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The reasons which ought to lead all men to seek God — Intimations of Immortality by Dr. Jeff Mirus

VISIT THE SOURCE: Catholic Culture

Intimations of Immortality

by Dr. Jeff Mirus

When I was growing up in the 1950s and early 1960s, my world was a Christian world, at least nominally. My earliest efforts at apologetics were all designed to explain the “oddities” of the Catholic Faith to Protestants, and to show why their version of certain Christian ideas was wrong while the Catholic version was right. Since then much has changed. Now we are just as likely to be starting from scratch with people who don’t accept any version of Christianity, or perhaps any serious version of God either.

So from time to time we may profit from reviewing some of the reasons people ought to be interested in God, and especially interested in seeking a revelation from God that can set us on the right path. While people are often brought to a serious examination of the existence of God and the truth of the Christian Faith through personal experiences—whether tragic or triumphant—there are also some intellectual starting points that can get us wondering about these things. I’ll briefly review four of them here.

Our Own Sense of Continuation

There are several indicators of the existence of an immaterial, intellective soul that is necessarily immortal, but the one that impacts us most is simply our own sense of identity and our continuation in that identity. There is no evidence that any other creature has such a sense, that any other bodily creature understands itself as a unique individual with an identity which “ought” to continue beyond the vicissitudes of this earthly life. And no other creature manifests anything like a religious sense.

It is otherwise with us. No matter what age we are, no matter how many changes and struggles we’ve lived through, no matter how many times our cells have died and been replaced in the constant cycle of growth and decay, we still think of ourselves as “ourselves”. I look out from a 62 year-old body feeling exactly like the same “me” who was once fifteen. I am astonished that I should be old, and that life should be drawing inexorably to its close. This is unfathomable; it is a contradiction of everything I instinctively feel about myself. I cannot imagine my own non-existence. I cannot imagine a time when I will be unable to reflect on myself, on who I am. So it is with every man and woman who has ever lived.

Ralph McInerny, in his memoir of his life at Notre Dame (see I Alone Have Escaped to Tell You) makes the telling statement that even after his beloved wife of 50 years died he went on each day feeling immortal. That captures what it means to be human very well. We expect to continue as ourselves, and this leads us inescapably to ponder whether we have a persistent spiritual identity capable of transcending our current bodily existence. This in turn opens our minds to a spiritual world, and to the possibility of a God who is the very ground of our being. As the expression goes, nature abhors a vacuum. If we instinctively expect continuation, yearn for continuation, and seek continuation, then this is reason enough to presume that we will continue, and to examine carefully the question of whether in fact what our instincts tell us is so, and how this can be.

Our Perception of the World

Another profitable line of thought which is very near to us arises from our normal reactions to the world around us. There are at least two questions concerning our experience of the world which strike most of us fairly forcefully in a rather philosophical way. The first is the question of where it all came from. Ultimately, the human mind is not satisfied with the idea that the universe is eternal (which is far harder to believe than that an eternal God created it, given that everything we know about the material world suggests that it is contingent). Nor are we satisfied with the idea that the universe “just happened”, a concept which makes no logical sense to anyone who can think his way out of a paper bag.

It is not even too much to say, I think, that the human mind tends to be unsatisfied with the notion that the world could have evolved randomly from some primordial chemicals without any teleology (or tendency toward an end) having been built into it from the beginning. On the one hand, pure atheistic evolutionism simply pushes the God question beneath a few more layers of cosmic dust. On the other, the imagination has to stretch farther to see the plausibility of atheistic evolutionary theory than it does to see the plausibility of an uncaused Cause. We don’t claim to be able to encompass the Cause in our minds; but logic drives us to assume Its existence. Thus the questions “Where did this come from?” and “How was it designed?” set both the human mind and the human heart to work.

The other obvious question is why, in such a highly ordered universe, so many things are out of sync. How is it that the law of the jungle rules the beasts, that natural disasters occur, that men mistreat each other, that we lack so much in equality, justice and peace? No sooner does our experience of reality enable us to see how things are supposed to work than it shows us the proverbial sticky wicket. It is almost as if something that began flawlessly has somehow been broken, but we don’t see how. In Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton explains that the doctrine of Original Sin fit his experience of reality perfectly, and Blessed John Henry Newman saw things exactly the same way. We anticipate in this Christian doctrine the answer to the question, but the question itself should at least prompt us to seek an answer.

Our Sense of Justice

In An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent, Newman also offered a third line of thought, a highly developed argument based on the personal conscience (see Newman’s Final Argument). It is a universal experience, Newman rightly states, that we instinctively apprehend a difference between right and wrong; we also apprehend that we are under an obligation to do what is right, and we sense strongly that we will be subject to some sort of judgment on this score. Very few indeed are those who have never entertained such thoughts, or who manage to keep them at bay so continually as to forget them altogether.

At the same time, we cannot escape the observation that what is right is very frequently ignored, and that justice in this world is so imperfect as often to be laughable. Too often justice is a standard to which men are more likely to hold others than themselves, yet it remains a standard all the same, and people very typically look forward to a harmonious day when perfect justice will be achieved. Some, it is true, have sought this perfect justice through utopian schemes, and have ended by attempting (unjustly!) to effect it by force. But many, many more have thought it likely that the imbalances of this life would be redressed in another life. If we find ourselves with an outraged sense of justice then, and if nature really does abhor a vacuum, we must be made for a time and place when justice will be done.

Now a sense of right and wrong presumes some sort of law, which in turn presumes a lawgiver; and a judgment rather obviously demands a judge. This realization actually suggests two parallel lines of thought. First, it reinforces the idea that there must exist a God who somehow represents the Good and cares enough to punish those who violate it. Second, it leads us to a near-certainty that such a Judge would certainly wish to reveal Himself so that we should know clearly what He approves and what He abhors. In other words, the argument from conscience points directly at Revelation. It leads us naturally to inquire whether such a revelation has, in fact, been made.

The Christ

Though destined for universal acceptance, Christ entered the world at a particular time in history; His person, His preaching, and His works impress themselves upon the minds of men now at one time and now at another. It cannot be said that every human person, in his lifetime here on earth, will have heard about Jesus Christ. For many, indeed, He would be the end of a sincere search for revelation, if they could but know Him. But not all have known Him; not all, through ordinary human means at least, can know Him.

Nonetheless, a great many have now heard of Him, or have the opportunity of hearing of Him if they are in fact sincerely searching for God and His Revelation—as their consciences and personal reflections naturally lead them to do. For it is again a universal experience of the human mind (unless a man is in proud rebellion or has been carefully taught to the contrary) that one would expect to find a revelation from God precisely in that realm of activity which deals with God most directly, namely religion. And so one who has not already found this revelation ought to be spending some reasonable amount of time and energy in examing the different religions on offer throughout the world.

Now in thus canvassing the various religions, great and small, which vie for our allegiance, it becomes evident that very few claim to be based on a divine revelation, as opposed to the mere insights of their founders. And of those which claim a divine revelation, even fewer (exactly two, Judaism and Christianity) claim to be based on a revelation which was objectively validated by wonders that God alone could perform. Of these two, one claims to be the fulfillment of the other, and its founder is said to have risen from the dead—a claim as arresting as it is unique, and a claim also supported by a considerable historical testimony. My point is simply this: Someone who sincerely seeks answers, and who has heard the claims made on behalf of Jesus Christ, truly owes it to himself to take a closer look.

