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“Ask a Priest: Could God Call Me to a Non-Catholic Religion?”
Q: I’m a non-denominational Christian. I attend church regularly. I feel like I have a close and intimate relationship with God. He is my best friend. I go to a Catholic high school where I have to attend Mass on certain days of school. Although I am forced to go, I still regard Mass reverently and respectfully. I recognize God is there. A Catholic girl in my class was telling me her testimony, how she went from being an atheist to a converted Catholic, which I understood and was very happy for her. When she asked me what religion I was, I told her I was non-denominational, to which she said, “Oh, I guess your time hasn’t come yet.” That really took me back. I found it to be hurtful for her to assume that just because I am not Catholic my relationship with God wasn’t as close as hers. Then a few days later, a priest came to answer questions in my religion class. I asked him, What if you feel like God is calling you to be where you are and you’re not Catholic? To which he answered, “God may call you there now, but he will eventually lead you to Catholicism. Catholicism is the way to heaven.” I understand what he meant, but I seriously think God is calling me to be non-denominational. So, is Catholicism the only way to heaven? Can God call me to a religion that is not Catholic? – J.B.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: It is good to hear that you have a close relation with God.
The remarkable thing is that part of Jesus’ plan is that he wants to give us his very self in the Eucharist. Which is something the Church has.
It sounds as though you are on a journey. As you go deeper in your relationship with Our Lord, you might find yourself asking deeper questions and desiring more than what a non-denominational community can offer. At that point you might want to keep the Catholic faith in mind. Who else can issue an extensive Catechism of its beliefs?
There might be sparks of truth, so to speak, in “all the churches.” But not all groups are equal. Some of them teach very different things. Some contradict each other. God doesn’t contradict himself. He wants everyone to come to the fullness of the truth revealed by his Son, Jesus. That fullness of truth is found in the Catholic Church.
And Jesus said, “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18). Notice the singular: my church. He doesn’t speak in terms of my denominations (much less my non-denominational groups).
Is Catholicism the only way to heaven? Yes, in the sense that salvation for all is mediated through the Church, whether people realize it or not. It’s like when we visit a city. The police there help to protect us, even if we aren’t aware of their presence.
On the other hand, salvation is possible for good-living people who are outside the visible bounds of the Church.
Permit me to quote at length from a Second Vatican Council document, Lumen Gentium:
“But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place among these there are the Muslims, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind. Nor is God far distant from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, for it is He who gives to all men life and breath and all things, and as Savior wills that all men be saved. Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience. Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life. Whatever good or truth is found among them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel” (No. 16).
For now, it might be good for you to continue a life of prayer and Scripture reading.
It might help you to read a few Catholic books that deal with questions you might have. Among them:
— Youth Catechism, or YouCat.
— Surprised by Truth, by Patrick Madrid.
— The Case for Catholicism, by Trent Horn.
— Fundamentals of the Faith, by Peter Kreeft.
— The Compendium of the Catechism (available online)
The important thing is to realize that we can always go deeper in our relationship with God. There is always more to discover, since God’s love is so vast and he himself is infinite. So keep searching to go deeper, and ask him to guide you.
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