Clearing the Heart to See the Truth

Grace and Works

In two previous posts, I expressed concerns I have about Catholics attending non-Catholic bible studies due to unbiblical assumptions that Catholics unwittingly incorporate into their thinking, making certain teachings from the Church difficult for them to swallow. On more than one occasion I have heard comments from Catholic adults say things like, ‘I just don’t buy the Mary thing;’ Or, ‘where is that teaching found in God’s Word;’ or ‘I don’t need to go to confession if I’ve accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior;’ etc. You can read the posts dealing with these faulty either/or suppositions on Mary here, and the Sacraments here. The point is, all of the teachings of the Catholic Church are found in God’s Word, because God’s Word is Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh and dwelt among us (Jn 1:14.) I am not at all opposed to ecumenical discussion and mutual study of the Sacred Scriptures. I am simply pointing out that, as Catholics, we need to be aware that often non-Catholic Christians assume either/or oppositions we don’t assume. In this last post in the series, I wish to briefly discuss one last either/or assumption that deals with grace and human effort. The Protestant Reformers argued that grace is a free gift from God. No problem there. However, they further taught that human effort was opposed to the gratuitous nature of this gift. In other words, if you have to do something to receive grace, it is not free. For many evangelical and fundamentalist Christians, this is the issue of the Reformation. When it comes to salvation, either God is doing everything, or He requires our help, which is where the works come in. If a believer must have faith and...

The Touch of Grace

In my previous blog, I shared some concerns I have regarding Catholics who attend some non-Catholic bible studies. As I indicated, I often discover in their thinking assumptions that are un-biblical. I summarized these in a series of either/or assertions: either you go to Christ, or Mary and the saints; either you receive grace spiritually (not sensibly) or you don’t receive it at all; and grace is either a free gift, or you have to do something, which means that its not free. In this post, I wish to examine the second another either/or assumption that can be unknowingly be presupposed in the understanding of our relationship with Christ. I summarize it as follows: either grace is given spiritually, or it’s not given at all. If some Christian (here read Catholic) tells you that you must enact some ritual (i.e. the Mass, or some other Sacrament,) to receive grace instead of a pure profession in Christ, he is placing an obstacle between you and Christ. At first glance, this certainly seems correct. God is pure spirit. His life and power come from His own eternal reality as pure spirit. Grace, the gift of His life and power to human creatures, is therefore a spiritual reality, and benefits us in our spirit. Therefore, grace must be received spiritually, or it’s not received at all. If God had not become man in Christ, I would completely agree with this. However, the reality of the Incarnation reveals the mystery of God’s new relationship with creation: The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us! (Jn 1: 14.) This means that the pure, eternal Spirit–God– has now permanently and irrevocably wed Himself to His creation by taking it unto Himself as Jesus Christ, the God-man, and now acts through His material world. This...

Mary, Mother of the Both/And...

In my career as a Catholic catechist, I have noticed that one of the problems with Catholics attending some non-Catholic bible studies is that they begin to integrate assumptions that are actually non-biblical. These assumptions not only make it difficult to understand the bible in the spirit in which it was written, to paraphrase the Catechism, but also undercuts the foundation on which so many of our Catholic beliefs are based. The assumptions that undercut orthodox belief can be summed up in a series of either/ors: Either one goes directly to Christ or indirectly (here read superfluously) to another; Either Grace is given to us spiritually or it is not given to us at all (i.e. through visible/sensible means); Grace is either a free gift or we must do something to receive it, in which case it is no longer free. With these either/or assumptions, Catholic belief becomes untenable as a Christian faith system. This is why so many Protestants think that it is their duty to save us from certain damnation. But are these assumptions themselves biblical? In these next few blog entries, I intend to show how they are not only unbiblical, but that they attack an orthodox understanding of Christ. Today, I would like to examine the view that either we go to Christ, or we go to Mary. According to this view, prayers to Mary and the saints are at best superfluous, at worst, an evil distraction that get in the way of “pure” belief in Christ. The deeds and teachings of Christ and His Apostles in the New Testament offer clarity on the matter. There are so many references that show us how closely Christ identifies Himself and His mission with other men that...

