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“Ask a Priest: Could We Hope That Fallen-Away Catholics Will Be Saved?”
Q: I live in Australia where many people whether young or old are cohabiting. There is no thought of God whatsoever. My sister-in-law who was formerly Catholic and now totally into New Age is also cohabiting. Another sister-in-law (formerly Catholic) converted to Islam to marry a Muslim man, and any discussion of Catholicism or Islam is not taken well. She would accuse us of blasphemy. I always listen to Catholic Answers on YouTube, and one of the topics discussed is about the state of one’s soul and eternal damnation. So according to Church teaching, a person is in danger of losing his/her soul only if they are aware of the teachings of the Church and the word of God and still choose to reject it. They also mentioned that maybe they know Church teaching and don’t believe it, and so they won’t be damned. So in light of this argument, is it safe to believe that in the above situations we can hope they all will be saved? – G.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: The short answer is that we can hope that everyone will be saved. Whether it is “safe to believe” this is another matter.
God alone knows the hearts and minds of the people you mention here. None of us can judge them. And none of us is called to judge them.
That assertion has a double edge, however. There is no guarantee that any of them will be saved.
Faith is a gift, and some people lose it through negligence and plain bad behavior. They will be held accountable for that.
In other cases, a genuine lack of true understanding of the faith, or perhaps the scandalous behavior of so many Catholics, might cause people to drift away without their being fully blameworthy. This could lead them to be judged much more leniently at the moment of their death. (The Catechism’s section on moral conscience, starting at No. 1776, is helpful reading.)
Still, the hope that all might be saved doesn’t let any of us off the hook. We are called to safeguard and strengthen our faith, through prayer, the sacraments, almsgiving, fasting, works of charity, etc. We need to shun any thought of presumption, too; indeed, we are urged to work out our salvation “with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).
Moreover, Catholics are obliged by their baptism to participate in the work of evangelization.
Evangelization doesn’t mean we do a hard sell of the faith. Rather, it means that, motivated by love, we want to share our experience of Christ with others. We want to witness to our beliefs and to the beauty of the Catholic Church and its treasury of sacraments and teachings and liturgy. We believe profoundly that Christ gave us these resources to help us attain salvation.
Perhaps you might want to keep some of these folks on your prayer list. And keep open a dialogue if possible. Sooner or later they might find the path they are on isn’t very satisfying. That might be the moment for God’s grace to bring them back to the embrace of the Church.
You also might find it useful, for yourself, to watch the retreat guide called “The Complete Christian.”
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