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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Robert Barron » Robert Barron - How to Get to Heaven

Robert Barron - How to Get to Heaven

Robert Barron - How to Get to Heaven
TOPICS: Salvation

Peace be with you. Friends, for this fourth Sunday of Easter, our first reading is from one of the magnificent early kerygmatic sermons of St. Peter. The "kerygma" means the basic proclamation. So here's Peter, in the earliest days, talking about the meaning of Christianity. And here are a few lines that, I submit to you, are kind of troubling for a lot of people today. Listen: "He [Christ] is the stone rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.' There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved". Pretty blunt stuff, huh? Pretty exclusive sounding. We put such a premium on nonjudgmentalism, and inclusivity, and "everyone gets around the table".

Well, here are some pretty uncompromising words. There is no salvation apart from this name. It seems no Jew, no Hindu, no Buddhist, no Muslim, no agnostic, no atheist could possibly be saved. That no one gets into heaven except explicit Christians. As I say, it runs counter to so many of our cultural instincts today. And, furthermore, it seems to play into a lot of our worst religious instincts, namely, us against them. Wouldn't this give rise, people might say, to a sort of religious violence? "We're the inside group, everybody else is outside. If we have to use violence to bring them in, why not"? Hasn't this sort of thing been used up and down the centuries to justify or sanction violence? Okay. As I say, it's a problematic text for a lot of people today.

Here's the first move I want to make in helping us to understand it, is to make no move at all. What I mean here is, I think it's important for us to let the difficulty of this text sink in. We shouldn't turn immediately to an explanation that kind of explains it away. No, no; let's stay with the difficulty of this claim of St. Peter. Now, how come? Well, as I've said many, many times, Jesus is different. Jesus is distinct vis-a-vis all the other religious founders, all the other religious philosophers. Jesus spoke and acted in the very person of God. Jesus, therefore, demanded a choice and a decision that no other religious founder or religious philosopher ever made; namely, "You're with me or you're against me".

If Jesus is who he says he is, well then, I should give my whole life to him. If he's not who he says he is, well, he's a rather deluded bad man. There's no other founder or philosopher that presents that same sort of challenge. And so, Jesus is distinctive. Does this make Christianity better than other religions? Well, okay. So be it, if by that you mean, yes, a claim is being made about Jesus that's made about nobody else. All right. So be it. And therefore, it's simply true what Peter says. There is no other name by which we are saved, if we mean that the fullness of salvation that God intends for his people is on offer in Jesus alone. True. True. What's the fullness of salvation? That we become in Christ and through Christ participants in God's own life.

The Father sent the Son all the way to the limits of godforsakenness that we might be gathered into the divine life by the Holy Spirit. There's no other religion, there's no other religious philosophy that holds out such a prospect. So that's true. There's no other name by which we are offered the fullness of salvation than the name of Jesus. I know. Everybody today will say something like, "No. You follow Christ. I follow the Buddha. They follow Sufi mystics. They follow Jewish rabbis. And aren't we all just climbing the same holy mountain by different routes"? Well, that's not biblical religion, everybody. That just is not the claim of Christianity. Something absolutely decisive is at stake when we're talking about Jesus.

Last week, I talked about the reality of the Resurrection. One thing that that did was it confirmed in the most vivid way possible the veracity of Jesus' claims about himself. I might've been able to say he was just a deluded madman if he had died and stayed in his grave. But when Jesus came back through the power of the Holy Spirit from the dead, it confirmed for them that what he was saying about himself was in fact true. And therefore, this great decision (are you with him or against him?) remains. Yes, salvation as God fully intends it is on offer in Jesus and in no one else. Okay. You still with me? I know. I know. This is deeply challenging business in our culture today. So, if you're still with me, does this mean that something like Christian imperialism is warranted? Does this mean that I can engage even in violence against those who don't hold faith in Christ? Does this mean in fact, that necessarily nobody else except explicitly Christian believers make it to heaven? And the answer to those questions is no. Now, how do we make sense of this?

