Sunday, March 12, 2017

Heaven: It's Yours to Lose


Catholics and the majority of Protestants agree that the end result of salvation is eternity in the presence of the Holy Trinity.  However, our beliefs regarding the path to salvation could not be more different.

It would first help to understand why Protestants and Catholics - who both believe in Jesus Christ, His Redemptive Sacrifice and His written word, the Bible - have very different doctrines. The reason for the disagreement in doctrine comes down to authority. Catholics look to the Magesterium - the Pope and Bishops - for their teaching authority. The only authority outside of themselves that Protestants will listen to is the Bible.

But there is a big problem with the Protestant approach to the Bible because Protestants basically believe that each man is his own authority when it comes to Biblical interpretation.  Protestants would never understand the Ethiopian described in Acts 8. The Ethiopian was reading scripture when the evangelist Philip said to him "Do you understand what you are reading?" The Ethiopian replied, "How can I unless someone explains it to me?"

A Protestant believes he can determine the Will of God by reading the Bible and deciding for himself what it means. He then chooses a church that comes closest to his personal beliefs. That is not to say that Protestants will not listen to Bible teachers, but they will listen only if the teaching agrees with what they already believe on their own. They don't believe they need any kind of mediator or interpreter between them and God.

Catholics, on the other hand, follow the way of Jesus Christ. Catholic authority is based on Matthew 16:18-19:
And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
Contrary to Protestant perception, Catholics do not believe that the Pope is an infallible human being. Our first pope - St. Peter - actually denied Jesus Christ. Our current Holy Father, Pope Francis, when asked who he was, responded simply: "I am a sinner." Catholics know their popes are merely men, not divine. A pope is as much in need of the saving grace of Jesus Christ as every other human being.

However, a pope's authority in the Church is not based on who he is as a person. His authority is based on his office, instituted by Jesus Christ Himself as seen above. And as Jesus Christ promised, "the gates of Hades will not prevail." You have only to look at the 2000 year history of the Catholic Church to see the proof of those words.

The Pope in communion  with the bishops of the Catholic Church constitute the Magisterium, or teaching authority, of the Church. It is because of the Magesterium, instituted by Jesus Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit, that the Catholic Church, despite major scandals both inside and out, has survived all of these hundreds of centuries.  Protestantism started as a rejection, or protest against, the Christ-ordained Church authority.  By making themselves their own authority, Protestants are divided and at war with each other as much as they are with the Catholic Church.  

So back to the issue at hand - the path to salvation.  This would come as a surprise to many Protestants, but Catholicism is in total agreement with Protestant belief that there is nothing man can do to save himself.  Protestants are under the misconception that Catholics believe we can "earn" their salvation.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  

To begin with, like Protestants, Catholics believe that we cannot even respond to God without first being called by Him.  From the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Paragraph 1996:
Our justification comes from the grace of God. Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life.
Further, paragraphs 1997-1998:
Grace is a participation in the life of God. It introduces us into the intimacy of Trinitarian life: by Baptism the Christian participates in the grace of Christ, the Head of his Body. As an "adopted son" he can henceforth call God "Father," in union with the only Son. He receives the life of the Spirit who breathes charity into him and who forms the Church.
This vocation to eternal life is supernatural. It depends entirely on God's gratuitous initiative, for he alone can reveal and give himself. It surpasses the power of human intellect and will, as that of every other creature.
However, Protestants and Catholics start to go in very different directions regarding the timeline of salvation i.e., at what point exactly we are saved. Most Protestants believe in "eternal security", or put another way, "once saved, always saved."  Accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, and poof! you are heaven bound and nothing can stop you.  From a Protestant website called allaboutgod.com:
The Bible teaches "once saved, always saved" -- that we can be saved once and for all only through a repentant, saving faith in Jesus Christ. Once a person has accepted Christ as Savior, they may wonder if it is possible to lose that salvation. What if they commit a sin? What if they commit a lot of sins? What if they do something very, very wrong? Is it possible to be saved, and then lose that salvation? Fortunately, the answer is a resounding "no." Once a person has accepted Jesus Christ as Savior, he/she is forever saved. This fact is referred to as the doctrine of "eternal security," often summarized as "once saved, always saved." 
It seems Protestants believe we no longer have free will once we are "saved."  We can no longer make a decision as to whether we will follow God.  Our free will is locked in stone and no longer a factor in our lives.  We have basically become spiritual robots, according to Protestant belief.  

