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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Salvation: Answering "Questions for Roman Catholics"

A little while ago, I stumbled across a post entitled Questions For Roman Catholics by Matt Slick. that I thought was worth a little attention. He asks quite a few questions, however, and so it was decided that, in order to ensure that they are answered with sufficient depth rather than flippancy, the task would be split among multiple bloggers. 

Tony Powers from The Catholic Sense plans to talk about Interpreting Scripture and Scripture, and Carl Betts will be covering the Eucharist over at Sailing on the Barque of Saint Peter. Jared Clark is discussing Jesus, Mary and Prayer down at Sons of Thunder. And lastly, Paul Hoffer shall be tackling the questions on Oral Tradition at his own blog, Spes mea Christus! Specifically, my focus is on the section regarding Salvation (or questions 29-33), which hopefully I answer with some sense of clarity right here. Expect the boys to join in with their thoughts soon. In the meantime, Onward!


What is the saving Gospel?

This is a bit of an odd question, to me. “Saving Gospel” isn't really a phrase in popular parlance with most Catholics. But I believe he refers to the words of Paul in 1 Cor 15:
1Now I am reminding you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you indeed received and in which you also stand. 2Through it you are also being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.
Paul encouraged his followers in Corinth to cling to the truth he shared with them, reminding them that Christ came, died and rose from the dead according to scripture, and was seen by more than five hundred witnesses. And continuing he says:
12But if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some among you say there is no resurrection of the dead?13If there is no resurrection of the dead, then neither has Christ been raised. 14And if Christ has not been raised, then empty [too] is our preaching; empty, too, your faith.
The saving Gospel is the good news "Christ has risen!" and it has changed the fate of mankind forever.

The fall, Adam's sin, was committed by man, and through it, and through his curse men are made to face mortality and death. It makes sense, then, that humanity would take part in reparation for this, and all our crimes against the father, and in the restoration of life It is through Jesus, the New Adam from which a new humanity sprung, because by his

Restored, not just to life in the Garden such as the old Adam had, but life in Heaven before the throne of God, a sharing in the life of God himself. This is why Catholics sometime call the sin of Adam and Eve a "happy fault!" God's gift of  Man's reconciliation to Him gave more of Himself to mankind than ever. Because the mercy and redemptive grace poured out by God in response to our rebellion open up the chance to raise humanity up, allowing for a sharing in a deeper life and more beautiful intimacy with the Father.

We don't use the term "Saving Gospel" often, but the truth of this gospel is highlighted in the memorial acclimation at the Catholic mass, one of which goes "Dying you destroyed our death, rising you restored our life. Lord Jesus come again!" When we bind our lives to the Body of Christ through worship, faith and obedience, we find that it is our sins that die with Him on the cross, and our souls that rise from the grave.

Are you keeping the commandments of God?

I strive to. I'm a sinner, and I fail. When I do I ask forgiveness and try to take each of His commandments to heart once again. This is more of a personal question, rather than a theological one about the Catholic faith, but let me see if I can broaden it to involve Catholic thought. 

When I say that "I strive to," I don't just mean that I try not to color outside the lines or break a technical law. I'm not just talking about following line by line the rules of the Ten laid down for Moses, or even the rules of my Church and faith, but to fulfill the purpose behind the Divine Law of God. Matthew, in the 22nd chapter of his Gospel tells of Jesus being questioned by the Pharisees on which commandment was the greatest:
36“Teacher,* which commandment in the law is the greatest?”37j He said to him,* “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. 38 This is the greatest and the first commandment. 39 k The second is like it:* You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 * l The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”
The whole law and the prophets depend on these two, on love of God and love of neighbor. In other words, they summarize and are the reason for them all.  This is more complex than just ditching one or all of the others in favor of some vague attempt at loving, rather, what this says to me when I break even the littlest among them, then, is that my heart has a deficit of love for God, or that I decided to place some want or desire above loving my neighbor. The smallest breaks in his commandments are always a failure to put love and trust of God above the little things in life, and the greatest sins are always a rejection of God's love, without which we cannot be saved.

This means that I can't merely apologize, or just promise to do better. I do indeed try to do so, as the Act of Contrition confesses: "I am heartily sorry for having offended you... " "...I firmly resolve, with the help of your grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life..." But we must also recommit ourselves to love, always: "...most of all because they offend you, my God, who are all good and deserving of all my love."

Are you doing what is necessary to be saved? In Roman Catholicism that which is necessary for salvation includes the church (CCC 846), baptism (CCC 1257), penance (CCC 980), sacraments (CCC 1129), service and witness to the faith (CCC 1816), keeping the ten commandments (CCC 2036 and 2070), and detachment from riches (CCC 2556).

To answer, we need to remember that we are called to love God with all our hearts, all our minds, and all our strength. That translates quite simply to "with my whole life." 

If Jesus is the head of the Church, then we may never neglect His body. No person informed of the Gospel and knowledgeable of the invitation to new birth can reject baptism and be saved. Because of this, we must unite ourselves to the Body of Christ by being reborn through baptism. 

It means we cannot exist in rebellion and without penance, for that is a very rejection, and I must seek Him and His graces where ever they reside. My actions and words need to witness to God's glory, honor and keep His word, and be the very act of loving nothing above Him. Love wants nothing but the best for the beloved, and a Lord and Savior deserving of all my love would require all of what is best, in worship and obedience.  

We are told:
22Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves. 23For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his own face in a mirror. 24He sees himself, then goes off and promptly forgets what he looked like. 25But the one who peers into the perfect law* of freedom and perseveres, and is not a hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, such a one shall be blessed in what he does.n 26* If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue* but deceives his heart, his religion is vain. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows* in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.(James 1)

I indeed strive to do all these duties he recites, and meet them as best as I can, or I forget my own salvation. Faith and witness and repentance and obedience, with elevation of God above all worldly things, are tackled in my life and actions with varying levels of heart and faithfulness. With failure and success. But this is not the whole of what the question is getting at. 

