The Mystery of Sin and Salvation
Part III - The Church is necessary for salvation
With the coming of the Savior, Jesus Christ, God has willed that the [Catholic] Church founded by him be the instrument for the salvation of all humanity. This truth of faith does not lessen the sincere respect which the Church has for the religions of the world, but, at the same time, it rules out, in a radical way, that mentality of indifference characterized by a religious relativism which leads to the belief that one religion is as good as another" (Dominus Iesus, no.6:22).
"For the sake of suffering humanity, he came down from heaven to earth, clothed himself in that humanity, in the Virgin's womb, and was born a man. Having then a body capable of suffering, he took the pain of fallen man upon himself; he triumphed over the diseases of soul and body that were its cause, and by his spirit, which was incapable of dying, he dealt man's destroyer, [Eternal] Death, a fatal blow" (Saint Melito).
In that extraordinary act of sacrificial love, Jesus of Nazareth changed forever the everlasting character of the Mystery of Iniquity: "Our former self was crucified with him, so that the self that belonged to sin should be destroyed and we should be freed from the slavery of sin" (Rm 6:5-6).
By his own death, the God-Man made Eternal Death a thing of time, not of eternity. This fundamental change in human existence allowed the fullness of God's merciful love to envelop the whole world and empty itself out upon humanity. In other words, Jesus of Nazareth brought about a reconciliation of the human race with God the Father and, from that point in time, a new unification within the human race: You yourselves were once alienated from him; you nourished hostility in your hearts because of your evil deeds. But now Christ has achieved reconciliation for you in his mortal body by dying, so as to present you to God holy, free of reproach and blame (Col 1:21-22).
Here, a mention of social or communal living must be made. By deciding to oust the Creator's right to decide what is good for the creature, and by replacing God's orderly communion of love with a disproportionate selfish love, Adam and Eve undermined every aspect social life. In doing so, they rent asunder family life and its communal fabric. And, that fracture finds its ultimate source in the human heart: "What leads to war, what leads to quarreling among you? Is it not precisely the desires fighting inside your own selves?" (Jm 4:1).
But, sacred scripture speaks now of a new social order: You are "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people he claims for his own to proclaim the glorious works" of the one who called you from darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were no people, but now you are God's people; once there was no mercy for you, but now you have found mercy (1 Pt 2:9-10).
Peaceful living - personal and communal - for the New People of God is found in the Catholic Church: "To reunite all his children, scattered and led astray by sin, [God] the Father willed to call the whole of humanity together into his Son's [Catholic] Church" (Catechism, no. 845).
One must acknowledge, therefore, the divine nature, hierarchical structure, and evangelical mission of the Catholic Church: "Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the [Vatican II] 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 JESUS CHRIST, WOULD REFUSE EITHER TO ENTER IT OR TO REMAIN IN IT" (Catechism, no. 846).
The Catholic Church, then, is not a mere earthly enterprise, a human institution subject completely to the schemes of its arrogant, disobedient, or rebellious members, be they "insiders" or "outsiders": "With the coming of the Savior, Jesus Christ, God has willed that the [Catholic] Church founded by him be the instrument for the salvation of all humanity. This truth of faith does not lessen the sincere respect which the Church has for the religions of the world, but, at the same time, it rules out, in a radical way, that mentality of indifference characterized by a religious relativism which leads to the belief that one religion is as good as another" (Dominus Iesus, no.6:22).
As "the instrument for the salvation of all humanity," the Catholic Church has the God-given task of breaking down the walls or barriers that set people apart from or against each other: "For [Jesus Christ] is the peace between us, and has made the two into one entity and broken down the barrier which used to keep them apart, by destroying in his own person that hostility . . . His purpose in this was, by restoring peace, to create a single new man out of the two of them, and through the Cross, to reconcile them both to God in one body; in his own Person, he killed the hostility" (Ep 2:14-16).
Jesus of Nazareth, who is Peace, offered to human beings the vocation of peace: "Christ's peace must reign in your hearts, since as members of [his] Body you have been called to peace" (Col 3:15). The vocation of peace begins when a person is baptized: "All of you who have been baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with him. There does not exist among you Jew or Greek, slave or freeman, male or female. All are one in Christ Jesus" (Ga 3:27-28).
In his book, City of God, Saint Augustine provides the reason for founding a new social order - a New People of God: "It was God's good pleasure, by means of this City [of God], to subdue the whole world, to bring it into the single society of a republic under law, and to bestow upon it a widespread and enduring peace."
As the new communal order for social living, the initial Christian community made a profound impression upon non-believing observers: "winning favor with all the people" (Ac 2:47). Non-Christians (Jews and pagans) were impressed because, among the followers of Jesus of Nazareth, "there was one heart and soul in all the company of believers; none of them called any of his possessions his own, everything was shared in common" (Ac 4:32).
The Fathers of Vatican Council II emphasized that this new social order of peaceful living is the will of God: [God] has . . . . willed to make men holy and save them, not as individuals without any bond or link between them, but rather to make them into a people who might acknowledge him and serve him in holiness" (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, no.9).
Despite the never-ending faults of human beings, and the ongoing failure of political and social institutions to establish lasting communities of peace, Jesus of Nazareth exhorts everyone not to despair or be discouraged: "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me" (Jn 16:6).
John D. Meehan has been involved in the lay apostolate of the Catholic Church since the close of the Second Vatican Council. He resides in New Hampshire with his lovely wife Elizabeth.
Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for December 2013
General Intention: Victimized Children. That children who are victims of abandonment or violence may find the love and protection they need.
Missionary Intention: Prepare the Savior's Coming. That Christians, enlightened by the Word incarnate, may prepare humanity for the Savior's coming.
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