The Big Picture

The larger issue here is that too often atheists and agnostics dismiss believers by arguing that the claims of religion cannot be proven absolutely, such that on rational grounds doubt becomes impossible. That is true, but it puts the shoe on the wrong foot, as if the unbeliever has no call to look into the matter unless someone first convinces him of a particular religious position. To the contrary, any person who reflects on himself, on the world around him, on the moral order, and even on what he has heard of the claims of Christianity ought to be very serious about exploring and answering the God question. He certainly ought not to seek to ignore it, to isolate himself from its influence, or to heap scorn on those who do not give up so easily. Inquiring minds—which are the very best minds and the only responsible minds—really do want to know.

END OF POST

A Spring of Grace in the Desert: Novena To Merciful Love

FIRST DAY

Introductory Prayer
My Jesus, I am deeply sorry when I consider the many times I have offended you.
However, with a Father’s heart you have not only forgiven me but with the words “Ask, and you shall receive” you invite me to seek from you whatever I need.
With complete confidence I appeal to your Merciful Love to give me what I request in this novena. Above all, I ask for the grace to change my behaviour, from now on to prove my faith by me deeds, to live according to your precepts and to be aflame with the fire of your charity,

Meditation “Our Father”
“Our”: while God has only one natural Son, in his infinite charity he wishes to have many adopted children with whom he shares his riches; and by having the same Father we are all brothers and sisters, and so should love each other.
“Father”: is the title which is fitting for God, because we owe him whatever we have in the order of nature and in the supernatural order of grace. This makes us his adopted children. He wants us to call him Father, so that we may love, obey and honour him as children, and to revive in us the love and confidence to obtain what we ask.

Request
My Jesus, I turn to you in this difficulty. Should you wish to show compassion to this wretched creature of yours, may your kindness triumph. Though your love and mercy pardon my sins. Though I am unworthy to obtain my request please grant it to me if it be for your glory and the good of my soul.

( Here ask the favour you desire to obtain through this novena).

Prayer
My Jesus, be to me a Father, protector and guide in my pilgrimage, so that nothing may distract or mislead me on the road which leads to you. And you, my Mother, who looked after Jesus with such gentleness and care, educate and help me to fulfil my duty, and lead me along the paths of the commandments. Say to Jesus: “Receive this child; I recommend him/her to you with all the insistence of my maternal heart”.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be to the Father.

SECOND DAY

Introductory Prayer and Request as on the First Day.

Meditation
“Who art in heaven”

While God is everywhere as Lord of heaven and earth, we say “who art in heaven” because the though of heaven moves us to love him with more veneration and to aspire to the things of heaven while living as pilgrims in this life.

Request
My Jesus, I turn to you in this difficulty. Should you wish to show compassion to this wretched creature of yours, may your kindness triumph. Though your love and mercy pardon my sins. Though I am unworthy to obtain my request please grant it to me if it be for your glory and the good of my soul.

( Here ask the favour you desire to obtain through this novena).

Prayer
My Jesus, I know that you raise the fallen, free those in prison, reject nobody who is afflicted and look with love on all who are in need. Therefore, I beg you to listen to me, because I need to talk to you about the salvation of my soul and to receive your salutary advice.
My sins frighten me, my Jesus; I am ashamed of my ingratitude and distrust. I am greatly worried because instead of using the time you gave me to do good, I spent it badly, even by offending you.
I turn to you, Lord. You have the words of eternal life.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be to the Father.

THIRD DAY

Introductory Prayer and Request as on the First Day.

Meditation
“Hallowed by thy Name”

This is the first thing that we should desire; the first thing that we should seek in prayer, the intention that should inspire all our works and actions: that God be known, loved served and adored, and that every creature should submit to his power.

Request
My Jesus, I turn to you in this difficulty. Should you wish to show compassion to this wretched creature of yours, may your kindness triumph. Though your love and mercy pardon my sins. Though I am unworthy to obtain my request please grant it to me if it be for your glory and the good of my soul.

( Here ask the favour you desire to obtain through this novena).

Prayer
My Jesus, open to me the doors of your mercy; imprint on me the seal of your wisdom. Ensure that I am free from every unlawful affection and that I serve you with love, joy and sincerity.
Comforted by your divine word and commandments, may I always grow in virtue.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be to the Father.

FOURTH DAY

Introductory Prayer and Request as on the First Day.

Meditation
“Thy kingdom come”

In this petition we ask that the kingdom of his grace and heavenly favours would come in us, that is the kingdom of the just, and the kingdom of glory where he rules in perfect communion with the blessed.
Therefore we also ask for an end to kingdom of sin, of the devil and of darkness.

Request
My Jesus, I turn to you in this difficulty. Should you wish to show compassion to this wretched creature of yours, may your kindness triumph. Though your love and mercy pardon my sins. Though I am unworthy to obtain my request please grant it to me if it be for your glory and the good of my soul.

( Here ask the favour you desire to obtain through this novena).

Prayer
Lord, have mercy on me and mould me in the likeness of your heart.
My God, have mercy on me and free me from all that prevents me from reaching you.
Ensure that at the hour of death I shall not hear a dreadful sentence but your salutary words: ” Come, you blessed of my Father”, and my soul shall rejoice to see your face.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be to the Father.

FIFTH DAY

Introductory Prayer and Request as on the First Day.

Meditation
“Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”

Here we ask that God’s will be done by all creatures with fortitude and perseverance, purity and perfection. We ask that we ourselves may achieve this by whatever means and in whatever way we come to know it.

Request
My Jesus, I turn to you in this difficulty. Should you wish to show compassion to this wretched creature of yours, may your kindness triumph. Though your love and mercy pardon my sins. Though I am unworthy to obtain my request please grant it to me if it be for your glory and the good of my soul.

( Here ask the favour you desire to obtain through this novena).

Prayer
My Jesus, give me a lively faith; make me observe faithfully your divine commandments and to travel the way of your precepts with a heart full of your love and charity.
Let me taste the sweetness of your spirit, and have a hunger for the fulfilment of your divine will, so that my poor service may be acceptable and pleasing to you.
My Jesus, may the omnipotence of the Father bless me. May your wisdom bless me. May the most kind Charity of the Holy Spirit bless me and protect me for eternal life.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be to the Father.

SIXTH DAY

Introductory Prayer and Request as on the First Day.

Meditation
“Give us this day our daily bread”

Here we ask for the Bread which is the Blessed Sacrament; and also the ordinary nourishment of our soul which is grace, the Sacraments and heavenly inspirations.
We also ask that the nourishment necessary for our bodies be given to us in moderation.
We call the Eucharistic Bread “ours” since it was instituted because of our need and because our Redeemer gives himself to us in Communion.
We say “daily” to express our ordinary dependence on God for everything, body and soul, every hour and every moment.
In saying “give us this day” we make an act of charity, asking on behalf of everyone, without worrying about the future .

Request
My Jesus, I turn to you in this difficulty. Should you wish to show compassion to this wretched creature of yours, may your kindness triumph. Though your love and mercy pardon my sins. Though I am unworthy to obtain my request please grant it to me if it be for your glory and the good of my soul.

( Here ask the favour you desire to obtain through this novena).

Prayer
My Jesus, you are the Fountain of Life. Let me drink the living water which flows from you, so that, having tasted you, I may thirst only for you. Immerse me completely in the abyss of your love and mercy, and renew me with your Precious Blood with which you have redeemed me.
With water from your sacred site wash away all the stains with I have soiled the beautiful robe of innocence which you gave me in Baptism.
My Jesus, fill me with your Holy Spirit and make me pure in body and soul.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be to the Father.

