For the first time in history, it seems, we are being told that what we believe really isn’t that important. “Believe what you want, or believe nothing at all. It really doesn’t matter, so long as you are a ‘nice’ person.” Religious pluralism, moral relativism, ecumenism and “primacy of conscience” (over Church doctrine) reign supreme. The Vatican II version of Catholicism has, to some extent, gone along with this. When was the last time you heard a priest, or even a bishop, say that the Catholic Church is necessary for salvation?
I still follow the formula, “Outside the Church there is no salvation” (extra Ecclesiam nulla salus). Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean that all “Catholics” are going to heaven and all “non-Catholics” are going to hell. It means that only Catholicism is a saving religion. We have the apostolic teaching. We have the sacraments. We have the Vicar of Christ, the successor of Peter. We have the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist. We have the community of the Saints.
These marks of the true Church are not a reason for feeling superior. There is much truth in other religions. They do some things better than we do. Many “non-Catholics” are better people than many “Catholics.” Still, there is only one Church of Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church is it.
Again, this doesn’t mean that all “Catholics” are saved. The Roman Catholic Church counts any one it has baptized as “Catholic.” But how Catholic are people who rarely attend Mass, never go to confession and disagree with most of what the Church teaches? There are hundreds of millions of “Catholics” in that category. They would be foolish to assume that they are going to heaven simply because, officially, they belong to Holy Mother Church.
How about the many adherents of other faiths, or no faith, who seem to live very moral lives? Will they be damned because, officially, they are not listed as members of the Catholic Church? If they are innocently ignorant of the truths espoused by the Catholic Church, there is some hope for their salvation. Ultimately, God will decide whether they are members of His Church and whether they are among the righteous.
Why is it necessary to be an active, believing Catholic in order to be saved? Simply because God uses the Catholic Church (the body of Christ), through its sacraments and its priesthood, to save souls, and the Holy Spirit has protected the Catholic Church’s teaching from all error. Therefore, everyone who believes all that the Catholic Church teaches and diligently practices the faith will be saved.
All roads do not lead to heaven. Most of them lead to hell. It is our job as Catholics, to be real Catholics, and to present the Church to others as the only sure way to Jesus Christ, the only saviour of the world.