Pope Francis has only been in the job for a few months, but he’s already making waves among Catholics and the overall religious community. In a homily delivered at Wednesday Mass in Rome, Francis explained how “doing good” is an act that could redeem even atheists in the eyes of God.
The pope’s declaration that those outside of the Catholic faith are eligible for redemption, specifically those that do not believe in a higher power, is something of an about face from Pope Benedict’s declarations that only those who accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior can enter heaven. Pope Francis was touted as more radical than his predecessor, and his statements are among the first evidence to support his reputation.
“They complain,” said the Pope in his homily, “If he is not one of us, he cannot do good. If he is not of our party, he cannot do good.” Francis explained that Jesus’ disciples were intolerant to the idea that those who do not have the truth, could not do good, and that Jesus corrected his disciples, telling them that the potential for good is within everyone on earth.
“The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart: do good and do not do evil. All of us. ‘But, Father, this is not Catholic! He cannot do good.’ Yes he can… The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”
The pope’s call for Catholics, non-believers, and everyone in between to work together in a positive way is not an unusual call, but for the leader of a major world religion to speak so acceptingly of, not just other faiths, but those who adamantly deny the tenets of that faith, is unusual, though Catholic priests are saying that it is Francis’ medium, not his message, that is progressive.
Speaking with the Huffington Post, Father James Martin, S.J. clarified the Catholic position. “Pope Francis is saying, more clearly than ever before, that Christ offered himself as a sacrifice for everyone. But rarely do you hear it said by Catholics so forcefully, and with such evident joy. And in this era of religious controversies, it’s a timely reminder that God cannot be confined to our narrow categories.”
The pope’s remarks have become extremely popular on atheist-friendly message boards and websites around the world, while some Catholics say that Francis is too forgiving of atheists.