Thursday, May 23, 2013

Have you been saved?

“Have you been saved?” Given that I’m in the Bible Belt, I actually haven’t been asked that often. I think I give off a “don’t-try-to-convert-me” vibe. After all, the Catholics got me without anyone ever asking, offering, inviting, or trying in any noticeable manner (I won’t discount the prayers of saints). I was first asked, “Have you been saved?” in middle school. As an ill-prepared 11-year-old, I responded innocently, “From what?” Fortunately, my questioner was also an ill-prepared 11-year-old, not ready to give me the full-on Gospel spiel, so I dodged that evangelism effort. By eighth grade, I knew what was coming, so my stock answer was, “Yes, 2,000 years ago” accompanied by an eye roll. That’s the thing about middle schoolers; they’re ready to talk about adult topics, but not ready to go into nuance or context or sensitivity.

This week, Pope Francis made some statements that got way misinterpreted. The pope spoke about how all humans, regardless of belief, were created in the image of God. We are all called to truth, beauty, and goodness. He urged everyone to do good together and work toward peace. The sticking point was when he mentioned that we were all redeemed by Christ. People took the word “redeemed” and turned that into “everyone gets into heaven.” Bad theology abounded.

This just in: Pope still Catholic.

Christ died for everyone; the gates of heaven are open. Mankind is redeemed. Salvation, however, is individual. Each of us must accept the gift Christ gave us. Theologically, redemption and salvation are not the same. I, by the simple fact of being part of humanity, am redeemed. Christ died for me whether I acknowledge his act or not; God loves me whether I believe in him or not.

My salvation is a bit trickier; it is not something I assert with as much certainty. If asked today, “Have you been saved?” my stock answer is, “I’m in the process of being saved.” I don’t believe I’ll be saved until I’m holy up in heaven. I’m not that concerned about it; salvation isn't earned. All I can do is continue to deepen my relationship with God.

At first, I was upset that the pope’s words were misconstrued and then blown so out of proportion. Like there isn’t enough misunderstanding of Catholic beliefs already. This just looked like something else to throw onto the “no, we don’t worship Mary, blindly do what the pope orders, condemn gays to hell, or hate science” pile of things to constantly explain. But then I realized it was an opportunity to explain Catholic beliefs about how Christ loves everyone and how we can all agree to work together peacefully. And maybe the discussion will change a few hearts, and how can I be upset about that? Perhaps this is an opportunity to draw people into the faith and show them the love of Christ.

Pope Francis’ remarks ended with a mention of St. Rita, the saint of impossible things. Sometimes it seems impossible that people will take the time to listen and understand what is being said. It seems impossible that people can stop arguing long enough to actually come together and do good works. It seems impossible that people can be converted in this age of sound bites and skepticism. But nothing is impossible. God's love makes the impossible possible.

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