"Jesus, I trust in you!"

Friday, March 14, 2008

On salvation...

The following is an old journal entry of mine I was reminded of recently. I think it might have some use to others.

One often missed point in ecumenical discussions is that Catholics view salvation very, very differently.

In Catholic theology, if a person dies in friendship with God then they go to heaven. "Justification" refers to the grace which allows a human being this friendship. In other words, the sacrifice of Jesus nullifies the fall. This grace is received primarily through the sacraments, although it can received otherwise as well. Baptism clears away all of the inner consequences of the fall.

Many non-Catholics would have us believe that a person is saved once and guaranteed that salvation. This would imply that a person who has accepted Christ could rape, murder and commit every kind of abominable sin and still go to heaven if he or she had accepted Christ previously.
To be fair on that aspect, many Protestants will then say of such a person that such actions would indicate that they never were saved in the first place.
How then, can ANYONE assume salvation? I'm certain you have heard of cases where pastors and other spiritual leaders were found to be terrible sinners. If they are not saved, what does that say for the rest of us ordinary people?

This brings back again to a problem of semantics, notably "grace", “justification" and how Catholics view them in the context of salvation. When Catholics use these words they are referring to purification.
To quote David P. Lang's Why Matter Matters:
According to [Luther], the sacraments of Baptism and Penance do not really produce an interior change in the soul. They are merely occasions for God to declare the person "righteous"—an external (or "legal") imputation of justice only, demanding simply a subjective (or "fiducial") trusting faith in Christ the Savior. In actuality (i.e. "ontologically") the soul remains mired in its unregenerate state of corruption; God just covers over the fetid swamp with a white celestial canvas and some heavy supernatural deodorant (as it were). By contrast, the orthodox Catholic position is that sanctifying grace works a profound transformation within the soul, elevating it to a divinized condition consequent upon the removal of sin's stain. (33)

Since Catholics view salvation as genuine purification whereby the soul is made suitable for heaven, repentance of all sin throughout life (and after death in Purgatory) is considered necessary. Of course, this needs to be differentiated from meriting heaven by works-- a soul achieves heaven not by its own power, but through this sanctifying grace of God, which brings us in union with him through the merciful forgiveness of sin. To put it more simply, a person who dies in the grace and friendship of God achieves acceptance into heaven. There is no other work than to simply love God, despise that which offends Him, and seek reconciliation for weakness or error. All the sacraments are thus intended throughout life to bring the individual soul closer to God through grace, combating the evil of the world.

So then, a Catholic is not simply saved. A Catholic is saved through baptism and continually being saved though participation in the grace through the other sacraments of reconciliation and communion. If you ask for an assurance of salvation, a Catholic might answer that he or she is in a state of grace and is saved at the moment were death to occur. While this may seem less than the guarantee given by the Protestants, it is truly more so—Catholics know when they are saved because they can be truly free of the guilt of sin.

A personal relationship with Jesus Christ

Here is a prayer by St. Ambrose from a devotional in the Latin Missal

O loving Lord Jesus Christ, I a sinner, presuming not on my own merits, but trusting in Thy mercy and goodness, with fear and trembling approach the table of Thy most sacred banquet. For I have defiled both my heart and body with many sins and have not kept a strict guard over my mind and my tongue. Wherefore, O gracious God, O awful Majesty, I a wretched creature, entangled in difficulties, have recourse to Thee, the font of mercy: to Thee do I fly that I may be healed, and take refuge under Thy protection. And I ardently desire to have HIM as my Savior, whom I am unable to withstand as my Judge.

To Thee O Lord, I show my wounds, to Thee I lay bare my shame. I know that my sins are many and great, on account of which I am filled with fear. But I trust in Thy mercy, of which there is no end. Look down upon me, therefore, with the eyes of Thy mercy on me, who am full of misery and sin, Thou Who wilt never cease to let flow the fountain of mercy.

Hail, Victim of Salvation, offered for me and for all mankind on the tree of the Cross. Hail, noble, and precious Blood, flowing from the wounds of my crucified Lord Jesus Christ and washing away the sins of the whole world. Remember, O Lord, Thy creature, whom Thou hast redeemed with Thy Blood, I am grieved because I have sinned, I desire to make amends for what I have done.

Take away from me, therefore, O most merciful Father, all my iniquities and sins, that, being purified both in soul, and body, I may worthily partake of the Holy of Holies. And grant that this holy oblation of Thy Body and Blood, of which , though unworthy, I purpose to partake, may be to me the remission of my sins, the perfect cleansing of my offenses, the means of driving away all evil thoughts and of renewing all holy desires, the accomplishment of works pleasing to Thee, as well as the strongest defense for soul and body against the snares of my enemies. Amen.

That line, "I ardently desire to have HIM as my Savior, whom I am unable to withstand as my Judge" strikes me to the very core. God by rights is our judge, but He has chosen to save us instead.
To me this communicates most deeply the unconditional fatherly love with which He regards us. Often I feel five years old again when I talk to God.

I was inspired to post this by a moving reflection by Father Longenecker on the concept of a personal relationship with Jesus. Father Longenecker is yet another example for the impact of the faithful converts who seem be re-catechizing the Church, having once been an Anglican priest.

To excerpt:
The problem I had was that I felt more and more that the 'personal relationship with Jesus' was more 'personal' than 'Jesus'. As I grew older and got a wider experience of Evangelical Christianity it all seemed rather sentimental and subjective. Not only were the different denominations idea of the personal relationship different, but every individual's personal relationship seemed as different as could be, and I naturally began to suspect that much of the , 'personal relationship with Jesus' consisted of sincere, but subjective emotions, and that the Jesus people had a personal relationship was often more of a reflection of their own inner desires, their own personality, their religious preferences and what they had been taught about Jesus than anything else.

I then began to meet a few Catholics who seemed to be closer to Jesus than anyone I had ever met, but they never spoke about a 'personal relationship with Jesus.' Then when I became a Catholic I began to experience the personal relationship in a way I had never experienced before. Suddenly things did not depend on my own emotional world, but on objective realities. Catholicism was something hard and real and solid. "Here" as John Henry Newman observed, "was real religion." The Eucharist was real. Confession was real. The priesthood was real. The visible Church was real. The saints were real. Jesus was real, and my personal relationship with him was very, very real, and I was not sure that what I was experiencing was actually something I liked. Humankind cannot bear very much reality, and the reality of my relationship with Christ entered a new and disturbing dimension.

Go and read the rest. And spend some time reading his other posts too.

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