Matt Slick asks this in the form of personal and direct question, but that's alright. It's also a little bit backwards, asking "Are you doing what is necessary to be saved?" Put that way, I would say, "Of course not!" 

It is clear, salvation is impossible unless we take the Lord into our heart, all of our heart. As I alluded to earlier, it is by love or by sin that we accept or reject the graces of God. When the Church outlines the universal callings, the duties of all those who would cling to Christ, she is saying "You cannot reject these and still claim His graces." All these callings are necessary for salvation, because Christ has laid these upon us.

What he means to ask is, "can you be assured of salvation by doing what is necessary?" To which the answer is still no. Paul explains in 1 Cor 13
"1 If I speak in human and angelic tongues* but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing.If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing."
We gain nothing without love, and certainly not salvation. If it is possible to be blessed with the divine gifts and still fail in love, it is possible, then, to be dutiful and be loveless and faithless. The fact is, we humans are too inept at knowing our own hearts, we lie even to ourselves.

I can do all things perfectly, and still not love of God, which is the means by which we open ourselves to his Saving Grace. 

If you are keeping the commandments of God, do you also go to confession?

Yes, because I need it: all of fallen humanity does. I mean to say that I do go to confession, but this is because I keep the commandments in a broken, human, fallen way. I am not perfect! Sometimes I find that I haven't kept them at all. Would that my heart were always faithful. But of sin and of sickness we were told:

14Is anyone among you sick?* He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint [him] with oil in the name of the Lord,

15and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven.*

16Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful. (James 5)
21[Jesus] said to them again,l “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
22And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them,m “Receive the holy Spirit.
23 Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”(John 20)
For venial sin, prayer and repentance are sufficient on their own for their remission, as long as prayer is heartfelt, with the intention to sin no more. Yet, confiding in the priest and asking for absolution, and his prayers, is a good way to grow spiritually. There isn't merely a forgiveness in confession, but forgiveness and a dispensation of grace.

I'm not saying it's impossible not to sin, or impossible not to need confession. When I have confessed, I have no need to confess any longer. Not until or unless I fall away in some respect, large or small. I've found that, even when my sins are small sins, going to confession often helps me to combat them. Was I uncharitable? Shirking a responsibility? Unhelpful, or irresponsible with my time? Have I neglected diligent prayer? The grace from the sacraments fortifies the soul, and bring it closer to God. 

Since it is possible for you to lose your salvation in Roman Catholicism, are you doing enough good works to keep yourself saved?

This is based on the idea that it was ever possible to have or possess salvation to begin with. You are saved when you are in the Father's arms, and you are in his arms when you do His will, and declare his name, and hear his word. 

Many protestants believe in Sola Fida, that is, that they are "saved by faith." And indeed,  

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God;g
9 it is not from works, so no one may boast.
10 For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them. 
But the key is, saved by faith through grace. Grace isn't something the can be forced upon us against our wills, and without our consent. God is a lover, not a brute, or cruel conqueror. He asks gently if he can be King of our Hearts, and we accede by accepting Jesus as Our Lord and Savior. How we consent to being saved is a major question. It is not a matter of hitting the right points, but of plain, simple honesty. 

The problem? There are many ways to speak. Jesus knew this:
28“What is your opinion? A man had two sons. He came to the first and said, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’
29He said in reply, ‘I will not,’ but afterwards he changed his mind and went.
30The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply, ‘Yes, sir,’ but did not go.
31* Which of the two did his father’s will?” They answered, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.(Matthew 21)
The first son rejected his father's command. He was not within the will of his father! But, only for a time. Eventually, he realized the sensibleness of the request, and did as he was told. The chief priest knew that he'd reconciled himself to his father's will by his actions. We speak, not just with out mouths, but with our whole self.

It is for this reason that vocally accepting Jesus as you're personal Lord and savior cannot be a one-time thing, because we are made to live, not stagnate. The second son, simply put lied. He made a commitment, then backed out, rejecting what his father had asked of him. Your actions can make your faith a lie, if you let them.

When you say, "Jesus is Lord," you are attributing to him Lordship and authority. So when he says "Do unto others" or "forgive others" or "love your neighbor as yourself," it is your own word that obliges you to honor his command, lest you prove your word a lie by not going to the field. When we make small mistakes or commit small sins, we turn away from his sight. In grave and serious matters, if we knowingly choose sin over him, we reject him entirely, leaving our souls spiritually dead. (For which we have confession, where we speak our shame, and penance, where we act our remorse, pleading for forgiveness with our whole selves and not just words.) 

Its not God who changes, or the grace that falls out of our pockets, but temporal and changing man who hold on to it one night and lets go of it the next with all the inconstancy of a mortal.

We are not saved by good works, or keeping commandments, rather by accepting with His Grace with an honest desire that spills out into our deed. It's not a chore, but a joy! God's Word  when placed firmly in your heart, spills out into your life, making you a 'doer' after being a 'hearer.'

The truth is, I can only ever accept the freely given graces that bring me from dark into light. I can never earn or merit salvation. There is no magical number for "enough" and no heroic deed, no act of my own can wipe out the smallest of sins. I have sinned, and sinned against someone far too great for lowly me to make perfect amends. It is yet another case of humanity co-operating, and God giving more than they could ever me.

I can only ask, "where is my heart, have I given it all to Him?" And never stop asking, never stop offering it, never stop loving my beloved in faith.  The rest is up to Him.

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