Calvinists actually go even further and say that there are the "elect" and the "damned" and that both groups are pre-ordained with no choice in the matter.  Calvinists believe that the "elect", whoever they may be, have no choice but to be "saved."  They also believe that those who are not among the "elect" are basically doomed to be eternally lost, and there is nothing they can do about that:
Although the general outward call of the dispel can be, and often is, rejected, the special inward call of the Spirit never fails to result in the conversion of those to whom it is made. This special call is not made to all sinners but is issued to the elect only. The Spirit is in no way dependent upon their help or cooperation for success in His work of bringing them to Christ. It is for this reason that Calvinists speak of the Spirit's call and of God's grace in saving sinners as being 'efficacious,' 'invincible,' or 'irresistible.' For the grace which the Holy Spirit extends to the elect cannot be thwarted or refused, it never fails to bring them to true faith in Christ." (David N. Steele, Curtis C. Thomas, The Five Points of Calvinism, Defined, Defended, Documented: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1975, p.49)
The doctrine of free will is most certainly thrown out the window here.  According to Calvinism, salvation seems to be based on God's "whim," kind of an "eenie, meenie, miney, moe."  Human beings have no voice at all in their salvation.

Now, to be fair, unlike the Calvanists, most mainstream Protestants believe salvation is open to all. But as stated above, most are in agreement with the Calvinist view that "once saved, always saved." You can and should grow in the knowledge of God and what it means to be a Christian, but you have basically received all the grace you need to earn salvation at the time you "accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior" and there is nothing you can do that will result in the loss of salvation.

The Catholic Church teaches that we have free will at every moment of our lives.  The final decision as to whether we will follow Christ is always ours.  This can also produce a great war within ourselves as we battle our sinful selves, as so aptly described by St. Paul in Romans 7:
21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 
St. Paul says that becoming a Christian and burying the "old man" in baptism does not mean that we are done with our sinful selves.  We are still at war, but Our Lord does not leave us to battle it alone, as Romans 7 continues:
2What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! 
But even though Christ is there to rescue us, the war with our sinful selves will continue until the day we die:
So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin. 
Even as Paul give credit to Jesus Christ for rescuing him from sin, he still realizes that he is not yet a victor over his sinful self.  He describes our promised salvation as a race that must be run, and one that we could still lose.  I Corinthians 9:
24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
The great Apostle Paul, admired even by the Protestants, says here that after all of his great preaching and service to God, he could still be "disqualified."  The great St. Paul felt that he could lose his salvation.  That should be a warning call to all of us.  As St. Paul wrote further in I Cor. 10:12:
So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall! 
Unlike Protestants who think we lose our free will when we commit our lives to Christ, the Catholic Church - in line with the Bible - teaches that we will always retain our free will.  The job we must take on now is to conform our will to that of Jesus Christ, and that is where the hard, hard work comes in.

I think the reason the Protestants reject this line of thinking is because they instinctively know that it is impossible for a human being to conform his will to Jesus Christ.  It is so much easier to say that we are immediately saved, and that Jesus will take us up into heaven just as we are.  But by rejecting the truth - that the old sinful man must die - the Protestants are also rejecting the many incredible graces offered by the Catholic Church to help us along the way.  In fact, we have been given so many graces in the Church that I truly believe that the only ones who won't be saved are those who don't want salvation.

Let's just look at a few of the many graces we have in the Catholic Church.

First are the Sacraments.  The Protestants share one sacrament with us - baptism.  The Catholic understanding, of course, is somewhat different from the Protestants.  Catholics believe that baptism wipes clean the original sin inherited from our first parents - a belief rejected by Protestants - and makes us true children of God, which is accepted by Protestants.  Catholic Catechism paragraph 1213:
Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit (vitae spiritualis ianua), and the door which gives access to the other sacraments. Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission: "Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration through water in the word."
Baptism is a one-time deal. Once we are baptized, we need never be baptized again.  That is why Catholics recognize Protestant baptism as long as it is done in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  

But baptism is only one of seven sacraments. 

Even the Protestants admit that we keep on sinning after baptism. Our old habits don't just go away. Protestants basically deal with this on their own. They may have support groups they go to, or other people they can confide in. And of course, they do have prayer. 

But as Catholics, we can go directly to Jesus Christ, confess our sins and receive full absolution.  The sacrament of confession is one of the most wonderful gifts we have from the Church.  Many people now go to counseling so they can talk to another person, laying their inner selves bare.  But all that other person can do is commiserate and/or give advice.  When Catholics go to a priest and lay their sins bare, the priest has divine authority to actually wipe away those sins and give us a clean start.  Confession gives us the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome our sins and actually become a new person.  

Then we have the Eucharist - the source and summit of all Catholic life.  The Eucharist is Jesus Christ under the appearance of bread and wine.  Protestants have only the symbols of bread and wine representing the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.  Catholics have the real thing - the bread and wine are literally turned into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, enabling us to truly fulfill the command of Jesus Christ found in John 6:53:
Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.
When the Protestants left the Catholic Church, they left the Eucharist. Now when Protestants walk into their church buildings, they are merely walking into empty rooms. When a Catholic enters a Catholic Church, he is literally entering into the presence of Jesus Christ, who is actually present in the tabernacle, surrounded by the angels and saints and His Blessed Mother. And they are all there for us.

