Why Be Catholic If Anyone Can Be Saved?

Thomas Griffin 4/1/22

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Salvation, justification, holiness, eternal reward, beatific vision and heaven are all common phrases and attempts to categorize what it means to be saved. So many of us so often lack the vision to see the utter gravity wrapped up in how we live our lives. We can be easily fooled into believing that not much matters at the end of the day; one can live his or her life in any fashion and simply repent before God and they will be forgiven, reconciled, and eternally saved.

Yes, they will. Our God is one of infinite and unfathomable merciful love. Mercy is not foolishness, but God is, in many ways, defined by his foolish love. He creates Adam and Eve and gives them everything they need and could ever desire, but they reject him anyway. He forgives them and promises a savior before he can even finish delivering the consequences of their sin (Genesis 3:15). 

The Israelites are God’s chosen people who will serve as the conduit bringing Yahweh’s life and love to all the nations even though they consistently and epically fail in their relationship with him. Despite the sin of Adam and Eve, the failures of Israel, and the shortcomings of all of us, God still loves and forgives unconditionally.

So, what is the point in following him? Do we really need to strive for holiness of life if we can make it to heaven anyway? This is a common question from many Catholics and non-Catholics because it seems as if the Church does not care if someone is in our flock. God’s mercy knows no borders. While this is true, the question is often founded upon a misconception of the Christian faith, message, and mission. The Latin root of the word religion (religare) means to tie or to bind. More than anything else, the Christian religion ties and binds us to Christ because of our relationship with him.

Any parent consulted directly after the birth of his or her child is mesmerized by the transcendence consuming the entrance of their son or daughter into the world. They are united to their child in a binding manner. Not because they are forced to, over and above their will, but simply because love ties them together. This is what it means to follow Christ, to be a disciple, to place faith at the forefront of your life. We are bound to the one who created us because of his love for us; faith is concerned with how we respond to that love. 

That love is perfectly and literally personified in the person of Jesus Christ. Through his teachings, healings, and paschal mystery we can find the answer to why we should be Catholic if anyone can be saved. More than any other topic or phrase, Jesus preached on the Kingdom of God (Heaven). In order to speak about the reign of God the Father, Jesus commonly spoke in parables in order to allow people to view God unlike they ever have before. In Luke 15, Jesus preaches several parables about items and persons who are lost to highlight the keystone for faith.

Most famous among these is the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15: 11-32). One son is close to the father his entire life, he is obediently loving towards his father and does what he asks of him. Another son demands that his father give him his inheritance, here and now, and uses it to feed his sinful desires (Luke 15:12-13). Asking for the inheritance would be a dramatic and horrible conversation. The inheritance was what was given to children when their father passed away. Basically, the prodigal son is saying to his father, “I wish you were dead so I can have all your money.”   

After spending all his money and ending up all alone, the son makes his way back to the father. And yet, “While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20). Notice that the father saw him from a long distance away. Picture him pacing outside of his home each day peering off into the horizon, squinting his eyes – hoping, wishing, and craving for his son to return. When the son does come back the father completely forgives him and throws an extravagant party.

However, the son who was with the father all along resents this and takes offense towards his father because he was “good all along” and seemingly received little reward. The father replies to him, “‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found” (Luke 15:31b-32). 

So much can be drawn from this story, but in regards to our topic it portrays the tendency of those who look down on others for coming to Christ later in life or resent God for forgiving them while it also shows why following God throughout our life is beautifully important. Being with him always is a gift, not a punishment. Responding to the invitation to discipleship is not about getting away with as much as we can before we are judged, but being with the God whose love can never be exhausted. 

Being saved is not a reward ceremony, but a lifelong commitment to a relationship with the Trinity. If we truly knew who was asking us to accept this invitation to friendship we would see that being with him for as long as we can on this earth is not something to resent, but a grace to rejoice in. After all, we were all lost at some point in our lives and we are all being pursued, chased down by the Father who yes, desires to save and sanctify, but simply and profoundly just desires to be in relationship with us now, and always.

Thomas Griffin teaches in the religion department at a Catholic high school on Long Island where he lives with his wife and son.

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