The Question of Salvation

Last week I had an interesting conversation with a person about religions, Catholicism and the question of salvation. She shared that she was brought up Catholic but converted to Judaism at age 14 after deciding that she did not want to be confirmed. Her Catholic formation was very mediocre and faith did not make sense to her, but going to the origins of it all and having no mediator made more sense. Her continual issue was that her Catholic family thought ‘she was condemned to hell’. Is that really what the Catholic Church says? Let’s look at a key passage in Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 16:

Nor is God far distant from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, for it is He who gives to all men life and breath and all things,(127) and as Saviour wills that all men be saved.(128) Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience.(19*) Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life.”
He is not saved, however, who, though part of the body of the Church, does not persevere in charity. He remains indeed in the bosom of the Church, but, as it were, only in a “bodily” manner and not “in his heart.”(12*) All the Church’s children should remember that their exalted status is to be attributed not to their own merits but to the special grace of Christ. If they fail moreover to respond to that grace in thought, word and deed, not only shall they not be saved but they will be the more severely judged.(13*)”.

In summary, this says that the Catholic Church believes that someone who has not known Christ out of no fault of their own yet strives for the Truth and lives a moral life can be saved. In fact, Catholics who have been given the ‘fullness of means of salvation’ in the Church and do not live an authentic life of charity and love will be judged to higher standards. No Catholic has their salvation secured. What matters, following the teachings of Jesus, is what happens inside the heart of each person, that is all that really matters. Certainly, having met Christ assumes a person will want to be a member of the Church and participate fully in its life and Sacraments. But merely going through the motions, being nominally Catholic in “body” but not “in heart”, that is not living an authentic charity, leads to no guarantee of salvation.

The Blessing of Waves

I guess this can be understood in two ways. The most amusing perhaps, follows from this story on CNA where in Southern California the Church is organizing a formal blessing of waves:

The Diocese of Orange County recently announced its third annual wave blessing ceremony, intended to invoke gratitude for the natural beauty of the coastline as well as draw awareness to the “significant threat” of pollution and  toxic waste to the area. An announcement on the diocesan website said the “Blessing of the Waves” will be held on Sunday, Oct. 3, at the iconic Huntington Beach Pier in southern California. The event – which drew more than 1,000 participants last year – will feature “an opening prayer service, pledg e to protect of our oceans and beaches, blessing of waves and attendees, acknowledgment of marine safety representatives, and  close with surfing priests and other religious leaders,” said the diocese.

As a former surfer myself, I also understand the sense in which waves feel like a blessing that comes to you. I wrote about this on the forward for Tom’s book, “Becoming a Creation Steward: A Catholic Ethic for the Environment “. The pictures show some surfing in Huntington Beach, the place of blessings…

The Protection of the Mata Atlântica

The Mata Atlântica (Atlantic Coast) is a unique ec0logical niche, one of the 5 most important hot-spots for biodiversity on the planet. It si the largest Biosphere Reserve designated by UNESCO, representing one of the most important regions for conservation in the world. Its initial range covered over 130 million hectares along the East Coast of Brazil, and some of Argentina and Paraguai. The area I grew up in, São Paulo, is in the middle of this region, and the destruction of this niche which I witnessed with my own eyes was one of the early events that generated my interest to become involved in environmental matters. Now only 7% of the forest remains, and pressures continue to grow. Almost 70% of Brazil’s population resides in the region of Mata Atlântica, and much needs to be done for its intelligent use, protection and conservation.

Fortunately, there are people doing this work. I have recently come across the ‘Instituto Pesek-Araujo’ in Brazil, who are working hard at the Alto Ribeira Basin which covers 35 000 hectares. Check them out and help them out. If you need help with the Portuguese, let me know. Who knows, perhaps at some point Creatio may lead an Eco trip to this region…

Guest Post: Tom Collingwood, PhD

Tom Collingwood has another interesting post, reflecting on Archbishop of Denver Charles Chaput’s  address given in Slovakia. Tom connects the importance of life and Christian witness and the environmental to be taken by Catholics. Other commentators have made mention of this, such as Sandro Magister, a Vatican insider. The full address can be seen on Magister’s commentary to this article. Thanks Tom.