All Souls, Purgatory, and the Bible...

On All Souls Day, the Catholic Church offers prayers and liturgies for the repose of the dead. As Catholics, we are called by the Church to focus our spiritual energies to assist these poor souls, who, though saved, are still in need of purification. Our prayers and sacrifices assist them in this process of purification as a means used by God to communicate purifying grace to them. After all, He is the vine, we are the branches so that He produces his fruits of grace through us.  The practice of praying for the dead actually predates Christianity. In 2 Maccabees 12: 41-45, Judas offers prayers and sacrifices for his fallen comrades to make “atonement for the dead that they might be absolved from their sin.” Some argue that the books of the Maccabees are not inspired scripture. Leaving that argument aside for now, we can at least look at them as historical books detailing accepted pious practices of God’s people some 300 years before Christ. If that is the only place in the Bible where we find any reference to purgatory, many Protestant Christians argue, then that is a weak support for such a practice. Fortunately, we know as Catholics that all of our doctrines are indeed found in the Word of God, as is the doctrine of Purgatory. Hence what follows is a biblical understanding of the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory. The book of Genesis recounts for us the far reaching repercussions of Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the Garden. This sin, we find, brought about four consequences which I will summarize here (Gen 3: 16-24): First, their sin brings about disharmony between persons. God tells Eve that both her relationship to her husband and children will now...

Sense of the Faith-Lacking...

The latest Extraordinary Synod of Bishops has captured the attention of the world in its discussions on marriage and family, but the reasons behind this interest are questionable. St. John Paul II once said that the way of society goes by way of the family. Thus, decisions regarding the family have a universal impact. The interest of what appears to be the entire world can be interpreted as a good thing, provided that the interest comes from a genuine desire to promote and protect the sanctity of the family. To the extent that they come from desires to redefine and/or lower the moral expectations of the family, the interest is misleading, dangerous, and futile. This past year, bishops from around the world gathered information from the pews to help guide their pastoral responses to the issues faced by Catholic families worldwide. The Bishops are also receiving testimonies from couples and families during the synod to further assist their decision-making. From these sources, we discover that many, many Catholics are cohabiting, divorcing and remarrying without receiving a declaration of nullity from their previous marriage, are acting on same sex attractions, and expect to receive communion while in these relationships. Surprise! Surprise! This data, many are arguing, captures the Sensus Fidei, or Sense of the Faith. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Sense of the Faithful is understood as a “supernatural appreciation of the faith, shown by the universal consent in matters of faith and morals manifested by the whole body of the faithful under the guidance of the Magisterium. (cf. the glossary, and #92 CCC.)” It has been traditionally  understood to be a reliable litmus test for sound doctrine. Changing the teachings of the Church, some argue, is...

Hidden Treasures, Blessed Adventures in Italy...

Pilgrimages reflect and remind the pilgrim of his sojourn on earth. They are not vacations, but, rather, journeys into God’s providence. It is a time of recognizing what is our true goal, union with God in heaven, versus what is merely the means to get there, our life on earth. We often get those two mixed up. I recently returned from leading a pilgrimage to Italy. I was reminded several times that I still lack patience and charity, and so my earthly pilgrimage still has a long way to go in achieving its end. Nevertheless, this pilgrimage was for me a truly blessed adventure. God never allows our own weaknesses and sins to completely deter Him from accomplishing what He wants to do in us. He only asks that we allow Him the opportunity. I experienced profound grace at every destination. It would take too long to recount the entire journey, but there were some hidden treasures that are worth sharing. Our pilgrimage started in Florence. Florence possesses some of the greatest art treasures on earth and is an art-lover’s paradise. One of the sites that really struck me was the convent of San Marco. This ancient monastery is less known compared to some of the other art museums in the city. 600 years ago, inside this old Dominican cloister, lived a friar and master-painter named Fr Angelico, Blessed Fra Angelico, as St. John Paull II beatified him in 1982. He was asked by his superior to paint frescos inside each monk’s cell. Those frescos are still there, and their splendor has not faded with the passing of the centuries. The holiness of Fra Angelico radiates through his work. Michelangelo said of him, “he must have seen heaven to...
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