do read the link above especially the subsection titled ‘Universality of Redemption’, to get an idea of traditional Catholic teaching about this subject.
1 John 2:2: “He is the sacrifice to expiate our sins, and not only ours, but also those of the whole world.”
1 Timothy 2:4: “he wants everyone to be saved and reach full knowledge of the truth.”
1 Timothy 4:10: “he is the Saviour of the whole human race but particularly of all believers.”
2 Corinthians 5:19: “I mean, God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not holding anyone’s faults against them, but entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”
Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, by which He brought about redemption for humanity, was not in any way limited. It’s target audience, so to speak, included every human being in past, present and future. But in order to properly understand this, we must try and understand how redemption works.
Perhaps it can be best likened, for the purpose of this blog post, to some form of medication, a pill perhaps, which works for everyone. It can relieve everyone of the pain of some illness. But it doesn’t do so automatically: we must take the pill for it to work. It is no different in the case of redemption. In order for it to work in us, we must make the conscious decision to accept it. That is once again perfectly in accordance with the free will that God has created us with and which He always respects.
So, yes, Pope Francis is correct and in full agreement with Catholic teaching when he says that Christ also redeemed atheists. However, as is sort of their job description, they haven’t accepted it yet. They haven’t yet taken their medication, so it can’t do its work. But unlike a pill, redemption has no sell-by date. It doesn’t go bad if left on the shelf for too long.
Father Thomas Rosica, who is not the press chief of the Vatican as some media would have it, offers some answers to questions about the Pope’s homily. He does not relegate all atheists to Hell (nor to Heaven, for that matter), but presents some much-needed nuance to the discussion, based on several passages from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Most important is that Christ is the final Judge: He will decide on the fate of everyone, based on how they have lived (and in that matter there can be no opposition between faith and works, as both are integral parts of a person’s life).
Also important in the discussion above is Paragraph 171 of the Catechism, which asks “What is the meaning of the affirmation “Outside the Church there is no salvation”?”
This means that all salvation comes from Christ, the Head, through the Church which is his body. Hence they cannot be saved who, knowing the Church as founded by Christ and necessary for salvation, would refuse to enter her or remain in her. At the same time, thanks to Christ and to his Church, those who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ and his Church but sincerely seek God and, moved by grace, try to do his will as it is known through the dictates of conscience can attain eternal salvation.
In short, if a person knows that the Church that Christ founded is necessary for salvation, and nonetheless refuses to be part of her, he or she can not be saved. So, is this true for atheists, then? I would say that it isn’t for the vast majority of them. Many people are atheist or agnostic out of ignorance, and generally not wilfully so. They do not know the Church as necessary for salvation, so it can’t be held against them if they refuse to be part of her.
In his homily of last Wednesday, Pope Francis spoke much about “good works”. This lines up well with the above quote from the Catechism: “those who … sincerely seek God and, moved by grace, try to do his will as it is known through the dictates of conscience can attain eternal salvation.”
There is much more that may be said about this, but the post is getting overly long anyway, so I’ll leave it at this. But I will add an addendum:
Fr. Rosica’s explanations (and those of others) do not contradict what Pope Francis has said, and nor do they indicate some division in the Vatican between the Pope and the Curia. That many media do choose to present it as such, should serve as a warning to us to always remain vigilant when reading or hearing someone’s interpretation of Church affairs and teaching.
In this first week after Pentecost, three dioceses in the Netherlands are gearing up to ordain three priests each on Saturday. While it is no set rule, it is customary for new priests to be ordained around this time. Later on in the year, the expectation is that there will be at least one more ordination coming up in the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden, for example.
Tomorrow, however it will the Dioceses of ‘s Hertogenbosch, Haarlem-Amsterdam and Roermond’s turn. Diocese by diocese, here are the new priests:
Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch, to be ordained by Bishop Antoon Hurkmans in the Cathedral Basilica of St. John:
- Peter Koen
- Bart Theunissen
Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam, to be ordained by Bishop Jan Hendriks, the auxiliary, since Bishop Jos Punt has decided to temporarily lessen his workload in preparation for surgery:
- Jeroen de Wit
- José Marin de Val
Diocese of Roermond, to be ordained by Bishop Frans Wiertz in St. Christopher’s cathedral (and depicted above on the cover of the diocesan magazine):
- Roderick van Attekum
- Carlos Martinez
- Ralf Schreiber
With three of the new priest hailing from outside the Dutch borders (Marin del Val and Martinez are Colombian, and Schreiber German), this year’s class has a fairly strong international element. And that is a trend which will become steadily more standard in the future, particularly since the Diocese of Roermond has just announced that no less than six Indian seminarians will be trained to become priests in that diocese. Starting their time in the Netherlands with an intensive fulltime course to learn the Dutch language, it will be interesting to see if and how these priests succeed in adapting to Dutch society, mentality and culture.
