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The Wideness of God's Mercy

Can Non-Christians Be Saved?

Q: I have been debating with a non-Catholic friend on who will be admitted to heaven. His contention is that the Bible is the only blueprint for salvation. There is no place in the Bible where it is stated or implied that a non-Christian can gain entry to heaven.

I maintain that, given sincerity of a person's belief, God will have a place for non-Christians. I believe that the new Catholic catechism does agree with this. I have also read Crossing the Threshold of Hope by His Holiness John Paul II. In this book I believe the pope gives hope to others sincere in their belief.

It is difficult for me to believe that all men are not created equal with equal chance of gaining heaven. My friend says, "Sorry, no deal. The Bible says if you don't accept Christ as your Savior, nothing else matters." My question is: Is there some documentation in the Bible that allows for the saving of non-Christians? Do you agree that non-Christians can be saved? Surely there is a place for others.

    A: In the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, paragraph 16, the Vatican II Council Fathers wrote: "Those who have not yet received the gospel are related to the People of God in various ways. There is, first, that people to which the covenants and promises were made, and from which Christ was born according to the flesh (cf. Romans 9:4-5): In view of the divine choice, they are a people most dear for the sake of the fathers, for the gifts of God are without repentance (cf. Romans 11:28-29).

    "But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Moslems: These profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind's judge on the last day.

    "Nor is God remote from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, since he gives to all men life and breath and all things (cf. Acts 17:25-28), and since the Savior wills all men to be saved (cf. 1 Timothy 2:4). 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 dictates of their conscience—those too, may achieve eternal salvation.

    "Nor shall divine providence deny the assistance necessary for salvation to those who, without any fault of theirs, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God, and who, not without grace, strive to lead a good life."

    So the Fathers of the Council do not exclude anyone acting in good faith from the possibility of salvation. They do go on, however, to speak of the Church's mission from Christ to bring the gospel to all people, for Christ is the source of salvation for the whole world.

    New Catholic Encyclopedia

    Q: Where can I get the New Catholic Encyclopedia? Also, can you tell me where I can get the pope's encyclicals?

    A: The last advertisement I received for the New Catholic Encyclopedia was for the 18-volume set.

    It came from The New Catholic Encyclopedia, 330 West Calfax, Palatine, IL 60067, phone 708-991-0720. Its price then was $875, plus $45 freight and handling. I should think you might also find the set in the public library or at a university library.

    It was announced a few months back that a complete revision of the New Catholic Encyclopedia is now under way. Completion is targeted for late 2000.

    Harper Collins puts out a one-volume Encyclopedia of Catholicism, edited by Richard McBrien, for $45.

    The encyclicals of John Paul II are available in one volume ($49.95) from Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750. You should also be able to order through a Catholic bookstore.

    The Papal Encyclicals 1740-1981 (five volumes, $495) and Papal Pronouncements 1740-1978 (two volumes, $195) have been published by Piernan Press, Box 1808, Ann Arbor, MI 48106.

    You'll find many encyclicals free of charge on the Internet at the Vatican's Web site and at some other sites you can search out. The Catholic Encyclopedia being posted on the Web is the one published in the early 1900's. It is now in the public domain.

    Baptismal Names

    Q: Is it necessary to select a saint's name when baptizing a baby? If so, how is it determined what constitutes a saint's name? Is it only those names found in the Bible—Old and New Testaments—or some official listing of saints?

    I was always told by my mother that my name was Shirley Helen. The Helen had to be there if I was to be christened in the Church. Now at age 77 I am being told my mother was wrong: It is strictly a personal choice of the parents and the so-called saint's name must only be biblical.

    A: I suppose we can say you and your mother are (were) both right.

    The pre-Vatican II Handbook of Moral Theology, by Dominic M. Prummer, O.P., citing Canon #761 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law, says the name given in Baptism should be a Christian name. "If the parish priest cannot induce the parents to do so, he should add the name of some saint to that suggested by the parents and enter both in the baptismal register."

    Older priests may well remember books on a sacristy shelf asking "Is It a Saint's Name?" or lists of male and female saints.

    The present (1983) Code, Canon #855, legislates that parents, godparents and pastor are to see to it that the name given is not foreign to Christian sensibilities.

    So the law does not demand a saint's name. Rather, it forbids a name offensive to Christians. That sensibility might change from place to place.

    A Catholic Bible on CD-ROM?

    Q: I have found many versions of the Bible on CD's. I can't tell which is the Catholic version. Where can I get this information?

    A: I can't tell you much about all the versions of Scripture on CD's. You can obtain, however, a CD-ROM version of the New American Bible translation from St. Anthony Messenger Press or almost any Catholic bookstore. This translation is the one used in most Catholic churches for daily and Sunday Masses.

    Other disk or diskette versions of this translation are available from different publishers and bookstores for about $70.

    I also note that Liguori Publications has DOS and Windows versions of the Catholic edition of the New Revised Standard Version Bible for $69.95.

    In the case of print editions of the Bible, you can usually tell from the title pages or the page following whether they are Catholic-approved. It will probably say Catholic Edition or contain an imprimatur (permission from a Catholic bishop). I would expect to find the same kind of information on a CD.

    Can a Priest Say Mass Alone?

    Q: A friend of mine is saying that a priest can never say Mass by himself, in other words, a private Mass. He claims that without someone else around it's not a valid Mass. Is this true? I was always under the impression that priests can say a Mass anytime they want, with or without others around. Who's right?

    A: The General Instruction of the Roman Missal in #211 states, "Mass should not be celebrated without a server or the participation of at least one of the faithful except for some legitimate and reasonable cause."

    So ordinarily at least one person should be present when a priest celebrates Mass. The law itself, however, recognized there can be a just and reasonable cause for a priest to celebrate alone. And whether or not there is someone else present, the Mass would be valid.

    Mere convenience or preference would not be sufficient reason to celebrate alone.

    Married in Heaven?

    Q: I've been feeling depressed ever since I heard the Gospel about the woman who had married seven times.

    What bothers me is what I believe Jesus answered his questioners, "They do not marry in heaven."

    My husband died almost seven years ago. I have been looking forward to being united to my beloved husband in heaven in the not-too-distant future. I'm 82 years old now.

    I've talked to some Catholic widows who said they believe Jesus meant we would not live in heaven with our mates.

    A: Perhaps it will be of some consolation to you to know that theologians generally teach that the presence and recognition of relatives and friends in heaven will be a source of added joy.

    Rest assured, I say. There is no doubt that we will be closer in heaven to those we love than we were on earth.

    It seems futile to speculate about which we know so little. Christ tells us we shall be completely happy. Should we doubt Christ's assurances? Yes, we shall finally experience the joy of heaven as complete persons. But what the glorified risen body will be like we hardly know and what the heavenly life will be like we have yet to experience.

    The Wise Man welcomes your questions. If you have a question, please submit it here. Include your street address for personal replies enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, please. Some answer material must be mailed since it is not available in digital form. You can still send questions to: Wise Man, 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.
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