The Homily in Question
On Wednesday, Pope Francis gave a homily based on the Gospel reading of the day (Mark 9:38-40), in which the disciples have told a man to stop casting out demons in Jesus’ name because he doesn’t follow along with them.
Then, according to Vatican Radio’s maddeningly incomplete and poorly edited transcript of the homily:
The disciples, Pope Francis explains, “were a little intolerant,” closed off by the idea of possessing the truth, convinced that “those who do not have the truth, cannot do good.”
“This was wrong . . . Jesus broadens the horizon.” Pope Francis said, “The root of this possibility of doing good – that we all have – is in creation.”
Pope Francis first applies this principle to non-Catholics in general, engaging in dialogue with an imaginary interlocutor:
“‘But, Father, this [person] is not Catholic! He cannot do good.’ Yes, he can. He must. Not can: must! Because he has this commandment within him. . . .
“Instead,” the Pope continued, “the Lord has created us in His image and likeness, and has given us this commandment in the depths of our heart: do good and do not do evil”:
“The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone!
So far so good: Christ redeemed all of us, making it possible for every human to be saved.
What About Atheists?
Now we get to the subject of atheists, as the imaginary interlocutor asks:
“‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all! And we all have a duty to do good.”
Here is where “the usual process” might be helpful in clarifying the pope’s thought. Everyone, when speaking off-the-cuff, encounters occasions where things could be further clarified, and this may be one of them.
We can be called children of God in several senses. One of them is merely be being created as rational beings made in God’s image. Another is by becoming Christian. Another sense (used in the Old Testament) is connected with righteous behavior. And there can be other senses as well.
Here Pope Francis may be envisioning a sense in which we can be called children of God because Christ redeemed us, even apart from embracing that redemption by becoming Christian.
This, however, was not what caught the press’s eye.
Pope Francis continued:
“And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: we need that so much. We must meet one another doing good.”