Fr. Linsky will be tied up in diocese meetings this week but the MPG will meet Wednesday morning, Bill Neglia leading.
The January 8th discussion centered on the Gospel Reading, 1 John 4:11-18, which begins, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another,” and goes on to say, “God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him.” That sounds like Mystical Union!” It seems to be a pretty heavy theological burden to be borne by a word we use to explain how we feel about popcorn, chocolate, fishing, baseball, and various other unimportant and non-productive indulgences.
Depending on the Bible translation used, that simple word, “love,” may be listed, with faith and hope, as one of the three theological virtues which
- “adapt man’s faculties for participation in the divine nature,
- relate directly to God,
- dispose Christians to live in a relationship with the Holy Trinity, and
- have the One and Triune God for their origin, motive, and object.”
But, according to the Catechism, source of the four descriptors above, the three theological virtues are not faith, hope, and love but rather faith, hope, and charity! (See Catechism)
Those three theological virtues are found in the Bible in three primary texts, all words of St. Paul, inspired by The Holy Spirit. They are:
- 1 Thessalonians 1:2-4 We give thanks to God always for all of you, remembering you in our prayers, unceasingly calling to mind your work of faith and labor of love and endurance in hope of our Lord Jesus Christ, before our God and Father, knowing, brothers loved by God, how you were chosen.
- 1 Corinthians 13:13 So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
- Colossians 1:3-5 We always give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love that you have for all the holy ones because of the hope reserved for you in heaven.
For now, ignore faith and hope and focus on the deep scriptural meaning of the greatest of the three, love. Agape is the Greek word translated love in these three passages. Here is what Strong’s Concordance says about the meaning of agape. Read more HERE.
That definition seems a bit weak given the importance of the word in the New Testament. So, how have Bible translators dealt with that Greek word agape? Bible Gateway, which is linked at this website, will generate a list of all English translations of a verse. Here is that list for 1 Corinthians 13:13. Of 59 English translations listed, agape is translated as love in 52 and as charity, consistent with wording of the three theological virtues, in the other seven.
So, why is charity the chosen translation for four King James Versions including the BRG Bible, plus the Jubilee Bible, the Wycliff Bible, and the Douay-Rheims Bible? I think the answer to that question is that those are all old translations, hundreds of years old, and were most certainly influenced by use of the Latin word caritas to translate agape in St. Jerome’s 4th century Latin Vulgate, the Latin Bible of the Catholic Church. The Douay-Rheims is not just influenced by but is an English translation of the Vulgate rather than of the original languages. The English translation of caritas is, of course, charity. So, now we know why the Catholic theological virtues are faith, hope, and charity rather than faith, hope, and love, and we can ask what that translation from agape to caritas reveals about the 1st century meaning of agape.
At this link is a good discussion of the reason for translating as caritas. It references a quote from the Latin writings of St. Augustine: I mean by charity (caritas) that affection of the mind which aims at the enjoyment of God for His own sake, and the enjoyment of one’s self and one’s neighbor in subordination to God;” That makes a pretty good case for the Greek to Latin switch but, in 21st century American English, charity means as little as sending a check for $20 or so to Oliver Gospel or The Salvation Army around Christmas or slipping a couple of bucks to a homeless person on the streets of Columbia, nothing like the deep meaning St. Augustine expressed. At this link is a definition and several example sentences which illustrate the full meaning of caritas.
Since our theology and salvation history begin in the ancient Hebrew Old Testament, and since the Vulgate and Septuagint were translations from Hebrew, we should pay attention to what the Old Testament teaches about the love of God. Here is a beautiful OT proclamation about God and his Love. It shows up a dozen or so times with minor wording variations:
The single Hebrew word translated steadfast love in this verse is chesed which has a suggested meaning of lovingkindness or devotion. It can be translated as gracious, merciful, kind, good, or to bend or bow oneself, but is translated in the King James Version 26 times as lovingkindness, a strong word that covers motive and action, love followed by corporal or spiritual acts of mercy. I’m going to extrapolate and suggest that since the time and culture of the early Christian Jews was the same as that of the early non-Christian Jews, agape had a similar meaning, making the translation to caritas reasonable and logical.
