Tag Archives: salvation

The Cross: Our hope for forgiveness and salvation

July 22, 2016

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crucifixion

On the day that we die, we want to go to heaven to be with God, the angels and saints, and our loved ones who have gone before us, to live for all eternity in peace and joy, but there is one enormous obstacle to our admittance to heaven:  our sins.

No one is worthy to go to heaven on their own merit.  It is impossible to do enough good works or earn enough graces to pay the price of admission.  The price is too high.  It is beyond us.

St. Paul explains that there is a “bond against us, with its legal claims” (Col 2:14).  The bond is like an indictment handed down by a grand jury or a criminal complaint filed by the county attorney that accuses a person of specific crimes that have been committed.  Spiritually, “the bond against us” is filed by God, and it is a list of all of our sins, our transgressions against “The Law,” either the Mosaic Law and the commandments or the Law of Love and Jesus’ gospel teachings.  The law has legal claims.  We are expected to obey, to live a good and holy life, and if we fail to comply, our violations have dire consequences; we could be barred from heaven and doomed to eternal punishment.

In Roman times “the bond” was nailed to the cross.  When a criminal was sentenced to death by crucifixion, not only were the criminal’s hands and feet nailed to the wood, but a list of the criminal’s crimes were written in large letters in ink on a piece of papyrus and nailed to the cross, posted in plain sight for everyone to read (see Jn 19:19).  Not only was the person’s naked body exposed, so were their crimes.

If we are honest with ourselves, we must humbly admit that “the bond against us” is long.  We have committed many sins over our lifetime.  God has a written criminal complaint against us.  It is humbling, embarrassing.  We are terrified at the prospect.  On Judgment Day God has every right to condemn us and post the list, but God has no desire whatsoever to condemn us.

God so loves the world that he sent his only begotten son Jesus that we might have eternal life (Jn 3:16).  Jesus humbled himself and became obedient to death on the cross (Phil 2:8), and by the price he paid, Jesus has gained our redemption and salvation.  It was on the Cross with the blood he shed and the life he laid down that our sins have been wiped away.

Jesus obliterated our bond that was nailed to the cross (Col 2:14).  The ink on ancient papyrus did not sink into the fabric like modern ink binds to the paper.  The ink laid on the surface, and because papyrus was so expensive it was often reused after the ink had been wiped clean.  Jesus obliterated our sins on his triumphant Cross.  He wiped our list of sins clean, never to be seen again, entirely forgotten, completely absolved.  In the Cross is our salvation!

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Grace vs. Karma

January 18, 2012

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Photo/comedy_nose Licensed under Creative Commons

When things happen unexpectedly, it’s fashionable these days to chalk it up to Karma.

The basic idea is that you reap what you sow. There are different definitions of Karma but many Buddhists believe that nothing happens to a person that they don’t for some reason deserve. Not everything is attributed to Karma but it means you eventually feel the effect of what you’ve done in this life or even a previous life.

I don’t have any doubt that we reap what we sow. Often enough I see the consequences of my good, bad and just plain stupid actions. But Christians don’t consider finding a choice parking spot payback for a good deed done in a past life. We believe all things except sin happen through God’s grace.

Grace: God’s free gift

The Catechism defines grace as free and undeserved help from God to respond to His call to become His adoptive children, partakers of divine nature and eternal life. Grace is a participation in God’s life, an introduction into the intimacy of Trinitarian life. (CCC: 1996-1997)

Besides the fact that it’s a free gift that we don’t deserve, grace is veiled in mystery. What we know about it comes from the way it operates in the soul. The Catechism says it belongs to the supernatural order, and that it escapes our experience and can’t be known except by faith. (CCC:2005)

Knowing this about grace, St. Joan of Arc’s accusers tried to trap her: “Asked if she knew that she was in God’s grace, she replied: ‘If I am not, may it please God to put me in it; if I am, may it please God to keep me there.'”

Whether we can sense it or not, we need grace for our spiritual life as much as we need oxygen to live. The grace of Christ is infused by the Holy Spirit into our soul to heal it and sanctify it. The Catechism identifies two types of grace:

  • Sanctifying Grace: Received at baptism. “…a stable and supernatural disposition that perfects the soul itself to enable it to live with God, to act by His love.”
  • Actual Grace: God’s interventions, whether at the beginning of conversion or in the course of the work of sanctification. (CCC:2000)

Effects of Grace

Besides salvation and eternal life, the effects of grace  include faith, holiness, contrition, chastity, the building up of the Church, forgiveness of sins, virtues and gifts of the Holy Spirit.

God initiates with grace which “precedes, prepares and elicits” our free response. He gives us the grace to welcome His revelation in faith. The New Law, which is the perfection of the divine law and Christ’s work expressed in the Sermon on the Mount, is the grace of the Holy Spirit given to the faithful through faith in Christ. It is a law of love and freedom–and also of grace because it gives the strength of grace to act by means of faith and the sacraments. (CCC: 35, 1972, 2022)

In other words, grace is a gift but we have to make the effort to receive it. For example, contemplative prayer is a grace received in poverty and humility–a combination of grace and determined response. If we commit grave sin and lose our baptismal grace, we can ask God to help us recover the grace of sanctification by confessing our sins in the sacrament of reconciliation.

While Karma says we get what we deserve, God responds to our sorrow for mistakes by giving us more grace. According to St. Paul: “Where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more.” (Rom. 5:20)

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How do we get to heaven?

