Pope Francis has been in office for just over 100 days. Nearly every day this charismatic man delights us with his actions and words, filling our hearts with hope, hope for the magisterium of the Church, hope for all Catholics but most of all hope for our modern world.
His very countenance radiates authenticity, kindness, joy and the love of God. This good will is not only lavished on the faithful but the poor, the outcasts and yes, even atheists. Just a couple of weeks ago, at daily Mass, Pope Francis casually remarked that God has redeemed atheists,
“The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all! And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: we need that so much. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”
Everyone was shocked, faithful Catholics, atheists and the press. Just as Jesus’s words upset the Pharisees and delighted fishermen and outcasts, Pope Francis seems to rankle the hierarchy the Church as well as the self-righteous and impress the rest of us. The amusing fact is that the pope is correct. In his simplicity and frank, common way of speaking he manages to convey the revolutionary power of the real Jesus.
The Vatican rushed to “clarify” the pope’s statements. According to Father Rosica, the “Vatican spokesman,” the truth is that,
“all salvation comes from Christ, the Head, through the Church which is his body. Hence they cannot be saved who, knowing the Church as founded by Christ and necessary for salvation, would refuse to enter her or remain in her.”
However I don’t believe for a minute that Pope Francis misspoke. He spoke the truth in plain, unvarnished language. The Bible tells us that we are all made in the image of God, not just Catholics. Of course, as a convert to Catholicism, I discovered a new fullness of truth in the Church but I knew the Lord before I came into the Church. St. Paul tells us that God will judge all of us according to how much The Holy Spirit has revealed to us. Even someone who has never fully grasped the gospel , carries within him a consciousness of good and evil deep in his soul. God will judge him, not man. For heaven’s sake, even the thief on the cross, who did not say the Sinner’s Prayer or become a disciple, is sitting at the right hand of Jesus right now. St. Luke tells that,
“the other answered, and rebuking him said, Dost thou not even fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said, Jesus, remember me when thou comest in thy kingdom. And he said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise.” Luke 23: 40-43.
God sees our hearts. He is kind and slow to anger, rich in mercy and understanding. His thoughts are not our thoughts; His ways are not our ways. Thank God for that. Thank God that Pope Francis is not a mere intellectual but a humble man of prayer who listens to the Holy Spirit and does what He tells him to do and speaks the words given to him.