For now, however, prayers for the new priests of this year and all the years to come. May their numbers ever increase, for we do indeed need them.
And finally, to close with the reminder that Pope Francis imparted to the priests he ordained on 21 April:
“[D]ear sons, exercising for your part the office of Christ, Head and Shepherd, while united with the Bishop and subject to him, strive to bring the faithful together into one family, so that you may lead them to God the Father through Christ in the Holy Spirit. Keep always before your eyes the example of the Good Shepherd who came not to be served but to serve, and who came to seek out and save what was lost.”
In the run-up to tomorrow’s inauguration of King Willem Alexander there has been much attention paid to Catholic notions of kingship. While Christ is the one King, the Church also teaches much about the duties of earthly kings. Bishop Jos Punt’s homily is an excellent example of the latter. It also contains an interesting glimpse of the religious landscape of the Netherlands and the role of tolerance, as well as a theological explanation of the globus cruciger. Recommended reading (for Dutch readers, the original text).
A recording of the Mass, by Dutch public television, may be viewed here.
In closing, some words by Father Jim Schilder, priest of the basilica of St. Nicholas:
“Today is the fifth Sunday of Easter. But is also two days before the inauguration of our Crown Prince. That is, you could say, a moment of renewal. A threshold to a new era, without breaking with the past. That is also what we see in this time of Easter. On the one hand it is a time of revolutionary renewal through the resurrection of Christ, and on the other hand a time of a new covenant rooted in the old. It is still about the way that God wants to travel with us, about his continuous invitation to follow Him. We can do this by answering the call of Jesus in today’s Gospel: “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” This goes beyond the two commandments He gave before, and which were already present in the Old Testament: To love God, and your neighbour like yourself. In the Gospel of John He asks us to love each other as He has loved us. His love was characterised by the fact that His entire earthly life was devoted to the other. “I have come to serve.” May the same, we pray, also be true for our new head of state.”
Photo credit:  Isabel Nabuurs,  Fr. Jim Schilder.
“One thing above all appears different, seen with the eyes of faith: death! Christ entered death as we enter a dark prison; but he came out of it from the opposite wall. He did not return from whence he came, as Lazarus did who returned to life to die again. He has opened a breach towards life that no one can ever close, and through which everyone can follow him. Death is no longer a wall against which every human hope is shattered; it has become a bridge to eternity. A “bridge of sighs”, perhaps because no one likes to die, but a bridge, no longer a bottomless pit that swallows everything. “Love is strong as death”, says the song of songs (Sgs 8:6). In Christ it was stronger than death!”
It’s been a while since this blog featured some words by the great archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels, André-Joseph Léonard. Below is my translation of his homily on the occasion of Pope Francis’ installation, yesterday.
The cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula, where the Mass was held, could not house all the faithful who had come. Among them was Queen Fabiola. Archbishop Léonard concelebrated with the other Belgian bishops – except for Ghent’s Bishop Van Looy, who was in Rome – Archbishop Giacinto Berloco, the Nuncio to Belgium and Luxembourg, and Archbishop Alain Lebeaupin, Nuncio to the European Union.
The archbishop speaks about the unreserved faith of St. Joseph, and also paints a picture of Pope Francis which shows him as a continuation of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI in his modesty and humility.
“Providence decided that the inthronisation of Pope Francis would take place on the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, husband of the Virgin Mary, but also patron saint of Belgium. Allow me to consider that a small wink in our direction…
This morning the bishop of Ghent, Monsignor Luc Van Looy, represented the bishops of Belgium at the installation in Rome. I am grateful to him for that, as well as to our voting cardinal, Cardinal Godfried Danneels, who stayed in Rome for the occasion. In the spirit of simplicity that already characterises our new Holy Father, and since the Belgian representation in Rome was already assured, I thought it better to stay in Belgium to thank God with you all and with my fellow bishops for the gift of Pope Francis.
Saint Joseph played a major part in our salvation history. Eve though he is only the foster father, not the biological father of Jesus, it is yet he who, within the framework of Jewish law, assures that Jesus – the Messiah (in Hebrew) or the Christ (in Greek) – descends from David, of whom we heard in the first reading of this liturgy.
