Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Faithful Departed of Every Time and Place, United in Christ

Saints and holy souls come from every time and place and all manner of circumstances. Indeed, the embrace of God's love in Jesus Christ has an amplitude and generosity beyond anything we can imagine. As November begins, I find myself thinking about those who attain salvation who may never have seen the inside of a Catholic church during their life on earth.

People who do not know about Christ are still loved by God and led by His grace, and if they search for Him and follow what their conscience shows them to be His will, He leads them (in some mysterious way) to say "yes" to the Person of Christ present in their lives, and thus they can be saved by Christ and joined to the Church even if they have never heard of either. This must also be true of people who have "heard" of Christ and the Church, but do not understand them properly through no fault of their own.

Jesus, by becoming man, has united himself in a certain way with every human being. The secret drama of every person's real life is their decision to say "yes" or "no" to Jesus Christ as He makes Himself present in their circumstances and draws them to Himself during the course of their life's journey. Since Christ’s coming, there have been many people who have never heard of Him, but they have sought God's will, and have sought through the knowledge that was available to them to do what they thought God wanted of them. They love the good, and in that love God's grace is at work so that they can somehow encounter and accept the person of Christ through love even if they do not know His name. 

If a person truly wants "God's will," then they want Christ even if they aren't conceptually aware of it, because Christ is God's will, and Christ places that desire in them. Jesus Christ is what every human person is really searching for. He is the only answer to the longing of the human heart. 

And so all those who truly search for the Mystery of life, who persevere in seeking and begging for that Mystery which alone corresponds to their hearts, will be led in a vital way to respond to God's revelation of that Mystery: Jesus Himself. Thus many who do not know "about" Jesus in a way that they can express or articulate, can still say "yes" to Jesus in their lives through love, through fidelity to the grace that God gives them, and through mysterious ways that we don't understand.

There are various theological theories about how this can happen, and I am not proposing any of them here. Nor am I saying that someone who actually comes to recognize the truth about Christ and the Church can reject it in favor of some other path that he or she prefers. If I am truly searching for the One who loves me, and then He shows Himself to me in Person and reveals His Name, how can I not accept Him, let myself be embraced by Him, and embrace Him in return? If fear or my own preferences were to prevail at this point, it would mean the failure of my search rather than its fulfilment.

What I want to point out is the simple fact that God’s grace is central to the life of every human person, and it has ways of working even in those whose connection to the Church cannot be seen by us. It is something to remember on the day in which we celebrate all the saints, and during the month in which we pray for all the "faithful departed." God’s mercy is a mystery, and its greatness will one day surely surprise us all.