Does all this mean that anyone who doesn’t use an English bible that translates agape as charity in 1 Corinthians 13 misses the boat on understanding the theological meaning of love? No, there is plenty of evidence of that meaning in the fact that “God so loved (agape) the world that he gave his only Son…” That is a perfect example of love-driven action. John could have written, “God so loved the world that he hoped everybody would do OK,” but that would have been a false statement. (See James 2:14-17)
There is one potential problem with using an English Bible that translates agape as charity. If it is read from the KJV at a wedding, “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity,” the guests might think they are at a fund-raiser instead of a wedding and start asking how their donation checks should be made out. At least that would mean they were taking the word seriously, if incorrectly.
Extra Credit: Why is love(charity) the greatest of faith, hope, and love(charity)?
And one final thought: Some have reversed the order of “God is love” to read “Love is god.” Not so!
Our Own Fathers
We all shared memories of our own fathers and got to know each other better as a result of that discussion. Father Linsky had led us in that direction because of inclusion of Joseph in the Gospel Reading for the day. So, discussion then turned to Joseph’s role in the lives of Mary and Jesus.
Gospel Reading – Matthew 1:15-25 (NABRE)
End of the Genealogy of Jesus
Eleazar became the father of Matthan, Matthan the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary. Of her was born Jesus who is called the Messiah. Thus the total number of generations from Abraham to David is fourteen generations; from David to the Babylonian exile, fourteen generations; from the Babylonian exile to the Messiah, fourteen generations.
Mary & Joseph and The Birth of Jesus
Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly.
Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home. He had no relations with her until she bore a son, and he named him Jesus.
There are three important Josephs mentioned in the Bible, Joseph, Jacob’s son, who was sold into Egyptian slavery by his brothers, Joseph of Arimathea, wealthy and prominent citizen who claimed and buried the body of Jesus after the Crucifixion, and Joseph who was betrothed to Mary and took her into his home and was earthly father of Jesus.
At this LINK is the Catholic Online view of St. Joseph. It’s a nice summary, unfortunately cluttered up a bit with advertisements. Teaser sentence for the link: “Everything we know about the husband of Mary and the foster father of Jesus comes from Scripture and that has seemed too little for those who made up legends about him.”
Various Opinions on Joseph and Perpetual Virginity of Mary
I continue to be impressed with the well referenced articles on Wikipedia about Bible and Religion. For what it says about modern views of Joseph by various Christian churches, click HERE and scroll down to “Modern Appraisal.”
The Eastern Orthodox and Catholic and a few other churches are in agreement on the perpetual virginity of Jesus which of course would tell us a lot about Joseph. I had never heard the position of the Orthodox Church that Joseph had earlier children, but the writers of Britannica don’t believe it has credibility and argue that, “reliable information about Joseph is found only in the Gospels.” Well, that is consistent with the quote from Catholic Online.
Catholic Importance of Mary – Catechism
As we consider any issue or question about The Blessed Virgin Mary, it seems important to remember this statement, Paragraph 487, from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It is in the section about the Creed and the phrase, “Born of the Virgin Mary.”
587 –What the Catholic faith believes about Mary is based on what it believes about Christ, and what it teaches about Mary illumines in turn its faith in Christ.
So, it’s all about Jesus!
Matthew 1:25 Translation Issues
Along with passages that mention “brothers” of Jesus, verse 25 in the Gospel reading seems to many to provide evidence against the Perpetual Virginity of Jesus. We have talked a few times about the meaning of “brother” in the first century Middle East, but not of the translation of Matthew 1:25.
Someone asked why the writer of Matthew used the preposition “until” in this verse since that suggests denial of (but does not actually deny) perpetual virginity. The fifth word in the verse above is the one translated “until,” and there is little controversy about that translation except for a couple of mentions.
- A footnote in The New Testament, New Catholic Version, St. Joseph Edition says that “The Hebrew word “until” neither implies nor excludes marital conduct after Jesus’ birth.” While it seems to be true that the Hebrew vocabulary, not very rich, uses the same preposition for limited time and for all time, it is unclear why that is applicable since the language of Matthew is Greek. Maybe, since the audience was Jewish, their mindset was to see the Greek word for until as being like the Hebrew word for until.
