Salvation and Evangelization: rooted in Joy
The influential modern Catholic theologians Karl Rahner and Hans Urs von Balthasar have read Lumen Gentium in a more maximalist way, as if to suggest that effectively saving grace is present in all persons irrespectively of the sacraments, such that they should necessarily be saved. In other words, they have pushed for the idea of the effective universal salvation of all. However, this view leads to a kind of Gnosticism that ignores the signs of spiritual poverty and human callousness in the real world we live in. When secular cultures demonstrate indifference to the teachings of the Gospel and become increasingly non-sacramental, they also become less human and more estranged from God. We cannot be sure of the state of grace of any particular person. But there are probable signs of the presence of spiritual death, as well as spiritual life.
Who will be saved? We do not know. However, in the 1994 Catechism of the Catholic Church (n. 836-56) and in the document Dominus Jesus, the Magisterium has insisted that the means instituted by Christ in the Catholic Church (her teachings and sacraments) remain the ordinary means of salvation in the world we live in. People can be saved without these means, but it is greatly to one’s advantage to receive their graces in order to be saved. The ignorance that many people live in is a dangerous one, not purely inculpable, but “affected ignorance.” They are alienated from God due to the consequences of original sin (CCC, 402-409). In this state, human beings partially recognize religious and moral truths that they nevertheless reject culpably. Here, the Church’s clear preaching and teaching are necessary in order to enlighten human consciences, and so that the grace of God can convict hearts and invite them to real conversion.
On the other hand, Nicholas Healy and Tracey Rowland, unsurprisingly respond in defense of the Balthasarian-Ratzingerian approach, and Mark Brumley argues that Balthasar was not a universalist, writing “people who seem—pardon the expression—hell-bent on characterizing Balthasar as a died-in-the-wool universalist often take relatively subtle points of Balthasar’s deep theological speculation and try to present him as something he avowedly wasn’t.” Thus he asks whether Balthasar’s hope for all is necessarily “contrary to the missionary spirit” and adds:
Of course, some such non-Christians may seem to have altogether rejected the Gospel before passing from this life. But how do we know what seems to be the case is the case? Perhaps, in the age to come, we shall discover things were other than they appeared, that in fact these seemingly non-responsive people in the end did respond to grace, however mysteriously. Who can say for certain, this side of eternity? Since we don’t know, shouldn’t we pray and hope for their salvation? Does this possibility imply that the Church shouldn’t do all she can to evangelize here and now, given that such hope doesn’t contradict the possibility of damnation?
It is impossible to know in advance the actual state of those who are evangelized. Yet, even if, by hypothesis, through a private revelation God should reassure a missionary that a person or group of persons or even the entire world were saved, the missionary mandate would remain. This is because the missionary task has a twofold end: “to promote the glory of God and procure the salvation of all such men…the Church painstakingly fosters her missionary work” (LG 16). As important as the question about salvation is, it is inseparable from God’s glory. Zeal for souls is not only inseparable from zeal for God’s holy Name; it is subordinate to it, and only when it is rightly subordinated to God’s glory can the zeal for souls unleash its full potential. The fulfillment of Christ’s prayer that all be one in the common celebration of the Eucharist is the greatest manifestation of the Church and thus the greatest evidence that his love is efficacious. And this is precisely his glory. For Vatican II, mission is ultimately realized when all are united in the praise of God in the common celebration of the Eucharist.
God is infinite Love, and he always has more to give. His giving and man’s resultant enrichment—his conversion into a fully human life—constitute God’s glory. Those who have been renewed by this love participate in it and, like God himself, they cannot rest with a reception of this love that is satisfied with a minimum condition for salvation, even if, by hypothesis, they had divine assurance that people were saved. The definitive explanation for indifference about mission is a defect in missionary charity and in zeal for God’s glory. A crisis of missionary activity manifests a crisis of missionary—that is, paschal—charity.
The missionary crisis, then, is rooted in the lack of conversion on the part of the Church’s members. This is why the Council’s fundamental strategy for the reinvigoration of a languishing of missionary activity is to call the entire Church to deeper conversion. Pope Paul VI outlined the program in his first encyclical, Ecclesiam Suam, and on several occasions Pope John Paul II pointed to this encyclical as the surest guide for implementing the Council. The Church must first renew and deepen her consciousness of her identity and mission, her vocation and place in God’s plan of love. This consciousness, combined with humility and love of God and neighbor, will unleash a profound conversion as the Church’s members strive to extricate themselves more thoroughly from any influences that mitigate complete conformity to Christ and the uninhibited flow of ardent charity. This in turn will produce the fruits of service, apostolate, and ministry, all the manifestations of continuing Christ’s mission of redemption. Pope Paul called this renewed mission dialogue, and Pope John Paul II popularized it as the New Evangelization.
The humble and bold missionary is one who knows from experience the liberating power of God’s truth and the transforming power of His grace, whose own spirit bears witness with the Holy Spirit regarding this grace (Rom 8:16). The Lord’s words about the greater demand being made of those who receive more applies especially to such as these. The missionary mandate is addressed to all, but only those who have ears to hear it are able to respond, and these ears become attuned to the Lord’s voice through the purifications that come with a generous cooperation with the baptismal graces of death to self and sin for the sake of new life in Christ. The hope of those “outside” the Church lies in the depth of the conversion of those on the inside.
Bushman’s essay communicates better than I was able the lacuna in Martin’s argument that left me uneasy. The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life. Thus while it is not ordered to mission it is the origin of mission. If I am able to worship God rightly then in the Eucharist I will receive what I am and become what I see. I will become “his flesh for the life of the world.” My life will become an offering in communion with Christ’s offering to the Father and will (or should) bear to witness to that joy of which Pope Francis so convincingly speaks.