SEVENTH DAY

Introductory Prayer and Request as on the First Day.

Meditation
“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”.

We ask God to forgive our debts, that is, our sins and the punishment deserved because of them; an enormous penalty which we could never pay except through the Blood of Jesus, through the talents of grace and nature which we received from God, and with everything we are and have.
In this petition we undertake to forgive others their debts to us, without taking revenge on them, but rather forgetting the injuries and offences which they have caused us.
Thus God places in our hands the judgement he will give us, if we pardon, he will pardon us; if we do not pardon, he will not pardon us.

Request
My Jesus, I turn to you in this difficulty. Should you wish to show compassion to this wretched creature of yours, may your kindness triumph. Though your love and mercy pardon my sins. Though I am unworthy to obtain my request please grant it to me if it be for your glory and the good of my soul.

( Here ask the favour you desire to obtain through this novena).

Prayer
My Jesus, I know that you call everyone without exception. You dwell in the humble, you love the person who loves you, you champion the cause of the poor, you show mercy to all and despise nothing your power has created. You conceal people’s defects, await their repentance, and receive the sinner with love and mercy. Lord, open also to me the spring of life; pardon me and wipe away everything in me which is contrary to your divine love.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be to the Father.

EIGHTH DAY

Introductory Prayer and Request as on the First Day.

Meditation
“Lead us not into temptation”

In asking the Lord not to let us fall into temptation, we know that he permits temptation for our good, our weakness to overcome it, divine fortitude for our victory. We know that the Lord does not refuse his grace to the person who does what is necessary to overcome our powerful enemies.
When we ask him not to let us fall into temptation, we ask not to contract more debts than those we have already incurred.

Request
My Jesus, I turn to you in this difficulty. Should you wish to show compassion to this wretched creature of yours, may your kindness triumph. Though your love and mercy pardon my sins. Though I am unworthy to obtain my request please grant it to me if it be for your glory and the good of my soul.

( Here ask the favour you desire to obtain through this novena).

Prayer
My Jesus, be the comfort and protection of my soul; be my defence against every temptation and cover me with the shield of your truth. Be my compassion and my hope, my defence and my refuge against all dangers to soul and body.
Lead me in the vast ocean of this world, and deign to console me in this trial.
May the abyss of your love and mercy be a safe haven for me. Thus I can be free from the snares of the devil.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be to the Father.

NINTH DAY

Introductory Prayer and Request as on the First Day.

Meditation
“but deliver us from evil. Amen”

We ask God to deliver us from all evil, that is, from evils of the soul and of the body, from eternal and temporal evils; from evils past, present and future, from sins, vices, disordered passions, evil inclinations and the spirit of anger and pride.
By saying “Amen” we ask with intensity, love and confidence, because God wishes and commands us to ask in this way.

Request
My Jesus, I turn to you in this difficulty. Should you wish to show compassion to this wretched creature of yours, may your kindness triumph. Though your love and mercy pardon my sins. Though I am unworthy to obtain my request please grant it to me if it be for your glory and the good of my soul.

( Here ask the favour you desire to obtain through this novena).

Prayer
My Jesus, wash me with the Blood from your divine side, and let me return without stain to the life of your grace.
Lord, sustain my weak spirit and console my worried heart. Tell me that, because of your mercy, you will not cease to love me for a single moment, and that you will always be with me.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be to the Father.

Pope Benedict XVI: Cuban Church Called To Offer The Only True Hope: Christ

VATICAN CITY, 2 MAY 2008 (VIS) – This morning in the Vatican, Benedict XVI received prelates from the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba, who have recently completed their quinquennial “ad limina” visit.The Holy Father began his address to the bishops by underlining “the vitality of the Church in Cuba, as well as its unity and its commitment to Jesus Christ”. He also remarked upon the “profound change” in ecclesial life in Cuba “especially since the celebration of the Cuban National Ecclesial Meeting, now more than 20 years ago, and above all following the historic visit to Cuba in 1998 by my venerated predecessor Pope John Paul II”.

“At this historic moment, the Church in Cuba is called to offer all Cuban society the only true hope: Our Lord Jesus. … This means that the fomentation of ecclesial life must be given a central role in your aspirations and your pastoral projects”.

After thanking priests for “their faithfulness and tireless service to the Church and the faithful”, the Holy Father expressed the hope that “an increase in vocations and the simultaneous adoption of appropriate measures in this field, may soon enable the Cuban Church to have a sufficient number of priests, as well as the churches and places of worship necessary to accomplish her strictly pastoral and spiritual mission”.

“It is necessary”, he went on, “to continue promoting a specific form of vocational pastoral care, one that is not afraid of encouraging the young to follow the footsteps of Christ, Who alone is capable of satisfying their longing for love and happiness”. At the same time he encouraged the prelates to ensure seminarians have “the best possible spiritual, intellectual and human formation” so that, “identifying themselves with the Heart of Christ”, they can shoulder “the commitment to the priestly ministry”.

Benedict XVI highlighted “the exemplary efforts of so many male and female religious”, whom he encouraged to continue “enriching the whole of ecclesial life with the wealth of their charisms and their generous commitment”. He also thanked “the numerous missionaries who offer the gift of their consecration to all the Church in Cuba”.

He then turned to focus on “one of the main objectives of the pastoral plan”, the promotion of “a committed laity”, and he invited the prelates to encourage “an authentic process of education in the faith at various levels, with the help of well-trained catechists”. He also asked them to facilitate “reading and prayerful meditation upon the Word of God”, for the faithful, “as well as their frequent attendance at the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist”.

The Pope also stressed how, with an “intense spiritual life and the support of a solid religious education”, the laity “will be able to offer convincing testimony of their faith in all areas of society, illuminating them with the light of the Gospel. In this context, it is my hope that the Church in Cuba, in keeping with her legitimate aspirations, may enjoy normal access to the social communications media”.

On the subject of the pastoral care of marriage and the family, the Holy Father encouraged the prelates “to redouble their efforts so as to ensure that everyone, and especially the young, gains a better understanding of – and feels ever more attracted by – the beauty of the true values of marriage and the family. At the same time, it is necessary to encourage and offer the appropriate means so that families can exercise their responsibilities, and their fundamental right to a religious and moral education for their children”.

The Pope spoke of his joy at realising “the generosity with which the Church in your beloved nation is committed to serving the poorest and the most disadvantaged, for which she receives the appreciation and recognition of all the Cuban people. I give you my heartfelt encouragement to continue bringing a visible sign of God’s love to those in need, the sick, the elderly and the imprisoned”.

Benedict XVI concluded by expressing the hope that the forthcoming beatification of Servant of God Fr. Jose Olallo Valdes “may give fresh impulse to your service to the Church and the people of Cuba, always being a leavening for reconciliation, justice and peace”.

