Today’s Mass offers us two fine readings, but somehow they do not move me to speak about them. We have climbed that sycamore with Zacchaeus too many times lately, and the experts assure us that the reading from Second Maccabees is a fictitious account.
Le me, instead, comment on something I have been reading lately. Through the centuries much has been made of a statement of St. Cyprian in the third century. His statement was, “There is no salvation outside the Church.”
In 1949 Rome condemned Father Leonard Feeney, a popular Jesuit writer, for insisting that there was no salvation possible for anyone who was not an official member of the Catholic Church. Rome was not denying the truth of what St. Cyprian wrote, she was just saying that his statement could not be taken too narrowly: that some non-Catholics could belong to the Church through what we were calling “Baptism of Desire.”
Several of Vatican II’s documents seem to have gone further then that. The document on non-Christian religions states, “The Catholic Church rejects nothing of those things which are true and holy in these religions.” The document on Missionary Activity says, that the efforts in pagan religions “can at times be leading toward the true God.” It says, “Whatever good is found to be sown in peoples’ hearts, or in their particular rites or customs can be brought to the glory of God.”
That last part about their religious rites is most significant. It says that their way of worshipping, though imperfect, still has value. St. Francis Xavier, when he went out to India, organized groups of young Catholic to go around smashing the idols in Hindu temples. Today the Church teaches us to see the limited value in such worship.