With this week’s discussion of salvation, Pope Francis demonstrated a deep wisdom which has been lacking from the Holy See. Rather than proclaim that only through belief in Christ is one saved, Pope Francis made a remarkably different, and refreshing:
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! And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: we need that so much. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.
This of course sparked a debate, where those who would not seek to understand the wisdom are now attempting to rewrite, to translate, the words to meet their message. One such example comes from David Perry from The Atlantic, who wrote an article titled “No, the Pope Didn’t Just Say All Atheists Go to Heaven” where he makes the case that no, this was not a statement that good deeds are what is important, but that instead it was just an attempt to open a dialog with non-believers, to recruit them into the Catholic Church. This in turn cheapens the message from the Holy Father.
To further clarify, Rev. Thomas Rosica, a spokesman for the Vatican, posted a further statement:
..every man or woman, whatever their situation, can be saved. Even non-Christians can respond to this saving action of the Spirit. No person is excluded from salvation simply because of so-called original sin.
While some continue to claim that the message is not new, that this is just a very clever recruitment drive, the words of Pope Francis have raised a lot of eyebrows. But more importantly, it has made a bridge to non-believers where some would wish there to be none. There remains a strong culture of exclusion and vilification in many corners of the Christian faith. This exclusion, the forcing out of any who disagree with one narrow interpretation is the primary reason why Christianity continues to lose members. This “all or nothing” methodology is the keystone of the modern evangelical movement, as established by Charles Finney during the “second great awakening” which converted a movement based on individual piety and leading by example into the dominionism and fundamentalism movement we know today. While the Catholics had held a rough truce with these fundamentalists, in the end the Catholic faith is seen as something to be stomped out in the fundamentalist push for “Christian Purity.”
Instead, let us take the Holy See at his words, rather than attempting to twist them into the pretzel of world view which others would have one do. He leads approximately one billion within his flock. Instead of telling them “you are the only ones to be saved, and everyone else is screwed” he made salvation something more meaningful. That saying “I’m Catholic” will not give them a key into the heaven they clamor for, but that only through their deeds, of being a good person, will they. And he holds up an atheist, one who has no faith at all, to his audience. He points and says “this man has no faith, but he does good in this world. He will be saved.” This is a lesson to the Catholics worldwide that it is their actions on this earth, if they do good, or ill, on to others, which is what is important, not the name by which they proclaim their faith, or lack of it. This is a man of wisdom, and of true faith. He is tapping into the words of the figure they proclaim, and took the name of, for what Jesus said in Matthew 7:21:
Not every one who is saying to me Lord, lord, shall come into the reign of the heavens; but he who is doing the will of my Father who is in the heavens.
It is not that you call out, that you take on the name of a faith, but by the deeds you do upon this earth, which is the key to salvation is what the Pope has said. It is a lesson one hopes is not lost upon those of the Christian faith, for it is a lesson each of us, from the most devout Cardinal to the most hardened atheist could stand to learn. Take care of this planet, of the people on it, and what comes after will resolve itself.
Nathaniel Downes is the son of a former state representative of New Hampshire, now living in Seattle Washington.
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