Friday, November 20, 2015

Advent: What Are We Waiting For?

Even before Halloween, how many of you were growing anxious about Christmas? Let's be honest, with so much emphasis being placed on holiday sales ad the professional football training necessary to successfully beat out competing shoppers, even before Thanksgiving, it can be easy to overlook the importance of the coming season of Advent. At the heart of the spirit of Advent is the importance of preparation, but preparation for what? At the risk of over-simplifying, we are preparing for a child. Of course, we know that Jesus was not just any child, but other than a few cryptic comments from the angel Gabriel and high priest, Simeon, even the Blessed Mother knew very little more of what was to come. Yet, she trusted in the Lord, and the world was awarded with abundant grace.

Prepare the Way

Four years ago, I was an expectant mother during Advent, and I can remember especially appreciating the importance of the Advent season. I found myself also preparing for a child in many ways, carefully choosing holy godparents, collecting and washing clothes, cleaning the house, and generally preparing a welcoming home for the newest member of our family. As a Catholic, I cannot help but notice the parallels between the realities of modern life and the mysteries of our faith. As Christmas approaches, we will all find ourselves cleaning, decorating, and preparing our homes, and of course, we should be doing that. It is an important part of hospitality, whether in anticipation of family and friends or a new addition to the family. It is equally important then, that we remember to spend advent preparing our hearts to receive Christ, our friend, our brother, a new baby, and most importantly, the Almighty God.

Garbage In, Garbage Out

Just as I am constantly imploring our children to clean their rooms, especially of all of the papers, old toys, and general garbage, I am reminded that my own soul could use a good swift purging of spiritual "garbage" that naturally accumulates over time. This means not only a meaningful visit to the confessional, followed by a commitment to regular confession, but also daily efforts to actively live out my new commitment to do what is right and turn from what causes us to sin. I am sure many of us would admit that we tend to commit the same offenses, but trying to fix all of our failures often leads to discouragement and more failure. Just as I try to help my children divide their cleaning into smaller jobs (clothes, garbage, toys), we as adults can experience greater peace by choosing one or two areas to improve, so our fallen nature does not seem quite so  overwhelming, "For with God, nothing will be impossible" (Lk 1:37 RSV).

The Reason for the Season

The word "advent" comes from the Latin ad venire, which means "to come" or in the related term, adventus, "arrival". We know from the prophet Jeremiah to expect the coming of the king,

Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring forth for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: "The LORD is our righteousness" (Jer 33:14-16).

As the Divine Son approaches, a clean heart and home are important, but our family preparation also includes some measures to save money because, it is no secret that having children is not cheap. After all, in addition to the normal expenses, there are also gifts for what seems like a small village, so though we are a mere small spectacle compared to other larger families, it is far from being inexpensive by any measure. Born into a profound poverty, our Advent guest has needs, but not the material items we seek. As King of Creation, our Lord needs nothing, but also as our human brother, he needs our hands to care for His people. Our family tries to look for small practical ways to help, and we experienced a wonderful blessing when we chose one season to give up dining out. Not only did we save money, but we were also able to use some of that savings to shop for local food banks, which, as we so often hear, are in greater need than ever at this time of year.

The Greatest Gift of All

There is also something beautiful in setting up a family Nativity and encouraging children (and parents) to do extra chores or save a little extra money to offer to Mary in preparation for the coming of her child. We can prepare a home for Him, who was born into such poverty, and use those small sacrifices to prepare an Advent home that inspires us to love and care for those who live with Him in their own poverty. It is these small preparations that also help us to remember that when we celebrate Jesus' birth beginning with Christmas, and that Advent is a time of preparation, both of heart and home, for the Christ child. Learning the importance of the gift of love is one hat lasts beyond Advent and Christmas because it teaches us the importance of learning that work, and even suffering, and experience not unknown in families, is a sacrifice when united with love.

