SO, what about non-Catholics? If the Great Ark is the Catholic Church, what does this mean for those who reject Catholicism, if not Christianity itself?
Before we look at these questions, it is necessary to address the protruding issue of credibility in the Church, which today, is in tatters…
THE CROSS OF NO CREDIBILITY
To say that being a Catholic witness today is “challenging” is perhaps an understatement. The Catholic Church’s credibility in many parts of the world today is in shreds whether for perceived or real reasons. The sexual sins in the priesthood are a staggering scandal that has muzzled the moral authority of the clergy in many quarters, and the coverups that followed have deeply pitted the trust of even faithful Catholics. The rising tide of atheism and moral relativism have made the Church appear not only as irrelevant, but as a corrupt institution that must be silenced in order for “justice” to prevail. There is now what author Peter Seewald, who interviewed Pope Benedict in a recent book, calls a ‘culture of doubt.’
Within the Christian world, outside of Catholicism, there are many difficulties as well. The aforementioned scandals are a painful stumbling block to Christian unity. Liberalism has also done immense damage in the Western Church. In North America, Catholic Universities, seminaries, and even pre-secondary schools are often the seat of heretical teaching and, for all intents and purposes, are often as pagan as their counterparts. But perhaps as scandalous to evangelical Christians is the lack of fervor and inspired preaching in the Church. In many places, the weak music, zombie-like responses, and coolness of Catholics in the pews has driven hungry souls into more vibrant Christian sects. The lack of preaching with substance, zeal, and anointing has been equally disheartening and puzzling.
These are all phenomena that one can only observe with sadness. It is sad that there are what you might call professional Catholics who make a living on their Catholicism, but in whom the spring of faith flows only faintly, in a few scattered drops. We must really make an effort to change this. —POPE BENEDICT XVI, Light of the World, An Interview with Peter Seewald
And then, within the Church itself, one could almost say an invisible schism exists whereby there are those who receive and try to live out their Catholic Faith as it has been handed on to them through Sacred Tradition—and those who have decided that we need to “update” the Church. Liturgical experimentation, liberal theology, watered-down Catholicism and outright heresy continue to prevail in many places. Today, it so happens that many “diocesan sponsored” events are in fact heretical while lay movements in communion with the Holy Father struggle to find ecclesial support. Catechetical programs, retreat centers, and religious orders are often overrun with dissidents who continue to promote a liberal agenda that disregards the Church’s moral teaching and emphasizes ecological, “new age”, and social justice agendas. A priest and former vocations director recently lamented to me that “conservative” Catholics who make even a small mistake in their dioceses are often quickly and mercilessly silenced while heretics continue to preach unabated because we need to be “tolerant” of other’s views.
…attacks against the Pope or the Church do not only come from outside; rather the sufferings of the Church come from within, from the sins that exist in the Church. This too has always been known, but today we see it in a really terrifying way: the greatest persecution of the Church does not come from enemies on the outside, but is born from the sin within the church…. —POPE BENEDICT XVI, in-flight debriefing with journalists on flight to Fatima, Portugal; National Cathlolic Register, May 11, 2010
Yet, we know that our persecutors will not, ultimately, triumph. For Jesus stated:
I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matt 16:18)
We must be honest about the difficulties in the Church today and recognize the challenges we face. We must be humble in our dialogue with non-Catholics, recognizing our personal and corporate faults, but neither denying the good, such as the vast number of faithful clergy throughout the world and the enormous Christian heritage that has built Western civilization.
On her pilgrimage, the Church has also experienced the “discrepancy existing between the message she proclaims and the human weakness of those to whom the Gospel has been entrusted.” Only by taking the “way of penance and renewal,” the “narrow way of the cross,” can the People of God extend Christ’s reign. —Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 853
In one word we have to re-learn these essentials: conversion, prayer, penance, and the theological virtues. —POPE BENEDICT XVI, in-flight debriefing with journalists on flight to Fatima, Portugal; National Cathlolic Register, May 11, 2010
Given all of these serious defects and challenges, how can the Church be an “Ark” in this present and coming Storm? The answer is that truth will always prevail: “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it,” even if it subsists in a remnant. And every soul is drawn toward Truth, for God is truth itself.
Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
And His body is the Church through which we come to the Father.
NO SALVATION OUTSIDE THE CHURCH
It was St. Cyprian who coined the saying: extra ecclesiam nulla salus, “Outside the Church there is no salvation.”
How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers? Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body: Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches 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, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it. —Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), n. 846
What does this mean then for those who profess faith in Jesus Christ, and yet remain in Christian communities that are separated from the Catholic Church?
…one cannot charge with the sin of the separation those who at present are born into these communities [that resulted from such separation] and in them are brought up in the faith of Christ, and the Catholic Church accepts them with respect and affection as brothers… All who have been justified by faith in Baptism are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers in the Lord by the children of the Catholic Church. —CCC, n. 818
…many elements of sanctification and of truth” are found outside the visible confines of the Catholic Church: “the written Word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope, and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, as well as visible elements.” Christ’s Spirit uses these Churches and ecclesial communities as means of salvation, whose power derives from the fullness of grace and truth that Christ has entrusted to the Catholic Church. All these blessings come from Christ and lead to him, and are in themselves calls to “Catholic unity.“ —CCC, n. 819
Thus, with joy we can recognize our brothers and sisters who profess Jesus as Lord. And yet, it is with sadness that we realize the division between us remains a scandal to unbelievers. For Jesus prayed:
…that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. (John 17:21)
That is, the world’s belief in Christianity hinges to a certain degree on our unity.
This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:35)
Credibility, then, is an issue for the entire Christian church. In the face of sometimes bitter divisions, some simply reject “religion” altogether or are simply raised without it.
Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience — those too may achieve eternal salvation. —CCC, n. 874
Why? Because they are seeking Truth even though they do not yet know Him by name. This extends to other religions as well.
The Catholic Church recognizes in other religions that search, among shadows and images, for the God who is unknown yet near since he gives life and breath and all things and wants all men to be saved. Thus, the Church considers all goodness and truth found in these religions as “a preparation for the Gospel and given by him who enlightens all men that they may at length have life.” —CCC. n. 843
One might be tempted to ask, then, why evangelization is even necessary if salvation may be reached outside active participation in the Catholic Church?
First of all, Jesus is the only way to the Father. And the “way” Jesus showed us was obedience to the commands of the Father in a spirit of love expressed in kenosis—an emptying of self for the other. So indeed, a jungle tribesman, following the natural law written upon his heart “The natural law, present in the heart of each man and established by reason, is universal in its precepts and its authority extends to all men. It expresses the dignity of the person and determines the basis for his fundamental rights and duties. —CCC 1956 and the voice of his conscience, may indeed walk along “the way” to the Father without realizing in fact that he is following in the footsteps of “the Word made flesh.” Conversely, a baptized Catholic who attends Mass every Sunday, but lives a life contrary to the Gospel from Monday to Saturday, may lose his eternal salvation.
Even though incorporated into the Church, one who does not however persevere in charity is not saved. He remains indeed in the bosom of the Church, but ‘in body’ not ‘in heart.’ —CCC. n. 837
In the evening of life, we will be judged on love alone. —St. John of the Cross
Thus, we see the heart of evangelization revealed to us: it is to show others the way of love. But how can we speak of love without at once speaking of those ideals, modes, and actions that are in keeping with the dignity of the human person and the revelation of Jesus Christ, and therefore, our required response to Him? In a word, love cannot be understood apart from truth. It is for this that Jesus came: to reveal the “truth that sets us free,” cf. John 8:32 thereby providing a “way” that leads to eternal “life.” This Way has been entrusted in its fullness to the Catholic Church: those Apostles and their successors who have been commissioned to make “disciples of all the nations.” cf. Matt 28:19 Moreover, Jesus breathed His Holy Spirit upon them cf. John 20:22 that through the Sacraments and holy priesthood, mankind might be bestowed the free gift of “grace” to become sons and daughters of the Most High, and be given the power to follow along the Way, conquering sin in their lives.
That souls may become Love itself.
