Monday, August 22, 2016
Why we Must Listen to our Conscience and Question Authority
When church leaders present wrong attitudes, we must speak up. My reaction to one leader's take on #grace and #salvation:
I want to first thank you for reminding me that we are called to love in imitation of Christ’s love and for noting that we are all called to cooperate with the free gift of God’s grace. My concern, however, is when you asked us to raise our hands if we thought were going to heaven. After this, you stated that those of us who raised our hands were guilty of a “sin of perdition,” which I assume you meant the sin of pride or predilection. Although I am sure it was unintentional, your homily presented a misguided teaching on salvation.
The Catholic Church teaches that both justification and sanctification are intertwined, but in every statement found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church [1987-2021], our faith in Jesus’ atonement on the cross and the unmerited power of God’s grace are what justify us, not anything we do [Ephesians 2:8-9]. Through this justification we are made heirs to the heavenly kingdom [Romans 8:14-17]. We are saved through our faith in Christ; this truth runs the entire arc of Scripture, from the fall in Genesis through the New Jerusalem in Revelation. It is the foundational statement that the New Testament authors argue.
When you said, and I paraphrase, no one can say they are going to heaven, you implied that we are not heirs to the kingdom through our baptism and faith in Christ’s death and resurrection. And to expand on this concept, you added that everyone who, in faith, claimed to be an heir to the kingdom was guilty of serious sin. According to Scripture and Tradition this is false.
Sanctification, cooperating with the grace of the Holy Spirit, follows justification and is where we can lose the gift of eternal life in Christ. Scripture teaches this and Tradition confirms it. But first, through our faith in Christ, we are saved, made right with God. There is nothing we can do to achieve this. The entirety of Scripture proves it, and it is why God became incarnate in Christ. Each one of us, through our baptism and faith in Christ, is promised eternal life in him, and we are called to live out that new life in love. If we fail to love the best we can in our situations, then we jeopardize that unmerited gift of eternal life. None of us deserves heaven, even the most pious saint, but God gives it to us freely, unmerited, through the cross and our faith lived out in love. The end of your homily pointed to the responsibility of love, but the beginning of your message implied a tone of condemnation and works-based salvation.
An alternate question might be: “How many of us reflect enough love in our lives to warrant the gift of eternal life, the gift God promises us through our faith in Christ?” This question does not pass judgment nor does it imply that we can do anything to earn our salvation. But in it is the heart of what I believe you were trying to say: As faithful Christians, our lives must reflect genuine love for God and others. Otherwise, we can’t call ourselves Christians and will come to find the narrow door to the kingdom closed.
Is it fair, then, to say that we are going to heaven? Maybe not. But when we answer, “I hope to go to heaven,” we imply that we have to work for it, which is false and gives Catholics an inaccurate reputation among other brothers and sisters in Christ. The better answer is that, through faith and our baptism, we are promised heaven and are heirs to the kingdom through the blood of Christ and the love of God. Whether we live out that promise is up to us. We must cooperate with God’s grace through love. And in that cooperation, which we are given ample grace to live out, all will live eternally in the heavenly kingdom.