Friday, May 26, 2017 - Updated: 8:00 am
QUESTION: A lot of people (and a lot of TV preachers) believe that anyone who does not believe in Christ cannot get into heaven. Does the Catholic Church teach that?
ANSWER: The above question was addressed as part of larger issues considered by the Second Vatican Council. In its “Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions,” the council acknowledged a solidarity with those who “… strive variously to answer the restless searchings of the human heart.”
Utilizing that general view on non-Christian religions, the council declared that “The Catholic Church rejects nothing which is true and holy in these religions. She looks with sincere respect upon those ways of conduct and of life, those rules and teachings which, though differing in many particulars from what she holds and sets forth, nevertheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men” (Chapter 2).
The council then spoke more specifically as to just who gets into heaven and who doesn’t. In the “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church,” the council stated the following: “Those also can attain to everlasting salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or his church, yet sincerely seek God and, moved by grace, strive by their deeds to do his will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience. Nor does divine providence deny the help necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God, but who strive to live a good life, thanks to his grace” (Chapter 16).
These teachings of the Catholic Church then are at variance with those who hold a much more narrow vision of who gets to heaven. There are a number of reasons for this.
One is related to a tendency on the part of some Christians to narrowly define the qualifications for entrance into heaven. In doing so they limit entrance to only those who have been “born again” and “believe in their hearts and confess with their lips that Jesus is Lord.”
While obviously the Catholic Church believes and preaches the lordship of Christ, it does not proclaim precisely HOW one must exhibit that belief. Not everyone articulates belief in the lordship of Christ in the same way. Most of us have found Christ’s lordship lived and proclaimed by people unable to express it clearly in words.
In addition, the Catholic Church in more recent reflection has clearly abandoned making decisions that belong uniquely to God. Ultimately, entrance into eternal life is a judgment made by God alone. The church understands that God alone reads the human heart and admits to eternal life.
This is not to say that the church, its teaching and sacramental life are insignificant. The Catholic Church believes that in the normal course of human events the church of Christ exists as the means through which salvation is conveyed. However, the church also acknowledges the lesson learned long ago in the Book of Job that ultimately God saves whom God wishes to save.
Father Bober is pastor of St. Kilian Parish in Adams and Cranberry townships.