Sunday, August 17, 2014

Jews, Christians and who can be saved? (Sunday homily)

There are three related things I want to dig into today:

1) What is this Jew-Gentile business?
2) What is God’s ongoing plan for the Jewish People?
3) What about Catholics and non-Catholics?

Let’s start with this Jew-Gentile language.

God chose the Jewish people for a very special mission. 
They were to be a holy people, set apart, 
a sign to the world, a light to the nations.

All the rituals and customs that were part of the old covenant – 
most of which are foreign to us – 
were all part of this vocation 
to be a living sign of holiness to the world. 

Again, I would bet that most of us 
are very unfamiliar with these various customs.

This past January, I made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. 
I had to change planes in France, 
and I had several hours to wait by the gate. 

An interesting happened. 
As others showed up, many of the men were clearly Orthodox Jews. 
I knew from their clothing, 
the way they allowed their sideburns to grow, 
from the prayer shawls they began putting on, 
and other things they were doing 
as they prepared to say prayers together. 
And there – in the airport – 
they gathered in a corner to recite their prayers, in Hebrew.

I did what you probably would do: 
I was intensely curious, but I didn’t want to be rude and stare.

We might ask, why did God give his people all these rules to follow?

What I just described shows why: 
to be a sign to the world of the one, true God.

So – an application: you and I have that same vocation. 
Are you willing to pray publicly, 
and to let your Catholic Faith, at times, be on display? 
Or are we more inclined just to blend in?

As Christians we have been joined to this Chosen People. 
This was our Lord’s purpose: he came to renew his people Israel, 
and also to carry forward the task of being a light to the nations. 

That’s why, in this same Gospel of Matthew, 
Jesus says, “you are the light of the world”; 
and that’s why, after the resurrection, 
he sends the Apostles to take the Gospel to “all nations.”

I emphasize this, so we can understand 
this strange episode in the Gospel. 
I’d love to go very deep into this, but time won’t allow. 
But to make it very simple: 
if it sounds like Jesus is denigrating this woman, 
and not interested in welcoming her, 
then you’re misunderstanding what’s going on.

So why does he speak this way?

What’s happening is this. 
He’s saying out loud what he knows is in the hearts of the Apostles. 
The whole point is to prod them to widen their hearts to the Gentiles.

Notice, the Lord lets the Apostles speak first. 
What do they say? “Send her away.”

So Jesus says out loud 
the logical extension of their restrictive mindset. 
And then, when the woman responds as she does, 
what does he say? “O woman, great is your faith.”

Do you recall what he said, just last week, to Peter: 
“O you of little faith!”

So let’s move on to the second item: 
what about those of the Jewish People 
who haven’t followed Jesus as the Messiah? 
How do they fit into God’s Plan?

Saint Paul gives us the answer:

God’s gift and call are “irrevocable.” 
There’s more to see if you read more in this section of Romans. 
But the key is this: the Jewish People are still God’s beloved; 
and Saint Paul was emphatic on this: 
they have a continuing role in the plan of salvation.

Does that mean that they don’t need Jesus? Absolutely not! 
Everyone – without exception – needs Jesus. 
Remember what he said: 
“No one comes to the Father except through me.”

So we still must share our faith with everyone 
who has not been baptized, 
and with those who have been, but are not Catholic. 
For that matter, we share our faith with fellow Catholics, 
to help them be faithful. 
That’s part of being a “light to the nations.”

But never forget that the Jewish People are part of God’s Plan. 
There is no place for any hostility or bigotry toward the Jews. 
They gave us Jesus! 

My personal belief is that the hatred directed at the Jews, 
often so irrational, can only be explained as spiritual. 
I mean, demonic. 
The enemy hates the people God chose; 
and has always tried to destroy them, 
because they continue to be precious to God.

So now we come to the third question I want to address. 
How do we understand this business of salvation 
for people who aren’t Christian – or aren’t Catholic?

We have to strike a careful balance.

It is the teaching of the Church that 
“outside the Church there is no salvation.”

What does this mean?

Let me use an analogy. 
Suppose you are in the ocean during a storm. 
And you have a lifeboat. And this boat is special. 

If you are in it, as long as you are in it, 
you can be absolutely, completely certain 
you will make it safely to port. I repeat: certain, if you’re in it.

But there are folks, in the water, who don’t get in. 
There are others, who are in, who fall out.

Are they doomed? Can they not find any other way to safety?

The answer is, maybe they can. God is not restricted to the lifeboat. 
With his help, they may yet find their way to safety.

But then again, they may not.

So with the Catholic Faith, or even baptism. 
Being outside doesn’t mean you can’t be saved; 
but why not just get in the boat?

Remember, salvation is God’s idea. 
So we have good ground for hope 
that he is working in people’s lives, 
even when they resist becoming Catholic. 

The Council of Trent taught that no one can live 
a sustained life of virtue without the help of God’s grace. 
So all those people we know, who aren’t believers, 
but live virtuous lives? God’s helping them. 
That doesn’t guarantee their salvation; but it’s a sign of hope.

In the end, all who are saved, are saved by Christ – 
whether they knew at the time, or not. 
And in the end, everyone who is saved, will be part of him, 
and thus, part of the Church, in the fullest sense. 


Hoser said...

Our family recently lost a niece who was the example of an exemplary Christian woman. She suffered immensely from her cancer, well beyond the time of "giving up." She was 37 and had 7 children. Her family is Southern Baptist. I could only wish that I had half the faith of her and her entire family. She lived, suffered and died with Christ's love in her heart. If she isn't saved, I don't deserve to be "certainly" saved by being a Catholic. I pray every day to be half the Christian she was. If Jenni is not in heaven, no one will go to heaven.

Fr Martin Fox said...


I agree.

To be clear, one is only "certainly" saved by living the Catholic Faith. Being baptized Catholic is not a golden ticket.