The CCC refers to the Catholic Church as "the universal sacrament of salvation" (CCC 774–776), and states: "The Church in this world is the sacrament of salvation, the sign and the instrument of the communion of God and men" (CCC 780).
But what does this mean? Many people misunderstand the nature of this teaching. Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus means: "outside the church there is no salvation". But what does this mean?
Certain people claim that unless one is a full-fledged, baptized member of the Catholic Church, one will be damned. Others claim that it makes no difference what church one belongs to.
The truth is right in the center. Not the mushy middle of indifference, but right smack in the center of truth and love.
From Lumen Gentium "Outside the Church there is no salvation" - How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers? Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body.
So does that mean I could nominally be Catholic, but not live the faith and still be okay?
Again from Lumen Gentium: “He is not saved, however, who, though part of the body of the Church, does not persevere in charity. He remains indeed in the bosom of the Church, but, as it were, only in a "bodily" manner and not "in his heart."”
Saint Augustine says it this way: How many sheep there are without, how many wolves within!
So does that mean that family, friends (or for that matter 5 billion people on the planet) are condemned?
Lumen Gentium: Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience — those too may achieve eternal salvation"
How could a merciful God condemn those who are truly ignorant? He can’t and thus we have what has come to be known as baptism of desire.
So does that mean that children, family friends who have left the church are okay or are they condemned?
Lumen Gentium: They could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it, or to remain in it.
While we leave the final judging to God, those who reject Him and remain unrepentant are subject to eternal punishment. So often, those who leave don’t know who and what they are leaving.
The best thing we can do for them, and for ourselves is to pray and live the Gospel. We need to be willing to be missionaries and martyrs for both truth and love and let the love of Christ urges us on. (2 Corinthians 5:14)
The dismissal at Mass says it all. Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord or Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life. Do that with zeal for souls and we will see our family, friends and even strangers flocking to the Church instead of away from it. Catholics living the Gospel is all it takes to make our religion matter!
Nothing better than as a little child, to wake up on Christmas morning and see the very things you wished for waiting for you with a bow on it. No strings attached, no effort on your part, you just wake up and there it is: happiness in a box.
As an adult, that mentality can slip into our prayers and into our life as a whole. Come down here big, fat jolly guy and make me happy. Fix my marriage, fix my money problems, find me a job, make my kids behave, get me in shape, and, oh yeah, do it by tomorrow when I wake up.
How do we get past these troubling times? How do we “get fixed?” The first step is to realize that Jesus, not Santa Claus, is the answer.
The decisive answer to every one of man’s questions, his religious and moral questions in particular, is given by Jesus Christ, or rather is Jesus Christ Himself.
Blessed John Paul II
So, is this Jesus a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” kind of guy? Does God only “help those who help themselves?”Do we have to do something? Or can we just wait around until Christmas morning? The answer is revealed in Matthew 6:25-34.
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them. If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith? So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’ All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.
We, of course, must do something as it says in verse 33. We are to “seek first” His Kingdom and righteousness. Practically speaking, when we are in the midst of trials, what does that mean, what are we to do?
It starts and ends with prayer. Prayer, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, is our relationship with God. If our relationship with God is prioritized correctly, we will prepared for, open to and receptive of His movement and grace in our life. If our relationship with God is prioritized correctly, we will trust, fully and fervently, in Him.
So whatever trials befall you this day, ask our Lord to lead you to His grace in and through these moments. Ask Him to direct your every thought, word and action. Ask Him for the courage to follow His lead. He will hear you and provide for you. He will gift you with the grace necessary. He will draw you in to Himself, bring you closer to Heaven. He will make you holy. That is greater than any gift Santa Claus can bring.
God wants only that we be made holy. Whatever He gives or permits in this life he gives for this purpose: trial as well as consolation, hurt and mockery and abuse, the world’s harassments and the devil’s temptations, hunger and thirst; illness and poverty as well as pleasure and prosperity. God permits all of these for our good.
