One of the things I appreciate about Catholicism is that no one is without hope. In my journey through non-Catholic Christianity, I encountered individuals and denominations that were very black-and-white in their ideas about salvation. Either a person “confessed the Lord Jesus as personal Lord and Savior” or they were damned for eternity. This damnation included people who had never even heard of Jesus. The urgency of missionary work was fueled by the idea that millions of people were dying and going to Hell because they never heard about Christ.
Ironically, there are those who accuse the Catholic Church of having a similar black-and-white approach. The Catholic Church has said that there is no salvation outside the Church. On the surface, this does seem pretty cut and dry. And there have been many misunderstandings and conflicts about that statement. However, it does not mean that only people who call themselves Catholic are going to Heaven. A better way of looking at it is to say that there are lots of people going to Heaven that never knew they were Catholic. Even those same Christians that call Catholicism non-Christian are considered Christian by the Catholic Church. They are “separated brethren.” They are a part of the very Church they abhor. More irony.
Everyone who is saved is saved by God’s grace through faith. Catholicism teaches that there is such a thing as implicit faith. God is love. Even a person who has never heard of Jesus can respond to and follow ways of love. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except by me.” What is truth? Jesus is truth. A person can respond to, seek out, and love truth without ever hearing the name, “Jesus.” The more one knows and understands about Jesus, however, the more culpable they become when rejecting him and his message.
So, why even bother spreading the Gospel? Just let everyone seek his or her own truth and all will be well, right? Nope. God loves us and has revealed himself to us in Jesus. The best way to meet God and to know God is to meet Jesus and to know Jesus. Jesus told us to spread the Gospel and to make disciples of all nations. Although God will honor a sincere search for love and truth, what he really desires is an intimate relationship with us, not a meandering quest. Missionary work is intended to be part of how God reaches out to the world. Sure, God wants us to seek him. Even more so, God seeks us. He is not a distant, higher power. God is an intimate lover. That’s what the humanity of Jesus is all about. That’s what the Church is all about.
Catholics are not “better” than anyone because of the Faith. We have a greater responsibility than anyone to be true to the Gospel and to be an example for the world. We need to be the most humble, loving people on the planet. “To whom much is given, much will be required.” Catholics need to heed the words spoken at the end of Mass, “Go in peace to love and serve the world.” That’s when we take the life and love God gives us and distribute it like he does. We are Christians. We spread faith, hope and love. The greatest of these is love. God is love.