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver recently gave an address in Slovakia (Aug. 25, 2010) titled Living within the Truth: Religious Liberty and Catholic Mission in the New Order of the World. In it he highlighted that “We live in a time when the Church is called to be a believing community of resistance”. He pointed out the many myths and dangers of our modern secular culture and militant atheism that must be confronted. He issued a challenge for all of us for a “reawakening of the church in our actions and in our public and private witness” He noted that the “foundational injustice in the West today is the crime of abortion” which has become the flashpoint for standing up for the truth. Archbishop Chaput has become a true spokesman for the “culture of life” – all life – and a confronter of the “culture of death”. Last year he addressed a Creatio sponsored conference on “Faith and the Environment”. Parallels can be drawn between defending human life and more generally all of life within Gods’ creation.

Stewardship is an often used term to describe our obligations to care for creation. I would suggest that stewardship of human life starting with life at conception is also a stewardship responsibility. In my work with parishes in both Pro Life and environmental stewardship activities I find that too often such activities represent two distinct groups of committed Catholics with little communication between the two. Those in pro life efforts need to recognize that life in nature is also of value and needs to be defended. Those in environmental efforts need to recognize that stewardship involves human life and the dignity of the human person.

I interpret Archbishop Chaput’s call for all who believe in a culture of life to join together to be a “community of resistance”. While his call in his recent speech is for us to confront a multitude of issues what better time for action than with the upcoming “40 Days of Life” effort that so many parishes are undertaking across the country. Will all “stewards” who support life respond?

Global poverty and climate change

Following up on previous posts, prompted by the UN Council which has been meeting on the situation of world poverty , Millennium Development Goals, and other key issues, there is a critical challenge that is going by almost unnoticed. Not unnoticed by Roger Pielke Jr. who in this post identifies some contradictions in policy approach to poverty alleviation and combating climate change. He says:

I understand what Birol is trying to do — he wants to avoid any perception that poverty alleviation comes into conflict with efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.  So he is arguing that you can lift people from poverty with almost no effect on carbon dioxide emissions.  This argument is just wrong.  While this argument allows the poverty alleviation and carbon dioxide reduction agendas to seemingly co-exit harmoniously, it dramatically downplays the challenge of emissions reductions.

This is a shame, because the best path forward to accelerating decarbonization of the global economy lies not in pretending that a conflict does not exist between poverty alleviation and emissions reductions, but precisely the opposite.  The only way that we will meet the world’s energy needs of the future — especially the needs of the 1.5 billion lacking access — is to diversify and reduce the cost of energy via a commitment to innovation.”

The apparent opposition here is certainly clear. As suggested, we should do both, reduce the negative impacts of climate change and reduce poverty. Roger places all his hopes on innovation, but this rings of technophilia and the myth of progress. Certainly, from a faith perspective, there is nothing wrong with technology and innovation, in fact it is commended by God (number 7). Within the acceptance of current culture, laws and structure, certainly innovation and policy changes seem like a sensible direction to go. But how about adaptation, which responds to climate change precisely by directly helping the most vulnerable, usually the poor. Adaptation, as well as innovation, can be a synthetic response that embraces both the fight against poverty and climate change. But outside of our pragmatic blinders, there are other things that can be done, not in opposition to innovation or adaptation, but along with it.

Much of the predicament we find ourselves in, be it climate change or poverty, is a fruit of a culture and lives according to certain standards that promote excessive consumption, materialism, selfishness etc. Cultural change takes much more time and is more complex than policy or technical changes, but culture does  and can change and the effects can be more long lasting  and profound on shape of  the world’s future. At the core of culture lies religion and the fundamental questions about truth, freedom and ethics. which shape  politics, media, society and free enterprise.  In a historic address to the British Parliament in Westminster Hall last week, Pope Benedict XVI brought this up:

The inadequacy of pragmatic, short-term solutions to complex social and ethical problems has been illustrated all too clearly by the recent global financial crisis. There is widespread agreement that the lack of a solid ethical foundation for economic activity has contributed to the grave difficulties now being experienced by millions of people throughout the world. Just as “every economic decision has a moral consequence” (Caritas in Veritate, 37), so too in the political field, the ethical dimension of policy has far-reaching consequences that no government can afford to ignore…

