“Can one be saved outside the Church?” – First Sunday of Lent

Genesis 9:8-15
Psalm 25: 4-9
1 Peter 3:18-22
Mark 1:12-15

 There have been numerous questions arising among the minds of many, questions that more or less challenge the validity of the Catholic Church. One of those questions is, “Can an individual achieve salvation outside the Church?” The restraints to answering that question is if one says no, that individual would be accused of hate speech against other religion. Saying yes, however, reduces the Church to a mere membership–which it isn’t–where one can freely leave if there are things about it the individual finds displeasing. The Church would come off as just another “cafeteria” for people to jump in if they find some things about it favorable to them. The trouble with the question is that it holds the assumption that everything exists under the mantle of “human freedom”. And I will say with strong conviction, as a living Catholic, that the Church is far bigger than “human freedom” which this world deems sacred and, therefore, glorify. Don’t get me wrong, freedom is an important aspect of our existence and it is one of the gems God has instilled in us. The greatest disaster of this world, however, is not the lack of freedom but the excess of it.

Going back to the question being addressed, I will claim that no one can achieve salvation outside the Church, and the gospel readings for today put the argument in the right context.

The first reading takes us to the one of the classic biblical passages about Noah. After God witnessed the consequences of the disobedience of Eve and Adam, sacred scripture tells that He had “regrets that He made man on Earth, and it caused grief to His heart” (Genesis 6:6). This verse, perhaps, encapsulates the greatest tragedy in story of Divine Romance, a love story between God and Man. God could’ve absolutely destroyed us and we wouldn’t exist anymore. But the fact that you are presently reading what I just wrote is a sufficient testament to the fact that we still exist. Whatever happened to His regret, then? Did He not follow through? Of course He did; He did by deciding to wipe out everything in the world. But the first reading implicitly tells us that He found favor in Noah and commanded him to build an ark for those creatures who choose to be find comfort in the ark. The theological implication about this passage is that God anointed Noah to a priestly ministry – for the nature of the priesthood is to exercise power for the deliverance of people from the bondage of sin. In the story, God commanded Noah to build an ark which symbolizes a dwelling place for those who choose to be with God while He “wipes out the rest of the Earth.” It is important to recognize, however, that God chooses to do such an act not to completely obliterate the Earth, but to do an act of “cleansing”. He recreates the world anew for those who choose to dwell in the ark Noah made, an ark which serves as a temple for God’s faithful. Ages later, a temple was also made to serve a similar function for the Jewish faithful. That temple was the centerpiece of Jewish life until the High Priest of God came down in the form of man to rebuild it, recreating it into what is now the Church. It is in recreating the temple which motivated the inaugural address of Jesus Christ as stated in the gospel passage today: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15). In hindsight, the creatures who decided move into Noah’s ark did so as a result of their “repentance” and belief in the “gospel”. What is the gospel—or the good news? The good news—announced by God at the time of Noah and “fulfilled” by Christ on the cross—is that something new is on the way in the midst of the storm. Because they believed in the good news, the creatures of Noah’s time turned away from the ways of the world and back to God, which is essentially what “repentance” means. Repentance is turning away from our freedom and redirecting it to the one who gave it to us. In redirecting our freedom, we come to have a clear conscience before God once again. In surrendering our capacity to choose whatever is pleasing to us back to God, we set ourselves on the way back to a new paradise, a new kingdom which is the Church Christ built on Earth. Anything Christ learned from Joseph about carpentry did serve a divine purpose after all.

So that in times of storms and turbulence which this world is constantly going through—even now, we have a holy place to dwell where Christ can lead us back to the paradise we are meant to live for all eternity. Those who are outside the Church may find our God’s ways filled with wrath. Some of them may deny His existence as an act of rebellion and glorification of the human freedom. But those who choose to be faithful to Him recognize His ways as “love and truth” as the Psalms proclaim.

So is there salvation outside the Church? No. One cannot be saved from the slavery of sin outside the Church because the sinfulness of the world will provide nothing but storms and turbulence which will eventually devour one’s soul in peril. Indeed, other religions offer a moral prescription how to live in peace with oneself and others but not the challenge to cut oneself from the roots of all the storms. Other religions are concerned about making you look good to others, but Catholicism is concerned about emancipating you from the slavery of sin and taking your soul back to the paradise you are meant to live, where it is in harmony with our God. For being in harmony with God transcends all the way down to our relationship with ourselves and others, even our enemies.

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