Today's first reading raises a very difficult theological question.
It opens with the God, through the prophet Isaiah, addressing a king.
Thus says the LORD to his anointed, Cyrus, whose right hand I grasp, subduing nations before him, and making kings run in his service, opening doors before him and leaving the gates unbarred
This may not strike you as strange until you realize that Cyrus is not a Jew. Cyrus is a Persian (modern day Iran). He is Cyrus the Great who was the father of the Persian Empire, and there is no evidence that he practiced any religion at all. He was a pagan in the truest sense. So how could he be the Lord's anointed? The simple answer is that God is God and can anoint whomever he pleases.
There is a caricature of the Catholic Church that even some Catholics continue to spread. It goes something like this:
Catholics believe that the only people who will be saved are those who are baptized Catholics in good standing.
What we believe is that baptism is the one sure way to salvation. In the words of the catechism,
Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament.
As for the rest, it goes on to say,
God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments.
God cannot be bound.
King Cyrus was a pagan but that does not mean he was devoid of any goodness or virtue. He was a man who believed in religious liberty for his subjects and enabled the people of Israel to return and rebuild their temple. God is able to touch the heart of this pagan king and use the good that is in him for the benefit of the people of Israel.
The Church’s bond with non-Christian religions is in the first place the common origin and end of the human race
We are all created in the image and likeness of God, and we are created for eternal life with God. We see whatever is good or true in any religion or in the person with no religious believe as "preparation for the Gospel," a foundation on which to build.
The story of King Cyrus reminds us that this is not something new cooked up by Vatican II, or even something new in the Gospels. God has always behaved this way. He created us good, and no matter how broken, some of that goodness remains. Even in the terrorists in groups like ISIL there is some goodness, some spark of humanity, that can be transformed by God's grace.
Closer to home, as week go through this week, each time we get the urge to criticize some, let us stop and begin by acknowledging the good, the true, the holy.