Pope Francis has good news for atheists. Jesus died and was raised for them as well. His redemptive embrace was for all, not just a chosen few.The choice to accept its reach is our own. The Holy Father was not teaching anything new. In fact, this hope that all who do not yet know God are not only capable of doing good – but will progress toward that knowledge of God by doing good – is ancient. The Church wants all men and women to be saved.
LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) – The Holy Father is full of surprises, born of true and faithful humility. On Wednesday he declared that all people, not just Catholics, are redeemed through Jesus, even atheists. However, he did emphasize there was a catch. Those people must still do good. In fact, it is in doing good that they are led to the One who is the Source of all that is good. In essence he simply restated the hope of the Church that all come to know God, through His Son Jesus Christ.
Francis based his homily on the message of Christ to his disciples taken from the Gospel of Mark. Francis delivered his message by sharing a story of a Catholic who asked a priest if atheists were saved by Christ. “They complain,” Francis said, “If he is not one of us, he cannot do good. If he is not of our party, he cannot do good.” He explained that Jesus corrected them, “Do not hinder him, he says, let him do good.”
The disciples, Pope Francis explained, “were a little intolerant,” closed off by the idea of possessing the truth, convinced that “those who do not have the truth, cannot do good.” “This was wrong… Jesus broadens the horizon.” Pope Francis said, “The root of this possibility of doing good – that we all have – is in creation.” “Even them, everyone, we all have the duty to do good, Pope Francis said on Vatican Radio. “Just do good” was his challenge, “and we’ll find a meeting point.”
Francis explained himself, “The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart, do good and do not do evil. All of us. ‘But, Father, this is not Catholic! He cannot do good.’ Yes, he can… “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ, all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!” We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”
Father James Martin, a Jesuit priest, told the Huffington Post, “Pope Francis is saying, more clearly than ever before, that Christ offered himself as a sacrifice for everyone. That’s always been a Christian belief. You can find St. Paul saying in the First Letter to Timothy that Jesus gave himself as a ‘ransom for all.’ But rarely do you hear it said by Catholics so forcefully, and with such evident joy. And in this era of religious controversies, it’s a timely reminder that God cannot be confined to our narrow categories.”
Pope Francis is trying to deepen our understanding of the fullness of Christ’s sacrifice and its reach, which extends to all men and women. We often fall into familiar ways of thinking that are closed. We divide ourselves into groups, forgetting that we are all children of God, identical, regardless of any divisions we establish for ourselves.We are also all called to the One who created us and, through His Son,is recreating us anew. He calls us to accept His salavation.
The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes) contains an important explanation of the phenomena referred to as ‘Atheism’ (See, GS #17-22). It is a very large term and we have to first examine what is meant when it is embraced by an individual to best understand the effect of the claim.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that “Since it rejects or denies the existence of God, atheism is a sin against the virtue of religion but the imputability of the offense can be significantly diminished in virtue of the intentions and the circumstances” (CCC#2125).
The Holy Father was not teaching anything new. In fact, this hope that all who do not yet know God are not only capable of doing good – but will progress toward that knowledge of God by doing good – is ancient. On Good Friday we all pray:
Let us pray also for those who do not believe in Christ,that, enlightened by the Holy Spirit,they, too, may enter on the way of salvation. Almighty ever-living God,grant to those who do not confess Christ that, by walking before you with a sincere heart, they may find the truth and that we ourselves, being constant in mutual love and striving to understand more fully the mystery of your life, may be made more perfect witnesses to your love in the world. Through Christ our Lord.
We are judged by a just God who will welcome us based on what we have done with what we knew. Those who do not know God will be judged on the good they have done and the values lived by, to paraphrase a quote oft attributed to the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.
However, the most loving thing we can do for all men and women is recognize that they too hunger for the God who created them and then help them to find Him as He is fully and completely revealed in his Son Jesus Christ and the Church. That includes recognizing the good that they do and joining with them in the work.
These latest comments are consistent with Pope Francis’ efforts to reach out to people of other faiths and of no faith at all. By emphasizing our common bonds, our Holy Father breaks down artificial barriers so that we may see, and love, one another more clearly.
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