Message For Lent: Pope Benedict XVI

1. Each year, Lent offers us a providential opportunity to deepen the meaning and value of our Christian lives, and it stimulates us to rediscover the mercy of God so that we, in turn, become more merciful toward our brothers and sisters. In the Lenten period, the Church makes it her duty to propose some specific tasks that accompany the faithful concretely in this process of interior renewal: these are prayer, fasting and almsgiving. For this year’s Lenten Message, I wish to spend some time reflecting on the practice of almsgiving, which represents a specific way to assist those in need and, at the same time, an exercise in self-denial to free us from attachment to worldly goods. The force of attraction to material riches and just how categorical our decision must be not to make of them an idol, Jesus confirms in a resolute way: “You cannot serve God and mammon” (Lk 16,13). Almsgiving helps us to overcome this constant temptation, teaching us to respond to our neighbor’s needs and to share with others whatever we possess through divine goodness. This is the aim of the special collections in favor of the poor, which are promoted during Lent in many parts of the world. In this way, inward cleansing is accompanied by a gesture of ecclesial communion, mirroring what already took place in the early Church. In his Letters, Saint Paul speaks of this in regard to the collection for the Jerusalem community (cf. 2 Cor 8-9; Rm 15, 25-27).

2. According to the teaching of the Gospel, we are not owners but rather administrators of the goods we possess: these, then, are not to be considered as our exclusive possession, but means through which the Lord calls each one of us to act as a steward of His providence for our neighbor. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, material goods bear a social value, according to the principle of their universal destination (cf. n. 2404)

In the Gospel, Jesus explicitly admonishes the one who possesses and uses earthly riches only for self. In the face of the multitudes, who, lacking everything, suffer hunger, the words of Saint John acquire the tone of a ringing rebuke: “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help?” (1 Jn 3,17). In those countries whose population is majority Christian, the call to share is even more urgent, since their responsibility toward the many who suffer poverty and abandonment is even greater. To come to their aid is a duty of justice even prior to being an act of charity.

3. The Gospel highlights a typical feature of Christian almsgiving: it must be hidden: “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,” Jesus asserts, “so that your alms may be done in secret” (Mt 6,3-4). Just a short while before, He said not to boast of one’s own good works so as not to risk being deprived of the heavenly reward (cf. Mt 6,1-2). The disciple is to be concerned with God’s greater glory. Jesus warns: “In this way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Mt 5,16). Everything, then, must be done for God’s glory and not our own. This understanding, dear brothers and sisters, must accompany every gesture of help to our neighbor, avoiding that it becomes a means to make ourselves the center of attention. If, in accomplishing a good deed, we do not have as our goal God’s glory and the real well being of our brothers and sisters, looking rather for a return of personal interest or simply of applause, we place ourselves outside of the Gospel vision. In today’s world of images, attentive vigilance is required, since this temptation is great. Almsgiving, according to the Gospel, is not mere philanthropy: rather it is a concrete expression of charity, a theological virtue that demands interior conversion to love of God and neighbor, in imitation of Jesus Christ, who, dying on the cross, gave His entire self for us. How could we not thank God for the many people who silently, far from the gaze of the media world, fulfill, with this spirit, generous actions in support of one’s neighbor in difficulty? There is little use in giving one’s personal goods to others if it leads to a heart puffed up in vainglory: for this reason, the one, who knows that God “sees in secret” and in secret will reward, does not seek human recognition for works of mercy.

4. In inviting us to consider almsgiving with a more profound gaze that transcends the purely material dimension, Scripture teaches us that there is more joy in giving than in receiving (cf. Acts 20,35). When we do things out of love, we express the truth of our being; indeed, we have been created not for ourselves but for God and our brothers and sisters (cf. 2 Cor 5,15). Every time when, for love of God, we share our goods with our neighbor in need, we discover that the fullness of life comes from love and all is returned to us as a blessing in the form of peace, inner satisfaction and joy. Our Father in heaven rewards our almsgiving with His joy. What is more: Saint Peter includes among the spiritual fruits of almsgiving the forgiveness of sins: “Charity,” he writes, “covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pt 4,8). As the Lenten liturgy frequently repeats, God offers to us sinners the possibility of being forgiven. The fact of sharing with the poor what we possess disposes us to receive such a gift. In this moment, my thought turns to those who realize the weight of the evil they have committed and, precisely for this reason, feel far from God, fearful and almost incapable of turning to Him. By drawing close to others through almsgiving, we draw close to God; it can become an instrument for authentic conversion and reconciliation with Him and our brothers.

5. Almsgiving teaches us the generosity of love. Saint Joseph Benedict Cottolengo forthrightly recommends: “Never keep an account of the coins you give, since this is what I always say: if, in giving alms, the left hand is not to know what the right hand is doing, then the right hand, too, should not know what it does itself” (Detti e pensieri, Edilibri, n. 201). In this regard, all the more significant is the Gospel story of the widow who, out of her poverty, cast into the Temple treasury “all she had to live on” (Mk 12,44). Her tiny and insignificant coin becomes an eloquent symbol: this widow gives to God not out of her abundance, not so much what she has, but what she is. Her entire self.

We find this moving passage inserted in the description of the days that immediately precede Jesus’ passion and death, who, as Saint Paul writes, made Himself poor to enrich us out of His poverty (cf. 2 Cor 8,9); He gave His entire self for us. Lent, also through the practice of almsgiving, inspires us to follow His example. In His school, we can learn to make of our lives a total gift; imitating Him, we are able to make ourselves available, not so much in giving a part of what we possess, but our very selves. Cannot the entire Gospel be summarized perhaps in the one commandment of love? The Lenten practice of almsgiving thus becomes a means to deepen our Christian vocation. In gratuitously offering himself, the Christian bears witness that it is love and not material richness that determines the laws of his existence. Love, then, gives almsgiving its value; it inspires various forms of giving, according to the possibilities and conditions of each person.

6. Dear brothers and sisters, Lent invites us to “train ourselves” spiritually, also through the practice of almsgiving, in order to grow in charity and recognize in the poor Christ Himself. In the Acts of the Apostles, we read that the Apostle Peter said to the cripple who was begging alms at the Temple gate: “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, walk” (Acts 3,6). In giving alms, we offer something material, a sign of the greater gift that we can impart to others through the announcement and witness of Christ, in whose name is found true life. Let this time, then, be marked by a personal and community effort of attachment to Christ in order that we may be witnesses of His love. May Mary, Mother and faithful Servant of the Lord, help believers to enter the “spiritual battle” of Lent, armed with prayer, fasting and the practice of almsgiving, so as to arrive at the celebration of the Easter Feasts, renewed in spirit. With these wishes, I willingly impart to all my Apostolic Blessing.

From the Vatican, 30 October 2007

BENEDICTUS PP. XVI

© Copyright 2007 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana

Pope Benedict XVI: Follow Christ’s Path to Peace–Angelus 01.28.08

Asia News 

The “Good News” that Jesus came to announce mean that “God, in Him, is at hand, that he already rules amongst us as demonstrated by the miracles and healing he performs.” “Where Jesus arrives, the creative Spirit brings life and heals men from the illnesses of the body and of the spirit. God’s lordship manifests itself through man’s complete healing.”

Before a cheerful crowd that had gathered in St Peter’s Square for the Angelus, Benedict XVI with two young people from Rome’s Azione Cattolica at his side released two doves in what has become a traditional gesture.

Taking advantage of the situation the Pope cracked a joke that elicited shouts and applause among the 50,000 people in St Peter. “Sometimes they come back,” he said referring to the fact that occasionally the birds flow back into his studio.

“My dear young friends,” he added, “I know that you are committed to those of your age you who are suffering from war and poverty. Continue on the path that Jesus has shown us to build true peace!”