- There is one New Testament verse in which the Greek word seems to imply forever since it is presented as equal to “always:” Matthew 28:20 …teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” Surely Jesus will continue to be with us even after the “end of the age” so “until” seems to suggest forever in this case.
The more interesting word is the third one, the one in the phrase translated “had no relations,” because that word. ginosko, means and is normally translated as “know.” Below is all the translation information from Strong’s Greek Lexicon. Note that the snip includes the URL where this kind of information can easily be found.
Note especially the third definition, euphemism for sexual intercourse. The word is translated that way four times in the New Testament, including in Matthew 1:25, but as forms of “know” more than a hundred times. I would find little support among Bible scholars but could argue that a better translation of Matthew 1:25 would use the third definition and would be, “He (Joseph) did not have full knowledge and understanding of her (Mary) until she bore a son, and he named him Jesus.
Translated that way, given that full knowledge and understanding by both Joseph and Mary of who Jesus was, how Mary had been chosen and prepared, what she had done, and how Joseph had been called to help, I suspect that marital relations and more children would have been absent from the list of priorities for both Mary and Joseph and that Perpetual Virginity would have been assumed by both. One might use the phrasing of Catechism 587 to say of Joseph: What Joseph believed about Mary was based on what he believed about Christ, and the way he treated Mary illumined his faith in Christ.
Joseph’s Date of Birth
This is a minor issue and not significant since we have no way to know how old Joseph was at the time of the birth of Jesus. It is interesting that he seems to have no presence after the Birth and Presentation stories so may have died before the ministry of Jesus began. Therefore, we may reasonably think of him as depicted in this 15th century painting by Guido Reni, an elderly man well past his prime.
“Protestant” Views of Perpetual Virginity of Mary
Perpetual Virginity of Mary (PVM) is certainly not a priority of most churches today except Catholic and Orthodox. However, that seems to be an evolved and weakened position from strong belief in PVM by original 15th century reformers. Here are some interesting links for any who want to pursue the question further.
Bonus from Rich Sayers
On a different subject, Rich Sayers suggested sharing this beautiful film with the group. This is what it is about. It is only about 7 minutes.
The Call and the Promise
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”
Only in the Gospel of Matthew
In thinking of the meaning of these words, it is important to note that they are found only in the Gospel of Matthew, a Gospel generally recognized as addressed to a Christian community of Jews. Here are some evidences of that:
- Matthew traces the lineage of Jesus back through David to Abraham while Mark doesn’t mention ancestry at all, Luke (Gentile Gospel) traces it back to Adam, and John (Spiritual Gospel) traces it back to The Beginning, the Creation.
- Only in Matthew does Jesus say, Matthew 5:17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” The verb “fulfill” shows up six times in Matthew, always referring to fulfillment of Hebrew Scriptures, and not at all in Mark or Luke. It shows up once in John, then referring to fulfillment of something Jesus had said.
- The phrase “Pharisees and Sadducees,” referring to the anti-Christian Jewish establishment, shows up five times in Matthew and not at all in the other Gospels. The phrase “scribes and Pharisees” shows up eight times in Matthew, twice in Luke, and not at all in Mark or John.
- Matthew is generally considered by Bible Scholars to have been written fifty to sixty years after the Resurrection to a Jewish Christian Community under threat of being thrown out of the Synagogue. That may explain why the disciplinary process described in Matthew ends with the instruction that a person who does not submit to the Church should be treated as a Gentile. ( Matthew 18:17 If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.) This community evidently considers themselves to be completely Jewish as well as Christian. They just don’t submit to the Scribes and Pharisees.
- While Matthew holds out hope for the Gentiles (Matthew 12:21 And in his name the Gentiles will hope.) they are clearly considered outsiders. Only in Matthew does Jesus say, Matthew 15:24 “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
- There is little if any explanation of Jewish rituals in Matthew like those in Luke (Luke 2:22-24 for example). The Matthew community needs no such explanation.
