+ The Introit of this Mass sings, using St Paul’s words in the letter to the Philippians (2:11), thus:
“At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Coming in the wake of the feast of Christmas, these sentiments are affirming, reassuring even: God made man in Christ is to be confessed as Lord by every tongue. Every knee is to bend in worship before Him, as shall those of the Magi at the Epiphany.
In the Epistle of this Mass St Peter teaches that “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men [other than that of Jesus Christ] by which we must be saved.” That is to say, salvation from sin and eternal death, and entrance into eternal life, comes through Jesus Christ. Faith in Him is necessary for salvation (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 846).
This truth revealed by Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, taught by St Peter and faithfully upheld by all his successors worthy of the high office that has been entrusted to them, is the whole and entire point of Christmas. God did not become man in Jesus Christ to add another religious dimension to the world, or to provide a supposedly other alternative way of access to Him. God became man (and He suffered and died) so that we might live. God became man so that we might have the opportunity not to die eternally because of our sins, through the merits of the suffering of Christ upon the cross. Nothing less.
Hence, in confessing Jesus Christ as Lord and in bending our knees before Him we are affirming that salvation for all human persons created since the beginning of the world, and for all those who shall live until the world’s end, comes through Jesus Christ, and not in any other way.
Yes, we may hope that, in God’s sublime mercy those who through no fault of their own are truly ignorant of the Gospel may come to the necessary faith without which salvation is impossible, but we may by no means presume this. Indeed, the very sentence in which the Second Vatican Council (Ad Gentes, 7) and the Catechism of the Catholic Church (848) teach this continues: “the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men.”
Certainly, we must respect the freedom of conscience of those who do not follow Jesus Christ, as He himself did (cf. Jn 6:66). And we should recognise that which is good outside the Church, even if it is partial and itself comes from the One True God through Jesus Christ.
But it is our God-given baptismal vocation and duty to inform consciences of the fulness of the Truth that is Jesus Christ by the witness of integral Christian lives and through active evangelisation. The Gospel is good news, even – especially! – for those who have already dismissed it, let alone for those who have never heard it. For if we are silent or allow ourselves to be lured into the worship of the god of syncretism, or sacrifice the Truth on the altar of relativism, men and women whom we know and love and encounter in the course of our lives and work may not be saved. They may end up in hell for all eternity, as may we should we knowingly and willingly ignore our duty to witness to the truth that there is no other path to salvation than Jesus Christ.
The exclusive claims of the truth are awkward, if not embarrassing, in our relativistic world. Even the Church in our times hesitates far too often, to the utter and possibly eternal shame of her shepherds, in announcing them with clarity and without fear in our world so darkened by confusion and sin. St Peter had been arrested when he proclaimed that there is salvation in no one other than Jesus Christ. St Paul, who had persecuted those who believed just this, became its greatest apostle. Both shed their blood rather than renounce He Who is Truth incarnate.
In this new year of Our Lord 2022 we must renew our resolve to be faithful witnesses to the truth that Salvation comes through faith in Jesus Christ. God in His Providence shall give us the strength and the means so to do in the different circumstances in which He places us. But we must be willing, indeed ready so to do.
That we, and the pastors of the One True Church of Jesus Christ, shall have the necessary courage, let us pray earnestly as we invoke the name of our Saviour in this Holy Mass. Sts Peter and Paul: pray for us! +