Tag Archives: salvation

Christmas Proclamation

24 Dec

nativityThe Twenty-fifth Day of December,

when ages beyond number had run their course from the creation of the world,

when God in the beginning created heaven and earth, and formed man in his own likeness;

when century upon century had passed since the Almighty set his bow in the clouds after the Great Flood, as a sign of covenant and peace;

in the twenty-first century since Abraham, our father in faith, came out of Ur of the Chaldees;

in the thirteenth century since the People of Israel were led by Moses in the Exodus from Egypt;

around the thousandth year since David was anointed King;

in the sixty-fifth week of the prophecy of Daniel;

in the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad;

in the year seven hundred and fifty-two since the foundation of the City of Rome;

in the forty-second year of the reign of Caesar Octavian Augustus, the whole world being at peace,

JESUS CHRIST, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, desiring to consecrate the world by his most loving presence, was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and when nine months had passed since his conception, was born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem of Judah, and was made man:

The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.

Lessons from Jesus

25 Jun

Sermon on the MountToday’s Gospel gives us three challenging lessons from Jesus taken from His famous “Sermon on the Mount”:

“Do not give what is holy to dogs, or throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them underfoot, and turn and tear you to pieces” (Mt. 7:6).

Living in a largely de-Christianized society that sorely needs a “new evangelization,” we might tend to brush aside this verse. After all, we must be about bringing the Gospel to the unchurched, who might be considered the “dogs” or “swine” in this analogy. This verse points to the ever-present need to balance what we call in Church-speak “inculturation,” or making the mysteries of the faith accessible to a given culture, and the “reverence” that is always due to God and holy things. If we’re too serious or other-worldly we will not be able to inculturate the Gospel, and if we’re too hip we can easily water down or trivialize the “pearls” of our faith.

“Do to others whatever you would have them do to you. This is the Law and the Prophets” (Mt. 7:12).

This is the most straightforward of the three lessons . . . and probably the most difficult. The people of Jesus’ time, thanks to the Law and Prophets, already knew this lesson, yet they needed Jesus to remind them. And today, surely we have heard the “Golden Rule” many times and have tried to drill it into our quarreling children. Yet we still don’t treat others as we would like to be treated, because we haven’t fully tapped into the love of God that has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (cf. Rom. 5:5). Let’s hear these words anew and make practical resolutions to do good to others today.

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few” (Mt. 7:13-14).

We don’t know the relative population of heaven and hell, and we do trust in the super-abundant mercy of God. Yet, this startling message reminds us that we are responsible for how we respond to God’s mercy, and how we live our lives. We might ask ourselves whether we’re heading through the narrow gate. If not, there’s still time to change course and choose the path that leads to abundant life (cf. Jn. 10:10).

Not by Faith Alone

20 Jun

faith and worksAll Christians affirm that no one can be saved by his or her own efforts. We are saved by the free, undeserved grace of God. Amen to that!

Where some Christians differ is regarding the role of human cooperation in our salvation, as some communities stress God’s primary activity in the work of salvation without adequately accounting for our responsibility to respond to the gift of grace. The truth is that God does not save us against our will, nor does He expect us, once justified through faith and Baptism, to sit back and not allow our faith to transform all that we are and all that we do.

Following, then, are but a sampling of New Testament passages affirming the truth that we will be judged not merely on our faith alone, but on a faith that manifests itself in charitable, upright deeds.

“The Son of man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has done.” –Matthew 16:27

“Then they also will answer, `Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?’ Then he will answer them, `Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” –Matthew 25:44-46

“For he will render to every man according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury.” –Romans 2:6-8

“He who plants and he who waters are equal, and each shall receive his wages according to his labor.” –1 Corinthians 3:8

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body.” –2 Corinthians 5:10

“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love.” –Galatians 5:6

“What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him?” –James 2:14

“Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense, to repay every one for what he has done.” –Revelation 22:12

And then there’s 2 Timothy 3:16, which is often cited to affirm the special place of Scripture in the life of the Christian. Yet, the following verse (v. 17) affirms that the purpose of Scripture is so that we may be “equipped for every good work.”

The Gift of Faith

29 Apr

gift of faithAs I seem to be in dialogue so frequently with friends and relatives these days who have lost the faith (or never had it to begin with), I recently had the occasion to review my response to this question that I received via email a couple years ago: “Does everyone receive the gift of faith? Why or why not?”