We are literally never far from heaven when we are in a Catholic Church. It is truly an escape from the sad and evil world we live in. There are untold graces to be had by just entering and being in the presence of Jesus Christ. The great Bishop Fulton Sheen, despite his busy schedule, always gave one hour every day to being in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. That is a major reason why he remained so strong in the face of great persecution and suffering. He actually died while kneeling in front of the Blessed Sacrament.

Then, of course, we have the Mass. Oh what a glorious blessing this is! Thousands of times every single day Christ's life-giving sacrifice is re-presented to the Father for the salvation of all mankind. And once again, the angels and saints and our Glorious Blessed Mother are present. We hear the life-saving words of the Gospel, and bread and wine are transformed before our very eyes into the literal Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, which we then receive.

I go to Mass every day, and it is always the highlight of my day. And for all of you traditionalists - I am talking about the "Novus Ordo" Mass which you so despise. And I understand that because at one time I despised the "New Mass." But then I started to really pray the Mass, and that made all the difference in the world.

You can have a preference for one Mass or the other, but for any Catholic to avoid a Mass because of the belief that it is not good enough is truly a sin against the Eucharist. Jesus Christ honors that Mass along with the Father and the Holy Spirit. The angels are there, the saints are there. Our Blessed Mother is there. Who are you to despise something so glorious?

Outside of the Eucharist and the Mass, one of the greatest gifts given to us by Jesus Christ is His Beloved Mother, Mary. Truly she is Our Lord's greatest creation. She was perfection from the beginning. Every thought and every moment of her life was directed towards serving God. She never thought of herself. She never looked for glory. She accepted whatever was given to her. Outside of her son, she was given the greatest cross of anyone who has ever lived - to watch her perfect Son be brutally beaten and crucified like a common criminal. And she was spiritually crucified with Him. As Simeon prophesied when Jesus was but a small babe, a sword pierced her heart as well as her Son's heart.

And now she is our mother. And she offers all of her graces to us, constantly intervening before her Son on our behalf. The Church teaches the beautiful De Montfort consecration to Mary in which we give her everything - all of our good works, all of our intentions, everything we do, which really amount to so little - so that she will take that to her son and clothe our nothingness with her glory. We are given a rock solid assurance that anyone who goes to Mary will be assured of salvation.

I can attest personally how Mary changes our lives. About five years ago I made a pledge that I would pray at least one rosary every day, and more whenever I could. I made the consecration to Mary, as imperfect as it was. It was at that point that so much became clear to me, and I realized the wrong path I was on. I saw my own willfulness and rebellion. I had been so sure of myself, and Mary helped me see that I was wrong about almost everything. She walked with me and helped me onto a different path that leads much more directly to her Son.

And that is the beauty of Mary. She is never about herself. Everything she does in our lives leads directly to Jesus Christ. As. St. Louis de Montfort said, there is no surer path to Jesus Christ. How sad that the Protestants have rejected this most beautiful creature, closer to God than any other part of His creation. With Mary, I feel like I am on a speeding jet to salvation, while the Protestants are crawling on the ground, barely able to move.

The Catholic Church has 2000 years of saints who are in heaven interceding for us. They don't need us, they have everything they need. They have salvation. But still they are there for us, and are never far away, especially when we are at Mass. We have our guardian angels, there for us whenever we call upon them.  We Catholics have 2000 years of spiritual riches in the form of many writings. This past 20th century Our Lord appeared to St. Faustina and gave us the Divine Mercy, which calls upon God's Mercy to wipe away the sins of the world so that we don't have to face the judgment we so richly deserve.

With all of the graces that Our Lord has given to us in the Catholic Church, there is really only one thing that we have to do. And that is to reflect the actions of Mary by saying "Yes" to God and "No" to ourselves. Of course, like the Apostle Paul, we more often than not feel powerless to say "Yes" to God. But even then, if we cry out to Him, and pray to our Blessed Mother and to all of the saints, we will be given that power. That is a promise.

I have just begun to touch the surface of all the many ways to grace that Catholics have been given. There really is no reason for any of us to ever despair. We must remember that we walk by faith and not by sight. Our Lord is always there for us, and He has given us more graces than we can comprehend. 

That is why I say:  Heaven is yours to lose.


2 comments:

  1. Catholic in Brooklyn, what do you particularly dislike about LifeSiteNews? Do people associated with LifeSiteNews have a tendency to attack Church hierarchy?

    BTW, check out the following link:

    http://www.sfgate.com/entertainment/article/Tim-Allen-says-being-a-non-liberal-in-Hollywood-11012733.php

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lifesitenews is a far right website. They pretend to be Catholic, but they rarely show any deference or respect for Catholic authority. If is either their way or the highway. The end result of what they do, like Michael Voris, is to cause rebellion and division in the Church.

      Hollywood is dlefinitely of a liberal mindset. Liberalism is just as bigoted and hateful as the right wing because, like Conservatives, they trust in themselves as their own authority. As I have previously written, neither a Conservative or a Liberal be.

      Delete

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