As a wife and mother, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by each day without giving thought to my own spiritual life, but supporting my children's spiritual lives requires my own spiritual health to be in good shape first. It is rarely easy, but preparing for both the new calendar and liturgical years, and even a new child, should not intimidate us when we model our lives after St. Therese of Liseux, whose life was filled with the grace of doing "little things with great love" Filling Advent with small acts of faith, hope, and charity can not only inspire great love and dedication in our children, but it can help us to prepare our own hearts to receive the Lord Jesus this Christmas, and what heart does not need the joy and hope found in the face of a newborn baby?

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

"That Which We Are, We Are"

This is really no more personal than anything else I've posted, but it does not necessarily rise to the level of theological thought that I normally prefer. I do think we've all had such a moment, and I'd like to think that some perspective might even help one other person, and if that has been true in anything, whatever comes of a situation, I'd happily take that on for someone.

I love outdoor activities- hiking, biking, climbing, running, kayaking, horseback riding- the whole bit. In Colorado, I think they issue you several different pairs of shoes for each activity as a sort of kit when you're born. Anyhow, I've had an on-going problem with my knee that has kept me from some of these things, all of them at some points, and it's been very difficult to accept. After months of physical therapy, I have an appointment to see a orthopedic surgeon to find out what is really going on, and what my options really are. I've been very nervous about this because either, I get an answer that says it can be solved by a quick and fairly non-invasive surgery, or I get an answer that says it's not necessary because there's no damage, and more therapy is the best way going forward. Either answer is good, and either answer is not my preference. Either way, my anxiety about the whole thing caught up with me, and I wasn't sure what to do.

That's the moment I saw this, my son's religion (and handwriting) homework from school:

It was one of those providential moments when you can't help but stop and meditate, savor the beauty of God's love, whatever the situation. In that moment, it occurred to me that, in any case, nothing can actually cause me to cease be-ing myself; I am myself. The outcome may mean I express that differently, and that may mean I have to abandon some of my old interests, but I've seen worse things from which people came back to a perfectly normal life. We can only wait and see. In the meantime, I was also reminded of two other wise words, one even inspired, which shed light on moments like these. The first was actually something I had heard and loved years ago, but which was sent to me by a friend only yesterday in a moment of levity,

It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Though much is taken, much abides; and though 
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

"Ulysses", Lord Alfred Tennyson

Whatever we do not die to, release from our grasp, give up to sacrifice, we will never receive in return. Rather, it will be stolen away from us, taken, and given to "the one who has much."
What I do not know is what will happen today; what I do know is that I am known today, and that is enough for today.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?
Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine,
or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?
As it is written, "For thy sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered."
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
For I am sure that neither death, nor life, not angels, nor principalities,
nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,
nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation,
will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:35-39

So we cannot know what any day will bring, nor can we know if we will live to see that day. What we can know is that there is nothing so insurmountable that we cannot conquer it with love, both for those who can benefit from our wisdom and even misfortune, but also for God Himself, who gently accepts our sufferings, anxieties, and sacrifices to be united with Christ's own Passion, giving them a sanctifying power, which cannot be taken away, "Be still and know that I am God" (Ps 46:10a).

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

What does the Eucharist have to do with Christian persecution? Everything.

Just over a week ago, the Jewish community throughout the world observed Yom HaShoah, the day that commemorates and remembers the terrible experience of the Holocaust. The full name is really Yom HaZikaron la Shoah ve-laG'vurah, which is "Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day". I realize that title, for most, is a factual statement of what happened during World War II to the Jewish people primarily, as well as to many others deemed "unfit" by the Nazi regime. When I see the Hebrew name, however, something calls out as more than just a date on the calendar to remember a horrific event. This word, zikaron, likely means nothing to most Christians, but it is at the center of our lives...especially now. As Divine Providence would have it, I wrote my master's thesis on the root word, zkr or zakar (once you add a couple of vowels) and its impact on community identity. Sounds boring, but hear me out. This word, zakar is more than just "memory"; it implies a lived experience of what is being remembered. For example, I sometimes need to remember my shopping list, and since I don't, I have to write it down. This is not the same as this idea of remembrance. Why? A shopping list is not an event, but rather, it's just some facts I need, so this would be more aptly described as recollection than remembering. It seems like splitting hairs, but if you look at the difference in the context of say, the Exodus, the difference is less splitting hairs than splitting the sun from the sky.

