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.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

A World in Which Women are Encouraged to be Barren, is a World That Marginalizes All

Pope Francis recently celebrated International Women's Day on March 8, and he offered a special message to all women of the world, honoring them, but also speaking to the whole world, reminding all people that, "A world where women are marginalized is a barren world." He reminded pilgrims to St. Peter's Basilica that women offer the world something more creative, patient, and tender, especially in and due to their ability to give life, not just through birth, but also in their gift of self.

Madonna and Child by Sassoferrato
It's interesting that a message about the dignity of women, which began well before Pope Francis, is generally ignored by those who claim the Catholic Church is patriarchal, misogynistic, and out of touch. The reality is, a Church that honors several women as Doctors of the Church, and is also criticized for its honoring of Mary, Jesus' Blessed Mother, cannot also be utterly anti-woman, as the argument goes. In fact, the Church's beautiful teachings on the dignity of women are nearly completely at odds with the predominant culture, in which women are encouraged to be more like men as a requirement for respect and success in the working world. Also at issue, are the dramatic persecutions of women in other parts of the world, where women are seen as lesser human beings and even property. Certainly, when we consider these views alongside those of the Church, it begins to become clear who is truly "anti-woman", and in case you missed that, it's not the Church.

A Tale of Two Cultures
Recently, I came across a couple of articles articulating two very different realities regarding women in the workplace. The first was by a career businesswoman, who, having recently had her own child, wrote about her past biases and the way she had treated or seen mothers treated in the workplace. The second was regarding Vodafone's latest policy change regarding maternity leave and workplace reintroduction, in which women were afforded a longer paid leave and a longer period of time to transition back to the workplace at reduced hours but at full salary levels. The first article, while apologetic, reveals the nature of the treatment of women in the high-pressure business world, and the expectation that they will subordinate and even avoid family life in favor of advancing their career. The other article highlights dramatically more accommodating workplace policies that make motherhood and even fatherhood more manageable...and more gratifying. What parent, feeling confident in their involvement in their child's life wouldn't feel less anxious and instead, more confident about their work? Many mothers in less high-pressure jobs feel equally pressed on both sides. There are often difficult compromises to be made about day care choices, the amount of time parents can volunteer or help with homework, or even how to handle something as basic but serious as sacrificing hours to care for a sick child or sending them to school because of the risk of even losing a job.

Dignity, Not Dishonor
The Catholic Church has maintained the dignity of women and their special charisms as the natural carriers of lives created by God, brought into the world and ennobled by woman's love and protection. Mothers face a difficult struggle in a world that often forces women to choose between being mother and wife or being a "respected" member of the working world. In his 1963 encyclical, Pacem in Terris, Pope John XXIII addresses the new reality of women in the workplace at that time, "Women must be accorded such conditions of work as are consistent with their needs and responsibilities as wives and mothers" (PT, 19). Some misunderstand this statement as teaching that women need to subordinate their career aspirations to some archaic idea that they must first be wives and mothers. This is a gross misunderstanding of the pope's statement, which actually advocates workplace accommodations that allow them to be the wives and mothers they want to be (if that is their vocation), so that women aren't forced to choose between being a good mother and being a good employee. How forward-thinking for an "old man in Rome"!

John XXIII was not a lone advocate in the Church for the rights and dignity of women in the world. In fact, he was not even the first. For those who claim the Catholic Church advocated the same limiting ideas that affected the female contemporaries of Jesus, it would be wise to consider what Sacred Scripture has to say on the subject. That is, that women are also created in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:27), equal in dignity regardless of gender and race (Gal 3:28), especially by nature of Christ's death on the Cross, "for all," that is, the sake of every woman as much as every man, equally (2 Cor 5:14-15, Rom 6:10, 1 Pet 3:18; see also CCC 2334). It's no surprise that women were important in the early Church, even comprising a large portion of the early Church along with slaves and others of low stature, causing Roman critics to question those who would join what they viewed as an abysmal group of social undesirables (Celsus, The True Discourse). 
Adam and Eve are Expelled from the Garden
Charles Joseph Natoire

