Atheists are Redeemed Also

The Huffington Post published an article that was eye-catching: “Pope Francis says atheists who do good are redeemed, not just Catholics.”

My gut reaction was “All right!  Cool!”  The charity and love in that statement was very appealing to me.  I assumed that since it was the Pope who said it, then it must be theologically sound.  Then a Protestant friend of mine challenged me, “Where is that based in Scripture?”  So, that got me thinking.

Cartoon of Jesus in lieu of the ghost in the
Courtesy of “The Examiner”

I’m not really good with remembering Scripture, so I have Matt Fradd to thank for his article about Pope Francis’ homily.  God “wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4) and “is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:9).  The Gospel of Matthew needs a bit of commentary for the following verse “the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mt 20:28).  According to the commentary, “‘many’ does not mean that some are excluded, but is a Semitism designating the collectivity who benefit from the service of the one, and is equivalent to ‘all.'”

Romans 5:18 was also instructive: “just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.”  Paul did not write “justification and life for Christians,” but “for all.”  He means everyone: the soldiers who nailed Christ to the Cross, the Pharisees who mocked him, and even the atheists of today.

While my Protestant friend would not accept the Catechism as an authoritative source, its interpretation of Scripture is something even Catholics who felt scandalized by what the Pope said cannot ignore (CCC 605):

At the end of the parable of the lost sheep Jesus recalled that God’s love excludes no one: “So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish” (Mt 18:14).  He affirms that he came “to give his life as a ransom for many”; this last term is not restrictive, but contrasts the whole of humanity with the unique person of the redeemer who hands himself over to save us (Mt 20:28; cf. Rom 5:18-19).  The Church, following the apostles, teaches that Christ died for all men without exception: “There is not, never has been, and never will be a single human being for whom Christ did not suffer” (Council of Quiercy in 853 A.D.; cf. 2 Cor 5:15; 1 Jn 2:2). [Emphasis mine.]

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Why God, Why Now?

Why do I believe in God?  Why now when I’m young and not when I’m older and closer to death?  Those are big questions, but important ones if I’m to be honest with myself.  If you are a person of faith, you should ask yourself those questions, too.

I believe in God because He came looking for me, did amazing things in my life when I answered His call, and He continues to help me grow in virtue and love.

I felt not just His presence tonight when I prayed the rosary, for example, but saw in my mind’s eye, the four saints I often turn to and a bunch of other folks in Heaven.  They were all praying with me!  Real or imagined, it made my time praying the rosary incredibly fulfilling.

I’m reminded of God’s hand in my life when I think about how I met my wife and how we came to be married.  My first-born is the direct result of God answering my prayers through the intercession of St. Therese of Lisieux.

My career as a diplomat was also because of God’s help.  It didn’t have to be a Commercial Officer who gave that briefing in the Embassy seven years ago.  It could have been a State Department officer.  But, as God would have it… Mitch Larsen gave the briefing to us Peace Corps Volunteers.  He talked about his job, and I felt in my bones that this was the kind of job I was looking for.  Today, Mitch is my direct supervisor in Korea.

Five years ago, I did not have a girlfriend, did not have a job, and had more debt than my parents (student loans).  Now, I’m married with two children, am an officer in the Foreign Service, give half my paycheck to my parents and still have money left over to service my loans and support my own family.

How is this possible?  I did not plan it.  All I did was say “yes” to God — and he literally swept me off my feet in a whirlwind.  So, why do I believe in God?  Because He is truly present in my life.

Why now and not when I’m older?  Because I can die at any time.  It is complete hubris to think I will live until I’m older.  I could die tomorrow.  I could die ten years from now, or even live to be over a hundred.  I just don’t know.  And if I live a life of sin, the sin would very likely keep me from ever realizing the truth.  It would desensitize me from the truth and beauty that comes from trying to live the divine life.  I would be heavily invested in my ego, then become too afraid to see how ugly I’ve become… like the Portrait of Dorian Gray.

Besides, I can’t turn back on God, now.  It is worse for me to turn away from God after learning the truth, than to have never turned to Him in the first place.  It’s like knowing full well how amazing my wife is, what an amazing mother she is to our children, knowing that I’m married to a saint-in-the-making… and still cheat on her.  I would deserve Hell for that, just as I would deserve Hell for turning my back on God, now.

I think I’m at a point where even asking the question “Why do I believe in God?” is like asking “Why do I love?”  It’s like asking my eldest daughter why she is so clingy to her daddy.  She just is because her dad loves her with every day of her life.  Just as I hope one day she will ask herself, “What can I do for daddy to show him that I love him?” I am now at the point where I’m asking, “What can I do for God to show Him that I love Him?”

Letter to Friends and Family

Dear Friends and Family,

Thank you so much for the time we were able to spend with you.  Anne Marie and I were very happy to see you and we were very proud to show off our beautiful daughters, Maya and Hana.

