Can only Catholics get into heaven?
My brother loves ducks and geese. And his knowledge of them always astounds me. One day, as we sat on his back deck, we heard the familiar honking of geese. As we looked up, there they were, flying in a magnificent ‘v’-shaped pattern. “I always wondered why they do that,” I mumbled. He explained to me how flying like that saves energy for the geese in back. Then he pointed and said, “See how one leg of the ‘v’ is always longer than the other? Do you know why that is?” I shook my head. “Because there are more geese in that line.” We laughed for a long time over that one.
Misunderstandings abound, don’t they? Sometimes, when we’re faced with things we don’t understand entirely, we end up looking for a complicated solution when, in fact, the answer is quite obvious.
Dear Fr. Joe: A lot of people are angry about a document recently published by the Church. One of my friends said that the Catholic Church said that only Catholics can get into heaven. Is that true?
Nope. This document could easily be put under the category of “most misunderstood.” I thank you for your question, because it is essential when we study our beliefs that we not get our information solely from the media.
So, what does this newest document (Dominus Iesus) say? Clearly, it is an attempt by the Church to reiterate and clarify the Second Vatican Council’s work with regard to the question of salvation for non-Catholics and non-Christians. The central idea? That Jesus Christ is the way to heaven. Only Jesus. We state that firmly in all we do and this is one thing about which we will not compromise or change.
Being nice is not enough. Being good is not enough. We can never get to the point where we earn salvation. Salvation is a gift that comes from God through the words and actions of Jesus. Look at your Bible. In the Gospel of John 16:6, Jesus says, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes unto the Father except through me.”
So, does that mean non-Catholics go to hell? Or people who do not believe in Jesus? Nope again! Take a look at your Catechism of the Catholic Church, sections 836-848. There, the Church clearly breaks down its attitude toward “non-Christians.” Be sure to check that out.
What is the idea, then? How do we say that no one is saved outside of Jesus and yet say that non-Christians can be holy people who we will see in heaven? Well, we go back to two things: First, there is the fact that all of us are God’s children and form what the Church calls “that one community that is the human family.” Our common Creator connects us to one another. Second, we look at the act of Jesus on the cross. That perfect act is so powerful and lasting that it extends to all of creation. Put these two things together and you have the core of Dominus Iesus.
Let’s go step by step:
1. We believe that our worship of Jesus on the cross, living for him and imitating him is the way to salvation.
2. Christians do this and are connected through our loving God to the rest of his children who love God, but don’t know Jesus.
3. These two realities combine to offer salvation to the whole world.
Whew! It wasn’t easy to put all that together! There it is, though. Please, do not forget to pull out your Catechism of the Catholic Church and see what the Church says specifically about non-Christians. If you do not have a catechism, try your local parish. They should have a copy for you.
Enjoy another day in God’s presence!