Ask the Cardinal: The Last Things Revisited in Light of Lent
Experience shows that answers to questions tend to prompt more questions. So it is with last month’s series on the Last Things. As we proceed toward the Paschal Mystery of our Lord’s passion, death and resurrection, which are offered to us for our own redemption and salvation into new and eternal life, I would like to take up again a few questions of the heart about the Last Things – death, judgment, heaven and hell.
Reflecting on the truth the Church holds out to us at the end of this earthly life is the first movement of the soul toward eternity. Yet, as in any uncertain situation, both our heads and our hearts must work together to make sense of the unknown. We do this in unity with the Church and also mindful of our mission to help spread the Good News of the Risen Lord to the world, including those who do not already know him.
Each of us probably has many people dear to us who are not Catholic, and thus do not receive the sacraments, or are not Christian. So, it is not uncommon to hear someone ask, “Can non-Catholics or non-Christians go to heaven?” The Catechism does not specifically respond to the question of who will be saved. Rather, it focuses on the gift of grace – known only by God in his infinite mercy – in every person. This much is sure, however – there is only One Savior, who is Jesus Christ and “all salvation comes from Christ the head through the Church which is his Body” (CCC 846). Salvation in Christ does not mean that non-Catholics or non-Christians are not saved, but rather in a spirit of hope, if they are saved, they are saved by and through Jesus and his Church.
God created us in love and longs for us to be with him in eternity. He desires all people to go to Heaven. Therefore we pray that no one is lost, and that through God’s grace, the joy of heaven may be possible in ways known to the Lord.
In Baptism, we gain the virtue of Christian hope which sustains us in our life’s journey, particularly through death to eternal life. Yet the challenges of life, combined with human frailty, may lead one to give up hope that God loves us and wants us to be with him in eternity. In this despair, a person may no longer trust God’s goodness, faithfulness and forgiveness, and so never seek his mercy. At the other extreme, a person may presume upon God’s mercies, pridefully ignoring the need for personal conversion, falsely believing that they will automatically go to heaven. Both despair and presumption are sins against hope which, because they keep a person from turning to God and seeking reconciliation, may keep one from heaven.
“May the peace of God, which is beyond all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God and of his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.” With these words said at the end of the funeral liturgy, I encourage you this Lenten season to continue prayerfully to meditate on the Last Things with faith, hope and love.