When it comes to specific points of Catholic doctrine, the struggle quickly turns to surrender. And usually surrendered are caution, precision, context and comprehension. When the Huffington Post breathlessly declared, in a May 23, 2013, article, “Pope Francis rocked some religious and atheist minds today when he declared that everyone was redeemed through Jesus, including atheists,” there is a palpable sense of this struggle. When National Public Radio (NPR) added that the Pope’s statements made in a May 22 homily contrasted “sharply with his predecessors’ style and apparently even with centuries-old Catholic dogma,” surrender was on the horizon.
What did Pope Francis really say? In commenting on Mark 9:38-40, he emphasized that all people, because they are created in the likeness and image of God, intuitively understand, “in the depths of our hearts,” that they should “do good and not do evil.” Killing in the name of God, Francis stated, is evil; it is blasphemy to think such killing is good and acceptable. And, he said:
“The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God, and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all! And we all have a duty to do good.”
Did it break new ground to say the blood of Jesus Christ has redeemed everyone? Not at all.
Consider this passage from a speech given by Blessed John Paul II in 1991, while in Manila, Philippines:
“In the Holy Spirit, every individual and all people have become, through the cross and resurrection of Christ, children of God, partakers in the divine nature and heirs to eternal life. All are redeemed and called to share in glory in Jesus Christ, without any distinction of language, race, nation or culture.”
The similarities are obvious. Notice that both popes stated that all have been redeemed, not saved. The two are related, but they are not the same; they are both fruit, but they are apples and oranges.
To get a sense of the difference, consider what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “By his glorious Cross Christ has won salvation for all men. He redeemed them from the sin that held them in bondage” (No. 1741). And, “Created in the image of the one God and equally endowed with rational souls, all men have the same nature and the same origin. Redeemed by the sacrifice of Christ, all are called to participate in the same divine beatitude: all therefore enjoy an equal dignity” (No. 1934).
The entire world is redeemed, but each person must respond to the call to enter into the divine life — that is, to be saved. Redemption is solely the work of God, accomplished through Jesus Christ; it is, in short, the gift. Pope Benedict XVI, in a Dec. 21, 2011, audience, noted that “humanity’s redemption happened at a precise and identifiable moment in history: in the manifestation of Jesus of Nazareth.” Or, in the words of St. Thomas Aquinas, Christ “gave himself, and therefore his passion is called our redemption.”
This gift of God is offered freely. Why? Because, as the apostle Paul explained, “God our Savior … desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tm 2:3-4, RSV). He further wrote that there is but one God and “one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, the testimony to which was borne at the proper time” (vv. 5-6). “For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men” (Ti 2:11). The gift, then, is before each one of us. Some will spurn it. Some will not recognize or understand it. Some will open it and embrace it. God knows who has accepted or rejected the gift, but He alone is the Lord and Giver of Life — both natural and supernatural. Jesus Christ is the unique Redeemer of mankind, but He never forces His gift of love upon us. It must be freely accepted. TCA