The Path of Salvation is Not Fragile

Jesus assures us: “Do not be afraid, little flock; for it has pleased your Father to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32). God wills everyone to be saved and to reach eternal life. It is true that a person can lose their salvation, by dying unrepentant from actual mortal sin. But God has so constructed the Ark of Salvation, the Church, that salvation is easy to obtain and difficult to lose. To that end, God has made the seven Sacraments resilient, not fragile.

Each of the holy Sacraments requires certain conditions to be valid and therefore effective. For example, baptism requires water and certain words. Confession requires that you have contrition for your sins. The Eucharist must be confected from wheat bread and grape wine. There are many other conditions for validity. If any condition needed for validity is not met, the Sacrament does not occur.

But none of the Sacraments are fragile. There are several different acceptable phrasings for a valid Baptism. The consecration of the wine at Mass now uses the phrasing “chalice of my blood”, but previously the formula was “cup of my blood”. Some priests still mistakenly say “cup”, instead of “chalice”, yet the consecration is still valid. You ought to go to Confession with perfect contrition in your heart, but if you go with only imperfect contrition, you are still forgiven by the Sacrament. As for the form of the Mass, many different liturgical errors and imperfections can occur, and yet the Mass is still licit and acceptable to God as a form of worship.

The Pharisees of today would have you believe that the path of salvation is hard to find, hard to follow, and easy to lose. They want you to fear that any little error will have disastrous consequences, leading you into Hell. They argue that few souls are saved, and that non-Christians little chance at salvation. But you should recall from the Gospels how sharply Jesus rebuked the Pharisees.

Do you not understand the teaching of Jesus, that God is loving and forgiving? Do you not perceive our Savior to be meek and humble? Then how does it make any sense to portray the path of salvation as if it were harsh and unforgiving? If you change and become like little children, you shall enter the kingdom of heaven (cf. Mt 18:3). “For I say to you, that unless your justice has surpassed that of the scribes and the Pharisees you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 5:20).

And what do the Pharisees say about Pope Francis? They claim that his election was not valid, and therefore he is not really the Pope. Why would they say such a thing? They are conservative and the holy Pope Francis is liberal. So they seek ways to undermine his authority and to cause the people to distrust and reject him. The Pharisees of today treat Pope Francis the way that the Pharisees of old treated Jesus.

Do not listen to their fables. The election of any Pope is not a fragile thing. We all know that each Cardinal in the Church, along with the Bishops, priests, deacons, religious and laity are all sinners. Cardinals do not always follow all the rules or behave with perfect propriety. But God has not constructed the Ark of Salvation out of leaves and twigs, but out of solid wood covered in pitch. This ship of salvation, the Church, does not fall apart, even in the worst storms. So it is absurd what these Pharisees say, that Pope Francis is not a valid Pope because of some claim that a few Cardinals were discussing who should be Pope prior to the conclave.

Even if that story were true, it would not invalidate his election because the Church is not fragile, the Sacraments are not fragile, and the process of electing a valid Pope is not fragile. All kinds of problems can occur, because the persons who vote are sinners, and yet the providence and grace of God wins out. The Pope is validly elected. He is the Vicar of Christ and we can trust him to guide the Ark of Salvation.

Why are some persons seeking a way to discredit Pope Francis and claim he is not really the Pope? It is only because he is liberal, and they are conservative. It is only because they covet the leadership role of the Church. They wish that they could decide all questions of doctrine and discipline. (They already speak, with immense pride, as if that were the case.) But in truth, each Pope has the role from Jesus Christ to teach and correct His entire flock on earth, including Cardinals and Bishops, even if they are more conservative than he is. Instead, certain Catholics have decided that their own understanding of Catholicism is perfect and inerrant. So if anyone disagrees, even a Pope or Ecumenical Council, they reject that teaching and correction. They seek ways to undermine Vatican II and to discredit Pope Francis. Do not imitate them. Do not give their arrogant words any weight.

Pope Francis is accepted as Pope by the body of Bishops dispersed in the world, by every parish and religious order. He is the successor of Saint Peter the Apostle. He is the Vicar of Christ. When he teaches infallibly, we are obligated to give the full assent of faith (theological assent) because the infallible teachings of the Magisterium cannot err. In this way, the Holy Spirit teaches through the Magisterium infallibly. When instead the Pope teaches non-infallibly, his teachings are reliable and therefore require our submission of will and mind (religious assent). The Holy Spirit protects the non-infallible teachings of the Magisterium from leading anyone away from the path of salvation.

On matters of discipline, the Pope has the authority to decide one way or the other. These are practical matters of prudential judgment. It is not a question of infallible truths from Divine Revelation. His decisions on discipline are fallible, but they are his decisions to make. We are obligated to assent and cooperate with his judgments, even though he might err because discipline is not crucial to salvation. Despite what the Pharisees of today would have you believe, souls are not lost because the form of the Mass fails to conform to their judgments and preferences on each detail.

Pope Saint Celestine V (one of the few Popes to resign from office) is said to have made many errors in his administrative decisions. He eventually reigned the papacy because of difficulties in prudential matters, not questions of doctrine. A Pope can be also a Saint, and yet err in decisions about how to run the Church. But regardless of these types of errors, each Pope remains a valid Pope. The Popes do not lose their authority from Christ if they err in various ways, or if they refuse to conform to the expectations of modern-day Pharisees. The Popes do not lose their authority by teaching a doctrine in contradiction to the assumptions, personal opinions, and misunderstandings of those conservatives who have decided that they hold the keys of doctrine and discipline in the Church.

Pope Francis is a valid and holy Pope. He holds the two keys of Saint Peter: the teaching authority and the temporal authority of the Church. Even if he at times errs in limited ways, he is the leader and we are his followers. For He is the Vicar of Christ and the navigator and pilot of the Ark of Salvation.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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