- In passages shared by Luke and Matthew, Luke’s “Kingdom of God” is generally expressed as “Kingdom of Heaven,” perhaps in deference to Jewish sensitivity to saying or writing the name if God.
The Source of the Labor and Burdening
There is probably more, even enough for a Doctoral thesis or a book, but the point in all this is to better understand the words in Matthew 11:28-30. For clear and convincing evidence that the problem, the source of the burdening, is the Jewish establishment, read these words:
Matthew 23:1-11 Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. 3 Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice. 4 They tie up heavy burdens (hard to carry) and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. 5 All their works are performed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels. 6 They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues, 7 greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’ 8 As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’ You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven. 10 Do not be called ‘Master’; you have but one master, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you must be your servant.
It seems we must conclude that Jesus is saying to “do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you” only to the extent that those things are correctly understood. Jesus seems to spend much of the Gospel explaining what that ancient Law really meant.
Context Within the Gospel
That is probably enough about the Gospel. What about the context within Matthew’s Gospel of these three verses of invitation and promise? Major sections of the Gospel are:
- Genealogy and Birth of Jesus
- The wise men
- Flight to Egypt and Slaughter of the Innocents (Moses reminder)
- Return to Israel and baptism by John the Baptist
- Temptation of Jesus
- Calling of the first disciples, preaching and healing
- The Sermon on the Mount including the Beatitudes and the Our Father – Chapters 5-7 (Moses reminder again)
- Ten miracles by Jesus – Chapters 8-9
- Jesus sends out the twelve, giving them detailed instructions – Chapter 10
- Contrast of John the Baptist with those who are refusing to repent – Chapter 11
- Jesus prays and then issues the “Come to me” appeal, contrasting the “apprenticeship of love” he offers with the “list of customs, obligations, and conventions” in the Mosaic Law. (Quotes from footnotes in the “New Catholic Version, St. Joseph Edition.)
- Problems with picking grain and healing on the Sabbath, violations of “Mosaic Law.” Jesus defines his family as whoever does the will of his heavenly Father, maybe referring to those responding to his invitation to “Come to me” and rejecting those who are only sons of Abraham.
- Kingdom of Heaven parables. Conflict with scribes and Pharisees expands and intensifies
- Peter’s confession and promise of The Church
- Transfiguration showing endorsement of Moses and Elijah and link to Law and Prophets
- More instructions to his disciples and predictions of his Passion
- Entry into Jerusalem, cleansing of the temple
- The 1st and 2nd Greatest Commandments
- The “Woe to you” verses condemning the scribes and Pharisees.
- More parables and instructions to the Disciples.
- Arrest, trial, Passion and Resurrection
- The Great Commission (Final Instruction to his followers, The Church)
Focal Point of the Gospel?
So, it seems to be not too much of a stretch to argue that the “Come to me” verses, the bold red print above, are the focal point, the primary invitation, of Matthew’s Gospel. (Remember there were no verses, chapters, or punctuation in ancient Greek writing)
Jesus has preached and sent out the Twelve with the message and it has largely been rejected. So, he issues this profound invitation and promise, a challenge to the establishment, and, from that point, conflict with the establishment increases, the Passion is foreseen, and Jesus turns his attention to instructing his followers, those who responded positively to his invitation, and building the foundation for The Church which would bring that message of rest, humility, easy yoke, and light burden to all people.
After all, the Gospels are not just bunches of words randomly assembled but are divinely inspired and carefully structured and composed by talented writers who had first-hand knowledge of Jesus and whose goal was proclamation of the Gospel.
Austrian Advent Celebration
Our 2007 Austrian vacation during Advent included a visit to Hellbrunn Palace, summer residence of the Prince-Archbishop (I don’t like political-religious titles.) and a center of Christmas celebration with a Christmas Market and very large Advent Calendar posted in the palace windows. It appears we were there on their fifth day of Advent.
There are about 9 million people in Austria, 75% identifying as Catholic, so general acceptance of Advent as a public celebration is normal. I doubt we could get away with posting these numbers on The State House in Columbia, even with the Christmas Tree in front.