"He shall rule over you..."
The message of the world is one that seeks to diminish the realities of gender in the name of "equality", but this is always a losing proposition because equality is not derived from "sameness". Rather, the Church teaches about the complementarity of the sexes, in which they constitute the whole, when man and woman join together to fill the void in the other, the reality of uniting Adam's rib with his own body, for the woman, Eve, "is at last, bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh" (Gen 2:23). From the beginning, man and woman were designed for relationship, for communion. At the Fall, unfortunately, this right order became dis-ordered, and among the consequences was a reality that becomes ever more clear each day, "...he shall rule over you" (Gen 3:16). This is no less true for the ordained and consecrated, for those women unite themselves to Christ Himself, and men, to the Church.

Why does this matter in a world that has forgotten God, let alone the nature of the true dignity of women? Human beings desire genuine communion, and whether they will admit it or not, the only source and end of a relationship of such satisfying purity is God. Made in the "image and likeness" of God, man tends toward freedom, and the freedom offered by God is one that respects the individual will and satisfies man's desire for happiness and fulfillment, so long as he respects the rules in the "instruction book" of how the human nature is created to achieve perfect happiness, beatitude. The "freedom" the world promises can never satisfy because it does not appeal to the innate likeness of God present in us all, which desires authentic freedom and relationship. Once man, by his sin, violates his true freedom, he violates his own nature and abandons his dignity. In his encyclical, Mulieris Dignitatem, Pope St. John Paul II identifies the modern intersection of man's rule over woman and the loss of dignity through the violation of one's human, and in this case, female nature:

"[E]ven the rightful opposition of women to what is expressed in the biblical words "He shall rule over you" (Gen 3:16) must not under any condition lead to the "masculinization" of women. In the name of liberation from male "domination", women must not appropriate to themselves male characteristics contrary to their own feminine "originality". There is a well-founded fear that if they take this path, women will not "reach fulfilment", but instead will deform and lose what constitutes their essential richness" (MD, 10).

Marginalization is Not Progress
An attempt to advance the rights, dignity, and freedom of women cannot successfully come from efforts to mold woman in man's image because she, with man, is man in God's image, and changing this dynamic naturally sets man above her in power and influence and reduces her uniqueness to a mere characteristic to be restrained in a misguided desire for what is really just "sameness". Rather, women should be given the opportunity to contribute in the workplace, receiving the just wage and respect to which she is entitled, regardless of her gender or family status. Again, the Church, specifically, John Paul II, is unbelievably clear here, saying again and again that women, rather than being "relegated to the home", ought to be respected in their contributions to society in every industry because they offer unique gifts that are specific to their nature, but women should, in no way, be required to sacrifice their uniquely feminine aspirations in deference to their careers:

"[I]t is fitting that they should be able to fulfil their tasks in accordance with their own nature, without being discriminated against and without being excluded from jobs for which they are capable, but also without lack of respect for their family aspirations and for their specific role in contributing, together with men, to the good of society. The true advancement of women requires that labour should be structured in such a way that women do not have to pay for their advancement by abandoning what is specific to them and at the expense of the family, in which women as mothers have an irreplaceable role" (Laborem Exercens, 19).

True Freedom and Prosperity Don't Require Self-Denial
The idea that the "rights" available to advance women's equality (i.e., abortion, artificial contraception, sterilization) actually promote social progress logically inconsistent with woman's nature. If women have special charisms and abilities, especially her unique ability to be "mother", then denying those elements of her nature degrades rather than elevates her value. The idea that the "freedom to choose" abortion and sterilization somehow preserves woman's equality is a complete fallacy because neither of these is necessary for women to be equal, and we have seen the commoditization and exploitation of women has increased as the ease of eliminating the accountability of sex, especially for men, who experience very minimal consequences for their part. This does not lead to an authentic freedom, but a slavery to the world's expectation that one should employ these "rights" to  avoid "ruining one's life" or keep family life from becoming an inconvenience. Increasingly, women are expected to do great violence and harm to their bodies and their persons to maintain the respect of and their place in the world.