The central question at issue, then, is this: where is the ethical foundation for political choices to be found? The Catholic tradition maintains that the objective norms governing right action are accessible to reason, prescinding from the content of revelation. According to this understanding, the role of religion in political debate is not so much to supply these norms, as if they could not be known by non-believers – still less to propose concrete political solutions, which would lie altogether outside the competence of religion – but rather to help purify and shed light upon the application of reason to the discovery of objective moral principles. This “corrective” role of religion vis-à-vis reason is not always welcomed, though, partly because distorted forms of religion, such as sectarianism and fundamentalism, can be seen to create serious social problems themselves. And in their turn, these distortions of religion arise when insufficient attention is given to the purifying and structuring role of reason within religion. It is a two-way process. Without the corrective supplied by religion, though, reason too can fall prey to distortions, as when it is manipulated by ideology, or applied in a partial way that fails to take full account of the dignity of the human person. Such misuse of reason, after all, was what gave rise to the slave trade in the first place and to many other social evils, not least the totalitarian ideologies of the twentieth century. This is why I would suggest that the world of reason and the world of faith – the world of secular rationality and the world of religious belief – need one another and should not be afraid to enter into a profound and ongoing dialogue, for the good of our civilization.

Featured on another blog…

I was featured on another blog, but unfortunately not for blogging. What is most surprising, I was featured because of fishing… fly fishing. If anyone has been fly fishing with me and seen my cast, they know the reason of my surprise (also, the size of the fish isn’t that impressive). Bottom line, RMNP is such a good place for fishing, that even I caught one.

If you’re into fishing though, check out this blog, full of good stuff. GoFISHn.

Benedict XVI in the UK – Part II

Following from the previous post, Pope Benedict XVI renewed his wish that the Holy See and UK may grow in cooperation of efforts,  “especially in cooperation for international development, in care for the natural environment, and in the building of a civil society with a renewed sense of shared values and common purpose” (Farewell Address in Birmingham). The environment as a realm of cooperation was mentioned before (“The Holy See also looks forward to exploring with the United Kingdom new ways to promote environmental responsibility, to the benefit of all”), when the Pope spoke in a historic occasion at Westminster Hall, where centuries ago St. Thomas More was tried and sentenced to death for standing against King Henry the VIII.

But the greatest contribution of the Pope is with regards to the role of Christians in building this civil society for the good of all. In his speach at Hyde Park, the Vigil of Cardinal Newman’s beatification he says:

“in our day, when an intellectual and moral relativism threatens to sap the very foundations of our society, Newman reminds us that, as men and women made in the image and likeness of God, we were created to know the truth, to find in that truth our ultimate freedom and the fulfilment of our deepest human aspirations. In a word, we are meant to know Christ, who is himself “the way, and the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6).”  [and later]

“No one who looks realistically at our world today could think that Christians can afford to go on with business as usual, ignoring the profound crisis of faith which has overtaken our society, or simply trusting that the patrimony of values handed down by the Christian centuries will continue to inspire and shape the future of our Continue reading

Benedict XVI in the UK on the environment

Though the content of the Pope’s message to the UK certainly does not center on the environment, there are some mentions that are important. One of the Pope’s main messages has been the relationship of Christianity as well as religion in general to the current climate of secularism. This is where there is some connection to the environment. Speaking of the importance of religion in St. Mary’s University College in Twickenham:

Within their own spheres of competence, the human and natural sciences provide us with an invaluable understanding of aspects of our existence and they deepen our grasp of the workings of the physical universe, which can then be harnessed in order to bring great benefit to the human family. Yet these disciplines do not and cannot answer the fundamental question, because they operate on another level altogether. They cannot satisfy the deepest longings of the human heart, they cannot fully explain to us our origin and our destiny, why and for what purpose we exist, nor indeed can they provide us with an exhaustive answer to the question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?”

The quest for the sacred does not devalue other fields of human enquiry. On the contrary, it places them in a context which magnifies their importance, as ways of responsibly exercising our stewardship over creation. In the Bible, we read that, after the work of creation was completed, God blessed our first parents and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). He entrusted us with the task of exploring and harnessing the mysteries of nature in order to serve a higher good. What is that higher good? In the Christian faith, it is expressed as love for God and love for our neighbour. And so we engage with the world wholeheartedly and enthusiastically, but always with a view to serving that higher good, lest we disfigure the beauty of creation by exploiting it for selfish purposes. So it is that genuine religious belief points us beyond present utility towards the transcendent.”