"You shall observe this rite as an eternal ordinance for you and for your sons forever."
Most of us know the Exodus story: the Israelites in Egypt had become slaves to Pharaoh, so God sends Moses to Pharaoh, "Let my people go," then the plagues, the Israelites leave, pass through the Red Sea, Pharaoh follows, and his armies are destroyed to show God's saving power and judgments against those who rebel against Him. Excellent. Now, there's that small issue between these last two of the Passover meal. This is actually no small matter. This meal is of incomparable importance to the Jewish people. Why? The answer lies in a simple phrase we've all heard, and some have even learned when the Decalogue (Ten Commandments) were studied, "I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt." Note: I have not referenced the Scripture passage here, as I usually do, and with good reason. This phrasing appears not only in Exodus, but in Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Those are all reasonable, you say, because they're during the time of Moses. Yes, but the same words are found again in 1 Kings 12:28, 2 Kings 17:36, Nehemiah 9:18, and Psalm 81:10. These were certainly later, yet, the phrasing is still the same, "I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt." You. Did these people physically come out of Egypt? No, but this "remembrance" is not recollection; it is a living out of the original event, as though those who celebrate it are experiencing it at the original event. Why were they, as God's chosen people, allowed to suffer under the yoke of slavery? So that the power of God may be known:
And [Joshua] said to the people of Israel, "When your children ask their fathers in time to come, 'What do these stones mean?' then you shall let your children know, 'Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.' For the LORD your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the LORD your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the LORD is mighty; that you may fear the LORD your God for ever" (Jos 4:21-24).

"Do this in remembrance of me"
So if I were to say to you, "This is my Body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me" (Luke 22:19), do you now see what is meant here, when we say that the Eucharist we celebrate is a re-presentation of the Last Supper, as well as His Death and Resurrection? We are, in fact, present in the Upper Room and at the foot of the Cross. This sacrifice of Christ, which was at a particular moment in our linear time has eternal consequences for everyone because it was done "once for all", but this once was not only for all at that time, but also for we who are in the future, and for those who came before but had not seen the glory of the Messiah (Rom 6:10, Heb 7:27). Frankly, it seems like St. Paul is beating a dead horse, but it's that important. Christ's sacrifice is outside of linear time, available to all who cooperate with the Holy Spirit to accept the graces that flow from His side.

Unfortunately, many of today's Christians, and sadly, many Catholics among them, no longer believe in the Real Presence, no longer believe that Christ gives us His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity under the forms of bread and wine. A 2010 poll by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion and Public life found that only 55% of Catholics believe that Christ is substantially present in the Eucharist, leaving 41% believing that the bread and wine are only symbols, and 3% are not even aware of the Church's teaching. That's right, just over half of Catholics believe that we are receiving the Body and Blood of our Lord in the Eucharist. It's a startling revelation and a telling statistic of the effect modernism and Enlightenment and Reformation thought have had on members of the Church. This is not to say that there haven't been some benefits from these movements, though primarily in purifying the Church by forcing her to look at herself as she truly is, not as she thinks she is. Now, we must again note the signs of the times and address what may be purified within us, as the Body of Christ.

If the Exodus event is remembered in the Passover feast, what is it that is no longer remembered in the Eucharist? What is no longer remembered is sacrifice, suffering, true mercy. All too often, our society tends to forget that the Resurrection presumes the Cross. We run from suffering, shrink from difficulty, and can't even handle gray hair without a mid-life crisis....which we then have to ignore with attempts to recapture our youth. We just don't do suffering well, but there are others who suffer well today.
Photo by Mosa'ab Elshami/AP Images
Just as last week commemorated the Holocaust, the same week also brought yet another video of Christians suffering martyrdom by ISIS militants because they refused to renounce their own faith. Real suffering. Not only are Christians being martyred, but they are choosing to stand up and witness (Greek: mar-tu-RE-o, where we get "martyr") to their belief in Jesus Christ, and this is the very reason that we suffer, witness. The original Apostles and disciples of Jesus died in many dramatic and terrifying ways, from St. Stephen's stoning to St. Peter's upside-down crucifixion, but they were encouraged by the message to which they witnessed, "...[I]t is my eager expectation and hope that I shall not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain...For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict which you saw and now hear to be mine (Phil 1:10-21, 1:29-30).