Before the Marian prayer, the Pope mentioned that at the time of Jesus the “term Gospel” (Evangellion) was used to proclaim Roman emperors. Whatever the content, these proclamations were seen as “good news,” news of salvation because the emperor was seen as the lord of the world and his edict were seen as heralding something good.”

sound.jpg“Applying this word to Jesus’ preaching,” the Pope said, “was heavily charged with criticism. It was like saying that God, not the emperor, was Lord of the world and that the true Gospel was that of Jesus Christ. The ‘Good News’ that Jesus proclaimed is best encapsulated by these words: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt, 4:17; Mk, 1:15).”

“What does this expression mean? It certainly does not mean an earthly kingdom, one found in space and time; instead, it announces that it is God who rules, that God is Lord and this Lordship is present, current and in the process of being realised. The newness of Christ’s message is thus that in Him God is at hand, that he already rules amongst us as demonstrated by the miracles and healing he performs.”

“God rules through his Son made man and the power of the Holy Spirit, called the “the finger of God” (cf Lk, 11:20). Where Jesus arrives, the creative Spirit brings life and heals men from the illnesses of the body and of the spirit.”

“God’s lordship manifests itself through man’s complete healing. This way Jesus shows God’s true face, God at hand; full of mercy for every human being; the God that gives us the gift of life in abundance, his own life. The Kingdom of God is therefore life that asserts itself over death, the light of truth that dissipates the darkness of ignorance and lies.”

“Let us pray the Holiest Mary,” the Pope said, “that She may always obtain for the Church the same passion for the Kingdom of God that moved the mission of Jesus Christ: passion for God; for his lordship over love and life; passion for man encountered in truth with the desire of giving him his most precious treasure, the love of God, his Creator and Father.”

After the Angelus, the Pope talked about today’s celebration of World Leprosy Day launched 55 years ago by Raoul Follereau.

“To all those who suffer from this disease I offer my warmest greetings and a special prayer, which I extent to all those who, by various means, work on their behalf, especially the volunteers who belong to the Association of friends of Raoul Follereau”.

Who Can Be Saved? by Avery Cardinal Dulles

by Avery Cardinal Dulles

Nothing is more striking in the New Testament than the confidence with which it proclaims the saving power of belief in Christ. Almost every page confronts us with a decision of eternal consequence: Will we follow Christ or the rulers of this world? The gospel is, according to Paul, “the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith” (Rom. 1:16). The apostles and their associates are convinced that in Jesus they have encountered the Lord of Life and that he has brought them into the way that leads to everlasting blessedness. By personal faith in him and by baptism in his name, Christians have passed from darkness to light, from error to truth, and from sin to holiness.

Paul is the outstanding herald of salvation through faith. To the Romans he writes, “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9). Faith, for him, is inseparable from baptism, the sacrament of faith. By baptism, the Christian is immersed in the death of Christ so as to be raised with him to newness of life (Rom. 6:3-4).

The Book of Acts shows the apostles preaching faith in Christ as the way to salvation. Those who believe the testimony of Peter on the first Pentecost ask him what they must do to be saved. He replies that they must be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins and thereby save themselves from the present crooked generation (Acts 2:37-40). When Peter and John are asked by the Jewish religious authorities by what authority they are preaching and performing miracles, they reply that they are acting in the name of Jesus Christ and that “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Paul and his associates bring the gospel first of all to the Jews because it is the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises. When the Jews in large numbers reject the message, Paul and Barnabas announce that they are turning to the Gentiles in order to bring salvation to the uttermost parts of the earth (Acts 13:46-47).

A few chapters later in Acts, we see Paul and Silas in prison at Philippi. When their jailer asks them, “What must I do to be saved?” they reply, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.” The jailer and his family at once accept baptism and rejoice in their newfound faith (Acts 16:30-34).

The same doctrine of salvation permeates the other books of the New Testament. Mark’s gospel ends with this missionary charge: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole of creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16).

John in his gospel speaks no less clearly. Jesus at one point declares that those who hear his word and believe in him do not remain in darkness, whereas those who reject him will be judged on the last day (John 12:44-50). At the Last Supper, Jesus tells the Twelve, “This is eternal life, that they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). John concludes the body of his gospel with the statement that he has written his account “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ and that believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).

From these and many other texts, I draw the conclusion that, according to the primary Christian documents, salvation comes through personal faith in Jesus Christ, followed and signified by sacramental baptism.

The New Testament is almost silent about the eternal fate of those to whom the gospel has not been preached. It seems apparent that those who became believers did not think they had been on the road to salvation before they heard the gospel. In his sermon at Athens, Paul says that in times past God overlooked the ignorance of the pagans, but he does not say that these pagans were saved. In the first chapter of Romans, Paul says that the Gentiles have come to a knowledge of God by reasoning from the created world, but that they are guilty because by their wickedness they have suppressed the truth and fallen into idolatry. In the second chapter of Romans, Paul indicates that Gentiles who are obedient to the biddings of conscience can be excused for their unbelief, but he indicates that they fall into many sins. He concludes that “all have sinned and fall short” of true righteousness (Rom. 3:23). For justification, Paul asserts, both Jews and Gentiles must rely on faith in Jesus Christ, who expiated the sins of the world on the cross.

Animated by vibrant faith in Christ the Savior, the Christian Church was able to conquer the Roman Empire. The converts were convinced that in embracing Christianity they were escaping from the darkness of sin and superstition and entering into the realm of salvation. For them, Christianity was the true religion, the faith that saves. It would not have occurred to them that any other faith could save them.

Christian theologians, however, soon had to face the question whether anyone could be saved without Christian faith. They did not give a wholly negative answer. They agreed that the patriarchs and prophets of Israel, because they looked forward in faith and hope to the Savior, could be saved by adhering in advance to him who was to come.

The apologists of the second and third centuries made similar concessions with regard to certain Greek philosophers. The prologue to John’s gospel taught that the eternal Word enlightens all men who come into the world. Justin Martyr speculated that philosophers such as Socrates and Heraclitus had lived according to the Word of God, the Logos who was to become incarnate in Christ, and they could therefore be reckoned as being in some way Christians. Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen held that the Wisdom of God gave graces to people of every generation, both Greeks and barbarians.

The saving grace of which these theologians were speaking, however, was given only to pagans who lived before the time of Christ. It was given by the Word of God who was to become incarnate in Jesus Christ. There was no doctrine that pagans could be saved since the promulgation of the gospel without embracing the Christian faith.

Origen and Cyprian, in the third century, formulated the maxim that has come down to us in the words Extra ecclesiam nulla salus—”Outside the Church, no salvation.” They spoke these words with heretics and schismatics primarily in view, but they do not appear to have been any more optimistic about the prospects of salvation for pagans. Assuming that the gospel had been promulgated everywhere, writers of the high patristic age considered that, in the Christian era, Christians alone could be saved. In the East, this view is represented by Gregory of Nyssa and John Chrysostom. The view attributed to Origen that hell would in the end be evacuated and that all the damned would eventually be saved was condemned in the sixth century.

In the West, following Ambrose and others, Augustine taught that, because faith comes by hearing, those who had never heard the gospel would be denied salvation. They would be eternally punished for original sin as well as for any personal sins they had committed. Augustine’s disciple Fulgentius of Ruspe exhorted his readers to “firmly hold and by no means doubt that not only all pagans, but also all Jews, and all heretics and schismatics who are outside the Catholic Church, will go to the eternal fire that was prepared for the devil and his angels.”

The views of Augustine and Fulgentius remained dominant in the Christian West throughout the Middle Ages. The Fourth Lateran Council (1215) reaffirmed the formula “Outside the Church, no salvation,” as did Pope Boniface VIII in 1302. At the end of the Middle Ages, the Council of Florence (1442) repeated the formulation of Fulgentius to the effect that no pagan, Jew, schismatic, or heretic could be saved.

