No Salvation outside the Church

Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus
Beloved in Jesus Christ,
In the 1930’s, a Jesuit priest was a rising star in American Catholicism, his name was Fr. Leonard Feeney. Having written numerous books and articles, in 1942 he became director of the famous St. Benedict center at Cambridge.  
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Soon however, a change began to take place in him. He refused to allow other priests to be involved at the Center, everything became, ‘his way or the highway.’ In 1947, he started teaching the students that no one could be saved who was not a baptized member of the Catholic Church. For him, Baptism by Blood and Baptism by Desire were false teachings. (see footnote) In his opinion, all those who have never been baptized with water would end in the fire of hell, including those who have never heard of Jesus Christ.  
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In 1952 he was twice summoned to appear in Rome to explain his teachings, but he refused to go. Having been expelled from the Jesuit Order, he was excommunicated by the Church.
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Friends in Christ, there IS a doctrine of the Faith which says: there is ‘No salvation outside the Church,’[i] but what do we mean by this doctrine?  
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We begin by recalling the words of St. Peter today in Acts of the Apostles: ‘Of this Jesus, who was crucified,’ he says –  ‘There is no other name under heaven, by which we may be saved.’ Among all the peoples in the history of the world, all races, religions, nationalities, everything –  anyone who makes it to heaven, anyone who is saved –  is saved because of Jesus Christ; Christ is the only ladder by which humanity can reach divinity. Trying to get to heaven without Jesus is like trying to jump high enough to get to the moon. Jesus is the only Name by which one can be saved, and so today, in the Tridentine calendar, we celebrate a special feast for this:  the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus.   
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I am not here to say whether Buddha or Mohammed or  Guru Nanak (Sikhism) or Jakob Ammann (Amish)  or any founders of religions were good people or not; but if any of them, or any other person is saved, it is by the Incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the document Dominus Jesus, issued by the Church in 2000, it re-states clearly that while admitting that other religions sometimes possess elements of the truth, the mystery of [Christ’s] incarnation, death and resurrection is the sole and universal source of salvation for all humanity; Christ is the universal mediator for the whole world.   
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Some will say that we Catholics are saved through Jesus, but that the Holy Spirit works in other ways with other people; but the Holy Spirit IS the Spirit of Jesus!, and his action cannot be placed outside that of Christ.  There is a single Trinitarian economy of salvation, because God is Father of all human beings, and God is ONE.  
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The Lord Jesus has given us the Holy Church and the sacraments, as the ordinary means for reaching heaven.  ‘This is my plan,’ he says. Be baptized, follow my teachings, Eat my Body, Confess your sins.’ And so, if we know about God’s plan, the plan that he has for us, well then we better follow it!  Christ was quite strong on this point. He said if people ‘refuse to listen even to the Church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.’ (Matt 18:17)  It will certainly be a worse judgment for a Catholic who knows God’s plan for salvation, and ignores it, than for a person who simply didn’t know. 
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Can the Lord work in people outside of the visible elements of the Catholic Church? Yes, he can.  The Good Thief was never baptized with water, and yet Jesus told him, ‘today you will be with me in paradise.’  
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Here is what St. Thomas Aquinas says:[ii] There are three kinds of baptism: baptism of water, baptism of blood, and baptism of Spirit (he also calls it ‘Repentance’).  ‘Consequently, a man may, without baptism of water, receive the sacramental effect from Christ’s Passion, in so far as he is conformed to Christ by suffering for him. ‘In the same way, a man receives the effect of baptism by the power of the Holy Ghost, in as much as his heart is moved by the Holy Ghost to believe in, and love God, and to repent of his sins, and this is called baptism of repentance.’ We today would call it baptism of desire.  
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So what about Abraham and Moses and Isaiah and such people of old? St. Thomas taught that they had implicit faith in Christ.[iii] He says that the fathers of old were justified by faith in Christ’s passion just as we are.  ‘The fathers of old had faith in the future passion of Christ, which was able to justify them.’  
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Now God insists that we follow his plan, his sacraments, but he himself is not bound by the sacraments.  The Lord however, does not want us to sit around guessing who might be saved or not, he wants us to spread the gospel! Go! Baptize all the nations!  We shouldn’t try to guess who else will be saved – we don’t even know how many Catholics will be saved. St. Peter says it: ‘If it is hard for even the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?’[iv]  
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What we DO know, is that anyone who IS saved, is saved through Jesus Christ, and his Church.  The Catechism says that the saving work of Christ is active in the Church’s sacraments by which the Holy Spirit spreads the grace of Christ. (CCC 774) The Church is Christ’s instrument for the salvation of all. (776)  
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On our altars each day, the Mysteries of our salvation are poured out to a thirsty world. The atoning sacrifice of Our Lord is made present  and in this way, applied to the world today, and especially to us in the household of God. As we read today: ‘there is no other name under heaven given to men, whereby we may be saved.’ The Church is Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church and Christ are one. We can therefore say, ‘there is no salvation without the Church;’ to be saved, a person must in some way be connected to Christ’s Church.   
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There is an old children’s catechism that has a nice picture: a great ship is in the sea, heading forward – that’s the Church. But there are people, in the rough sea, swimming, struggling; they are trying to hold onto ropes, tied to the Mother ship. These are the people who, perhaps in darkness, who are trying to follow God;  in some way they can be attached to the Church.   
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But that’s them. What about us?  We have our hands full with our own spiritual warfare daily! Temptations can pound us and hound us. So let us follow the example of the saints, and in times of temptation, call on the Holy Name of Jesus. St. Hesychios says, ‘the demons will be dispersed at once, if we lash the enemy with the name of Jesus.’  
Jesus help me; Jesus guide me; Jesus save me; and may the Mother of Jesus pray for each of us.

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[Entrusted to the prayers of St. John Vianney]

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Note: Baptism by blood refers to those who give their life for Christ, even though they may not have been baptized yet. A number of the early martyrs were among this group, as well as others through the centuries. Baptism by Desire is when a person, desiring baptism but unable to receive it yet, dies; many believe this also applies to those who implicitly desire baptism, if they knew about it, by the fact that they try to follow God’s will, do what is right in their life, and repent of their sins as they know them.

[i] See Catechism of the Catholic Church, #846, and book by Stravinkas, No salvation outside the church.

[ii] Summa Theologica, under Baptism, Q66 a11

[iii] Summa Q 62 a6

[iv] 1 Peter 4:18

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