The second reading was chosen to illustrate the faith of Saint Joseph, which may be compared to that of Abraham. For Abraham had faith without reservations in the word of God, which proclaimed that he, despite his and his wife’s advanced age, would be the father of many peoples. And he kept believing in that, even if the apparent death of Isaac, his only son, seemed to rob him of any hope of offspring. Abraham had faith in God, without any reservations. And because of that God recognised him as righteous.
But Joseph as well, he too, had to believe – almost blindly, in a complete surrender – that what had happened with his wife Mary came from God and not from man. He had to efface himself in a radical faith, for an act of God which transcends any understanding; an act which makes us say in the Apostle’s Creed: “I believe in Jesus Christ, His only son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and born of the Virgin Mary.”
And the Gospel of today shows us what it cost Joseph, but Mary as well, to make themselves so very small for that mysterious work in Jesus. “Son,” Mary says to Jesus, “why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” And then that shocking answer of Jesus! The answer of a child who is only twelve years old, but who already knows that he came from God, who knows, deep inside, what we express in the Nicean Creed, that He is “God from God, light from light, true God from true God.” Hence His confusing answer: “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Mary had spoken about “Your father and I”, but Jesus quietly corrects His mother’s words: He speaks of “My Father” when He refers to the God of Israel, who resides in the temple in Jerusalem. When Jesus has stayed behind in Jerusalem, that is not the flight of a teenager, but because He – in the innocence of twelve-year-old child - wanted to stay in the House of Him who is His true Father: “In my Father’s house is where I had to be”. And Luke acutely says about Joseph and Mary, “they did not understand what he said to them”. But they will understand later. After they had kept the events in their hearts and considered them for a long time.
Saint Joseph, then, played a major role in the life of the Church. Through him, because of his role as foster father, Jesus discovered in His human conscience the father figure of God, His sole and unique Father.
Our previous Pope, Benedict XVI, whose baptismal name is Joseph, was also characterised by humility and a great modesty. We don’t know a lot yet about his successor, the Bishop of Rome, Francis. But the first signs which he has given in only a few days clearly indicate that the patronage of Saint Francis of Assisi is not just empty words for him. He will be humble, like Benedict XVI, not just in his personality, but also in the outward signs of his mission as successor of Peter. Like Saint Joseph he will consider himself merely a foster father – if I may say it like that – knowing that we are all children of the one true Father, our heavenly Father, and that the Church, the Bride of Christ, is not here just for herself, but only to lead to truth, goodness and the beauty of her only love: the Christ, her bridegroom.
Of course, there were some in the media – which have the valuable task to inform us – who immediately tried to paint our new shepherd in a negative light. But just as fast there were voices, normally not too inclined to speak positively about the Vatican, which, supported by documents, pointed out the baselessness of these accusations. Let us, for our part, thank God for the gift He gives us: not just a new Pope, but also a shepherd with a totally new style. And let us – like he asked us so touchingly on the night of his election – pray intensely for him, for the universal Church for which he has responsibility, and for this world of which he is the foremost spiritual and moral guide. Amen.”
Photo credit: Phk/Kerknet
“We’ve got to keep in mind — you know what, even more important than the pope is what we’re doing right now. The life of the church goes on, and the life of the church centers around what we’re doing right now.”
It may not have seemed like it over the past days, but the above quote from Cardinal Timothy Dolan, spoken in his homily last Sunday, is right on the money. The selection of the Church’s new supreme shepherd is undoubtedly important, but it – and he – are only so, literally, by the grace of God.
If the Church can be said to have a core business, it is to lead people to God, and that doesn’t change when there is no Pope. Cardinals, even when they’re getting ready for the conclave, are still tasked with that all-encompassing duty, as is made especially clear on every Sunday. New York’s Cardinal Dolan was just one of, by now, 142 cardinals who have arrived in Rome, and who offered Masses throughout the city.
In these hectic days, it is important to remember that everything we do as Catholic Christians is rooted in the sacrifice of Christ, made present every day in the Eucharist. In that light, the conclave is not a popularity contest or the selection of a new CEO. In the Gospel of John, Jesus gives St. Peter the triple command to take care of His sheep. That very same command is handed down through the centuries to every successor of St. Peter, including whoever the future Pope may be. That is who we are talking about these days: the shepherd of Christ’s flock, acting according to the example of the Good Shepherd. In that way, the conclave and every blog post, article, speculation and discussion about it must be rooted in Christ. Without Him, there are no sheep and there is no need for a shepherd.
Photo credit: Alejandro Bermudez/CNA
On the first Sunday of the sede vacante the two Dutch cardinals were already in Rome for several days, and both offered Mass in the eternal city. Cardinal Eijk did so in the Basilica of Sant’Andrea della Valle, where he gave his homily in Italian about the day’s Gospel reading.