On one point the medieval theologians diverged from rigid Augustinianism. On the basis of certain passages in the New Testament, they held that God seriously wills that all may be saved. They could cite the statement of Peter before the household of Cornelius: “Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34-35). The First Letter to Timothy, moreover, declares that God “desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). These assurances made for a certain tension in Catholic teaching on salvation. If faith in Christ was necessary for salvation, how could salvation be within reach of those who had no opportunity to learn about Christ?

Thomas Aquinas, in dealing with this problem, took his departure from the axiom that there was no salvation outside the Church. To be inside the Church, he held, it was not enough to have faith in the existence of God and in divine providence, which would have sufficed before the coming of Christ. God now required explicit faith in the mysteries of the Trinity and the Incarnation. In two of his early works ( De Veritate and Commentary on Romans), he discusses the hypothetical case of a man brought up in the wilderness, where the gospel was totally unknown. If this man lived an upright life with the help of the graces given him, Thomas reasoned, God would make it possible for him to become a Christian believer, either through an inner illumination or by sending a missionary to him. Thomas referred to the biblical example of the centurion Cornelius, who received the visitation of an angel before being evangelized and baptized by Peter (Acts 10). In his Summa Theologiae, however, Thomas omits any reference to miraculous instruction; he goes back to the Augustinian theory that those who had never heard the gospel would be eternally punished for original sin as well as their personal sins.

A major theological development occurred in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The voyages of discovery had by this time disclosed that there were large populations in North and South America, Africa, and Asia who had lived since the time of Christ and had never had access to the preaching of the gospel. The missionaries found no sign that even the most upright among these peoples had learned the mysteries of the Trinity and the Incarnation by interior inspirations or angelic visitations.

Luther, Calvin, and the Jansenists professed the strict Augustinian doctrine that God did not will to save everyone, but the majority of Catholic theologians rejected the idea that God had consigned all these unevangelized persons to hell without giving them any possibility of salvation. A series of theologians proposed more hopeful theories that they took to be compatible with Scripture and Catholic tradition.

The Dominican Melchior Cano argued that these populations were in a situation no different from that of the pre-Christian pagans praised by Justin and others. They could be justified in this life (but not saved in the life to come) by implicit faith in the Christian mysteries. Another Dominican, Domingo de Soto, went further, holding that, for the unevangelized, implicit faith in Christ would be sufficient for salvation itself. Their contemporary, Albert Pighius, held that for these unevangelized persons the only faith required would be that mentioned in Hebrews 11:6: “Without faith it is impossible to please him. For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” They could therefore be saved by general revelation and grace even though no missionary came to evangelize them.

The Jesuit Francisco Suarez, following these pioneers, argued for the sufficiency of implicit faith in the Trinity and the Incarnation, together with an implicit desire for baptism on the part of the unevangelized. Juan de Lugo agreed, but he added that such persons could not be saved if they had committed serious sins, unless they obtained forgiveness by an act of perfect contrition.

In the mid-nineteenth century, the Jesuits of the Gregorian University followed in the tradition of Suarez and de Lugo, with certain modifications. Pope Pius IX incorporated some of their ideas in two important statements in 1854 and 1863. In the first, he said that, while no one can be saved outside the Church, God would not punish people for their ignorance of the true faith if their ignorance was invincible. In the second statement, Pius went further. He declared that persons invincibly ignorant of the Christian religion who observed the natural law and were ready to obey God would be able to attain eternal life, thanks to the workings of divine grace within them. In the same letter, the pope reaffirmed that no one could be saved outside the Catholic Church. He did not explain in what sense such persons were, or would come to be, in the Church. He could have meant that they would receive the further grace needed to join the Church, but nothing in his language suggests this. More probably he thought that such persons would be joined to the Church by implicit desire, as some theologians were teaching by his time.

In 1943, Pius XII did take this further step. In his encyclical on the Mystical Body, Mystici Corporis, he distinguished between two ways of belonging to the Church: in actual fact (in re) or by desire (in voto). Those who belonged in voto, however, were not really members. They were ordered to the Church by the dynamism of grace itself, which related them to the Church in such a way that they were in some sense in it. The two kinds of relationship, however, were not equally conducive to salvation. Those adhering to the Church by desire could not have a sure hope of salvation because they lacked many spiritual gifts and helps available only to those visibly incorporated in the true Church.

Mystici Corporis represents a forward step in its doctrine of adherence to the Church through implicit desire. From an ecumenical point of view, that encyclical is deficient, since it does not distinguish between the status of non-Christians and non-Catholic Christians. The next important document came from the Holy Office in its letter to Cardinal Cushing of Boston in 1949. The letter pointed out—in opposition to Father Leonard Feeney, S.J., and his associates at St. Benedict Center—that, although the Catholic Church was a necessary means for salvation, one could belong to it not only by actual membership but by also desire, even an unconscious desire. If that desire was accompanied by faith and perfect charity, it could lead to eternal salvation.

Neither the encyclical Mystici Corporis nor the letter of the Holy Office specified the nature of the faith required for in voto status. Did the authors mean that the virtue of faith or the inclination to believe would suffice, or did they require actual faith in God and divine providence, or actual faith in the Trinity and the Incarnation?

The Second Vatican Council, in its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church and its Decree on Ecumenism, made some significant departures from the teaching of Pius XII. It avoided the term member and said nothing of an unconscious desire for incorporation in the Church. It taught that the Catholic Church was the all-embracing organ of salvation and was equipped with the fullness of means of salvation. Other Christian churches and communities possessed certain elements of sanctification and truth that were, however, derived from the one Church of Christ that subsists in the Catholic Church today. For this reason, God could use them as instruments of salvation. God had, however, made the Catholic Church necessary for salvation, and all who were aware of this had a serious obligation to enter the Church in order to be saved. God uses the Catholic Church not only for the redemption of her own members but also as an instrument for the redemption of all. Her witness and prayers, together with the eucharistic sacrifice, have an efficacy that goes out to the whole world.

In several important texts, Vatican II took up the question of the salvation of non-Christians. Although they were related to the Church in various ways, they were not incorporated in her. God’s universal salvific will, it taught, means that he gives non-Christians, including even atheists, sufficient help to be saved. Whoever sincerely seeks God and, with his grace, follows the dictates of conscience is on the path to salvation. The Holy Spirit, in a manner known only to God, makes it possible for each and every person to be associated with the Paschal mystery. “God, in ways known to himself, can lead those inculpably ignorant of the gospel to that faith without which it is impossible to please him.” The council did not indicate whether it is necessary for salvation to come to explicit Christian faith before death, but the texts give the impression that implicit faith may suffice.

Vatican II left open the question whether non-Christian religions contain revelation and are means that can lead their adherents to salvation. It did say, however, that other religions contain elements of truth and goodness, that they reflect rays of the truth that enlightens all men, and that they can serve as preparations for the gospel. Christian missionary activity serves to heal, ennoble, and perfect the seeds of truth and goodness that God has sown among non-Christian peoples, to the glory of God and the spiritual benefit of those evangelized.

While repeatedly insisting that Christ is the one mediator of salvation, Vatican II shows forth a generally hopeful view of the prospects of non-Christians for salvation. Its hopefulness, however, is not unqualified: “Rather often, men, deceived by the evil one, have become caught up in futile reasoning and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator. Or, some there are who, living and dying in a world without God, are subject to utter hopelessness.” The missionary activity of the Church is urgent for bringing such persons to salvation.

