In a recent homily, Pope Francis said that even atheists have been redeemed through the death of Jesus, urging all to “…Do good: We will meet one another there.” Headlines the next day declared “Pope: Atheists Can Go To Heaven“. The Catholic Church immediately issued a statement clarifying that the Pope did not mean to say that atheists will go to heaven. I’m left unsure what he meant, because that’s what it sounded like to me.
Who goes to heaven has always been an area of struggle for me, at least the notion that only those with a certain belief…the right belief… will get into heaven. I’m conflicted–I think we do have a moral compass, guiding us toward a fundamental right and wrong. I believe there is an overarching Truth out there, a reason all of this and all of us are here. We can look to our traditions, to reason, and to our own hearts for that Truth. But the reality is that we cannot ever truly know for certain. My struggle with any who claim that they do know for certain is that their truths are heavily shaped by random accident. None of us choose the circumstances of our birth. The part of the world we are born in along with the beliefs of our parents are significant, yet random drivers of our own beliefs. Had we been dropped into a different corner of the world, an entirely different existence would have been normal to us. I’ve always struggled that our path to the truth could depend solely on being born in the right place and time to the right people.
Maybe there is only one truth. If that’s so, then I’m either going to be lucky or not that I managed to find it, either in spite of or helped by the circumstances of my birth. Since I can’t change who I am or where I was born, I guess I’ll focus on what I can control. I can control the relationship I maintain with God. I can control what I do to make an impact on my little corner of the world. And I can role model love. The rest will be a leap of faith that God indeed loves all of His children, regardless of who they are or where they were born. That feels like truth to me.
“Each one prays to God according to his own light.” –Mahatma Gandhi
“While I know myself as a creation of God, I am also obligated to realize and remember that everyone else and everything else are also God’s creation.” –Maya Angelou