Suffering Well for the Sake of the Kingdom
Suffering is not allowed for suffering's own sake. When we are baptized, we are united to Jesus Christ in His death, and we then rise with him to new life. His mission, as the Incarnate God, was not to simply heal and work miracles. He came to show the depth of God's love and mercy by reserving nothing, but giving His whole life for our sins, so that we may be made free. In our unity with Him, we are called to participate in that suffering, showing the world that real love and mercy are not found simply in being kind to one another. We are called, as Mother Teresa said, to "love until it hurts" because in loving those are are hard to love, it requires going all the way to the Cross...our cross, not theirs, "By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren" (1 Jhn 3:16). St. John is clear that Christ's death for us is a mercy that we can never return, except to offer ourselves as witnesses, that others would ask why we would suffer and even die for the Gospel, for the Eucharist, for Christ. Bishop of Tripoli, Giovanni Martinelli has committed to this self-giving love in a heroic way, that he may give comfort to his people, but also to witness to militants the great love of Christ that wipes away fear and gives him the courage to remain, even though he faces death, "Being able to give testimony is a precious thing. I thank the Lord that he allows me to do so, even with martyrdom."

Many may have lost the sense of awe of the Real Presence, but many die for it and for us to know Christ, and many more Christians must suffer before the world asks, Why do you suffer and die for an ancient moral man, for a symbol? Our answer to the world must be, we suffer and die because He first died for us, and we will suffer and die that you too may know Him, not as He appears, but as He is truly the Eucharist. We must remember His sacrifice, not only with our minds and hearts, but also by our bodies and our strength, and by this and bearing witness, we love our neighbors as ourselves.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, 'For thy sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.' No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom 8:35-39). Suffer well for the conversion of the world, and we too will be more than conquerors.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Do you clearly understand what you are undertaking?

That title sounds familiar, doesn't it? Where have I heard this before, you ask? I'll give you three guesses...and the first two don't count.

"My parents don't take me..."
The other day, I read a poignant article by Fr. Anthony Gerber from the Archdiocese of St. Louis, titled "What Children's Confessions Reveal..." In his article, Fr. Gerber noted the frequency of children confessing not attending Mass and their guilt and sorrow over not being able to experience what they longed for. Unfortunately, he found that, as children grew older and remained essentially estranged from Jesus in the Eucharist over longer periods of time, they became less concerned and affected by these sins and even others. He shares his sorrow and even righteous anger over these realities and even (in my opinion) rightly proposes their connection. He also cited the reasons these children, whether in Catholic schools or parish programs, cite for non-attendance, from sports activities to sleeping in, both of which were the same reasons I heard as a religious education teacher, but most common and most troubling was the reason, "My parents don't take me."

Fellow parents, how have we let it get this far? Why do we spend the time, money, and effort to make sure our children are baptized and receive First Holy Communion, only to have it be the last time they encounter Jesus in the Eucharist, sometimes for years, sometimes...forever. Did we not take seriously their baptism, when we promised to, "accept the responsibility of training him (her) in the practice of the faith" (from the Rite of Baptism)? The rite goes on to say that, "It will be your duty to bring him (her) up to keep God’s commandments as Christ taught us, by loving God and our neighbor. Do you clearly understand what you are undertaking?"

