How many ways are there to get to God?

Pope Francis

By Bruce Davis

There are two distinct cultures in the world today and Pope Francis is standing on the bridge between them. There is the historical culture of the Church with beliefs in  God and the devil.  The Church is battling for the hearts and minds of everyone, believers and nonbelievers alike. And there is modern secular culture which offers an intellectual view for our ills which includes therapy and forgiveness. Pope Francis is standing on the bridge between religion and psychology. Can he illuminate the truth in both?

The worlds of religion and psychology both have their self righteousness and certainty in their position. On the one hand, God exists. There is a soul, sin and eternity for each of us. And for the other, God’s existence is an unknown. What we know for sure is that we are psychological beings which explains violence in our world, the world we can do something about.

What Pope Francis represents is not so much the intellectual correctness of either world view, but a path for everyone to follow to find their own answers. What everyone is discovering is that Pope Francis is neither conservative or liberal, but something else. He is a mature psychological and spiritual being of our time, challenging us all. By choosing St. Francis of Assisi as his inspiration, Pope Francis has chosen the human saint who everyone of all religions and no religion can discover and enjoy.

Through the path of humility instead of self importance, love and forgiveness instead of judgment and control, St. Francis and Pope Francis show a path which takes the weeds out of our garden. The world of religion and psychology both have a selfishness and arrogance which is the root of much judgment and personal pain. Love of the heart whether we call it God or simple love opens and inspires. St. Francis offers a path to the great love. It is here that people find for themselves love, God, the power of forgiveness. It is in exploration of the heart of awareness that religion and psychology find their common ground. It is in his heart of awareness that Pope Francis is speaking, acting, laughing and crying with us all.

The heart of awareness is being found by many in the worlds of both psychology and religion through meditation. As a Jesuit, Pope Francis spent much time in silence and in the heart of reflection. As thought slows down and becomes less overwhelming, he discovered what is our heart essence.  The vastness of inner peace found in meditation is changing many in their views of life beyond our physical world, the life of work and accumulating possessions. The vast presence found in our heart is changing many in their views of what gives life meaning and how we find purpose.

The simple peace found in meditation is turning many to want more simple peace in their daily lives. This is the spirit of St. Francis alive and well today. It is this spirit, which Pope Francis calls upon as he tries to be the hands and feet, words and heart of a giving God.

The path of letting go of excessive thought and receiving our heart is making people of both cultures instruments of peace. Pope Francis is simply repeating the words of St. Francis, calling us to be instruments of service. It is through our service that the world of personal psychology discovers we are part of a global humanity. And it is through service, the world of religion discovers what we judge as sin in others is more often than not, good people in difficult circumstances needing our love.

Where we all meet is in awareness of our own conscience.  It is our conscience that modern education has too often left out of the classroom. And it is our conscience which tells believers of all kinds what it is to love our neighbor as ourselves. It is through silence, meditation and service that we discover the growth and clarity of our conscience. Pope Francis is reminding us of St. Francis and our potential of perfect joy.  In our complicated world he is showing us clear steps. Pope Francis is betting that the path of St. Francis will bridge the worlds between religion and psychology, bringing us together and more important bringing us to the truth of our unlimited heart.


Many in the Catholic Church believe there is a great symbiosis between the spiritual life and other efforts to find peace in life.

In “The Catholic Guide to Depression,” by Aaron Kheriaty, MD and Fr. John Cihak, STD, discuss in depth their experiences and conclusions from working with hundreds of people complaining of depression. They have concluded that all too often in our society today, folks neglect even to investigate if their depression or unhappiness has a root cause in their spirituality — in their relationship with God.

We recommend readers take a look at:

“The Catholic Guide to Depression”
By Aaron Kheriaty, MD and Fr. John Cihak, STD

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During an interview, Pope Benedict XVI was asked:

How many ways are there to God?

Pope Benedict XVI Responded:

As many ways as there are people. For even within the same faith each man’s way is an entirely personal one. In that respect there is ultimately one way, and everyone who is on the way to God is therefore in some sense also on the way to Jesus Christ. But this does not mean that all ways are identical in terms of conciousness and will but on the contrary, the one way is so big that it becomes a personal way for each man…Unity of mankind, unity of religions, unity of Christians – we ought to search for these unities again, so that a more positive epoch may really begin…In all religions there are men of interior purity who through their myths somehow touch the great mystery and find the right way of being human…The Christian can also find the secret working of God behind them. Through the other religions God touches man and brings him onto the path. But it is always the same God, the God of Jesus Christ…”

Pope Benedict XVI, Salt of the Earth, 1997 (when he was Cardinal Ratzinger Head of Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith)


Who Can Be saved? Pope Francis’ Answer – A Surprise?

