ASK FATHER: Hope for heaven for non-Catholic relatives
Posted on 16 February 2015 by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf
From a reader…
When I converted at Easter 2001 from an Baptist background it seemed that the Catechism of the Catholic Church implied that there was hope for Protestant salvation. Now that I have been drawn to the Traditional Latin Mass it seems that older documents did not teach that.
Obviously I am concerned for my family, but also explaining a funeral for a family friend to my daughter. It is sure to be an upbeat affair that brushes off that she was a non-practicing Baptist, divorced from a non-practicing Catholic and remarried within a week of her death from breast cancer. I guess I am wondering if Catholic teaching provides any hope to this situation.
We live in a time where the reality of hell is often either ignored or flatly denied. Our society – and our pulpits (both Catholic and Protestant) have become places where Universalism (the teaching that everyone goes to heaven) reigns. It is seen as “pastoral” to comfort the grieving by telling them that their deceased loved one is in paradise, and only a cruel or heartless preacher would dare to remind people that the dead need our prayers. And God forbid that you might raise the specter of Hell as a possible outcome of a life lived in defiance of God’s commandments.
Hell, friends, is real. It is possible to wind up there.
Church teaching has not changed. The Church still teaches, and has consistently taught, that the sure path to salvation is found in the Church that Christ Himself founded. One stays on that path by being humbly obedient to the authority of that same Church.
Those who place themselves outside of the authority of the Church do not have that surety of being on the right path.
Want to avoid Hell? Stick close to the Catholic Church, frequent the sacraments, believe her teachings, practice works of mercy, and reform your life.
I’m just trying to do my job here, people: Keep as many people out of Hell as possible.
The Church also teaches that God is both just and merciful. God has revealed this about Himself. If God were simply just, then all talk of heaven would be futile because not a single one of us deserves heaven. Nothing we can do can earn ourselves a place in heaven. No matter how good we are, or how many good works we do, or how well-intentioned we are, we can’t get to heaven on our own.
But God is not only just. He is also merciful. In His mercy, He sent His Son to die for us and through His death and resurrection, to open to us the pathway to heaven.
His Son has done this through the Church He established.
Men have, unfortunately, clouded that clear and straightforward message and have made it seem as though the path that Jesus Christ Himself laid down is some sort of option.
God’s mercy is unfathomable. We cannot impose our human limits on His mercy. We can only repeat what He revealed and do our best to cleave as tightly as possible to the path He laid out.
Remember: God’s justice we are going to get whether we want it or not. His mercy we have to ask for. And … He will give it, lavishly.
Is it possible for God to save those who live and die outside of what we see as the Catholic Church? Of course it is possible. God is not limited by our expectations and understanding.
When we see so many of our friends and family living and dying outside of the embrace of the Church, and even see loved ones within the Church living contrary to the demands of the Gospel, we are faced with two temptations.
One temptation is simply to close our eyes and hope for the best.
The other temptation is to despair.
Both these are temptations and should be avoided.
Betwixt these two temptations, we see a course of action. We do everything we can to encourage our loved ones to follow Christ, sometimes by our words, sometimes by our actions, always with our prayers. Those prayers help us to avoid the temptation to despair.
Perhaps this is why at this point in history the Church has placed before us a devotion to the Divine Mercy in addition to our other many good devotions. We can place our loved one’s in the hands of the Merciful Savior. We can beg and plead that, even though we do not see how it can be accomplished, those dear souls may somehow be welcomed into the heavenly homeland that He has prepared. END QUOTES
FROM THE Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church
“”Outside the Church there is no salvation”
846 How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers?335 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.
847 This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church:
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.
848 “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.”