Weekly Newsletter(click to download PDF)
The Rector writes ...
I have just begun to read a book written by an Australian Redemptorist with the timely heading: “What every Catholic needs to know about Islam”. Both religions are missionary in their approach, seeking converts where they can, but the reasoning behind the desire for conversion would seem to be significantly different. Islam means “the way” and it is the belief of its adherents that righteousness is achieved by conforming to certain practices: through obedience to Koranic teaching human beings can be assured of salvation. For Muslims, those whom they see as “infidels” (literally those who do not share the faith) can have no such guarantee, and it is the responsibility of Islam to draw everyone else to follow the one path which will lead to God’s authority being fully realised on earth. Islam sees itself as the necessary vehicle of salvation for the entire world: those who conform will be saved, those who do not are destined to be lost.
At first sight, Saint Cyprian’s’ famous dictum (which goes back to the 3rd century, thus pre-dating Islam) “extra Ecclesiam nulla salus” would seem to carry the same exclusive message, but to say and believe that there can be no salvation outside the Church does not necessarily mean that everyone is destined to sail into eternity only from within the barque of Peter. Let me try to explain. Our Catechism is unambiguous in its declaration: “all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his body”. It is our belief that what God has chosen to achieve through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus has the potential of reconciling the whole of creation to Himself, and that the Church, as the visible extension through time of the Incarnation, contains within herself the living memory, the on-going experience, of all that Christ has done, and continues to do.. Teresa of Avila once challenged those around her: “Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which to look out Christ’s compassion on the world”, and we accept that the Saviour desires to manifest his work of reconciliation - in a unique way - through the presence of the Church in the world. Joan of Arc summed it up: “about Jesus Christ and the Church I simply know that they are just one thing”.
There have always been elements within Christianity preaching that unless an act of faith has been made in the person of Christ then the doors to salvation remain sealed. That is not the understanding of the Catholic Church which, restated very clearly by the Second Vatican Council, accepts that eternal communion with God is open to those who "do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience" (Lumen Gentium). The same text goes on to single out Islam: “the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims: those profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s Judge on the last day”.
But if the gates of heaven are open to anyone obeying “the dictates of their conscience” why does the Catholic Church expend so much energy in evangelisation? The answer to that question lies in what one Oxford theologian terms “the drama of salvation” It is not given to us to decide the outcome of the personal judgment which awaits each of us – “as for seats at my right and my left, they belong to those to whom they have been allotted by my Father” (Matthew 20:23) The commission entrusted to the Apostles was to preach the Gospel to all nations, and the key element in that proclamation must always be found in Jesus’s words: I have come that they may have life , and have it to the full” (John 10:10). The Christian zeal for souls lies in the desire that all may come to know the loving intentions of God, that, in the gentle phrase of a modern writer, “God pours out his mercy where a hollow receptacle has been prepared to take it in and treasure it”.