Saint Catherine of Siena
There is no other subject on which the average mind is so much confused as the subject of tolerance and intolerance. Tolerance applies only to persons, never to principles. Intolerance applies only to principles, never to persons.
Venerable Fulton Sheen
Our culture promotes tolerance seemingly above all else. We are told we must be more “inclusive,” to have an open mind and make certain no one feels “marginalized” lest we commit the ultimate sin of intolerance! The end result of this culture’s misunderstanding of tolerance is that we must separate love and truth, as if one could stand without the other. True charity is tolerant of truth alone; never error. Correction of error, not tolerance of it, is a duty imposed by true charity.
The Spiritual Works of Mercy, instruct the ignorant, admonish the sinner, to counsel the doubtful do not exist in a world of tolerance because to acknowledge the reality of sin or ignorance or doubt implies that truth exists, that there is a right and a wrong. This world would rather have us offend the Creator than offend a creature. Yet, in not “offending” a creature (with truth and in love) we do them harm as Saint Basil reminds us:
“Reprimand and rebuke should be accepted as healing remedies for vice and as conducive to good health. From this it is clear that those who pretend to be tolerant because they wish to flatter-----those who thus fail to correct sinners-----actually cause them to suffer supreme loss and plot the destruction of that life which is their true life.”
We are seeing this debate of truth versus tolerance play out in our courts, our schools, our churches, our families. Same-sex “marriages”, abortion “rights”, health care mandates, etc. Promoters of tolerance promise a utopian, all-inclusive society. But as Christians we are called to more than just an all-inclusive co-existence. We are called to love. And love cannot tolerate a lie. It can tolerate a liar, but not a lie. (If you have one of those “Coexist” bumper stickers on your car, rip it off!)
Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross tells us, “Do not accept anything as love which lack truth. Do not accept anything as truth which lacks love. One without the other is a destructive lie”
Make no mistake the tolerance the culture is thrusting on us is destructive and it is a lie. This false tolerance leads to subjective truth and a relativistic culture that ignores truth. This is relativism, which contends that nothing can be in error because nothing is true. And there is where we are headed, to some degree where we already are. What is the end game for those who promote tolerance above all else? It is the destruction of religion. From Alice von Hildebrand, “Under the banner of tolerance, intolerance will achieve a diabolical victory, if no one religion is allowed to claim that it possesses the fullness of revealed truth. Once the notion of truth is eliminated, religion loses its legitimate meaning.”
Read carefully, if you will, the following quote from Venerable Fulton Sheen and then say a prayer for our country and its leaders – that we might all be more intolerant.
America, it is said, is suffering from intolerance—it is not. It is suffering from tolerance. Tolerance of right and wrong, truth and error, virtue and evil, Christ and chaos. Our country is not nearly so overrun with the bigoted as it is overrun with the broadminded. . . . Tolerance is an attitude of reasoned patience toward evil, a forbearance that restrains us from showing anger or inflicting punishment. Tolerance applies only to persons, never to truth. Tolerance applies to the erring, intolerance to the error. . . . Architects are as intolerant about sand as foundations for skyscrapers as doctors are intolerant about germs in the laboratory. Tolerance does not apply to truth or principles. About these things we must be intolerant, and for this kind of intolerance, so much needed to rouse us from sentimental gush, I make a plea. Intolerance of this kind is the foundation of all stability.
Taken from his 1931 essay “A Plea for Intolerance”
Satan, the enemy of God, and your enemy desires for you to act in a certain way. He wants you to remain silent, to be filled with fear and to curse those who would do you harm. By doing this, you make his job that much easier. Instead why not follow God’s plan by bringing the truth to light, asking for His guidance and blessing those whom you encounter. Your choice…
Reveal, don’t conceal
Whoever hides his crimes will not be guided. But whoever will have confessed and abandoned them shall overtake mercy.
For there is nothing secret, which will not be made clear, nor is there anything hidden, which will not be known and be brought into plain sight.