After the council, Paul VI (in his pastoral exhortation “Evangelization in the Modern World”) and John Paul II (in his encyclical Redemptoris Missio) interpreted the teaching of Vatican II in relation to certain problems and theological trends arising since the council. Both popes were on guard against political and liberation theology, which would seem to equate salvation with formation of a just society on earth and against certain styles of religious pluralism, which would attribute independent salvific value to non-Christian religions. In 2000, toward the end of John Paul’s pontificate, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued the declaration Dominus Iesus, which emphatically taught that all grace and salvation must come through Jesus Christ, the one mediator.

Wisely, in my opinion, the popes and councils have avoided talk about implicit faith, a term that is vague and ambiguous. They do speak of persons who are sincerely seeking for the truth and of others who have found it in Christ. They make it clear that sufficient grace is offered to all and that God will not turn away those who do everything within their power to find God and live according to his law. We may count on him to lead such persons to the faith needed for salvation.

One of the most interesting developments in post-conciliar theology has been Karl Rahner’s idea of “anonymous Christians.” He taught that God offers his grace to everyone and reveals himself in the interior offer of grace. Grace, moreover, is always mediated through Christ and tends to bring its recipients into union with him. Those who accept and live by the grace offered to them, even though they have never heard of Christ and the gospel, may be called anonymous Christians.

Although Rahner denied that his theory undermined the importance of missionary activity, it was widely understood as depriving missions of their salvific importance. Some readers of his works understood him as teaching that the unevangelized could possess the whole of Christianity except the name. Saving faith, thus understood, would be a subjective attitude without any specifiable content. In that case, the message of the gospel would have little to do with salvation.

The history of the doctrine of salvation through faith has gone through a number of stages since the High Middle Ages. Using the New Testament as their basic text, the Church Fathers regarded faith in Christ and baptism as essential for salvation. On the basis of his study of the New Testament and Augustine, Thomas Aquinas held that explicit belief in the Trinity and the Incarnation was necessary for everyone who lived since the time of Christ, but he granted that in earlier times it was sufficient to believe explicitly in the existence and providence of God.

In the sixteenth century, theologians speculated that the unevangelized were in the same condition as pre-Christians and were not held to believe explicitly in Christ until the gospel was credibly preached to them. Pius IX and the Second Vatican Council taught that all who followed their conscience, with the help of the grace given to them, would be led to that faith that was necessary for them to be saved. During and after the council, Karl Rahner maintained that saving faith could be had without any definite belief in Christ or even in God.

We seem to have come full circle from the teaching of Paul and the New Testament that belief in the message of Christ is the source of salvation. Reflecting on this development, one can see certain gains and certain losses. The New Testament and the theology of the first millennium give little hope for the salvation of those who, since the time of Christ, have had no chance of hearing the gospel. If God has a serious salvific will for all, this lacuna needed to be filled, as it has been by theological speculation and church teaching since the sixteenth century. Modern theology, preoccupied with the salvation of non-Christians, has tended to neglect the importance of explicit belief in Christ, so strongly emphasized in the first centuries. It should not be impossible, however, to reconcile the two perspectives.

Scripture itself assures us that God has never left himself without a witness to any nation (Acts 14:17). His testimonies are marks of his saving dispensations toward all. The inner testimony of every human conscience bears witness to God as lawgiver, judge, and vindicator. In ancient times, the Jewish Scriptures drew on literature that came from Babylon, Egypt, and Greece. The Book of Wisdom and Paul’s Letter to the Romans speak of God manifesting his power and divinity through his works in nature. The religions generally promote prayer and sacrifice as ways of winning God’s favor. The traditions of all peoples contain elements of truth imbedded in their cultures, myths, and religious practices. These sound elements derive from God, who speaks to all his children through inward testimony and outward signs.

The universal evidences of the divine, under the leading of grace, can give rise to a rudimentary faith that leans forward in hope and expectation to further manifestations of God’s merciful love and of his guidance for our lives. By welcoming the signs already given and placing their hope in God’s redeeming love, persons who have not heard the tidings of the gospel may nevertheless be on the road to salvation. If they are faithful to the grace given them, they may have good hope of receiving the truth and blessedness for which they yearn.

The search, however, is no substitute for finding. To be blessed in this life, one must find the pearl of great price, the treasure hidden in the field, which is worth buying at the cost of everything one possesses. To Christians has been revealed the mystery hidden from past ages, which the patriarchs and prophets longed to know. By entering through baptism into the mystery of the cross and the Resurrection, Christians undergo a radical transformation that sets them unequivocally on the road to salvation. Only after conversion to explicit faith can one join the community that is nourished by the Word of God and the sacraments. These gifts of God, prayerfully received, enable the faithful to grow into ever greater union with Christ.

In Christ’s Church, therefore, we have many aids to salvation and sanctification that are not available elsewhere. Cardinal Newman expressed the situation admirably in one of his early sermons:

The prerogative of Christians consists in the possession, not of exclusive knowledge and spiritual aid, but of gifts high and peculiar; and though the manifestation of the Divine character in the Incarnation is a singular and inestimable benefit, yet its absence is supplied in a degree, not only in the inspired record of Moses, but even, with more or less strength, in those various traditions concerning Divine Providences and Dispositions which are scattered through the heathen mythologies.

We cannot take it for granted that everyone is seeking the truth and is prepared to submit to it when found. Some, perhaps many, resist the grace of God and reject the signs given to them. They are not on the road to salvation at all. In such cases, the fault is not God’s but theirs. The references to future punishment in the gospels cannot be written off as empty threats. As Paul says, God is not mocked (Gal. 6:7).

We may conclude with certitude that God makes it possible for the unevangelized to attain the goal of their searching. How that happens is known to God alone, as Vatican II twice declares. We know only that their search is not in vain. “Seek, and you will find,” says the Lord (Matt. 7:7). If non-Christians are praying to an unknown God, it may be for us to help them find the one they worship in ignorance. God wants everyone to come to the truth. Perhaps some will reach the goal of their searching only at the moment of death. Who knows what transpires secretly in their consciousness at that solemn moment? We have no evidence that death is a moment of revelation, but it could be, especially for those in pursuit of the truth of God.

Meanwhile, it is the responsibility of believers to help these seekers by word and by example. Whoever receives the gift of revealed truth has the obligation to share it with others. Christian faith is normally transmitted by testimony. Believers are called to be God’s witnesses to the ends of the earth.

Who, then, can be saved? Catholics can be saved if they believe the Word of God as taught by the Church and if they obey the commandments. Other Christians can be saved if they submit their lives to Christ and join the community where they think he wills to be found. Jews can be saved if they look forward in hope to the Messiah and try to ascertain whether God’s promise has been fulfilled. Adherents of other religions can be saved if, with the help of grace, they sincerely seek God and strive to do his will. Even atheists can be saved if they worship God under some other name and place their lives at the service of truth and justice. God’s saving grace, channeled through Christ the one Mediator, leaves no one unassisted. But that same grace brings obligations to all who receive it. They must not receive the grace of God in vain. Much will be demanded of those to whom much is given.

Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., holds the Laurence J. McGinley Chair in Religion and Society at Fordham University. This essay is adapted from the Laurence J. McGinley Lecture delivered on November 7, 2007.

