It is of the essence to look at Catholic doctrine as one whole; by looking at it piecemeal we may end up distorting it, just as by interpreting it loosely we may sooner or later water it down completely.

Here is a case in point: as seen on Corpus Christi Sunday, Jesus’ words (Jn 3: 16-18) – “God so loved world that He gave His Only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” – mean that outside the Church there is no salvation. And this is what the Catholic Church has taught down the ages.

As pointed out in our reflection last Sunday, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “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 the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation” (CCC 847).

In short, Baptism is necessary for salvation of anyone who has heard the Good News and has had the possibility of asking for Baptism.

Baptismal font at Cathedral of Notre Dame, Paris

Risk of Concessions

On the other hand, concessions could lead the faithful to believe that anything goes. One such of my worst fears  came true yesterday when I happened to attend the anticipated Sunday Mass at a chapel. The priest stated quite nonchalantly: “There is no need for baptism; living the Christian values is enough.”

In one stroke he had let the congregation know that they need not have come to church at all; just living a good life at home or elsewhere would suffice! Should we, then, dismantle our baptismal fonts?

When approached after Mass, the cleric tried to wriggle out from it at first but before long he admitted that his words were meant to appease a certain section… In the process, he had not only taken the congregation but even Our Lord Himself for granted. Thus, in a bid to sound politically correct, he had no qualms about being evangelically incorrect.

Who can deny the possibility of a non-sacramentally baptised person being saved, under the circumstances foreseen by the Catechism? But is it a cakewalk? If salvation of the baptised is difficult – for we have to pass through the narrow door – it is much more so for the non-baptised who have no access to the sacraments and other ordinary means of sanctification that God has provided to his Church!

That is why Pope Pius IX in his encyclical Quanto conficiamur moerore (10 August 1863), on promotion of false doctrines (cf. paras. 7, 8, 9, 11, 13), condemns those who believe thatgood hope at least is to be entertained of the eternal salvation of all those who are not at all in the true Church of Christ” (Syllabus of Errors, 1864, para 17)

Newfangled Approach?

When a clarification was sought, the priest waxed eloquent about a “new approach” devised by the Church and, right or wrong, cited the present Pope. But then, the important point to remember is that no approach, whether old or new, is entitled to throw doctrine to the winds.

According to the so-called new approach, then, is the sacrament of Baptism only a dispensable ritual and no guarantor of supernatural life? Or am I to believe that supernatural life is nonexistent, or maybe unimportant, provided we have a good life? And should I stop believing that baptism has made me a child of God and Heaven more easily accessible?

In fact, without Baptism, we would have no access to any of the other sacraments either. More specifically, Holy Orders would be out of bounds: mustn’t priests, then, be in awe of the first Sacrament rather than make slighting references to it?

And what about the priest’s privilege to forgive sins and celebrate Mass? And if there were no Sacrament of Penance, would penitents be able to regain the grace lost through sins?

It is therefore not for nothing that St Paul has said that through baptism we “put on Christ”; and St Thomas teaches that the sacrament “configures” us to Christ!

Pray for Priests

For the above reasons and many more, let us hold the Sacraments in the highest esteem. No better person than the priest, who acts in Persona Christi, to set the example. He should by no means balance himself on the razor’s edge, lest he leave the parishioner confused and demoralised, if he has cared to listen to the homily.

I write this with a heavy heart but in the spirit of “bear[ing] one another’s burdens and so fulfil[ing] the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:1-2). Hence, I would like to end with Pope Benedict XVI’s prayer for Priests:

Lord Jesus Christ, eternal High Priest, you offered yourself to the Father on the altar of the Cross and through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit gave your priestly people a share in your redeeming sacrifice.

Hear our prayer for the sanctification of our priests. Grant that all who are ordained to the ministerial priesthood may be ever more conformed to you, the Divine Master. May they preach the Gospel with pure heart and clear conscience.

Let them be shepherds according to your own Heart, single-minded in service to you and to the Church and shining examples of a holy, simply and joyful life.

Through the prayers of the Blessed Virgin Mary, your Mother and ours, draw all priests and the flocks entrusted to their care to the fullness of eternal life where you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.