So then, this is not freedom, not progress; this is self-marginalization, and it never elevates the dignity of women, but destroys the life-giving nature of the "female genius" in today's world. Ultimately, no society will prosper or find full equality for all of its members when its very source of life and compassion is called to be sterile and against her own nature. Diminishing the nature of one member diminishes the value of all because nothing will stand in the face of arbitrary valuation of the human person. Only life gives life, and true respect for each person's nature brings true freedom. Anything less than this is nothing more than a caricature and beneath we who are the Imago Dei.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Precepts of the Church: Is Getting Our Foot in the Door Enough?

When we receive the sealing of the Holy Spirit at Confirmation, we are expected to know and live by the precepts of the Church. I was not as interested in the details of our faith when I was younger, so it's possible I missed this, but I don't remember hearing any mention of this growing up and I'd venture a guess that many of you have also not heard this.
Why are these precepts important? If we turn to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), the Church tells us that these precepts are obligatory, not because it wants to control, but because they constitute the minimum participation in the moral and sacramental life of the Church, both of which depend on and increase the other. 

The precepts of the Church are set in the context of a moral life bound to and nourished by liturgical life. The obligatory character of these positive laws decreed by the pastoral authorities is meant to guarantee to the faithful the very necessary minimum in the spirit of prayer and moral effort, in the growth in love of God and neighbor (CCC, 2041).

In other words, these precepts are the Church's definition of our minimum encounter with the One Triune God. That's right, minimum contact with the source of all Grace. Minimum.

The reason I stress this word, "minimum" is because I find it amazing that, having come to know the great power and justice of God, and yet, experiencing the eternally life-saving gift of His mercy, why would we be satisfied with the least amount of contact to keep us spiritually alive? Did Jesus come to give us life to the bare minimum? No, He came, "that they may have life, and have it abundantly" (Jhn 10:10).

The Church's precepts, so that we can know and live them better are:

You shall attend Mass on Sundays and on holy days of obligation, and rest from servile labor.
Attending Mass on Sundays and holy days is a gift from God, in which we can thank Him for His blessings and mercy. Most importantly, we enter into the reality of being united with Christ in the Eucharist, which remits venial sin and gives the grace we need to conform our hearts to His. Resting from unnecessary work not only acknowledges God's providential care, but it also eliminates whatever may prevent us from honoring Him and His original covenant with Creation, which began on the seventh day and was fulfilled on the day of Christ's Resurrection.

You shall confess your sins at least once a year.
No one likes to admit fault or feel shame. I get it. We know, however, that, "nothing unclean shall enter [Heaven]" (Rev 21:27). With few exceptions, it is assumed that we are still sinners when we die. If nothing unclean enters into the presence of the King, what hope do we have? Grace. Grace is a gift, given by God to create hearts conformed to His Son for our perfection and (eventual) union with Him. Let's break that down, shall we.

The state of grace we refer to, as Catholics, is a state of cleanliness of the soul. Each person is given a soul, as well as the choices in life to keep that soul in good working order. As with a home, the lack of constant upkeep results in an ever-deteriorating home, leading to an eventual compromise in the stability and integrity of the home, dangerous territory. Therefore, we are given the opportunity, through the sacrifice of Christ and our participation in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, to reconcile ourselves to God, cleaning our souls of unnecessary and damaging garbage.

When the soul is full of garbage, it lacks room for the Spirit, so being in a state of sin means there is so much garbage, the Spirit is limited in His ability to work in our lives. The reason this is important, is that entrance into the Kingdom requires a heart turned entirely toward Him, working completely with His will. I don't do that perfectly, and I'd gather that neither do most people. This isn't accomplished by brute force of the will, but rather, by active cooperation with the grace and plan made available by Christ's Resurrection.

In turning our eyes, hearts, and wills toward God, we invite the Holy Spirit into every corner of our souls to fill them with light and joy, even in the darkest recesses of pain and suffering, replacing the effects of sin with healing. When a soul is called into God's presence, and its interior is clean and lit up by the Spirit, the Father and Son, recognizing the third Triune Person, will joyfully receive that soul, pure and lit by the Spirit, into the Divine Life.