Looking Back And Pressing Forward For Christ: Reflections of an advocate for life in the Archdiocese of Portland, Oregon

From his perch of absolute human torment, Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Son of Man listened to the men beneath his cross. “Save yourself,” they said. ‘Come down from the Cross!'” He did not until after all was accomplished: for their sakes…

In many ways today, this same scenario is being carried out in the lives of all those who have chosen to remain with Jesus on their cross. And they themselves hear the very same: ‘Come down from your cross.’ “Save yourself, but, leave us alone.”

This is particularly true of all men and women of goodwill in this age who carry the cross ofdec28_massacre_innocents1.jpg convincing the world concerning the grave sin of abortion. If one has spent time protesting outside of any abortion clinic, stood on a street corner with a sign, or simply marched for life–that one has known and experienced in some form derision. Yes, the words they sometimes hear are surely different, but, the meaning is the same, “Come down from your cross.” “leave us alone.” “This cross is senseless to us.”

And it is, presently.

Below I offer the reflections of a pro lifer found in the Archdiocese of Portland, Oregon. I was attracted to her article not so much because of her complaints, (for there are always aches, pains, irritation and turmoil when one is carrying their cross) but, instead for the simple reason of her perserverance for the sake of love and life–and it is the same love of Christ Jesus hanging on the cross in whom she perserveres for the sake of life, for both know that in order for one to enter life the commandments must be kepted… On earth as it is in heaven.

From the beginning, the living Tradition of the Churchas shown by the Didache, the most ancient non-biblical Christian writing–categorically repeated the commandment “You shall not kill”: “There are two ways, a way of life and a way of death; there is a great difference between them… In accordance with the precept of the teaching: you shall not kill…you shall not put a child to death by abortion nor kill it once it is born…. The way of death is this: …they show no compassion for the poor, they do not suffer with the suffering, they do not acknowledge their Creator, they kill their children and by abortion cause God’s creatures to perish; they drive away the needy, oppress the suffering, they are advocates of the rich and unjust judges of the poor; they are filled with every sin. May you be able to stay ever apart, O children, from all these sins!” 

Evangelium Vitae, John Paul II 03.25.95.

Dear Advocates for Life,

As we look back on 2007 we thank the Dear Lord for giving us grace to persevere through many obstacles.  We remember:

  • how at the 2007 Session of the legislature the Catholics were poorly represented by Roger Martin the lobbyist who had voted to legalize abortion as a legislator in 1969. 
  • how the Catholic hospitals didn’t squawk at the thought of giving “Emergency Contraception” to women as matter of course if they said they were sexually assaulted, with no definition of “assault”.
  • how Our chancellor, Mary Jo Tully, is the on the Ethics Board at these hospitals didn’t submit testimony to fight for the life of children at the earliest stage.
  • how the Archdiocese of Portland didn’t fight for our right to vote on homosexual issues
  • how the Archdiocese has still not disclosed the letter from Bishop Vigneron from Oakland regarding the scandalous homosexual workshop at St. Philip Neri parish with Father Jim Schexnayder.
  • how the Justice and Peace Office has tens of thousands of dollars in her budget and the Respect Life Office has none.
  • how our battle against Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon participating churches and them allowing “masses” for Toni Tortorilla, the “first ordained woman” (impossible, VOCAL) in the Archdiocese and the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council still saying that we should be involved with this pro-abortion/pro-homosexual group of Churches.

GOOD NEWS – Our faith in Jesus Christ and His Church won many battles in this spiritual warfare. 

  • The embryonic stem cell/cloning bill lost by one vote.  Even though Oregon Catholic Conference didn’t lobby against this, Oregon Right to Life fought hard and had their conference speaker Father Tad Pacholczyk from the National Catholic Bioethics Center, stay two more days and change the course of this vote.
  • The two referenda petition drives for the right to vote on “Domestic Partnerships” and “sexual behavior/activity as a protected minority status” truly succeeded. Thousands of Catholics, Protestants from different backgrounds came together to gather 130,000 signatures, all voluntary, in a true ecumenical effort, and NO DEBT.
  • Sidenote — February 1st a judge will determine whether the “domestic partnerships” will be voted on without another signature drive…the signature drive to put “sexual activity/behavior” with no definition WILL go forward.  So….keep praying.
  • The Right to Life is still alive and well in the pews.  Even though this is not a top priority with the Archdiocese, the Life is Sacred conference coming up on January 26th at the Expo Center will have thousands of lovers of life gathering.  And the churches that have respect life offices are doing such good works to save lives.
  • We had a very successful Justice in Pieces series of workshops with Oregon Catholics understanding how dangerous to our souls the Saul Alinsky/Chicago/Portland connection is.  We are learning and acting on this education.  For a CD contact me and I’ll send it out….

This year is one where we will need more perseverance aka”; persisting in anything undertaken; maintaining a purpose in spite of difficulty, obstacles, or discouragement; continue steadfastly. ‘ 

We really need to persist in prayer for our Archdiocese. 

On a personal note, I was “dismissed” from a volunteer position, by the Archbishop,  with the Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women as Church Commission Chairman.  I had been with these great ladies for almost five years and did the prayers for priests in the Sentinel each month for almost four years. 

I kept VOCAL separate from the ACCW in many ways….I respected this relationship and didn’t misuse it.  However, the Archbishop isn’t happy with me and there was mention of the Campaign for Human Development in the “dismissal” conversation by the president of ACCW and my problems with the CHD.

There were already problems for me with ACCW because, in my opinion, we were not respected for our opinions.  For example, our evaluation of the “Safe environments” programs that our children are subjected to. A four month ad hoc committee led all ladies to submit a letter to the Archbishop stating this was not appropriate for the children. He fell back on information by Sister Rita Rae Schneider, who was very psychological, but not maternally protective and dismissed our concerns.  Mom’s know best.  There just aren’t any in leadership in the Archdiocese that I can think of.

And remember when I was “escorted out” of the Pastoral Center when I mentioned a meeting with the School Superintendent, Bob Mizia, to discuss an opt out form that Cathy Shannon, the Safe Environments director said was not a parental option in all cases.   So…..let’s keep on our knees.  For me too please. 

Remember, we are having a Spring talk by Donna Steichen of “Ungodly Rage” fame.  She is just finishing up a new book.  We will have to raise funds, I would think lots, her fee is $1,500 and she needs travel expenses from California and a hotel.  This is a great opportunity and I will have all monies posted with donors initials on the VOCAL website www.vocalnews.org so you’ll know where we are and what we need.

I pray that you had a wonderful Christmas Season and Happy New Year.  It’s going to be a good one serving Jesus Christ and His Church.God Bless you and yours,
Carolyn
www.vocalnews.org

On Sunday April 24th 1994, Pope John Paul II recommended this prayer be used by all Catholics as a prayer for the Church when he said:

‘”May prayer strengthen us for the spiritual battle we are told about in the Letter to the Ephesians: ‘Draw strength from the Lord and from His mighty power’ (Ephesians 6:10). The Book of Revelation refers to this same battle, recalling before our eyes the image of St. Michael the Archangel (Revelation 12:7). Pope Leo XIII certainly had a very vivid recollection of this scene when, at the end of the last century, he introduced a special prayer to St. Michael throughout the Church. Although this prayer is no longer recited at the end of Mass, I ask everyone not to forget it and to recite it to obtain help in the battle against forces of darkness and against the spirit of this world.“‘

Saint Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host –
by the Divine Power of God –
cast into hell, satan and all the evil spirits,
who roam throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

The Orate Fratres

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