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By Father Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.

God Alone Decides Who Is Saved


Can Only Catholics Be Saved?
Do Prayers Change God's Mind?
Understanding Different Names for Churches
'All That Horrible Paperwork'
Why Different Religious Communities?

Can Only Catholics Be Saved?

Q: Do Catholics believe that the only way to Christ and to salvation is through the Catholic faith? Isn’t it true that non-Catholics can be saved? Are Catholics guaranteed that all of them will be saved?

A: The term “non-Catholics” includes other Christians who are baptized as well as people who have never been baptized. Yes, people from both groups can be saved.

Section 1260 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church begins by saying, “Since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partakers, in a way known to God, of the Paschal mystery.” Those words are quoted from Vatican II’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (#22); the Catechism links them to the same Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (#16) and its Decree on the Church’s Missionary Activity (#7).

Section 1260 of the Catechism continues: “Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity.”

Some people interpret such statements as undermining the urgency of preaching the Good News of Jesus, as he commanded in Matthew 28:19 (“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit”) and related passages. Such an interpretation is mistaken.

Anyone who is baptized must share the Good News with others, especially through a life that reflects that Good News and the person’s Baptism.

No one can explicitly know Jesus Christ today without the help of the faith community that he established. That faith community had a single name for 1,000 years (Catholic or Christian) and then split into two groups (Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic) in the 11th century. Some Eastern Catholic Churches existed before that split and others arose after it. In the 16th century and afterward, Western Christianity split into more groups.

No one today can bounce over history into direct contact with Jesus Christ in the same way that the 12 apostles knew him. We consider the Bible to be the word of God because the faith community, to which it was given, tells us that it is.

Not all Catholics or other Christians have cooperated with the grace of their Baptism. That sacrament initiates a person into a new relationship with God but does not “put God over a barrel” (so to speak) regarding that person’s salvation. Sins can be forgiven but they must be acknowledged first. A murderer or a rapist, for example, could defy God to the very end of that person’s life.

God alone knows each person’s heart and how each one has responded to God’s grace—whether that person was baptized or not.

Do Prayers Change God’s Mind?

Q: Our catechetical teachers’ manual reads, “Our prayers do not change God’s mind, or otherwise direct God into doing our will.” I can understand that they do not direct God into doing our will, but don’t they help change God’s mind? Why pray for the sick to be healed or for help in bad situations?

A: Our prayers do not give God any new information. They do not demonstrate the urgency of a situation that God might have overlooked.

If we pray to change God’s mind, then before long we will probably stop praying because we have so many “unanswered” prayers—prayers that seem wasted because what we prayed for did not happen.

Honest, persevering prayers can never be wasted because in the act of praying we open ourselves more completely to God’s grace and prepare to cooperate with it as generously as we can.

In praying for a sick person, we show our solidarity with that person and we remind ourselves to do all that is within our power to bring about the result we would like to see.

The reason many baptized people do not practice their faith as adults is that, for whatever reason, they have not incorporated their good and bad experiences of life into a growing faith, into an adult faith. The Bible and Catholic worship can show us how to do that.

Understanding Different Names for Churches

Q: How do churches get different names, such as cathedral or basilica? Who decides and on what basis?

A: Every diocese or archdiocese has a main church called a cathedral. The Latin word cathedra means “chair.” A cathedral is the bishop’s headquarters liturgically. In special cases, a diocese might have a second cathedral or co-cathedral.

There are far fewer basilicas in the world; the major ones are in Rome. The Holy See can designate very historic church buildings outside Rome as minor basilicas. According to Our Sunday Visitor’s 2003 Catholic Almanac, there are 47 minor basilicas in the United States.

‘All That Horrible Paperwork’

Q: I am a Catholic who married young, then divorced and has since remarried. I don’t understand why the Catholic Church makes it so difficult for divorced Catholics to come back to the sacraments.

Why can’t I confess this, be forgiven and then received back into the Church without going through all that horrible paperwork that peeks into your very personal life? I want to receive Holy Communion again and fill the hole in my life that the Church once filled.

A: The Catholic Church’s practice regarding divorced and remarried Catholics and the Eucharist reflects three basic beliefs: 1) the decision to marry is the most important lifelong decision that most people ever make; 2) some marriages that appear to be valid, sacramental marriages (the kind that can be dissolved only by death) are, in fact, not that; and 3) it is good for Catholic couples to grow together within valid, sacramental marriages.

It is not lack of respect for marriage that has led the Catholic Church to establish marriage tribunals. They exist in order to establish whether a now-divorced couple once had a valid, sacramental marriage. If not, each may be able to enter such a marriage with someone else.

Tribunals must work on the basis of evidence, usually given by written testimony but sometimes offered in person. Marriage is a public act, with public consequences, regardless of whether that couple had children or not. The marriage partner who did not initiate the annulment is called the “respondent” and has specific rights during the annulment process.

“All that horrible paperwork,” as you call it, aims to establish whether there was indeed a valid, sacramental marriage present. Is it possible that someone has exaggerated to you the difficulty of this process? Some people who have gone through this process have found it a somewhat healing experience.

Our Catholic Update “Ten Questions About Annulment” is available on this Web site.

Why Different Religious Communities?

Q: Why are there different religious orders in the Catholic Church, such as the Benedictines, Jesuits, Carmelites and Franciscans? Does each one focus upon a unique approach to God? Do they have different theological beliefs? Is there animosity among them?

A: Various religious communities arose at different times in the Church's life and originally responded to different pastoral needs. Benedictines, for example, differ from Jesuits partly because St. Benedict lived more than 1,000 years before St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits. Each group responds to specific needs of the Church and society. Each group has characteristic structures and emphasizes a particular spirituality, always reflecting the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Benedictine monks live in monasteries, which are governed by abbots, and take a vow of stability (promising to remain a member of that monastery). Jesuit priests and brothers belong to a worldwide apostolic society, organized into provinces, which are governed by provincials.

Women's groups (monastic and apostolic) have unique charisms and structures. For both men and women, new groups come into existence and older ones can grow, merge or cease to exist.

Inter-community rivalry claims little time and energy because the Body of Christ needs diverse gifts under the greatest gift of all: love (1 Corinthians 13:13).

If you have a question for Father Pat, please submit it here. Include your street address for personal replies enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, please. Some answer material must be mailed since it is not available in digital form. You can still send questions to: Ask a Franciscan, 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.

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