During this “Year of Faith,” I think it’s especially important for to consider these most fundamental questions.

What follows is my response to the questioner. I welcome others’ comments and insights on this subject.

“If we mean by ‘faith’ an explicit belief in the person and teachings of Our Lord Jesus Christ, then clearly not everyone has received the gift of faith. That’s why the Church’s perennial mission is evangelization–to offer the gift of faith to all men and women. All of us play a role in that effort.

“And while we cannot judge the state of individual souls, it would also seem that there are those who have been invited, but have rejected the invitation (cf. Lk. 14:15-24).

“While I cannot pretend to know ‘God’s thoughts’ on this, as my thoughts are not His thoughts and my ways are not His ways (Is. 55:8-9), I would like to offer a couple observations that shed light on this crucial issue.

“First, faith is very much a personal gift. We all are called to answer for ourselves Our Lord’s question, ‘Who do you say that I am?’ (Mt. 16:15). If someone were to offer us a $100 bill, no strings attached, we might wonder why others weren’t given a similar offer, but at the end of the day we still have to accept or reject the offer that was personally made to us.

“Second, God wills that all be saved and come to the knowledge of truth (1 Tim. 2:4). The ordinary way that this occurs is through the gift of faith received at Baptism. However, God does not place limits on Himself. He is all good and willed the existence of every man and woman who has ever lived. So, the Church holds out the possibility of salvation to all those who have not knowingly and willingly rejected Him. In that regard, perhaps the parable of the talents is useful. As Catholics we have been given 10 talents, so more is expected of us. However, those who were given only 5 or 2 or even just 1 talent will be judged worthy to enter our heavenly Father’s kingdom if he or she fruitfully uses whatever talents they were given.

“How God works with those who do not have explicit faith is a mystery that’s beyond us in this life, but surely we know that a person is better off with faith and with all the graces that derive from being a faithful disciple of Christ. Indeed, we were made for life with God as Christ’s brothers and sisters, so using our ‘10 talents’ well involves our inviting those around us to the wonderful life of grace that God has in store for us in this life and in the next.”

We Are Family

29 Nov

Today in our series on the documents of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), we turn to the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium). As the focus of Vatican II was on the nature, composition, and mission of the Church, it should come as no surprise that this document on the Church would be considered the central document of the Council. As we will see over the next couple posts in this series, Lumen Gentium has largely shaped our generation’s understanding of what it means to be “Church.”

Today I want to focus on what I consider to be one of the most significant passages from Lumen Gentium, taken from paragraph 9:

“At all times and in every race, anyone who fears God and does what is right has been acceptable to him (cf. Acts 10:35). He has, however, willed to make men holy and save them, not as individuals without any bond or link between them, but rather to make them into a people who might acknowledge him and serve him in holiness.”

God does not desire to save us as isolated individuals, as if salvation were ever simply a “me and Jesus” thing. Rather, He desires to save us as His holy, beloved people (cf. 1 Pet. 2:9-10). This beautiful insight has led to “People of God” becoming one of the most popular titles or descriptions of the Church in recent decades.

Yet to modern ears “people” can sound a little generic and impersonal. Therefore, “People of God” can sound so big that our personal commitment to Christ and the irreplaceable value and contribution of the individual believer can seemingly get lost in the shuffle. That’s why I think there has been more of an emphasis in recent years on the Church as the “family of God.” It’s the same idea as the “People of God,” but in my opinion the word “family” captures the reality better for our culture, which sadly tends to think of the Church more as a bureaucracy than as a family.

The best analogy I can think of to describe our relationship to the Church is marriage. When Maureen married me, it definitely was—and is—a personal commitment. Yet, it has never been simply a “me and Leon” thing for her. Before I married her, she knew some members of my family, but she wasn’t a part of it. She was on the outside looking in. But when she married me, she didn’t just get a husband. My nephews and nieces became her nephews and nieces. My siblings became her siblings. My mother became her mother. She entered into the reality of my family. And then together with me, we have welcomed children and even a grandchild into our expanding family, which incidentally Vatican II called a “domestic Church.”

