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Why Evangelize?
NC Register ^ | May 7, 2010 | Mark Shea

Posted on 05/07/2010 9:50:22 AM PDT by NYer

A few days ago, a reader wrote asking whether it was possible to hope for the salvation of miscarried children.  I replied with the words of the Catechism:

1261 As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus’ tenderness toward children which caused him to say: “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,” allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. All the more urgent is the Church’s call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism.

I noted that this is possible because, as the Catechism points out (CCC 1257), though we are bound by the sacraments, God is not bound.  The basic rule of thumb here is that God, under carefully controlled laboratory conditions, can do whatever he likes.  Our job is not to tell him his business, but to look to ours.

This, however, raises a question for many Catholics, more or less reflected in this response from a puzzled reader:

So it is better to have never heard of Christ and possibly be saved then to have heard of him and not have been baptized, at least it is not worse. I agree one needs baptism my argument is with the teaching that one can be saved without hearing the name of Christ hence my question do you have to agree with everything in the catechism. I agree with Jesus who says “no one comes through the Father except through me.” Has this always been the teaching of the Church or just in the past 50 years or so since Vatican II. If this is the case why go out and proclaim the gospel, what of the Great Commission? Now one may say it is better to preach the gospel because that way you know one could be saved and without preaching it and baptizing it is not for sure. Well that argument seems weak to me. Again when did the Church begin saying this?

There are a couple of different things being asked here, and it’s important to disentangle them.

First, what is being asked is “Why bother evangelizing if God can save people with their being baptized or hearing about Jesus?” (This reader appears to put emphasis on “hearing about Jesus” more than baptizing.  Others do the opposite and emphasize baptism over merely hearing the gospel.)

Second, there is the corresponding notion that, at the end of the day, what this means is that there are two means of salvation: Jesus Christ and ignorance.

Third, there is the lurking notion that all this is a recent idea in the Church, or at any rate, something the Church cooked up well after the apostles.

Finally, there is the corresponding notion that if the Magisterium teaches something that puzzles us, the first question we need to ask is, “Do you have to agree with everything in the Catechism?”

Taking these questions one at a time:  The answer to “Why bother evangelizing?” is severalfold.  First, because Jesus Christ commands it and our business is to do his will.  He himself makes this clear when he says,

“Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.’  (Matthew 7:21-23)

So salvation through disobedience is an inadvisable route for a Christian to take. 

Secondly, is the fact that evangelism is supposed to be an act of love for one’s neighbor, not an abstract theory or a controlled experiment on a placebo group.  If you are in a boat and you see a man drowning out on the open sea, your response is not, “Why bother throwing him a life preserver since God, in his sovereignty, could bring a porpoise to drag him in to shallow water?”  The fact that God can do what he likes does not relieve us of the moral responsibility to do what we can.

So, in the case of evangelization, our hope that God will supply what we lack in our ability to care for all the children of the world who die without baptism is not an excuse to do nothing.  It is a call to do more.  For the same reason, the fact that some kids have naturally robust immune systems given them by the grace of God is not a reason to blow off vaccinations for our kid.  In both cases, God is the author of salvation of life, but we remain gravely responsible to do our bit.  As Paul says, “How are men to call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14-15)

Of course, Paul has in view an adult convert here.  One can preach all you like to an infant or a profoundly mentally disabled person and they will still not be able to make an act of conscious assent to the gospel as, for instance, an Evangelical would prefer to see.  But they can still be baptized.  The point of the sacrament is not that it is a reducing valve designed to make sure only the baptized will be saved.  Rather, it is intended to be a sure encounter with grace, not the only possible encounter with grace.  So it simply is not so that “it is better to have never heard of Christ and possibly be saved then to have heard of him and not have been baptized”.  What is best is to hear the word of Christ, believe in him, and be baptized.  What is also good is to hope for those, like the Good Thief, who believe in Christ yet who, through no fault of their own cannot be baptized.  What is bad is to conclude that God’s sovereignty means that my responsibility to obey Christ ceases to exist.  Paul has sharp words for the proposition, “Let us sin that grace may abound.”

