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Posts Tagged ‘Heaven’

Pope_Francis_in_March_2013

Much has been made of a comment Pope Francis made a couple weeks ago in a homily — I think you probably know what I’m talking about.

The Holy Father made two points:

1. All human beings are called to do good; and

2. Christ has redeemed not just Catholics, but all people — even atheists.

Many have taken this to mean that everyone basically gets a free pass to heaven.  But a little clarification is needed.

Really, there is nothing newsworthy here.  The Pope was, in fact, merely reaffirming Church teaching on God’s universal salvific will and the fact that the Body of Christ extends beyond it’s visible boundaries (which is to say, the Catholic Church).

But here’s what we have to keep in mind: Christ, for His part, has redeemed all humanity of all times and all places.  But salvation is a two-way street.  Our salvation required the initiative of Almighty God Himself, “who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).

But, as Peter Kreeft says in his great book “Catholic Christianity,” God seduces us, but He never rapes us.

No one can be forced into heaven.  Heaven is an eternal relationship with God and with the assembly of the blessed, and one which must be entered into freely.  God has freely and gratuitously redeemed us, and now we must freely and generously respond with our lives and hearts.

Here is the official Church teaching on the subject:

Those who, through no fault of their own, 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 – those too may achieve eternal salvation.

…they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.*

But even those atheists (and others) of goodwill who obtain salvation are, just like the rest of us, saved by Christ, not by their own merits.  When they turn toward the good as they know it, they are turning toward Christ, though they may not realize it.  For Christ is the Source of all that is good, true, and beautiful.

Hope that helps clear things up a bit.

* From “Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church” (italics mine), quoted in reverse order — full text here: http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19641121_lumen-gentium_en.html

Photo from Wikipedia

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DarkKnightRisesPrisonThis is my second post on Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises.”  For part one, go to http://www.intothedance.wordpress.com/2013/02/20/dvd-review-the-dark-knight-rises/

Hope is a powerful thing.  The villain Bane (Tom Hardy) takes advantage of people’s inner sense of hope with his hypnotizing promises of a utopian society run by “the People” and free from the corruption of public authorities and bureaucrats.

Meanwhile, a “de-suited” Batman/Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is held captive in a dark, dingy, primitive-looking underground prison in an unidentified foreign land.  What’s interesting about this particular prison is that there is, high overhead, an opening.  At the height of the weird, spiraling wall extending upwards from the pit to which prisoners are consigned is a tiny glimpse of the outside world, of freedom…of the possibility of escape.

In other words, this is what you might call a round window of hope.

But in order to get to it, the prisoners have to climb the wall.  How easy is this?  Well, in fact, it’s very nearly impossible…so much so that only one person is known to have successfully escaped in the past.

Nevertheless, people keep trying.  Not only that, but the prisoners wait in fervent hope that one day, one of their own will climb to freedom.

I took this as a symbol, in its own way, of the universal (if unnamed and often unclear) hope that has lived in the heart of every person from the making of the world, and will live in the heart of every person unto the breaking of the world.

That hope cannot be described as anything other than the hope for salvation, the hope for deliverance from an existence in which the reality of death and decay seems to have the final word.

BeowulfI think that in some ways, this takes us to the root of humanity’s perennial fascination with hero figures.  Throughout history, peoples, nations, and cultures have celebrated individual persons — fictional or historical — who somehow embody their hopes and dreams.  By overcoming obstacles against all odds, by attaining honor and glory, such figures give shape to people’s hopes and keep them alive.

This reality casts light on the chanting of Wayne’s fellow prisoners: “Rise! Rise! Rise!”  Having been in darkness for a very long time, they yearn to see someone escape into the light.  Whoever that person is, he will give them — and I apologize for being redundant — hope.

And so when Wayne finally escapes, there is much rejoicing.

Ascension

While watching the prison scenes in “The Dark Knight Rises,” I was reminded of Jesus Christ almost immediately:

No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man (John 3:13).

Mankind, like the prisoners in Nolan’s film, wants to know at least one person who has “escaped” — one person who has ascended beyond death, through the “round window of hope” into a new life.

To this day, the Church proclaims the One Who has realized man’s hopes.  At the same time, She reminds the world that this hope is transcendent in nature.  We sinful human beings are in a trap against which we and the resources that are available to us in this fallen world are totally powerless.

Having “come down from heaven” as God and “gone up to heaven” as both God and man, Jesus Christ raises us to a new life, instilling in our hearts even now the “first fruits” of a transcendent hope that will be fulfilled at the end of our lives and at the end of human history, beyond this present world and beyond all of our expectations.

In fact, by His sacrifice on the Cross, He has turned death itself from the ultimate doom of mankind into the very “round window of hope,” the very place of passage, whereby we will come to freedom.

But does this mean that the world, the physical body (from which our souls depart at death), and the concerns that pertain to the here-and-now are bad, irrelevant, or insignificant?

As St. Paul was often fond of saying, “By no means!”

But I think I’ve rambled on long enough for one night.  I’ll come back to this issue in relation to “The Dark Knight Rises” later.  It should be ready within a week’s time, so keep your eyes peeled.

Top photo obtained through a Google image search; “Beowulf” painting by J.R. Skelton and “Ascension of Christ” by Garofalo from Wikipedia.

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