Do you clearly understand what you are undertaking?
Did you say "yes" to this? I did, and I didn't fully understand what I was undertaking. I was raised during a time when the Church was suffering from a bit of an identity crisis, when the lay faithful and even a great many ordained and religious did not know what the Second Vatican Council actually said, and so did they know how to implement what they did not know. I assumed that, just as many of us experienced, this was more a requirement of being Catholic, an event to check off the list, but not really requiring anything dramatic of us...dramatic, like conversion, even a death event (I'll explain in a moment). But why is this "conversion" business even necessary? Isn't the grace received in the Sacraments enough? Not so much, and here's why:

Why Fight the Grace of God?
Grace is powerful, but our salvation requires that we cooperate with it. The details of justification, sanctification, and salvation are well beyond the scope of this discussion, so you can read more about them on a separate post here. Basically, faith requires something of us. It is not enough to attend Mass occasionally and show up to "get the Sacraments," never to return again. If we are baptized, we have actually died. Yep, as a doornail. Our "old man" has been crucified with Christ, but guess what that means? In Baptism, we rise with Christ. It's not the full-body resurrection we await at the end of time, but it's a pretty good start. So baptism is new life, yes, but this part is emphasized often to the point of minimizing the deathly nature of the Sacrament as well. St. Paul makes this pretty clear, "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death" (Rom 6:3)? In fact, he goes on in even more specific language, "We know that our old man was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For he who has died is free from sin. But if we have died in Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him (Rom 6:6-8). Note: many translations say, "our old self was crucified," but the Greek literally says "old man", a reference to Adam, the one man through whom sin entered the world (Rom 5:12). So, as I often say, why does this matter?

My fellow parents, when you and your children were baptized, you all sin, to your previous life, to the concerns of the world. Why? To be freed from the covenant that was struck with sin, to which we were bound, like marriage, until death. With the death of baptism, we now are freed from that relationship, open to enter into a new relationship, that is, freedom for life and holiness in Christ by the Grace He (not we) earned by the Cross. We have got to stop living our old sinful lives because Christ's death for us, and our acceptance of it in baptism, makes a claim on us and opens up so many opportunities to live freely for others...especially our children.

What Fr. Gerber's article tells us is what we already know, which is that the Sacraments are the source of our life in Christ, our relationship with the One God. If you were to marry your spouse and never speak again, never tell that person you love them, how long would that marriage last? Spoiler: not long. How many of you have friends who, prior to separating, have said, "It's been forever since we had (let's just call it "conjugal relations"). The fact is, that part of marriage is when a husband and wife become one, which is the same thing we experience in the Eucharist, you and I each become one with Christ, and by the nature of Christ being united to all of us who received, we all are united as one people, the Mystical Body of Christ- Communion! So in the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist (in the context of the Mass), we strengthen and renew our relationship with Christ and strengthen the unity of the Church in a world that so desperately needs a clear sign of sacrificial love.

Six Seconds Isn't Enough for a Good Vine
God has entrusted to us these children, these branches around our tables (Ps 128:3), and we are called to help them grow, like the vineyard owner in Mk 12:1. We know that Jesus tells this parable to convict the hearts of the Jewish leaders who had been taking advantage of the people and would kill the Son to control the vineyard, but all of Sacred Scripture applies to all people in all ages. We can know that the Master of the field has planted the vineyard, built a wall around it, and entrusted it to us. We are then responsible to Him for its care, but we also know that Jesus is the vine, His people, the branches, "He who abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me, you can do (in the Greek) ABSOLUTELY NOTHING" (Jhn 15:5). The converse is also true for those who do not immerse themselves frequently in the Grace of His Sacraments, which is the source of our life in Christ, "If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned (Jhn 15:6). If we don't cling to Jesus, we cannot be fruitful, which is our call, but more than that, neither can our children, and if we apply this to the parable of the talents, we know that, "[T]o the one who has (in this case, raised their children in Christ), more will be given; and he will have abundance, but from him who has not (failed to care for the spiritual lives of their children), even what he has will be taken away" (Mat 25:29). That is, if you don't bring your children to learn to love and desire Christ in His Sacramental gifts, you shouldn't be surprised when they leave the Church.

The Garden of the Church
The reality is, as Pope St. John Paul II said in his Message for the XXXI World Youth Day and Prayer for Vocations, the "garden" or "first seminary" of children, the "domestic church" at home is the please where, "the seeds of vocation, which God sows generously, are able to blossom and grow to full maturity" (Optatem totius, n. 2). We are called to educate our children first, both in faith and morals, as their first teachers, rather than leaving this responsibility to parochial and secular schools or religious education programs. These programs only serve to support parents in their vocation, not replace them, so I exhort and encourage my fellow parents to take this commission seriously because like the servant who hid his talent, failing to bring forth fruit from God's generous gift of our children will be dealt with appropriately. We want what is best for our children, and if we believe that a life lived deeply in Christ and His Church is best, so much so that we asked for the Sacrament of baptism of Christ's Church, then shouldn't we take the on-going care of our children's souls just as seriously?

