Children of the Kingdom

Contained in today’s Gospel is a lesson on smugness.  It’s an unpleasant little sin, usually not mortal in nature, but nevertheless one that causes those who notice it in us to recoil in revulsion.  “I’m a Catholic, I’m part of the true Church founded by our Lord himself, I can just sit back and wallow in how Catholic I am…”  Imagine you were brought up a devout Protestant and have not been introduced to the web of doctrines and beliefs that we have been privileged to receive as children.  What do we say to such a man?  “You’re just a Protestant.  If you don’t convert, you’re going to hell.”  How sickening it must be to be thought of in such condescending terms.

Whether it’s true or not that such a man is on his way to hell is not for any of us to judge.  Our Lord Jesus Christ is the Judge who will decide on these matters, and he will do it with infinite mercy and infinite justice.  In today’s Gospel, this Judge of man’s souls speaks to a Roman centurion.  He’s not a member of the chosen race, he’s a Gentile.  But Jesus marvels at his words, saying, “Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.”  Was the centurion’s faith in Christ enough to save his soul?  Evidently, our blessed Lord knew that it was, approving the centurion’s faith by healing his son.  “Go thy way,” he told him, “and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee.”

The Church has a dogma that “outside the Church there is no salvation.”  By the baptism of water, a person is made a member of the Catholic Church, and it is thereupon incumbent upon him to believe all the teachings of our Church.  But what of the Protestants?  If their baptism is done correctly, they are validly baptized into the Catholic Church (whether they realize it or not), but they may not be taught the truths of that Church.  On the contrary they may be brought up to believe the many false teachings of their non-Catholic sect, things that for us born-and-bred Catholics would be sinful for us to believe.  And yet, many non-Catholics show great faith in our Lord Jesus Christ in spite of their many other errors.  What of them?

Our Lord told the Jews that “many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven.”  He was speaking of course, of the Gentiles, who would be called to take up the role of the Jews who did not believe in their Messiah.  But in these latter days, may not his words be applied to those who are today’s equivalent of the Gentiles—the non-Catholics who are formally outside the fold of St. Peter and yet, in their innocence and ignorance, profess their faith in Christ?  It’s up to Christ’s judgment, of course, but is it possible they may also come from the east and west to sit down with St. Peter and St. Paul, and all the other saints in the kingdom of heaven?  As for those smug “Catholics” who have lost their faith and yet think they’re still Catholic, are they to be cast out inter outer darkness where there shall we weeping and gnashing of teeth?  It’s up to our Lord in the end, so, even as we pray for their conversion, let us beg for his mercy.

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