A superb set of two reflections from Catholic Culture, one about the authority principle and the second dealing with other religions.

An excerpt from the second.

“My little City Gates item, “And what is Islam, anyway?”, produced surprising reactions. Some emphasized that Islam is a lie from first to last, about which nothing good should ever be said. And some took exception to my perceived criticism of Islam (along with every other religion but one) for not having an authority principle, on the basis that non-Catholics can be saved and so we should always be positive toward other religions.

“Given these bizarre extremes, where does one start?

“Perhaps it is best to begin by clearing up some basic confusion about salvation. Nobody—but nobody—is saved apart from the salvific work of Jesus Christ. Further, nobody—but nobody—is saved without being joined to Christ, which is the same thing as being joined to the Church (Christ’s mystical body). But there is a distinction between formal and substantial membership in the Church. Not all formal (juridical) members will be saved; yet many who are not formal members will be saved.

“God’s salvific will is universal. He “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4). But not all are brought to realization of the full truth revealed in Christ. The Holy Spirit, however, knows what gifts of truth have been effectively made available to each person in the course of Divine Providence. As St. Paul taught, faith is belief, trust and obedience to whatever the Holy Spirit has written on the heart. Therefore, those who seek wholeheartedly to know the good and do it, taking advantage of whatever they have been given, are substantially joined to Christ and the Church.

“This has been referred to in various ways: Baptism of desire, joining to the Church by an unconscious yet intense wish (“desiderio ac voto”, Pius XII), and substantial membership in the Church (John Paul II).

“Unfortunately, there are many things which work against not only finding the good (of which God is the source), but also even our wholehearted seeking of the good. There can be psychological impediments, cultural impediments, and impediments arising from our own all too ordinary weaknesses; such impediments may derive from disorders within our personalities, ignorance, error, and the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil.

“When we are carefully taught the wrong things by our culture (whether a religious or a secular culture), it becomes increasingly difficult to see beyond what “everyone” accepts as obvious, and seek instead to know, trust, believe and obey God. Moreover, our weakened human nature needs to be brought to perfection through grace, and our intellects tend to be darkened in the absence of grace. While grace is manifestly available in some measure to all, the complete set of goods which God has provided for our salvation, including every means of grace, is available only within the Church.”