August 20, 2011

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Heaven?

Tackling this question is a little like trying to transfer the ocean into a small hole on the beach, to borrow an image from St. Augustine.

As Catholics we believe we reach heaven through God’s grace but also that we have to cooperate with that grace.  St. Paul writes that we “work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling.” (Phil. 2:12)  This and other scriptures are interpreted differently, depending on who’s taking up the question.  My goal with this post is simply to present very basic Catholic teaching on the subject.

Getting to heaven is about grace, which we can’t earn and which comes from the love and mercy of God. According to the Catechism, “The grace of the Holy Spirit has the power to justify us, that is, to cleanse us from our sins and to communicate to us ‘the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ’ and through Baptism.” (CCC 1987)

Grace makes salvation from sin possible because we believe in God’s revelation and promises, fear God’s judgment, hope in His mercy, trust that God will be merciful to us for Christ’s sake, begin to love God as the source of justice and detest our sins.

The grace to respond

We do have to do something, though. The Catechism says we must give our free response to the gift of grace, even though we need grace just to respond, as the Council of Trent concluded:

“…whereby, without any merits existing on their parts, they are called; that so they, who by sins were alienated from God, may be disposed through His quickening and assisting grace, to convert themselves to their own justification, by freely assenting to and co-operating with that said grace: in such sort that, while God touches the heart of man by the illumination of the Holy Ghost, neither is man himself utterly without doing anything while he receives that inspiration, forasmuch as he is also able to reject it; yet is he not able, by his own free will, without the grace of God, to move himself unto justice in His sight.”

Along with making a response to grace through faith, Scripture tells us that in order to be saved, we must be baptized (Mk. 16:16), we must receive Christ’s true body and blood (John 6:54) and we must obey the commandments (Matt. 19:17 The sacraments are visible assurances that God is providing us with the grace to keep going.

Our call as Christians is to the “fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity. All are called to holiness: ‘Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’” (CCC 2013)

Becoming holy

In short, we have to work at becoming holy. The good works that spring from God’s grace are evidence that we’re cooperating with that grace. Faith alone won’t save us; we have to persevere in doing good, as Christ said in his description of final judgment in Matt. 25:31-46.  In this parable, he calls us to charity: “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”

St. Augustine sums it up well:

Indeed we also work, but we are only collaborating with God who works, for His mercy has gone before us. It has gone before us so that we may be healed, and follows us so that once healed, we may be given life; it goes before us so that we may be called, and follows us so that we may be glorified; it goes before us so that we may live devoutly, and follows us so that we may always live with God: for without Him we can do nothing. (CCC 2001)

As far as I can tell, there is no stairway to heaven—nor is there an escalator. The Catholic Church teaches that we get there by God’s grace, as well as by the works we do through that grace. Established by Christ, she is our best guide.

Salvation comes from God alone; but because we receive the life of faith through the Church, she is our mother: “We believe the Church as the mother of our new birth, and not in the Church as if she were the author of our salvation. Because she is our mother, she is also our teacher in the faith.” (CCC 169)

 

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What does the Church teach about suicide?

May 21, 2011

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When Ántonia’s father kills himself in Willa Cather’s novel My Ántonia, his body can’t be buried in either the Catholic or Protestant cemeteries. Feeling the stigma of suicide, the gentleman’s family puts his remains to rest on their Nebraska farm while a neighbor offers a merciful prayer.

Suicide is no longer viewed the way it was in the late 1800s but the question remains of how the Church views this tragic action and what happens to the soul of a person who ends their life.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, cooperating voluntarily in suicide is contrary to the moral law. (CCC2282)

Suicide “contradicts the natural inclination of the human being to preserve and perpetuate his life. It is gravely contrary to the just love of self. It likewise offends love of neighbor because it unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation, and other human societies to which we continue to have obligations. Suicide is contrary to love for the living God.” (CCC2281)

Objectively suicide is against the commandments, and justice, hope and charity, said Father James Livingston, a chaplain at North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale, Minnesota, who offers spiritual assistance to persons who have attempted suicide. “There is something counteracting the rational inclination to live, something contrary to hope that suicide speaks to.”

When someone commits suicide to set an example, especially to youth, the Catechism states, “it also takes on the gravity of scandal.” (CCC2282)

However, a suicide victim’s behavior may look wrong objectively, but it’s not possible to know what’s going on in their mind, he said. “It’s not something somebody chooses.”

Clinically, suicide involves major mental illness, Father Livingston said, adding that 70 percent of those who attempt or commit suicide suffer from depression. Oftentimes, they feel hopeless and helpless, and die emotionally before they die physically, he said.

Suicide victims lack the resiliency skills to overcome their problems, Father Livingston said. They don’t have full freedom in their lives when stress is factored in—their emotions take away their sense of freedom.

The Church takes into account the state of mind of those involved in suicide. “Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide.” (CCC2282)

Rather than deliberately intending to end their lives, some may attempt suicide or engage in parasuicidal behaviors such as cutting, to get help, Father Livingston said.

Because we don’t know a suicide victim’s thoughts, we can’t speculate on the state of their soul after death, he said. “The interesting question for us as Catholics is, where does the soul go? We don’t know.”

Unlike in the past, the current tendency is to err on the side of mercy, Father Livingston said. The Catechism offers hope:

“We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives.” (CCC2283)

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