What Pope Benedict Really Said About Salvation

What Pope Benedict Really Said About Salvation
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News Flash: The Church does not teach that demons will automatically drag you to Hell if your name's missing from a church's baptismal registry upon you're death.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said as much in an October 2015 interview with Fr. Jacques Servais, SJ on the topic of "justification and faith." Benedict spoke about how the dogma of salvation evolved since the 15th century.

Benedict's statements lead The Guardian's Andrew Brown to this question: "If you don't have to be a Christian to be saved, what is the point?" In a strange way, Brown's question assumes that the only reason to put up with the Church's "shenanigans" about traditional marriage and contraception is if the alternative is burning in Hell for eternity.

In that universe Catholicism is nothing more than a book of rules that might get you some bland real estate in Purgatory, only after a lifetime of remorse as a down payment. Salvation becomes about what I do for God, and what God therefore owes me in return. It's as if Brown wants the Catholic Church to either do away with itself or maintain a hardline belief about some salvation baptism-contract the Church never even professed.

There is perhaps another way to answer Benedict's salvation conundrum apart from Brown's advice to the Church.

Imagine a scenario in which a child said this to their parent: "Mom! If you're going to love me no matter what I do, then why should I even be your daughter?!" This sounds like an arrogant teenager, and the making of a good parable (Luke 15:11-32). The daughter's challenge impoverishes the affectionate bonds of family life to a legal contract that's retractable at will. As if the mother and daughter had a choice about their lineage and breaking some made up family contract would somehow make the daughter "better off." All this makes the family look either like a business contract from the 18th century, or a Communist one of the 1900's.

But the family means more than a sovereign state's birth certificate. Applying this analogy to God's relationship with us: Catholicism does not view this relationship in terms of a legal contract between equal parties. The question of the God-mankind exchange is not about legalities, but a relationship. The Catholic religion is not a social services supervisor for our Sunday visits with Daddy, it's the privileged place of communion between us and the Trinity.

Benedict XVI wrote in his encyclical Deus caritas est: "Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction." Christianity is about an intimate and real relationship with the only true God who alone satisfies the deepest longings of our hearts.

This is why, according to Brown, Benedict XVI maintains with "the Bible and the early church, that all other gods are idols or in fact demons." Anything that we allow to stake a claim on who we are, where we're from, and where we're going that isn't the true God is destructive. For example, if money or pleasure is our "highest good," we'll end either "soulless" or penniless or both -- and that's its own kind of Hell.

Truth matters. This is why Christianity loudly, even painfully, professes belief in Jesus Christ who gratuitously loves us without conditions. And, believing that should radically determine the rest of what one believes and how one lives.

Catholicism has gotten beyond a 15th century juridical mindset when speaking of salvation, but the "modern" man still wants to cling to it. After all, it's a lot safer to have a contract with an all-knowing Being than a loving relationship; love demands everything, but with a contract I set the terms.

So, if you want a religion that places a knife to your neck to make you believe in Jesus and the Eucharist, then, Catholicism isn't for you. Catholics still believe that anyone getting into Heaven will pass through Jesus. But, they'll get in through a relationship with Jesus Christ, not by sneaking past St. Peter at the gate. If you want legalism, join a club, sign their contract, and pay your dues. If you want a deeply personal relationship with the only true God who only wants to heal you and give you new life, then I suggest joining the Catholic Church.

We welcome sinners who want a relationship more than a trial. That's nothing to laugh at.

Jacob Bearer is studying to be a Catholic priest for the Diocese of Cleveland at St. Mary Seminary and Graduate School of Theology.

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