The universality of salvation means that it is granted not only to those who explicitly believe in Christ and have entered the Church. Since salvation is offered to all, it must be made concretely available to all. But it is clear that today, as in the past, many people do not have an opportunity to come to know or accept the gospel revelation or to enter the Church. The social and cultural conditions in which they live do not permit this, and frequently they have been brought up in other religious traditions. For such people salvation in Christ is accessible by virtue of a grace which, while having a mysterious relationship to the Church, does not make them formally part of the Church but enlightens them in a way which is accommodated to their spiritual and material situation. This grace comes from Christ; it is the result of his Sacrifice and is communicated by the Holy Spirit. It enables each person to attain salvation through his or her free cooperation.
It is surely a puzzle that our flawed human efforts at evangelization have not presented a case for salvation in Christ to everybody in the world. For the past twenty centuries, untold billions of people have lived and died without ever knowing Jesus. How can we maintain the notion of a God of mercy with human limitations that have ensured we haven’t reached every soul on the planet in two millennia? How do we rectify human weaknesses that dog our decisions made in ignorance or even random choices to assist one country, one village, one individual and not some other? Then we must also confront instances where human evil of believers has been a contrary witness to the Gospel and has actually chased souls away from Christ.
Pope John Paul II opts for a “secret grace.” Would you agree? Vatican II preached it:
For this reason the Council, after affirming the centrality of the Paschal Mystery, went on to declare that “this applies not only to Christians but to all people of good will in whose hearts grace is secretly at work. Since Christ died for everyone, and since the ultimate calling of each of us comes from God and is therefore a universal one, we are obliged to hold that the Holy Spirit offers everyone the possibility of sharing in this Paschal Mystery in a manner known to God.”(Gaudium et Spes 22)
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