Well, can I suggest this now, in light of the teaching of Vatican II. If you want to see the text I'm relying on, it's in the Vatican II document called "Lumen Gentium," the light of the nations. It's a document about the Church. It's in section 16 of "Lumen Gentium". And there, the council fathers urge us to think about this question not so much in terms of a stark either/or, but rather in terms of fullness and participation. Fullness and participation. Is the fullness of salvation on offer only in Jesus? Yes. St. Peter, of course, is right. There's no salvation offered in any other name. That's what God intends. But are there participations in that fullness on offer in other religions and other religious philosophies? And there, the answer is yes, according to Vatican II. So the council fathers talk about rays of light. It's a lovely little expression.

As you look at Buddhism, or Hinduism, or you look at Islam, or Judaism, and other religious philosophies, can we see rays of light? Yeah. Elements of truth, and goodness, and beauty in them. How should we read those? As participations in the fullness of light found in Jesus Christ. Yes, it's Christ who says, "I am the light of the world". Quite right. Are there reflections of that light on available in other religious traditions and philosophies? And the answer is yes. Now, press it further. Can one find salvation even by means of these lesser lights? And the answer of the council fathers is yes. Now, don't write me letters, and read Vatican II carefully. I'm not saying, "Oh, don't worry about it. Everyone's going to be saved". No, no; that's not the point at all. *Can* someone be saved by the grace of Christ offered in a participated way in these other traditions? And the answer is yes, it's possible. Does that mean I stop announcing Christ? Of course not. Of course not. I'm called upon to announce the fullness of salvation. Of course, I want to share the fullness of the light.

So don't fall into that trap, that this means some sort of bland religious indifferentism. No, no, no. Here's one of the best ways to see it, I think, with the help of the person I've called the most influential dead person at Vatican II. What I mean is, the theologian who wasn't there in person, but who influenced the council in so many ways. I'm referring to the great St. John Henry Newman. Newman spoke of the conscience, in his beautiful language now, as the aboriginal vicar of Christ in the soul. Striking, isn't it? The conscience, my deep sense of what's right and what's wrong, is the aboriginal vicar, representative, of Christ in the soul. So when my conscience speaks to me, it says, "Do this; don't do that", and I, in good faith, am following the prompt of my conscience, what am I in fact following, even though I might not fully know it? I'm following, in fact, the voice of Christ. And so, again, read Lumen Gentium, section 16, can even a nonbeliever, who sincerely follows his own conscience, be saved? Vatican II says yes.

Now, again, again, mind you: can be. So this is not some namby-pamby relativism. Because, in point of fact, that even nonbeliever who's sincerely following his conscience is following the voice of Christ. Because the conscience is the aboriginal vicar of Christ in the soul. Just as someone in another religious tradition in the measure that he follows whatever is good and true and beautiful in that tradition, is in fact following the light of Christ though he might not be fully aware of it. That's the way that Vatican II I think very deftly handles this problem. Is it compromising what St. Peter says? Mm-mm; no, no. "There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven... by which we are to be saved".

That's true. The fullness of salvation, participation in the divine life, is on offer fully in Jesus Christ alone. Which is why, look, I've dedicated my life to it, which is why the Church evangelizes constantly, proclaims Christ in season and out, when it's popular, when it's unpopular. We preach Christ and him crucified. Absolutely. But it doesn't mean we have to succumb to a sort of aggressive exclusivism. Through participations in the fullness of Christ, others can be saved, and they are being saved indeed by him. So here's the trick, and I know, in our culture, these two options are on wide offer. Listen: we must affirm Christian distinctiveness and completeness without falling into a kind of imperialism or violence. And we must affirm the truth in other religions without falling into relativism or indifferentism.

As I say, the two extremes are on clear display. Go on the internet anytime of the day or night, and you'll see them both. Vatican II urges us onto this enlivening path. Christ, the fullness of salvation, and then participations in that fullness by which others can be saved. So, let me just say as I bring it to a close, let St. Peter's speech bother you today. Don't gloss it over. No, no; it's saying something of absolutely permanent value and truth: that Jesus Christ, the fullness of salvation, is distinctive, not one figure among many. But never allow yourself to use St. Peter's speech as an excuse to attack, or exclude, or belittle others. Take a good look at Lumen Gentium, section 16. And I think you'll find the path for understanding this sermon well. And God bless you.
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