Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Is Baptism Needed For Salvation? Part 4: Reconciling the Two Semmingly Contradictory Positions

Are we contradicting ourselves by insisting on the necessity of Baptism and acknowledging at the same time the possibility of salvation for the un-baptized and non-believers? No, what we are saying is that those who “seek God with a sincere heart and, moved by grace, try to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience” may be saved by virtue of their willingness to do God’s will (cf. Lumen Gentium 16, 1 John 5:1-3) even if they haven’t had the opportunity to receive Baptism. For “God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments” (CCC 1258).

Look at it this way: like all the other sacraments, Baptism is a better and more efficacious way for sanctification. “[It] is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament” (CCC 1257, cf. Mark 16:16). But God is just and merciful; he will not penalize those who, through no fault of their own, have been deprived of the grace of hearing the Gospel and receiving Baptism.

The other significance of the fore-mentioned JPII statement is that regardless of one’s religion and belief, if anyone is saved, it’s because of Jesus’ salvific grace. For Jesus is “the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). In other words, Jesus’ redemptive sacrifice is necessary for the salvation of the whole world, including the baptized and the un-baptized, the believers and the non-believers, which is why he is the only Mediator between God and men.

It must be added in closing that it will be foolhardy to think that since the un-baptized and non-believers may also be saved, there’s no need to evangelize. The above-mentioned position of the Church does not diminish in any way the need and urgency of proclaiming the Gospel. This is because Jesus’ revelation is “definitive and complete”, made known to the Church “in the fullest possible way”. As a result, “she cannot do other than proclaim...the fullness of the truth which God has enabled us to know about himself” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Dominus Iesus, 5) to people all over the world because they still haven’t received the fullest of the truth. And when you don't have the fullest of the truth, which is Christ himself, it's easy to fall prey to the force of evil.

Is Baptism Needed For Salvation? Part 3: On the Salvation of Those Who Aren’t Baptized

In addition to affirming the necessity of baptism, there is a secondary issue (“secondary” in terms of being a derivative not in terms of its importance) from your question which requires serious consideration: If baptism is necessary for salvation, what about those who have never had the opportunity to get baptized due to reasons not within their control or discretion? Will they be saved? These people include the non-believers and believers of other religions, as well as the hypothetical case mentioned in your question, i.e. a believer who died after expressing publicly his faith but before receiving baptism. The Catholic version of your hypothetical case will be a catechumen who died while going through the RCIA process.

Before proceeding to answer this question, I must make something very clear because I don’t want you to think that I know who will be saved and who won’t. A few years ago, I attended a religious funeral in which the religious master in charge of the funeral took a moment to “touch and feel” the body of the deceased and then declared that the happy soul was already in heaven because the person’s body was “nice and soft”. As much as I loved the deceased, I found it hard to believe the religious master's claim. My point is this: Nobody but Jesus can judge; no mere mortal can claim to know how he is going to judge and what his decision will be. Baptized or otherwise, a person stands justified before Jesus only if he judges in favor of the person’s salvation. As holy and faithful to Christ as St. Paul was, he would not even pass judgment on himself and claim that he would stand acquitted (cf. 1 Cor. 4:3-5). For the final judgment rests in the hands of Christ, who judges people’s hidden works from his judgment seat (Romans 2:16, 1 Cor. 4:4, 2 Cor. 5:16).

As far as the non-believers and the believers of other religions who aren’t baptized, the Church’s position is explained by JPII as follows: “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…enlightens them in a way which is accommodated to their spiritual and material situation. This grace comes from Christ; it is the result of his sacrifice and is communicated by the Holy Spirit…” (JPII, Redemptoris mission, 10).

The Catechism offers a similar explanation: “Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity” (CCC 1260). The same reasoning can also be applied to the fore-mentioned catechumen and the person in your hypothetical case.

Friday, June 1, 2012

A Reflection: Today's Mass Readings and Bill 13

In the morning Mass I attended today, the celebrant explained that the fig tree that Jesus cursed saying "May no one ever eat of your fruit again!" could be seen as the Temple of Jerusalem. A similar interpretation of the "fig tree" is often used throughout the Bible. The Jerusalem Temple, as we know, was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. never to be rebuilt (the Jews tried but every time they began the project, natural disasters followed; so they stopped). Therefore, the "fig tree" - the Jerusalem Temple - that failed to bear fruits did "wither", to be transformed by God into the New Jerusalem Temple (the Church) with its new High Priest (Jesus himself) and its new sacrifice (the Pascal sacrifice of the Lamb of God).

If revealed truths from the Bible such as this don't touch our hearts, so much so as to leave us shaken and dazed, I don't know what will!!

Also in today's first reading, St. Peter said, "Beloved, do not be surprised that a trial by fire is occurring among you, as if something strange were happening to you. But rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly" (1 Peter 4:7-13).

The celebrant used this reading to warn us of the endless persecutions that the Church had been subjected to since its institution, including St. Justin's martyrdom (today is his feast day), those of the martyrs of the early Church and, most of all, the persecutions that she continues to suffer even today, right now in this age, right here in this place where we live, in the disguise of a government legislation - Bill 13 (parents can't even educate their own children the way they want!), in the form of suppression of religious freedom and conscience (the Church must accept the provincial government's moral values), ridicule of the Holy Father, banning of public prayers, discrediting of Church teachings...

"Do not be surprised that a trial by fire is occurring among you, as if something strange were happening to you. But rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ..."

Stay awake! Be Prepared! Rejoice in spite of the suffering!

View protest at Toronto Yonge/Dundas Square against Bill-13 on May 31, 2012.