Understood in this way, the Church should be seen in its proper light, not as a cold custodian of dogmas and laws, but as a means to encounter the life-saving grace and message of Jesus Christ. Indeed, the fullest means. There is a big difference between riding within the Ark—inside the “barque of Peter”—and sailing behind its wake in a raft, or trying to swim alongside it in often tumultuous waves and shark-infested waters (ie. false prophets). It would be a sin for Catholics who, knowing the gift and obligation that Christ has given us to reach out to other souls to draw them into the fullness of grace, left them upon their own course out of a false sense of “tolerance.” Tolerance and respect should never prohibit us from announcing to others the saving Good News and the great graces given us in Christ’s Church.
Although in ways known to himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please him, the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men. —CCC. n. 845
Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence. (1 Pet 3:15)
Nor should we let the wounded credibility of the Church cause us to shrink back. Trust in the power of the Holy Spirit. Trust in the inherent power of the truth. Trust in Jesus who said He would remain with us always until the end of time. We can see all around us today that everything that is built on sand is beginning to crumble. The ancient religions are teetering beneath globalism and techno-utopianism. Christian denominations are crumbling beneath moral relativism. And those elements in the Catholic Church that are poisoned by liberalism and apostasy are dying and being pruned. In the end, before Christ’s final coming, there will be one Shepherd, one Church, one flock in an era of justice and peace. cf. The Popes, and the Dawning Era The whole world will be Catholic because because Christ did not say He would build many churches, but “my church.” But before then, the world will be purified, beginning with the Church, and thus, it is our obligation to bring as many souls as possible on board the Ark before the Great Storm of our times releases its final flood. In fact, I believe before then that Jesus will make it clear to the entire world that His Church is “the way” to the Father and “universal sacrament of salvation.” CCC, 849
It will at length be possible that our many wounds be healed and all justice spring forth again with the hope of restored authority; that the splendors of peace be renewed, and the swords and arms drop from the hand and when all men shall acknowledge the empire of Christ and willingly obey His word, and every tongue shall confess that the Lord Jesus is in the Glory of the Father. —POPE LEO XIII, Consecration to the Sacred Heart, May 1899
“And they shall hear my voice, and there shall be one fold and one shepherd.” May God… shortly bring to fulfillment His prophecy for transforming this consoling vision of the future into a present reality… It is God’s task to bring about this happy hour and to make it known to all… When it does arrive, it will turn out to be a solemn hour, one big with consequences not only for the restoration of the Kingdom of Christ, but for the pacification of… the world. We pray most fervently, and ask others likewise to pray for this much-desired pacification of society. —POPE PIUS XI, Ubi Arcani dei Consilioi “On the Peace of Christ in his Kingdom”, December 23, 1922
And it will easily come about that when human respect has been driven out, and prejudices and doubting laid aside, large numbers will be won to Christ, becoming in their turn promoters of His knowledge and love which are the road to true and solid happiness. Oh! when in every city and village the law of the Lord is faithfully observed, when respect is shown for sacred things, when the Sacraments are frequented, and the ordinances of Christian life fulfilled, there will certainly be no more need for us to labor further to see all things restored in Christ… And then? Then, at last, it will be clear to all that the Church, such as it was instituted by Christ, must enjoy full and entire liberty and independence from all foreign dominion. —POPE PIUS X, E Supremi, Encyclical “On the Restoration of All Things”, n. 14
To reunite all his children, scattered and led astray by sin, the Father willed to call the whole of humanity together into his Son’s Church. The Church is the place where humanity must rediscover its unity and salvation. The Church is “the world reconciled.” She is that bark which “in the full sail of the Lord’s cross, by the breath of the Holy Spirit, navigates safely in this world.” According to another image dear to the Church Fathers, she is prefigured by Noah’s ark, which alone saves from the flood. —CCC. n. 845
|↑1||“The natural law, present in the heart of each man and established by reason, is universal in its precepts and its authority extends to all men. It expresses the dignity of the person and determines the basis for his fundamental rights and duties. —CCC 1956|
|↑2||cf. John 8:32|
|↑3||cf. Matt 28:19|
|↑4||cf. John 20:22|
|↑5||cf. The Popes, and the Dawning Era|