There is little room for confusion on this, and no way to "get off on a technicality," so be a good steward, and bring your little ones to Mass, sharing with them in the Sacraments, teaching them to love the Lord with all of their heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30). This is your responsibility, and I assure you, even when they wiggle and wail during Mass, God is pleased...and as I tell people all the time, these children will drag you, kicking and screaming, to Heaven- yes, we parents kick and scream, while our children run to Jesus, for [we] will be lead by a child (Is 11:6).

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Justification, Sanctification, and Salvation

This issue is a huge point of divergence between Catholics and Protestants. What I offer here is not so much a full theology of the issue, but just some responses to someone who posed the questions on a simple Facebook post about this article with someone I'm going to call "Dinah".

Dinah: I have a question. Just answer from your catholic faith without asking someone else or looking anything up. I assume you are catholic based on this article. So My hypothetical question is if you were to die today and you were standing before the throne of God, and God were to say "Why should I let you into my Heaven?" What would you say?

Interesting question. As a Catholic, I think I would first reframe the issue because I doubt that He will ask anything. He's not a judge looking to convict us, where we have to defend ourselves; He wants us with Him.
I have a relationship with Him that means He doesn't have to ask; He knows. I won't presume on His mercy, but having embraced Jesus as my Lord and Savior, I wear the indelible mark of His name on my soul through Baptism, and having been justified and cooperating with His Grace over my life to be conformed to His image, my heart will eventually be sanctified perfectly by the Spirit (Scripture tells us, nothing unclean will enter [Heaven], so what resolves that is given the name "Purgatory" (Rev 21:27)). The Father and Son, seeing the Spirit fully animating my soul, will welcome me into the Beatific Vision.

Dinah: The Bible says we can know for certain if we will go to Heaven and that Eternal life is a free gift. For by Grace we are saved through faith in Christ Jesus lest any man can boast. Its not by our works and what we do that we are saved but what Christ alone did on the cross. May I ask what did Jesus say the requirements were to be in Heaven? And this question is open for anyone on this post. I love these discussions of God and truth. And what the Bible says about this.

Okay, I am going to clear up a few things here. It's important to be sure we're using the same language, or dialogue will never work.
When Catholics speak about Grace, we do believe it's a free gift. We don't believe that God only gives it to whomever He wants, as a Calvinist might, so no predestination.
Grace is what gets us into Heaven, but as Catholics, we believe in "infused" grace, not "imputed" grace. There's a difference. Luther was very scrupulous and believed he was such a terrible sinner that he could never enter Heaven except that God would essentially ignore all of his "crap", so long as he believed and accepted God. With his analogy of men being piles of crap, these two concepts of grace would be applied thusly:
Imputed grace would cover up the crap with Jesus' perfection, allow us to sort of "sneak" into Heaven, even though we're still very imperfect.
Infused grace would actually change the crap into something beautiful, a son or daughter of God, by the nature of our union to Christ through our death in Baptism.
For us to enter Heaven, we must be pure (Rev 21:27), but we know that we are not here in this life. Paul tells us, "for all have sinned and fall short of the grace of God" (Rom 3:23). God's good will for us is more than to just cover us with Jesus, but He is powerful enough and loves us enough that He wants to change our lives.

