Sunday, April 22, 2018

The One Way of Salvation

April 22, 2018 –– 4th Sunday of Easter
Acts 4:8–12 / from Psalm 118 / 1 John 3:1–2 / John 10:11–18
The One Way of Salvation

Peter was bold, even confrontational, in his proclamation that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation. That message has often brought a negative reaction. The Early Church Fathers understood this, and even added to it when they wrote: No one can call God “Father” apart from having the Church as “Mother.”

There are two fundamental questions: 1) Is Jesus the only Savior? and, 2) Is conscious knowledge of Christ necessary for salvation?

Universalism (or pluralism) wants to say that there are many paths to God, and Jesus is only one of them. If there are many paths to God, it follows that people do not have to believe in Christ to be saved. This is the popular opinion that gets big press in contemporary expression. This opinion is also at odds with Christian Faith and what the Church believes and teaches.

At the other end of the spectrum from universalism is exclusivism. It answers both questions with a ‘Yes.' The exclusivist believes that Jesus alone has done what is necessary to save sinners, and second, that explicit knowledge of and faith in Christ is necessary for anyone to be saved. Some extreme Protestants push this narrow application.

In the middle––and reflecting the teaching of the Church––is what might be called inclusivism. This answers the first question, ‘Yes,' and the second question, ‘No.' Only Jesus Christ has accomplished what is necessary to make salvation possible, but it is “possible” for people to be saved by responding whole-heartedly to God's revelation in creation and perhaps through the partial truths that exist in other religions. So, even though Christ is the only Savior, it is “possible” (but not simple) for people to be saved apart from explicit knowledge of and faith in Jesus.

The first part of this truth is not negotiable for true Christian Faith. This is what Peter proclaimed in his sermon: There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved. This is in continuity with Jesus saying, I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:9). In modern ears this sounds bigoted and hateful. Some will not accept that Jesus said such a thing, but the only Jesus we have is the Jesus that comes to us through the witness of Scripture. The witness of Scripture does not allow us to pick and choose according to what suits our individual taste and comfort, and Jesus did say some hard and exclusive things.

This is why faithful Christian witness is so crucial. People need to know who Jesus is and what God has done in the death and resurrection of his Son. The Church needs faithful preachers. Parishes need faithful teachers. But beyond the roles that are rooted so visibly in the Church, every person who owns the name of Christ needs to be showing (and when possible, telling) the wonder of belonging to God through Jesus Christ. At the core of who we are is the thrust of evangelization: God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life (John 3:16).

The objecting question always comes: What about all the people who have never heard of Jesus?  In our shrinking world we are quite aware of millions who have not heard the name of Jesus. What about people whose understanding of Jesus is totally skewed because of distorted teachings and horrible examples?

This does not change what God has done and what he offers and intends. John followed the famous “3:16” verse saying, For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. Today’s Gospel extends this when Jesus says he is the (not “a”) Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. God is love.

God has made salvation possible in one way––through Jesus Christ. Peter said it so plainly: There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved. So, how can anyone be saved by Jesus without an explicit encounter with Jesus?

This is one subject where the reflection and insight and authority of the Church is so helpful. Study what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says in #841. Read the Second Vatican document Lumen Gentium (#14). But to give some idea here of what the Church has said, Pope Pius XII projected that people outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church can be “related to the Mystical Body of the Redeemer by a certain unconscious yearning and desire.” It is “possible” to find the grace of God outside a conscious encounter with Christ and his Church. In the case of one who is ignorant of the truth of Catholic Faith, “through no fault of [his] own,” he can be saved, if he is truly “invincibly ignorant, [is] given the supernatural virtue of faith and [has] perfect charity in [his heart]” (cf. Instruction of Holy Office of Dec. 20, 1949). Yet this is no reason for presumption.

We must remember that we are not the judges of salvation. We do not know who is truly “invincibly ignorant” and who is not. Only God can know if a person has “perfect charity of heart.” God is the sole and final––and merciful––judge. But for any measure of assurance, we need to embrace the graces that come through Jesus and his Church. This means evangelization is crucially important. Each of us needs to embrace and proclaim the message of the Church––the message that Peter proclaimed at the very beginning: There is no salvation through anyone else…. no other name by which we are to be saved.

We leave the judging to God; we need to be clear about that. At the same time, we also hold onto the truth that salvation is only in Jesus Christ. There are two huge things at stake here: 1) Each one of us must embrace Jesus and all that means; this is our own salvation. 2) Each of us should consider what it means to be a faithful witness; another person’s salvation may depend on it.

Knowing Jesus as the only way is our hope. Showing Jesus as the only way is our message.

Sunday, April 1, 2018


April 1, 2018 –– Easter Sunday
Acts 10:34a, 37–43 / from Psalm 118 / Colossians 3:1–4 / John 20:1–9

Christ is risen! This has been the exultant cry of the Church since that first Easter Morning when the disciples’ sadness was turned to an incredible joy. Yet on this Easter Sunday there is a Culture of Death that surrounds us, threatening us and always wanting to turn our joy into fear and sadness. Pope Francis wrote an Easter meditation that asks: “Why is it that there is so much adversity….?” There is constant bad news on TV. We wake during the night with worries––how to pay the bills, a child who's struggling in school or with friends, the needs of aging parents, the boss that can never be satisfied, the marriage that's falling apart, the son or daughter fighting depression, a friend who has cancer…. These kinds of stresses feel heavy all the time. How does the Resurrection apply to the nitty-gritty?

The message of Easter is that the very Life of God breaks into our world––this world where there is little escape from fear and sadness. It seems there is no escape…. unless there is something bigger and stronger and longer lasting. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is God shouting into our word that death itself is not greater than the Life available to us in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The message of Christ is risen! gets distorted. Some think it cannot be true if the pain of all the evils in the world continue. Some hear the Church adding to the pain when it says “no” to many things the world offers to make us happy, not understanding that the Church only says “no” to the things that ultimately bring the pain and death we so much want to avoid.

“Life” as we know it in this world is not forever; the eternal Life of God that comes to us in the Resurrection of our Lord comes to us in this world, but it is the door and the bridge that takes us so much further.

Yet “this world” is always so close to us. How can we live in the reality of Paul’s words to the Colossians?! You were raised with Christ…. think of what is above, not of what is on earth.

Imagine a colony of grubs living on the bottom of a swamp. Every once in a while, one of these grubs is inclined to climb a leaf stem to the surface. Then he disappears above the surface and never returns. All the grubs wonder why this is so and what it must be like up there, so they counsel among themselves and agree that the next one who goes up will come back and tell the others. Not long after that, one of the grubs feels the urge and climbs that leaf stem and goes out above the surface onto a lily pad. And there in the warmth of the sun, he falls asleep. While he sleeps, the carapace of the tiny creature breaks open, and out of the inside of the grub comes a magnificent dragonfly with beautiful, wide, rainbow-hued, iridescent wings. And he spreads those wings and flies, soaring out over those waters. But then he remembers the commitment he has made to those behind, yet now he knows he cannot return. They would not recognize him in the first place, and beyond that, he could not live again in such a place. But one thought is his that takes away all the distress: they, too, shall climb the stem, and they, too, shall know the glory (Bruce Thielemann, Christus Imperator).

Christ is risen! Jesus has done what no grub could ever doHis Life has broken into our world, but it is so much more. Through Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, God gives us Resurrection Life. Live today in his Life, and believe––for yourself––in the glory that is to follow. Christ is risen!

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