I've been having a few conversations with my protestant friends recently, and I'm getting the same question by each of them. We have a really great discussion, and I feel like they are finally starting to come around to some of the Catholic positions, then they ask me, "Do I have to be Catholic to go to Heaven." From my study of the Catechism, I know that the answer is conditionally no, but I don't know how best to explain that teaching to them with out them losing any sense of urgency. Last few conversations, I've said no, and the response I got was, "well I don't feel called to be Catholic right now." Is there a better way that I can respond to that question?I think there are a couple of ways to beef up that sense of urgency.
First of all, if you have shared the truths of the Church with them and they have even come to accept some of these truths, then this is cause to question just how "invincibly ignorant" they are. In other words, they may now be culpable or worthy of being held accountable for not joining the Church. I say "may" because only the individual person and God know with certainty how responsible a person is for rejecting the Church. There is also the matter of what exactly a person must know before he can be considered culpable. But, you can still use this argument to impress upon them the gravity of the situation they are in. Perhaps you could say something like this:
"I have shared a great deal, if not all, of the truths of the Church with you, and you even believe many of them. You need to make sure that you respond to these truths in a way that would be pleasing to God. You need to take a hard look at whether or not God is asking you to join the Church that he founded in order to safeguard these truths."Secondly, you need to point out that, while the Church acknowledges that non-Catholic Christians and even non-Christians may be saved, she also holds that such salvation is hardly certain, and it becomes less and less certain the farther one is removed from the Catholic Church.
Essentially, the Catholic Church is the normative, surest, and most effective means of salvation for mankind. Other Christian denominations and non-Christians religions may share some truths with the Church, but they also suffer from various deprivations and errors, and these imperfections make the road of salvation for their adherents more and more precarious. If you had a choice between a road that will definitely get you to your destination and a road that might get you there, which one would you choose? The choice is easy, and your audience needs to know that it is this choice that is at stake.
I think those two points add a greater sense of gravity and urgency to the decision they are making when they say, "I don't feel called to be a Catholic right now." As an aside, in a debate like this, you want to always make sure that your audience knows that you are not advocating syncretism (that all paths to God are equally valid) or the idea that anyone can be saved without the work of Jesus Christ. It may be unclear how a Buddhist, for example, is saved by Jesus Christ without any knowledge of Him, but I plan on addressing this issue in a later post.