By Mark Shea
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.
One thing that puzzles many people about the Catholic faith is that the Church teaches, on the one hand, “Outside the Church, no salvation” while on the other hand holding out hope that any person of good will, visibly Christian or not, may well get to Heaven. How do we reconcile this apparent contradiction? Basically, we do it by remembering an old saying: “We know where the Church is, we do not know where it is not.” That is, we understand that the Church in union with the successors of the apostles and of Peter is the sacrament of salvation that Jesus has given the world. But we do not for a moment pretend that Jesus himself is somehow constrained to operate only through the visible Catholic Church. We are bound by the sacraments. God is not. Thus, God can be at work in the heart of any person who is attempting to act in truth and love. And as they do so, they are (through the Spirit of Christ) acting in a way that is in union (however imperfectly) with the Church. And so, any person, from any culture, religious background, or era, who gets to Heaven will get there for only one reason: because Jesus saved them even if they had no idea that it was Jesus who was doing it until they met him face-to-face on Judgment Day. But when they do recognize it, they will recognize as well that whatever label they applied to themselves here on earth, the deepest truth about them was that they were members of Jesus Christ and of his body, the Catholic Church. Knowing that Jesus is “The Way” should help us in pointing people to the answer to their problems.