The ever-loving God of Creation has created us with a free will. That's problematic, but He did so because He loves us. Many will say, how can that be loving, if He knows that means we will screw up, but I would answer that love that is not given a choice isn't really love. Love requires a choice, so that it chooses the other instead of itself. Otherwise, it's not love, but forced obedience, which God can't do because it violates His very Nature. So, we have free will to sin or do His will, and Christ's death satisfied the requirements of the covenant between man and God, so that we are no longer "married" (bound) to the old Mosaic Law. This is what Paul, a Jew, is talking about when he says that a man is only bound by the law while he is alive. In a marriage, you're only committed until one or the other dies. After that, you're free to enter into another marriage COVENANT (Rom 7). The Mosaic Law was the previous covenant, which they were obliged to follow, but when Jesus came, He fulfilled the requirements, which was death for the people's sin (Dt 27-28; Rom 6:23), and when we die His death (Rom 6) in baptism (which comes from conversion, and conversion is always a death experience), we also die to the Mosaic covenant and are able to enter into a new covenant, the one of grace, which the Jewish people didn't have, making them unable to accomplish the Law (Rom 7:7-16; 8:3-4; Rom 9:31-33). They were given 613 laws to follow because they couldn't follow the first 10, but they tried to follow the Mosaic Law just as rules, not because they trusted in God's providential care, and believe that God intended the good...because they didn't yet have the grace that was only made available when Jesus broke down the divide between God and man, thus making it available, so that, "If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you" (Rom 8:11).

However, Paul doesn't say that we just go ahead and behave however we want, as Luther did, so that by calling on Christ's name, we can just enter Heaven, without allowing the Spirit to work in our hearts. This is where the Catholic doctrines of justification, sanctification, and salvation come in. We believe that justification comes from Christ's death on the cross, not anything that we do. However, because we have free will, and nothing unclean will enter Heaven, we still have the option to refuse salvation. Christ died not just for certain people, but "once for all," (Rom 6:10, Heb 7:27, 9:12, so many...on and on). That means, God the Father, knowing His complete plan, or telos, knew what would happen all of the time, each person, regardless of the Son's sacrifice, and yet, He did it anyway. The Son, for His part, being emptied of His Divine power (Phil 2:6-8) likely did not know what each person would choose, but He, too did it anyway. Why? So that each person had the opportunity to be saved. What was required? What was lacking in the sacrifice of Christ that Paul was fulfilling (Col 1:24)? Our free participation in free gift of grace! We have to, of our own free will, allow His Grace to work within us, or "So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But some one will say, 'You have faith and I have works.' Show me your faith apart from your works, and I, by my works, will show you my faith" (Jas 2:17-18). Luther dropped this book because it didn't fit with his sola fide teaching, which was never the teaching of the Church prior to him. Some allowed him to drop books until he wanted to ditch things like Revelation, but that's where they drew the line.

Catholics, though many who were poorly catechized don't understand this, believe that we are justified by Christ's death and our freewill acceptance of that, by which we receive His Grace, and we are sanctified by again, allowing our free will to work with the Spirit in our souls to make us holy and conform us to the image of Christ, and by doing so, we desire to do good works, which don't save us on their own, but which are a reflection of our sanctification, but which are also a requirement because we, as the Body of Christ, are called to witness, which requires action (there are sentences like these that lead me to believe I've spent too much time reading St. Paul's equally exhausting run-on sentences). Conversion is a death experience, whereby we crucify the old man (or woman; Rom 6:6), and we live with the Spirit in us by Grace, and we then, as part of the Body of Christ, must go out and bring the world to the "obedience of faith" (Rom 1:5, 16:26). The end of conversion is always missionary, so action is required, and good action because only good action comes from God in the Spirit in our bodies. So through the free gift of Grace and the cooperation of our will through sanctification (which would be impossible, but for our acceptance of the gift of Grace), we receive salvation, not by our merits, but in cooperation with Christ, lest any man should boast. We could do ABSOLUTELY NOTHING good apart from Him (Jhn 15:5), so we should boast in Christ (1 Cor 1:3), even though we have to do good in our cooperation WITH Him.

You asked about requirements to be in Heaven? First faith, but cooperation of the free will, doing the will of God.

"Not every one who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven" (Mat 7:21).

"Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord,' and not do what I tell you? Every one who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep, and laid the foundation upon rock; and when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house, and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But he who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation; against which the stream broke, and immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great" (Lk 6:46-49).

Here, I offered to answer any additional questions, but generally felt this wrapped up the conversation. I hope you may also find these answers helpful.