I also want to thank you for reminding me what Heaven might be like.  I imagine Heaven is like the conversations we had, the food we ate, the places we visited, the movies we watched, the games we played… except there would be no limit to space & time.  We can cook all our favorite recipes together, eat the dishes and pair it with the most amazing wines, and not worry about it “getting too late” or “eating too much” or “being too expensive.”  We would share our experiences of all the wonderful places we’ve been and even re-visit them together (who needs planes when we have wings?)  In the course of a conversation, we might mention a great book or a well-made movie — I’d blink, read the book or movie you recommended, and then blink back to our moment to say, “Yes!  It was great!”  Or, “Mmm… it wasn’t for me.”  In short, I imagine Heaven as being able to spend an eternity in the pleasure of your company.

I am sorry for taking Anne Marie, Maya and Hana back to Korea with me.  They are sweet and wonderful, and I feel awfully greedy and embarassed for hoarding them all to myself.  I am keenly aware of the responsibility caring for three beautiful souls.  My vocation as a husband and father is the only thing that is worth overtime for (and, yes, I’ve given Anne Marie permission to hold that against me).  Don’t worry, though: I will shower them with so much love, forgiveness and joy that my wife will complain even more next time how much I spoil the girls… deliberately omitting how much more I “spoil” her, too.  As God spoils me, so I spoil them.  I follow His lead; and I’m always amazed by how much self-sacrifice leads me to joy.

My beloved friends and family… not a day goes by whenever I’m back in the United States do I not contemplate  staying permanently.  We miss you.  We miss everything that people seem to take for granted.  I empathize with the Jews in the Old Testament: they didn’t know what they had until they were exiled.  We live in “voluntary exile” and we’ve come to know that we miss you all deeply.  “We need to continue to live abroad,” I argue with Anne Marie, “so that we can value them as we do, now.”  That argument loses its strength with each year Maya and Hana grows older away from you.  They don’t know what they’re missing, but we do.  And we feel sad for them.  Even more so, since they only have mom & dad to make up for not having you all… not to say we don’t have any friends in Korea, but it’s not the same.  You know what I mean?  Anne Marie and I both grew up with enduring memories of our cousins and childhood friends.  What will Maya and Hana have?  Mom & Dad.  Boring.

All of this is just my long-winded way of saying, “I love you” and “we miss you.”  This goes for the friends and family we did meet, and those we once met and wished we could have seen again during this trip.  Keep us in your prayers, as you are in ours.

P.S.  I know this letter sounds as if we’ll never see each other, again.  I’m confident that God will keep us safe.  But you never know… nothing like the thought of death to keep things in perspective.  Anne Marie thinks I’m morbid, but that’s my secret for not staying mad with her.  No sense in going to bed angry if I might not wake up again.  Likewise, no sense in keeping the above silent if God wanted to bring us home early.  I’m sure He won’t.  But, you know, it wouldn’t hurt if you prayed for our safe travels.  Thanks.

“Master of Disguise,” by Antonio Mendez

Books like Master of Disguise or those by Tom Clancy and John La Carre glorify being a spy.  I can imagine the intellectual challenge, the pride from being in a group that is set apart from normal society, and the fulfillment one feels in doing a special mission for the greater good of a nation — or even for the whole of humanity.

Can’t these same intangible benefits from being a spy also be obtained by being an agent for Christ?  I live a double-life.  One is rooted in this world, the other is rooted in the spiritual.  I am a company-man, a family man, a consumer; I’m also a priest, a prophet and a king.  Theology is an intellectual challenge.  Awareness to the near-occasions of sin is like doing reconnaissance in enemy territory.  Christians, by definition, are a people who are set apart.  We are the people of God, on a special mission to save more souls.  Priests are like intelligence officers.  Parishioners are like the supporting bureaucracy, and the proselytizing are like the agents in the field.  Satan and his demons are like the Soviets and the KGB.  The media and institutions that promote the “culture of death” are like the Soviet-bloc and other Communist countries.

Even the risks are similar: martyrdom; being compromised by sin; double-agents in the priesthood; counter-intelligence that leads Christians to fight the wrong battles.

Reading Master of Disguise was great escape.  I praise you, God, for helping me find an analogy to living the Christian life.

Blessed to Know I’m a Sinner

I’m blessed to know that I’m a sinner.  The knowledge of my sinfulness, this awareness, leads me to God and to his only Son, Jesus Christ.  This is important because it was Christ’s death on the Cross that expiated my sin.  With this expiation, I can genuinely hope for Heaven.  This is why I’m blessed to know that I’m a sinner.

Dear Merciful God, what about the men and women who are not aware of their sinfulness?  How can they find you and come to know your love?  It wasn’t long ago when I refused to believe in you.  So, I remember the pride that kept me from admitting my shame.  I humbly pray for these men and women, that they will see above all else your love and not be discouraged because of your righteous judgment.  Our Father…

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