'Who Can Be Saved?' - Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

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Home > Archbishop > Homilies > 'Who Can Be Saved?' - Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

The apostles turned to each other with the question, “Who can be saved?” after the Lord reflected upon his encounter of the rich young man.

One senses the sadness in the comments of the Lord after this evidently good man turned away when the Lord invited him to surrender his attachment to worldly goods.

The Lord’s comment, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God,” was tinged with his disappointment that this man could not let go of his possessions. The Lord knew that his possessions actually possessed him. He was locked to the earth and unable to take a step forward in freedom and embrace a spiritual path.

The question the disciples raised is one I would like to comment upon today: “Who can be saved?”

Firstly, is this phrase something we would say? “Who can be saved?” Do we consider that we need to be saved? Today many struggle with the idea that we human beings are in need of being saved.

Catholics are often accused of believing that the way to heaven is through good works. I think the accusation has some grounds. It is not uncommon for people to say that a person deserves to get to heaven because of the good things that they have done on earth.

So, do we gain heaven by the goodness of our lives? We are tempted to answer this in the affirmative. Surely, God would reward a good person by giving them a place in heaven.
Let us examine this more closely.

In the language of evangelical Christians the idea of being saved is central to their understanding of being Christian. We sometimes hear an evangelical say that at a rally so many people who responded were, in their words, “saved”. Being saved meant that a person gave their life to Christ.

Inspired by this view of the purpose of Christian preaching, one sometimes hears an evangelical Christian asking Catholics the question: “Are you saved?” It is a confronting question for Catholics. It is not the usual way in which we would express our understanding of being a Christian.

Indeed, if asked the question how would you answer? We believe that we are on the way to salvation by virtue of being baptised and seeking to live the Christian life. So we would want to say yes to the question. But we also hesitate because we feel that we are being presumptuous. We are more humble about ourselves. We would probably prefer to say, rather than “I am saved”, “I hope to be saved”.  

Let us consider how a Catholic could respond to such a question.

I would answer it in three parts.

Firstly, I would say that I have been saved by Christ dying on the cross. We recognise that the meaning of Christ’s death was that He reconciled sinful humanity with God. His death on the cross was an atoning action. So we say, “Dying you destroyed our death.”

This is fundamental Catholic faith. This is the great declaration of our faith that we make at every Mass after the Consecration: “We proclaim your death O Lord and profess your Resurrection.” We know that the death and resurrection of the Lord redeemed humanity.

Secondly, in answer to the question by our evangelical brother, we would say, “And I am being saved by the action of the Holy Spirit.” St Paul said that we must work out our salvation in “fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12). We never dare presume that we have made it. We know we are sinners and that we constantly fall short of what we should be as Christians.

However we also know that God has given us the Holy Spirit in Baptism that that the Spirit actively works in us. We rely upon the grace of the Holy Spirit. Thus, for instance, when we go to Confession we are forgiven by virtue of our act of confession of our sins, but we also know that we received grace to assist us in overcoming our weaknesses. We know how much we need the assistance of grace. We cannot do this by ourselves.

Thirdly, we can say that we hope to be saved. In the end getting into heaven is a gift of God’s mercy. We can never demand entrance into heaven. It is God who, in an act of supreme mercy, draws us into eternal beatitude. God welcomes us as an act of love and not as a result us actually earning the right to heaven.

In the end, at the moment of death, we, like Jesus, say, “Into your hands I commit my spirit”. We surrender ourselves to God. We abandon ourselves to the mercy and love of God. This act of surrender, though, is an act of trust, a confident hope. We know that God is all merciful and though we are not worthy ourselves, we rely upon the mercy of God.

To be saved, according to Catholic understanding, has three elements: a past (the death of Christ), the present (the work of the Holy Spirit), and a future (the mercy of God).

Our understanding of salvation is profoundly Trinitarian – the saving act of Jesus on the cross, the sanctifying action of the Holy Spirit, and the mercy of the Father.

“Who can be saved?” the disciples asked. Jesus commented, “For men it is impossible, but not for God.” We do not save ourselves. It is God who saves us. “For everything is possible for God.”

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Sunday, October 14, 2018