A Little History
That high concentration of Catholics is at least partly because between 1684 and 1731, Austria expelled their Lutherans, some of whom ended up in South Carolina and founded Wachovia Bank. Freedom of religion was not a popular concept at the time. Even though Lutheran at the time of our vacation, I still felt welcome as a spending tourist, and the information about past intolerance and persecution by Catholics did not discourage me from being received into the Catholic Church forty-two months later. Misbehavior was as common in the 16th century as now.
Pardon my digression, and back to the point, the reason for and value of observing Advent.
For me, that question has to be answered in the context of Advent as a part of the Liturgical Year, a continuous reminder of the whole story, the big picture, salvation history, from the creation through the patriarchs, the law, the prophets, the promise of and waiting for a messiah, the Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension, the establishment of The Church, the Body of Christ, and the charges and instructions given to, and the early experiences of, that Church of which we are a part 2000 years later. Keeping that total picture in focus helps us avoid simplifying Christianity to a simple “me and Jesus” formula. Observance of the Liturgical Calendar forces us to pay some attention to all of Sacred Scripture, the whole story, the big picture, and our roles in it.
Threefold Coming of The Lord
Father Linsky mentioned the St. Bernard sermon about the threefold coming of Jesus, the Incarnation, His coming to us now, and the final coming in glory and majesty. Here it is, 12th century wisdom, copied from the Universalis App.
We Are In It (The Church) Together
So, it is not just a simple “me and Jesus” formula, but our personal relationships with Jesus are essential and life changing. I don’t think of any simpler representation of what the results of that relationship, Mystical Union with the Triune God, can be than the Virtue chart posted here earlier, the virtues and gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit keeping us away from those dangerous sins beckoning us. If we are all in, corporal and spiritual acts of mercy, joyful living, and deep love of God and neighbor may come as naturally as breathing. And, if we all, or at least most of us, have that, we may need to add Masses at The Basilica of St. Peter to accommodate the masses drawn to see what in the world is going on.
Advent in the Catechism – Two Key Paragraphs
524 – When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Saviour’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming. By celebrating the precursor’s birth and martyrdom, the Church unites herself to his desire: “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
1095 – For this reason the Church, especially during Advent and Lent and above all at the Easter Vigil, re-reads and re-lives the great events of salvation history in the “today” of her liturgy. But this also demands that catechesis help the faithful to open themselves to this spiritual understanding of the economy of salvation as the Church’s liturgy reveals it and enables us to live it.
Bonus – Austrian Bad News – The Krampus
Here is one Christmas custom we don’t want to borrow from the Austrians. Krampus is to St. Nicholas as stick is to carrot. He was roaming freely around the Christmas Market looking for trouble and scaring the kids until finally confronted and defeated by “St. Nicholas” at the Cathedral.
Listening to Father Linsky this morning I had the thought of seeing if there is a preserved homily on this story of the ten lepers by any of the Church Fathers. I came home and Googled “church fathers on healing of the ten lepers.” That didn’t bring up any Church Fathers but did bring up some interesting and inspiring published homilies. One used this painting by James Tissot as the graphic and was titled “A Hidden Mass in the Gospel of the Ten Lepers.”
The post references Leviticus 14:1-32 which shows what was supposed to happen to the nine Jewish guys when the presented themselves to the priest. It was not a simple process. Eight days of ritual except for those who could “afford the regular offerings for their cleansing.” I tried unsuccessfully to find out what those “regular offerings” were, but I guess they were less time-consuming and more expensive. Some things never change.
I think you will enjoy reading how Msgr. Charles Pope, pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian, a vibrant parish community in Washington, DC, sees The Mass hidden in this story of the ten lepers.
The search also showed up this post from Orthodox Christianity which proposes the interesting idea that the healed Samaritan was a thoughtful person who realized that he had just been healed by the Great High Priest and he should go back and present himself to that priest rather than the ones in Jerusalem who were certainly going to reject him. Or maybe he was first heading for Mt Gerizim where the Samaritan’s worshipped. This post refers to an explanation by St. Cyril of Jerusalem of the process described in Leviticus 14. I found the following which might be what was referenced at this LINK. For convenience, I copied and pasted it below even though I don’t find it too helpful. Of course some Jews became believers and were grateful and I guess many Samaritans did not and were not.
