Did you hear that Pope Francis said that atheists can go to heaven? He didn't. But that's how some of the news reports frame the pope's comments yesterday from his residence.
The fastest growing religion in American now in the "none"s. He's reaching out to them. How wonderful! Except people everywhere are trying to spin his words. The secular media is reporting that he's declaring that atheists are good enough to get to heaven. Not that the atheists care, because they don't believe in heaven. But if a pope were to declare that anyone who does good can get into heaven, wouldn't that make the message of redemption through Christ null and void? Oooooh - the secular world would LOVE to hear the message of Christ made null and void.
Then there are Protestants who are shaking their heads (I know because I used to be one of them), thinking, "Those poor Catholics. Don't they know good works will never get anyone into heaven?" To which I now want to scream from the rooftop - YES! Yes, we know good works will never get a single person into heaven!
Pope Francis is gently trying to communicate to atheists. His incredible humility and love can help win could for Jesus! Love will bring them in! How does one win the soul of an atheist? He has to convince the atheist that he needs Jesus. You can shout and shout and shout all you want to an atheist and tell him he needs Jesus or he will go to hell, and the atheist will just shrug his shoulders and laugh as he walks away. Instead, Pope Francis is extending his hand to atheists and gently leading them to Christ. Yelling at them that they are going to hell will not win their souls. But extending a friendly hand, meeting them where they are, and loving them as Christ loves then will break down the walls that keep their minds and hearts closed to the message of the Gospel.
Pope Francis is NOT saying that atheists can work their way to heaven or that they are "OK" where they are. That is not what the Bible says and it's not what the Church has taught for 2,000 years. And a pope CANNOT contradict what the Bible says and what sacred Tradition has has handed down to us. It just cannot be done.
Jesus' redemption is available for atheists. They have to accept it to receive it, but it is always available to them. Pope Francis is acknowledging that, as they are made in God's imagine, they are inherently designed to do good and have a will to do good. It's in the way they are designed (whether or not the atheist wants to acknowledge that about themselves or not.)
I am very excited about our new Pope. There is something special about him, and the whole world sees it. I believe his humble spirit and love will win souls for Christ. I believe he will change the Church in a big (big and humble, that is) way. All for the glory of God.