Divine Mercy and People of Other Faiths

We are now in the midst of the Lenten preparation and "count-down" to Holy Week, Easter and Divine Mercy Sunday. Many of you write to me about your sincere concern at this time for an outpouring of God's mercy on family members who are lapsed Catholics, or upon friends who are still far from the Faith.

In particular, one of our readers, a woman named Ana Cardinale from Freehold, N.J., asked a question awhile back about the special graces of our Savior that might be available even to non-Catholics on Divine Mercy Sunday itself.

Ana wrote: "I have been devoted to the Divine Mercy devotion for years. I have a question regarding people of other faiths, other than Catholic. If this is a devotion based on God's merciful love to all peoples ... what should we say to Christians who are not Catholic [and cannot go to Confession and receive Holy Communion in the Catholic Church on Mercy Sunday]? Someone on-line mentioned that we should tell them to perform a spiritual communion. Is this adequate to receiving God's [extraordinary graces of] mercy on that special day?"

What about Divine Mercy and people of other faiths? It is, of course, a huge question, and it would take a whole book chapter to answer it properly and in-depth!

Suffice it to say, God's mercy always reaches out to non-Christians and non-Catholic Christians. To the former, He gives them the inner gift and "voice" of conscience to help guide them (Acts 17:22-28), and He manifests His beauty and power to them through the natural world around them (Rom 1:19-20).

To non-Catholic Christians, He also gives his Holy Word, the Bible, and the sacrament of Baptism. In fact, the Eastern Orthodox Christians, who have preserved the apostolic succession of bishops and the seven sacraments, have all the sacramental means of grace.

But to receive the fullness of the truth that God has revealed about Himself through Jesus Christ, and the fullness of the means of grace and spiritual healing that He wants to give to us, we have to go to receive that gift where He has willed to provide it for us: in the Catholic Church that He founded through His Son (in fact, that is what the Greek word "catholikos" really means: fullness, wholeness: the whole truth and all the means of grace for the whole world).

For non-Catholics, therefore, it is not possible to receive the full truth, and receive a full outpouring of God's grace outside of the Catholic Church, because those outside are not yet ready to accept the means by which our Lord generally gives that fullness of life to the world: the Catholic community of Faith.

Of course, this does not necessarily mean that all those outside the Church will be eternally lost! The Church teaches that those who, through no real fault of their own, do not know about the fullness of truth and grace available in the Catholic Church, or to whom Catholicism was poorly presented, can still be saved if they accept the truths that they do know, and cooperate with the graces that God gives them, such as those mentioned above (see Catechism entry 847).

But the questioner was asking about the extraordinary grace of Divine Mercy Sunday, the complete renewal of baptismal grace that we can receive from partaking of the Body and Blood of Jesus in Holy Eucharist, with trust in The Divine Mercy, on Divine Mercy Sunday itself (see Diary, 699). Other than the graces of Baptism, no more extraordinary fullness of grace can be received in this life.

So, can a non-Catholic receive all the graces promised for Divine Mercy Sunday? Well, God is sovereign, so He can pour out His graces into the heart of anyone, in any measure, at any time if He wills to do so. But in general, He wills to pour out the fullness of His grace upon the world through the Catholic Church, so that we will all be united in one Body and one flock (see Jn 10:16; 17:20-23; and I Cor. 10:16-17).

Thus, save for extraordinary cases (usually known only to God), the answer is "no" they cannot receive the extraordinary grace of a complete renewal of baptismal grace on Divine Mercy Sunday because that is a sacramental grace that comes through reception in a state of grace of Holy Communion, in and with His Catholic Church.

Of course, non-Christians can sincerely pray for an outpouring of God's merciful love on Divine Mercy Sunday. They can make a "spiritual communion" (the benefits of which, for a non-Catholic, are known only to God). And they can trust Him for His mercy on that day. Then, they will be open to receive whatever special graces and guidance our Lord wants to give to them.

But that is not quite the same thing as receiving the extraordinary grace of Mercy Sunday Communion, and I would guess that in most cases, one of the special graces our Lord will want to give them on that day, if they are open to receive it, is a sincere desire to draw nearer to His Church in its fullness, the Catholic Church.

This does not mean that all card-carrying Catholics (so to speak) are necessarily better people, or more grace-filled than all non-Catholics. We all know Catholics who refuse to learn, in depth, the truths of their Faith, who do not devoutly receive the sacraments, and who fail miserably to cooperate with God's grace to lead a virtuous life.

In the eyes of God, some non-Catholics (who have prayerfully and obediently accepted God's truth, such as they are able to discern it, and followed the promptings of His grace, to the extent they have access to it) are doubtless in a better spiritual state right now than these Catholics, who have every advantage of truth and grace, yet squander their spiritual inheritance!

But again, Divine Mercy generally can be received in its fullness only in the Body of the merciful Christ on earth, which, in its fullness, is the Catholic Church He founded. It is in and through this Church that He wants to unite us all in truth and love (see I Cor 12:12-31). That is one reason why, even though some non-Catholics surely do make it to heaven, only Catholics can be canonized as saints. And that is what our Lord earnestly desires everyone of us to be: saints of His Merciful Heart!

On Divine Mercy Sunday this year, let us pray more earnestly for the reunion of all Christians in the one Body of Christ, and for the grace as Catholics truly to live out our Faith in hope and love.

Robert Stackpole, STD, is director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy.

Got a question: e-mail me at questions@thedivinemercy.org.

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