So it’s not so that there are two ways of salvation, Jesus and Ignorance.  Jesus is the one and only way of salvation.  All who are saved are saved through him.  However, acknowledging that fact does not mean that all who are saved through him are necessarily conscious of the fact that he is the one doing the saving.  Jesus, in the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25), describes the saved among the Nations (i.e., pagans) as utterly surprised by their situation.  “Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?” (Matthew 25:37-39).  The point of the parable is, once again, that though we are bound by the sacraments, God is not bound.  The sheep just thought they were doing the decent thing, but in fact they were living out the reality that Paul describes when he describes the Judgment of the Pagans:

When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. (Romans 2:14-16)

Paul’s point is not “Ignorance saves”.  His point is that Jesus doesn’t wait around till we know his name before he starts working to save us.  And he will take any step of obedience to him, even from people who do not know his name and have only “the law written on their hearts” as a toehold to call us to more grace and more obedience to him.  He is the light the lightens every man (John 1:9), not just those who happen to know his Name.  Of course, that does not mean that those who have a glimmer of the light of the Spirit should be left in dim twilight.  It means they should have every opportunity to be brought into the full broad daylight of the Sun of Righteousness just as starving men who have gotten a whiff of the banquet and followed their noses should not be denied a seat at the feast.

The mention of all these biblical texts brings us to the next point: namely, that the truth that we are bound by the sacraments but God is not bound is not something new in the life of the Church.  For instance, the Church has, since antiquity, honored the unbaptized Holy Innocents (who also never heard of Jesus or the preaching of the gospel) as saints.  Similarly, it is St. Thomas (not Vatican II) that tells us in Summa II. 68.2.c. that God “is not bound to the visible sacraments.”

Which brings us back to the beginning, namely, that we are bound by the sacraments, even though God is not bound.  One of the things this means is that we need to pay attention to the sacrament that is the Church itself in its ordinary teaching.  No, it’s not the case that we are compelled to assent to every last syllable in the Catechism.  But we are called to be docile to the Church.  Catholic teaching is much more flexible than “That which is not forbidden is compulsory.”  But at the same time, our attitude to the Church’s ordinary teaching is not supposed to be “How little of this can I get away with believing?” or “If it doesn’t immediately make sense to me, am I free to reject it?”

We are instead, called to be challenged by Church teaching and to try to shape our lives according to it (especially when it makes us uncomfortable), not to seek to blow it off at the first opportunity.  The Church’s hope for unbaptized babies is just that: hope, not certitude.  Still less is it an invitation to ignore our Lord’s command to evangelize and baptize.  We are charged with a great commission and it is our place to carry that out.  What God may or may not choose to do in the meantime is his affair, not ours.

TOPICS: Apologetics; Catholic; Ministry/Outreach; Religion & Culture
KEYWORDS: catholic

1 posted on 05/07/2010 9:50:22 AM PDT by NYer
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To: netmilsmom; thefrankbaum; markomalley; Tax-chick; GregB; saradippity; Berlin_Freeper; Litany; ...


2 posted on 05/07/2010 9:50:44 AM PDT by NYer ("Where Peter is, there is the Church." - St. Ambrose of Milan)
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To: NYer

It is presumptuous to expect God to accommodate one’s lack of obedience in evangelizing. He very well might overrule ignorance in many cases (especially with regard to the very young or the mentally impaired), but the fact remains that we have been commanded to share the good news of salvation with others insofar as this is possible. That’s all we need to know.

3 posted on 05/07/2010 9:55:57 AM PDT by Genoa (Luke 12:2)
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To: NYer

Catholics have a different definition of evangelization than others..

“Therefore, the work of ecumenism does not remove the right or take away the responsibility of proclaiming in fullness the Catholic faith to other Christians, who freely wish to receive it.

This perspective naturally requires the avoidance of any undue pressure: “in spreading religious faith and introducing religious practices, everyone should refrain at all times from any kind of action which might seem to suggest coercion or dishonest or improper persuasion, especially when dealing with poor or uneducated people”.[51] The witness to the truth does not seek to impose anything by force, neither by coercive action nor by tactics incompatible with the Gospel. By definition, the exercise of charity is free.”

From here

4 posted on 05/07/2010 10:00:53 AM PDT by netmilsmom (I am Ilk)
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To: NYer

The basic rule of thumb here is that God, under carefully controlled laboratory conditions, can do whatever he likes. Our job is not to tell him his business, but to look to ours.

I like that ...

God is a God of the impossible...


5 posted on 05/07/2010 10:06:01 AM PDT by Tennessee Nana
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To: NYer
Speaking as an Evangelical - yes I most definitely believe the unborn children are covered under the fathers grace and are with him. As are children under the age of accountability. My wife and I have one child with us here on Earth, but we strongly feel we have a child in Heaven we have not met yet.

I understand the other side of the argument and I have heard it all, but sorry I don't agree with it.

Even in life's hardest moments, such as when a child passes away, God's love is sufficient. He loves children and He loves babies. He loves the pre-born and the newborn. He loves the infant and the toddler. The words child and children occur 94 times in the Gospels, telling us they're as important as any other element in the story of Jesus. God is not willing for any of these little ones to perish.

