When Pope Benedict reaffirmed that there is no salvation outside the Church it was seen as a step backward in inter-religious dialogue. “Once again” the only people with a chance in hell of seeing heaven were confirmed Roman Catholics and those Catholics did not like explaining the situation to their evangelical and protestant friends. The teaching was not anything new but it did give many people the opportunity to study the Catholic position on salvation, which many of us promptly forgot to do.
It didn’t occur to me until I was eating the Big Bell Box Meal from Taco Bell after spending the weekend eating my aunt’s Mexican food that we all accept this salvation conundrum every day without blinking. My aunt Gloria cooks her Mexican food with a flair that no cookbook can contain. She learned her culinary skills from her mother through experience and oral tradition. Sure, recipes have been written down, but everyone will attest that they usually lack the full Sonoran flavor that only the cook can provide. In this sense, our family’s Mexican food is like the Kingdom on earth (or at least the Wedding Feast).
So after experiencing the fullness in my aunt’s cooking you might expect I’d be really down on places like Taco Bell. However, this is not the case. I like Taco Bell with their Mexican Pizzas, sloppy tostadas, and their ability to refashion three ingredients into a full menu. Taco Bell was founded by Glen Bell presumably because he tasted a taco and saw that it was good. Tacos were not in his cultural tradition but he did the best that he could out there on his own. Even though I’ve eaten the finest Mexican food and am not fooled by the little Chihuahua, I still accept Taco Bell as Mexican food because it shares the most essential qualities of authentic Mexican food: beans, rice and tortillas.
There are some “Mexican” restaurants that have my utter wrath. These restaurants seem to flourish in Colorado. They are presented as authentic and are sometimes even ethnic-run, but they have completely abandoned their roots. The foremost of these apostate restaurants is a well known tourist attraction in Denver called Casa Bonita. This particular menu features American-cheese enchiladas… yum. People will be very frank though and admit they don’t go for the substance, they go for the show. Lights, music, and cliff diving makes the bland food palatable, but to be called Mexican is anathema.
What about my mother’s meatballs, you say, do you consider them anathema as well? It is a pity you aren’t Hispanic, but it is through no fault of your own and your fine foods still have value. 1 Timothy says, “[God] desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth”. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that, “God wills the salvation of everyone through the knowledge of the truth. Salvation is found in the truth (851).” In other words, in so much as your beliefs and practices (or chimichangas) contain the truth, you are already a part of the Kingdom in the same degree. The flip side of this message is that those who know the truth have an obligation to share it with those who don’t. Maybe it’s time for my Aunt Gloria to open a restaurant.