On May 22, Pope Francis preached in the chapel of his residence at Domus Sanctae Marthae in the Vatican. He based his remarks on the gospel text of Mark 9:38-40. His homily set the media abuzz. There was a frenzy of reports claiming that Pope Francis has shown an unprecedented openness to non-Catholics. Something so unlike his predecessors. Commenting on the Scripture passage, the pope had said, “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! 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.”
With his engaging preaching style, the Holy Father affirmed that salvation is offered to those who do not share the Catholic faith and to atheists as well. This astonished many as something new. One commentator even made the uncomplimentary remark that “Francis’s reaching out to atheists and people who belong to no religion is a marked contrast to the attitude of former Pope Benedict” (cf. Reuters report By Philip Pullella). Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Pope Francis follows in good Catholic tradition in what he teaches. He does not depart from Pope Benedict XVI’s teaching or from that of any one of his predecessors who have occupied the Chair of Peter. He makes clear what the Church has consistently taught in various ways in different historical contexts.
Why, then, is there the desire on the part of some to take Pope Francis’ teaching as something novel? The answer lies in a misunderstanding of a fundamental truth of the Catholic faith. Or even, perhaps, in a rejection of it. And, what is this fundamental truth? It is this: the Church is the instrument and sign of salvation for all.
Christ is the one Mediator between God and us. Christ is the one Redeemer. By his Paschal Mystery, that is, his Death and Resurrection, he redeems all people of every time and place. All who are saved are saved because Jesus gave himself as a “ransom for all” (1 Tim 2:5).
There is an essential relationship between Christ as Savior and the Church as the instrument of salvation for all. “The Lord Jesus, the only Savior, did not only establish a simple community of disciples, but constituted the Church as a salvific mystery: he himself is in the Church and the Church is in him (cf. Jn 15:1ff.; Gal 3:28; Eph 4:15-16; Acts 9:5). Therefore, the fullness of Christ’s salvific mystery belongs also to the Church, inseparably united to her Lord” (Dominus Jesus, 16).
Christ is now present to us in His Body, which is the Church, as the one Mediator and the unique way of salvation. “Thus, the Church, which Christ himself founded, is necessary for salvation (cf. Lumen Gentium, 2:14). All grace comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 846). This is a truth that many simply do not accept. They fear that accepting this truth excludes non-Catholics from the possibility of salvation.
But, this truth, that all grace, all salvation, comes from Christ, whose Body is the Church, needs to be seen together with another truth of the Catholic faith. Yes, God has made the Church the very instrument to bring all people into relationship with the Paschal Mystery. However, God accomplishes this in mysterious ways.
As Vatican II taught, “All this holds true not only for Christians, but for all men of good will in whose hearts grace works in an unseen way. For, since Christ died for all men, and since the ultimate vocation of man is in fact one, and divine, we ought to believe that the Holy Spirit in a manner known only to God offers to every man the possibility of being associated with this Paschal Mystery” (Gaudium et Spes, 22).
Following the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, Dominus Jesus, a declaration on the unicity and salvific universality of Jesus Christ and the Church, clearly affirmed that God’s saving grace is offered to all people (n.20). The declaration also said, that just as there is one Christ, so there exists a single body of Christ, a single Bride of Christ: “a single Catholic and apostolic Church” (Dominus Jesus, 16). Many took offense at this second statement of Catholic faith. And, since Pope Benedict XVI, the then Cardinal Ratzinger, was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which issued the declaration, they judge him to be close-minded and not open to salvation for the non-Catholics. But they are emphatically misguided in their opinion.
In 1997, before being elected pope, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Congregation on the Doctrine of the Faith, gave a full-length interview to secular journalist Peter Seewald. Questioned on a variety of thorny and controversial issues facing Catholicism, Cardinal Ratzinger spoke with candor and profound theological insight. Peter Seewald asked him, “How many ways are there to God?” Cardinal Ratzinger replied, “As many as there are people. For, even within the same faith, each man’s way is an entirely personal one. We have Christ’s word: I am the way. In that respect, there is ultimately one way, and, everyone who is on the way to God is therefore in some sense also on the way of Jesus Christ. But this does not mean that all ways are identical in terms of consciousness and will, but, on the contrary, the one way is so big that it becomes a personal way for each man” (Salt of the Earth, p.32).
After Cardinal Ratzinger was elected as Pope Benedict XVI, he continued the same teaching. In his general Wednesday audience on Nov. 30, 2005, Pope Benedict XVI offered a meditation on St. Augustine’s commentary on Psalm 137. This psalm dramatically depicts the suffering of the Jewish people during the Babylonian Exile. The pope noted that St. Augustine was very timely in what he taught. Augustine recognized that, among the inhabitants of Babylon, there were non-believers who were committed to peace and the good of the community. These individuals were open to the transcendent. They were open to God. Pope Benedict taught that whoever seeks peace and the good of the community with a pure conscience, and keeps alive the desire for the transcendent, can be saved, even if that person, through no fault of his or her own, lacks biblical faith.
Both Pope Francis and Pope Benedict XVI are on the same page when it comes to the truth of the Catholic faith. Both hold to the Church’s consistent faith that Jesus is the one Savior of all and the Church is His instrument of salvation. Both also affirm the possibility of salvation for all. To Pope Benedict, we are indebted for his theological explanation of these truths. To Pope Francis, for his pastoral reminder of their importance in the lives of us all. Each has given witness to the truth, articulating the faith with conviction. And their witness to truth is a gift of charity to all.
Pope Francis, May 22, 2013, St. Peter’s Square, General Audience:



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