You shall receive the sacrament of the Eucharist at least during the Easter season.
We know that the Eucharist is important; it is Jesus Christ, substantially present in the form of bread and wine, given "for the forgiveness of sins" (Mat 26:28). The Catechism, quoting the Vatican II document, Lumen Gentium, declares this Sacrament as the "source and summit of the Christian life," and that, "The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it. For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch" (CCC 1324). In the Eucharist, we experience a small participation in the Beatific Vision, the full union with God. It is our invitation, as His sons and daughters, to be in the presence of the King.

You shall observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church.
People do tend to associate fasting and abstinence with Catholics, and while our faith is much more than that, we should be proud to be people who hold up self-control and sacrificial love as virtues. The world today, and frankly, in any age, does not value selflessness. This world only lasts for its time, and its children, who are not the children of God, also believe they last only for a time, so it only makes sense that, from their nihilist worldvie
w, a self-serving hedonism should not be far behind. We, who are called to be light to a darkened world, must be the contrast, greater in magnitude than the darkness of sin and the rejection of God.

We accomplish this by periodically denying ourselves the comforts of the senses, so that we may realize that they are not the good, but only a good, and a gift from God, not gods to be served. We also experience the height of glory, when we sacrifice any part of our life for love of God and neighbor because we unite ourselves to the sacrifice of Christ, in which He first, is glorified for His obedience.

You shall help to provide for the needs of the Church.
There are always the accusations against the Church that she is greedy and therefore, wealthy. It would surprise many to hear that the Church does so much with its "wealth", in the U.S. in particular, for example, hospitals and health care, homes for the elderly and ill, adoption services, Catholic schools, mission work in poor neighborhoods, rescue programs for victims of human trafficking, etc. Yet, all of these programs, with very high efficiency rates, are funded by American Catholics who donate, on average, only one percent of their income, and the higher percentage donors tend to be among the lower income brackets. The nature of the Gospel and the Christian life is always missionary, and when we provide for the needs of the Church, who serves the world, we provide, through the body of Christ, for the world.

This is why the Church's mission derives not only from the Lord's mandate but also from the profound demands of God's life within us. Those who are incorporated in the Catholic Church ought to sense their privilege and for that very reason their greater obligation of bearing witness to the faith and to the Christian life as a service to their brothers and sisters and as a fitting response to God. They should be ever mindful that "they owe their distinguished status not to their own merits but to Christ's special grace; and if they fail to respond to this grace in thought, word and deed, not only will they not be saved, they will be judged more severely."
St. John Paul II in Redemptoris Missio, quoting Lumen Gentium, 14

If we look through Sacred Scripture, we don't have to go far to find the right order of the use of our blessings. In Genesis 4, we see that Cain made an offering to God, but that Abel's offering was preferred because it was from his "firstlings." Abel gave God His portion before taking his own part of what was originally a gift from God to begin with. We see Abraham present the first tithe of ten percent of everything to the king of Salem, Melchizedek in Heb 7:1-2. Many people believe that Jesus essentially bagged this practice by not reaffirming it, but that's not only a very poor argument, it also poorly reflects His teaching, which asked those who would follow Him to give out of their poverty, "[their] whole living" (Mk 12:44). The early Church did exactly this when the people "had everything in common," selling their goods and providing for each, according to their needs (Act 2:44-45). If we are all members of the one Body, with Christ as its head, why wouldn't we be willing to sacrifice to be sure the entire Body works well? If one's whole body is hampered by a poor-working eye or leg, the entire body suffers. Is there anything we have that is so important, and to which, we are so entitled, that we are willing to cripple the Body of Christ? It may sound silly, but it really is that simple...if not as easy.

These precepts are short and simple, but they provide a basic map of the most basic way to encounter the living God. When we set out on a vacation or to explore a mountain path, do we only want to "get there and back," or is our experience and our whole life not greatly enriched by the many more experiences, memories, and blessings we gain by taking advantage of even the smallest of opportunities? None of us would encourage our children to do the bare minimum in school or spend the least amount of effort and time to keep our marriages alive, so why would we think we should do only the minimum when it comes to our relationship and our journey toward our greatest love, God Himself?