Don't be deceived by the "don't worry, be happy," brand of Christianity that has overtaken the Catholic Church. You must set out resolutely on the road that leads to eternal life, not looking back, for "no one, having put his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God", says Our Lord (Luke 9:62). Christians must search for the narrow way Jesus described:
"Enter by the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many there are who enter that way. How narrow the gate and close the way that leads to life! And few there are who find it" (Matthe 7:13,14).
But the current gospel is: "Relax! You're saved!" You don't even have to accept Jesus as your personal Savior like the Evangelicals do. You're saved from the moment you are conceived, since the effects of the Incarnation and Crucifixion of Jesus Christ are extended to all men of all time - pagans, Buddhists, Baptists, Catholics, even atheists. They're all on their way to Heaven. This sounds more like the broad way that leads to destruction than the narrow path Jesus spoke about.
How do we know that the wide gate and the broad way are being preached? We have talked to people who belong to Novus Ordo parishes. Most of them seem to take it for granted that they are going to Heaven, and that the other religions are just other ways that lead to the same place. Perhaps this is not being preached explicitly, but the ideas are implicit in the usual Sunday homily, in funeral homilies, and in their ecumenical adventures, in which all religions are "respected" and no one is asked to believe in Jesus Christ and be baptized.
A survey recently conducted by Newsweek asked the question, "Can a good person who doesn't share your religious beliefs attain salvation or go to heaven?" Those answering "Yes": 73% of Non-Christians; 68% of Evangelical Protestants; 83% of Non-evangelical Protestants; and, 91% of Roman Catholics. 91% of Catholics now believe that any "good" person can go to heaven, whatever his religious beliefs.
There are many "good persons." Those whose hearts are moved with compassion for the victims of Hurricane Katrina and lend a hand to help in some way are good persons. Those who work hard to make a good life for their families are good persons. Those who are kind to dogs and children are good persons. There are good persons in every religion. There is some good in every human being, even the most depraved and degenerate.
But ordinary human goodness counts for nothing without faith. St. Paul points out in today's Epistle that you must have Christ "dwelling through faith in your hearts; so that, being rooted and grounded in love, you may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know Christ's love which surpasses knowledge, in order that you may be filled unto all the fullness of God" (Ephesians 3:17-19). The "power that is at work in us" is the Holy Ghost, Who is given to those who are "born again of water and the Spirit" (John 3:5).
But must we go from one extreme to the other? We do not accept the Modernist doctrine that all men are being saved and are on their way to Heaven, whether they like it or not, nor even that the good people of all religions will be saved. Yet it was commonly taught, and commonly believed by Catholics of a previous generation that those who were invincibly ignorant of their obligation to join the Catholic Church, yet had a sincere desire to do God's will, could be saved. Yet now, some would condemn as heretics those who hold to that opinion, even though such authoritative sources as the Council of Trent, St. Alphonsus Liguori, and Pope Pius XII, may be quoted in support of it. The Council of Trent defines Justification:
"Justification is a passing from the state in which man is born a son of the first Adam, to the state of grace and adoption as sons of God through the second Adam, Jesus Christ our Savior. After the promulgation of the gospel this passing cannot take place without the water of regeneration or the desire for it, as it is written: 'Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God' (John 3:5)" (DS 796).
The Holy Office stated in a communication to Archbishop Cushing of Boston in 1949:
"When a man is invincibly ignorant, God also accepts an implicit desire, so called because it is contained in the good disposition of soul by which a man wants his will to be conformed to God's will. This is clearly taught by the Sovereign Pontiff Pope Pius XII in his dogmatic letter on the mystical body of Christ, dated June 29, 1943… (in which) the pope mentions those 'who unsuspectingly belong to the mystical body of the Redeemer by some kind of desire or longing.' He by no means excludes these men from eternal salvation; but, on the other hand, he does point out that they are in a condition 'in which they cannot be secure about their salvation… since they lack many great gifts and helps from God, gifts they can enjoy only in the Catholic Church.' With these prudent words the pope censures those who exclude from eternal salvation all men who belong to the Church only with implicit desire; and he also censures those who falsely maintain that men can be saved equally as well in any religion."
The Lawgiver is above the Law. Is there any evidence that Our Lord sometimes works independently of the laws He established for His Church, and that some people have experienced the proper effects of Baptism before actually receiving the Sacrament? Yes, there is. The Holy Scriptures themselves testify to this fact. In the early days of the Church as St. Peter rose up to speak at a synagogue in Caesarea, "the Holy Spirit came upon all who were listening to his message. And the faithful of the circumcision, who had come with Peter, were amazed, because on the Gentiles also the grace of the Holy Spirit had been poured forth; for they heard them speaking in tongues and magnifying God. Then Peter answered, 'Can anyone refuse the water to baptize these, seeing that they have received the Holy Spirit just as we did?' And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ" (Acts 10:44-48).
"Outside the Church there is no salvation!" True! Let us take the greatest care to work out our own salvation "in fear and trembling," as St. Paul warns (Philippians 2:12). But let us not be too hasty in assigning most everyone out there to the fiery dungeons because they have not fulfilled the letter of the law. And let us leave judgment with the One to Whom it belongs - Jesus Christ, Who will come to judge the living and the dead.