Cardinal Simonis (pictured) was at the Santa Maria dell’Anima, where the only Dutch Pope’s mortal remains lie. Utrecht-born Adrian VI was Pope from 1522 to 1523. At that church, Cardinal Simonis was accepted into the Guild of the same name, which is tasked with the pastoral care of the German-speaking pilgrims in Rome as well as the Pontifical Institute of the same name and the German Pontifical College. Cardinal Simonis follows in the footsteps of Dutch priest Fr. Antoine Bodar and the emperors of the Holy Roman Empire, among others. The Guild’s rector, Fr. Franz Xaver Brandmayr, gave the homily, while Cardinal Simonis concelebrated.
Today, both Dutch cardinals are expected to take part in the first and second General Congregations that will lead up to the conclave. The assembled cardinals may decide upon a start date for the conclave, although there are many who have expressed the desire for more time to get to know each other. As South African Cardinal Wilfrid Napier said, although cardinals have een seeing each other more often during the pontificate of Benedict XVI, “[t]hat doesn’t mean I still don’t have to look up on Google” who is who. It is said that the vast majority of cardinals electors are already in Rome, with the remainder mostly arriving this week. Of the 115 electors, 65, including Cardinal Eijk, will be participating in their first conclave. That is a marked difference with the 2005 conclave, when only two cardinals, Baum and Ratzinger, had participated in a conclave before.
Photo credit: Christian van der Heijden
On Monday the Dutch bishops quickly released an official response to the announced abdication of Pope Benedict. Today, some of them shared personal recollections and opinions about the Holy Father. Here is a selection.
Cardinal Wim Eijk, Utrecht: “I remember him as a very approachable, congenial and pleasant man, and of course exceptionally erudite. [...] I must say I have very good memories of him.
His high points I still consider his encyclicals, which are of course fantastic. I also have the best memories of his homilies – very often you discover the personal touch of the theologian in them. They were often very profound homilies which witnessed of a very close relationship with Christ and a deep spirituality. I always found them very impressive, and I noticed that others felt the same way.”
Bishop Jan Liesen, Breda: “He is an incredibly wise man. I recall the first meeting of the International Theological Commission that I attended. That was in 2004. Pope Benedict XVI, then still Cardinal Ratzinger, chaired that meeting. There were thirty new members. After the deliberations he summarised the highlights of the meeting and he did so in Latin. Everyone understood what he said. I have never seen anyone do that.”
Bishop Jan Hendriks, auxiliary Haarlem-Amsterdam: “I did notice that his health was deteriorating and the last time I met him, last September, he was clearly very much fatigued. The Pope has clearly considered this decision with his closest associates and doctors and before the Face of the Lord.
We are very grateful to our Pope for the leadership he has given our Church as successor of Peter, in simple servitude, loving and conciliatory. There will be time later to reflect on the many achievement of our Pope Benedict XVI. Let us thank God for this pontificate and ask God’s blessing for Pope Benedict, over this month until the abdication and the rest of his life.”
Bishop Gerard de Korte, Groningen-Leeuwarden: “Last October I was in Rome, together with a number of faithful from my diocese, and I was able to speak briefly with the Pope. Up close it was clear how old the Pope had become. I think that we can call the decision of Pope Benedict a wise one. No one is called to an impossible task. Leading the Church requires a physical and spiritual strength that the current Pope no longer has available.”
Just before the March for Life took off in Washington, Bishop Kevin J. Farrell, of Dallas, spoke about the Culture of Life in his homily at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. It is one of those homilies that, I imagine, Americans tend to be pretty good at: uplifting, positive and, most importantly, encouraging.
Although the past forty years have seen positive developments in the fight against abortion in the United States, but setbacks still exist, and in the face of them, Bishop Farrell writes, “we may feel like the “chosen people” of the Old Testament who wandered through the desert for 40 years. The Lord made a covenant with them that they would inherit the Promised Land, but with all the setbacks, the discouragement, the suffering and pain and the passage of time, they began to lose hope. Without faith, we too can begin to lose hope of ever changing the hearts of those who do not believe in the sanctity of human life. There is a real danger that we too can become complacent.”
But there is a strong reason to not give up: “Dear brothers and sisters, Christ has promised us that His Word will prevail. We cannot lose hope. We must continue the struggle in positive, life-affirming ways. We must pray and we must continue to make our voices heard so that our elected leaders know that there are many who stand for life. We must never give up…”
Good stuff, and an example for Bishop Farrell’s brother bishops – and all Catholics – in Europe. For those who want to read the homily in Dutch, you can do so here.
Photo credit: Nancy Phelan Wiechec/CNS photo