The assumption that almost everyone is basically good and destined for heaven is a “silent apostasy” infecting a culture “drifting toward destruction,” according to an American observer at the synod on the New Evangelization.
If everyone thinks they are going to heaven, “there's not going to be a great response to the New Evangelization,” Dr. Ralph Martin told EWTN News Oct. 14.
Martin, Director of Graduate Theology and New Evangelization at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, is joining some 100 experts from around the world advising the synod on ways to re-propose the message of Christ in the 21st century.
In his new book, “Will Many Be Saved? What Vatican II Actually Teaches and its Implications for the New Evangelization,” he tackles some of the prickly issues that accompany evangelization.
One of these is the misconception that the Second Vatican Council downplayed hell by teaching that salvation is possible for those who have never heard the Gospel. Martin directs readers to what the Council actually taught.
He affirmed that section 16 of the council document “Lumen Gentium” (the Constitution on the Church) does allow the possibility “for certain people to be saved without hearing the Gospel under specific conditions.”
“But, then it goes on to say…that very often people aren't inculpably ignorant of the Gospel,they're not seeking God, they're not living according to the light of their conscience, they're not responding to God's grace, and they actually exchange the truth of God for a lie.”
Those people are not the noble pagans the council addressed—people living right with God without knowing Jesus Christ.
The answer to reaching those people who have heard about Christ and are living immorally with a confused faith, including self-identified Catholics,is proper catechesis and ardent evangelization, Martin said.
“We really need to urgently bring forth the message of the love of God and the forgiveness of sins, because we can't presume that everyone's on the way that's leading to Heaven,” Martin said during a break in the synod.
The mission of the New Evangelization is more complicated than resolving a theological misconception, he said, because the “silent apostasy” of (near) universal salvation is taking place in an anti-Christian culture engulfing the whole world.
“There's an international pagan culture that's affecting everybody, and lots and lots of baptized Catholics are no longer living in real discipleship with Jesus,” he said.
The issue raised by Martin is one that bishops from all over the world are considering at the Oct. 7-28 synod on the New Evangelization.
The first priority for bishops is focusing attention “on re-evangelizing baptized Catholics who aren't living as disciples of Christ,” Martin stated.
His new book is aimed at evangelizing Catholics who are fallen and do not know it or may not care because “they think they’re basically good” anyway.
It asks the question, “What is the Church really teaching about people who are baptized Catholics but aren't really living in friendship with Christ?” The answer it gives: “We're really in trouble if we're not living in friendship with Christ,and that's how God wants to bring his love and mercy to us, and so we really need to help people reconnect with the Lord.”
In addition to teaching in the seminary, Martin is preaching to a worldwide classroom through a Catholic media apostolate. He is president of Renewal Ministries,which is “dedicated to fostering renewal and evangelization in the Catholic Church by helping people know the personal love of God in Jesus and grow in holiness.” To this end, it employs TV, radio, and print media as well as in-person lectures.
Martin hopes it serves the two ends of the New Evangelization being stressed at the synod – conversion and catechesis.
“The initial decision to turn your life over to Christ is really important, but then the ongoing formation in what the Catholic Church really teaches is also really important,” he said, before returning to the synod session. “So we need both evangelization and catechesis.”