Similarly, when we are baptized, we not only become God’s children by adoption (cf. Gal. 4:4-7), but through what we call the “communion of saints,” we become part of a much larger familial reality known as the Church. We are united to our brothers and sisters in the Lord with ties that are stronger than flesh and blood–ties that will last for eternity. We are connected with those who have gone before us, but also with all our fellow Christians, with whom we share profound bonds of fraternity and solidarity. Because of the overflowing love and goodness of our supernatural family, we desire that all men and women may share this family unity with us (cf. 2 Cor. 5:14). That surely was at the heart of Christ’s prayer:

“I pray . . . that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me” (Jn. 17:20-21).

So during this Year of Faith, as we seek to nourish and strengthen our faith, the Holy Father calls us to a greater awareness that our faith is necessarily ecclesial, which is Churchspeak for “familial.” The Church is not some faceless institution that gets in the way of our relationship with Christ, but rather is our home–our family–where we are always welcome, and where our faith is celebrated, lived, and shared.

Thanks be to God.

For more on the Church as “family of God,” check out the “Catholic for a Reason” series which I co-edited with Scott Hahn.

The Necessity of Baptism

10 Oct

Does one really need the Sacrament of Baptism in order to be saved?

This vitally important question is addressed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1257. Here is a summary of the Catechism’s nuanced teaching on this subject.

We must begin with the reality that we are conceived and born in a state of sin and alienation from God. This state of sin and alienation is called “original sin.” We are in need of redemption, and Christ is the one savior of the world (Acts 4:12). All salvation comes through Him alone.

Jesus clearly taught that we must be baptized in order to attain eternal life (Jn. 3:5). In addition, His final instruction, or “commission,” to His Apostles was that they make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit (Mt. 28:19).

Based on Christ’s explicit teaching, the Church has always emphasized the need to be reborn as a child of God through Baptism in order to participate in His victory over sin and death.

The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal life. Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the opportunity to request the sacrament.

Yet, while God has bound salvation to the Sacrament of Baptism, He Himself is not bound by His sacraments. God can still bring about the salvation of the unbaptized who are faithful to the lights they have been given. As St. Peter said, “Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34-35).

The Church does not know with certainty the eternal destiny of infants who die without being baptized. She entrusts them to the great mercy of God (cf. Catechism, no. 1261).

Got Faith?

24 Apr

I recently received this question via email: “Does everyone receive the gift of faith? Why or why not?”

I think this is a most timely topic to consider, especially with the “Year of Faith” just around the corner. What follows is my response to the questioner. I welcome others’ comments and insights on this subject.

If we mean by “faith” an explicit belief in the person and teachings of Our Lord Jesus Christ, then clearly not everyone has received the gift of faith. That’s why the Church’s perennial mission is evangelization–to offer the gift of faith to all men and women. All of us play a role in that effort.

And while we cannot judge the state of individual souls, it would also seem that there are those who have been invited, but have rejected the invitation (cf. Lk. 14:15-24).

While I cannot pretend to know “God’s thoughts” on this, as my thoughts are not His thoughts and my ways are not His ways (cf. Is. 55:8-9), I would like to offer a couple observations that shed light on this crucial issue.

First, faith is very much a personal gift. We all are called to answer for ourselves Our Lord’s question, ‘Who do you say that I am?’ (Mt. 16:15). If someone were to offer us a $100 bill, no strings attached, we might wonder why others weren’t given a similar offer, but at the end of the day we still have to accept or reject the offer that was personally made to us.

Second, God wills that all be saved and come to the knowledge of truth (1 Tim. 2:4). The ordinary way that this occurs is through the gift of faith received at Baptism. However, God does not place limits on Himself. He is all good and willed the existence of every man and woman who has ever lived. So, the Church holds out the possibility of salvation for all those who have not knowingly and willingly rejected Him.

In that regard, perhaps the parable of the talents or gold coins is useful (cf. Mt. 25:14-30;  Lk. 19:11-27). As Catholics we have been given the fullness of the faith. We have received “10 talents,” so more is expected of us. However, those who were given only 5 or 2 or even just 1 talent will be judged worthy to enter our heavenly Father’s kingdom if they fruitfully use whatever talents they were given. (And woe to us if we take our Catholic faith for granted and bury our talents in the ground.)

How God works with those who do not have faith is a mystery that’s beyond us in this life, but surely we know that a person is infinitely better off with faith and with all the graces that derive from being a faithful disciple of Christ. Indeed, we were made for life with God as Christ’s brothers and sisters, so using our “10 talents” well involves our inviting those around us to the wonderful life of grace that God has in store for us in this life and in the next.