Concealment is not of God. Satan knows Scripture well and knows it is the truth that will set you free. He also knows that your pride can be used as leverage against you. As long as actual sin remains concealed, you offer Satan an access point. Go to confession; give it over to God and Satan is powerless. More powerful than an exorcism is the Sacrament of Penance. An exorcism frees the body from the grip of the evil one; a sacramental confession frees the soul.
Do not let pride, shame or guilt prevent you from being cleansed under a shower of God’s infinite mercy. Do not let Satan’s whispers of your unworthiness prevent you from appealing to the infinite merits of Jesus Christ’s salvific act on the cross. He shed His blood so that you might be saved, knowing of your unworthiness. If your sin didn’t prevent God from extending the invitation, it should never prevent you from accepting it.
Note well what the first condition the evil one makes with a soul he desires to seduce is for it to keep silence.
Saint Francis de Sales
When the enemy of human nature brings his wiles and persuasions to the just soul, he wants and desires that they be received and kept in secret; but when one reveals them to his good Confessor it is very grievous to him, because he gathers, from his manifest deceits being discovered, that he will not be able to succeed with his wickedness begun.
Saint Ignatius of Loyola
Do not fight against a temptation by yourself, but disclose it to the confessor at once, and then the temptation will lose all its force.
Our Lord to Saint Faustina Kowalska
Petition, don’t panic
Be anxious about nothing, but in all things, with prayer and supplication, with acts of thanksgiving, let your petitions be made known to God. And so shall the peace of God, which exceeds all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Seek, ask, knock and be at peace. Your Father in Heaven knows your every need. Be not afraid to ask Him, He will provide. All that occurs is either part of God’s perfect will or of His permissive will. Like the perfect Father that He is, He will provide for you in accordance with your needs to the degree that you allow Him to do so. Petition Him often, yielding to His will in the process. Plead your case before the Lord, then rest in His peace. His delays and His denials are an expression of His mercy and love.
Panic points to a lack of faith, a lack of trust, a lack of surrender to God. Panic is an expression of self-will. Panic produces opportunities for Satan to lace your mind with murmurs of “I told you so,” “He doesn’t care about you,” or “You’re not worthy of Him.” He’ll do anything he can to disturb your peace, to get you to give up on God. Recall Paul’s words, have no anxiety, pray, petition, give thanks and be at peace.
Whence all the disturbance of mind, if not from following one’s own desires?
Saint Bernard of Clairvaux
Fear is the first temptation which the enemy presents to those who have resolved to serve God.
Saint Francis de Sales
The struggle with the enemy must not frighten you. The more God becomes intimate with your soul, the more the adversary fights in an interior manner. Have courage, therefore.
Saint Pio of Pietrelcina
Bless, don’t curse
But I say to you who are listening: Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you.
And finally, may you all be of one mind: compassionate, loving brotherhood, merciful, meek, humble, not repaying evil with evil, nor slander with slander, but, to the contrary, repaying with blessings. For to this you have been called, so that you may possess the inheritance of a blessing.
1 Peter 3:9
Bless those who are persecuting you: bless, and do not curse.
A curse is Satan’s version of a blessing. Satan would have you seek payback instead of prayer, revenge instead of reconciliation. By cursing your enemy you only serve to spread the disease of self that infected Satan and all the fallen angels. Your negative feelings toward someone can serve to keep that person (and yourself) bound. By blessing instead of cursing you confound your enemies, loose their binds and may even convert them. Regardless, you are called to respond at a higher level.
You have been given the grace necessary to bless those who curse you and to praise God in all things. If every time Satan attacked you, you took the time to praise God, It would not be long before Satan stopped attacking you. Bless those who curse you. Don’t let their stinging barbs turns into festering wounds. Ward off their attacks with charity and humility. See and respond to the Jesus in them. Perhaps nobody else ever has. You might be the one person God can count on to reach out to this soul. Serve God with a zealous love and your reward will be eternal.