The Lord creates every single life, and every baby is precious to Him from the moment of conception. God told Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” Jesus taught us that not even a sparrow falls to the ground without God's notice, and we are worth more than many sparrows. He rebuked His disciples for keeping the children from Him, and He said, “Let the little children come to Me...for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”

If you are someone you know has a lost a child, remember that Jesus knows and loves every child, born and pre-born, His love is infinite and utterly sufficient, and little ones are safe in His arms.

We ought to be greatly comforted by the knowledge that this little one is in heaven, in the presence of Christ, enjoying all the wonders of that glorious place, free from all the troubles of this earth, dwelling in perfect bliss, surrounded by perfect love, and loving and worshipping Christ perfectly in return.

6 posted on 05/07/2010 10:16:06 AM PDT by NavyCanDo
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To: NavyCanDo

Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.

Matthew 18:14

7 posted on 05/07/2010 10:17:54 AM PDT by NavyCanDo
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To: NavyCanDo
Beautiful post. Truth is the ultimate beauty.

There was a miscarriage in the family some years ago. Very strange. A person lives and dies without any hellos or goodbyes. But the knowledge of that child's being in the arms of Jesus is a great comfort and consolation.

God's Mercy is infinite. I'm sure that the Most Precious Blood Jesus shed during His Passion and Death covers all contingencies

8 posted on 05/07/2010 10:39:39 AM PDT by Lauren BaRecall (FR threads critical of John McCain, Michael Steele, and Karl Rove really cheer me up! :-D)
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To: NYer
I've only told this a few times. But it's a true story.

In 1992, I had a dream while sitting in a chair by a lake, having finished reading Teresa of Avila's "Interior Castle." In my dream, I was taken to heaven. It was awesome. I was filled with the love of God. I knew I was loved by God and I loved him back with all I had. I was partially hidden behind a wall, but I could see the colors of heaven. There's no explaining the brightness and perfection of the colors other than to say that what we call "red" or "blue" on earth is dingy compared to what I saw in heaven. I was aware that I was standing on gold. It was cool to my feet and cushioned them like a perfect pair of shoes. I saw blobs and aborted babies being brought on wings of angels to a throne made from a diamond. How I knew what I was seeing, I don't know, I just knew. The rainbow of light coming from the throne was jewels, perfect and bright and colors like no other I've seen. As the aborted babies came forward, the Person on the throne [I could only see him from behind at an angle], would lean forward and touch each blob, each mass of bones and flesh. And as He did so, He turned them into Cherubs. Cherubs.

And where did those Cherubs go? Directly to their Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. And she gave them the love they never got while on Earth. By her loving them, they were completed, made completely whole. Little smiling joyous angels surrounding their Heavenly Mother.

I wanted to step out into the open, but my hostess, quickly brought me back to earth or reality. I had found the interior castle and I had experienced the complete, infilling, awesome love of God. It's an experience that's a part of my DNA it's so embedded into my soul.

[Now, scholars or apologists may want to extrapolate that humans don't turn into angels or something like that. These were unborn humans. Babies who'd never taken a breath. Some were miscarried, some born dead, many aborted. God gave them the honor of being His Mother's Little Angels. That's all I know. I was there, I saw it. Doubt if you will, but one day . . . you will be so completely filled with God's love that you won't even recall this conversation.

Those who talk about conversing with Moses or St Peter or St Paul or St John . . . won't happen. You'll be so totally encapsulated with God's love that His love and your loving Him back is all that will ever matter to you.]

This image is significant for many reasons. The name "guadalupe" is Arabic and means "wolf river." She is standing on the "moon" of Muhammadanism. She is the Patron of the Americas surrounded with Cherubs. And there are more abortions in America than ever before in the history of humanity. And the roses . . . tradition says that when one smells roses that aren't there . . . it's because the Blessed Mother is near. She is Queen Mother of Heaven and the 12 stars . . . Tribes of Israel and Number of Disciples.

Revelation 12 explains it well,
9 posted on 05/07/2010 2:20:11 PM PDT by HighlyOpinionated (SPEAK UP REPUBLICANS, WE CAN'T HEAR YOU YET! IMPEACH OBAMA!)
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To: HighlyOpinionated
Thank you SO MUCH for posting that remarkable personal encounter with the afterlife. Like you, I have also been granted some mystical experiences that defy the laws of human perception but nothing that approaches yours. I believe you will find the following article, interesting.

Serbian Abortionist Who Aborted 48,000 Babies Becomes Pro-Life Activist

Thank you, again. Some of what you described parallels the dreams of St. John Bosco.

10 posted on 05/07/2010 3:36:39 PM PDT by NYer ("Where Peter is, there is the Church." - St. Ambrose of Milan)
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