Another homily on the story compares the ten to those baptized who then wander away from The Church and have no further need of Jesus. Once saved, always saved, I suppose. This one is worth reading also.
The BIG Question
Discussion was around the Gospel for the day, Luke 13:23-30 which begins with someone, presumably a Jew, asking Jesus, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” Here is the passage with the preceding and following verses included just for some context.
He passed through towns and villages, teaching as he went and making his way to Jerusalem.
Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?”
He answered them, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough. After the master of the house has arisen and locked the door, then will you stand outside knocking and saying, ‘Lord, open the door for us.’ He will say to you in reply, ‘I do not know where you are from.’ And you will say, ‘We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.’ Then he will say to you, ‘I do not know where (you) are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers!’ And there will be wailing and grinding of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and you yourselves cast out. And people will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God. For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”
At that time some Pharisees came to him and said, “Go away, leave this area because Herod wants to kill you.”
Response of Jesus
In the Luke 13 passage, it is not clear whether the questioner was asking about being saved to eternal life or just about surviving possible military conflict with or persecution by the Romans or other enemies or persecutors of the Jews, but Jesus ignored that issue, and shifted immediately from how many to whether or not and from event (being saved) and from process (ate and drank in your presence, taught in the streets) to relationship (I don’t know you or where you come from.)
(NABRE is in a minority here in omitting the “I don’t know you” from the translations though “I don’t know where you are from” was apparently considered an equivalent repudiation in the culture of the time. If you want to investigate, all the English translations of the verse are HERE.)
Searching the Catechism
I searched the Catechism for a simple formula for being “saved.” I didn’t find one. I guess it must be all about the relationship we have with our Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, through our public Profession of Faith (Creeds), regular Celebration of the Christian Mystery (Sacraments), Life in Christ (Beatitudes, Virtues, Gifts, Commandments), and Christian Prayer (in the pattern of The Our Father). Hmm. Those bold print items are the four major divisions of the Catechism. The whole Catechism must be all about “being saved.”
The Hard Part – For Me
Assuming that is true, we can recite the creeds, show up faithfully for Mass and Holy Days of Obligation, and pray the Our Father out of habit, but, for me at least, It’s that Life in Christ, living the Beatitudes, practicing the Virtues and Gifts, obeying the Commandments, that seems impossible, at least outside the walls of The Church. Even if I stay busy doing those things, there is still the issue of motive, the secret motives of my heart. Are they selfish or unselfish, based on love or on self interest? Even St. Paul had that concern:
1 Corinthians 4:4-5 My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God. (From Monday Oct 28 Office of Readings)
In Case of Despair
But, when we despair, we can remember the promise of Jesus when his disciples asked him the same question he was asked in Luke 13: “...for God all things are possible.”
Matthew 19:24-26 – Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, “Then who can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”
It seems fair to say that only the love of God, both His love for us and our love for God, make possible and fruitful that “striving” mentioned in Luke 13. Striving for our own benefit, without that relationship with God, must be useless. There is evidence of that even in the Old Testament, when the big question was addressed.
Isaiah 64:5-7 You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways. But when we continued to sin against them, you were angry. How then can we be saved? All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and made us waste away because of our sins.
So, we don’t have to deny that salvation is a free gift of God and that our “works” have nothing to do with our salvation except that they are fruits of it if we, by the Grace of God, are able to say someday with St. Paul that:
2 Timothy 4:7-8 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day– and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
St. Paul seems to have had more confidence here than in his letter to the Corinthians. I suspect he had grown spiritually in the dozen years or so of faithful and selfless service between writing a letter to a new church around 56 AD and being in prison in Rome awaiting his death maybe in 68 AD.
Well, at least we may be able to say that we have striven! And that is what Jesus recommended in Luke 13.
Bonus question: At this link is a non-Catholic explanation of how to be saved. Can it work? I believe so, but what is missing from it that is important to Catholic Christians?
I’m sure that any who have read this far will think of other answers. Share them with me and I will post them below this statement. I clearly got bogged down a bit in this issue, but it is one that is of prime importance to me and just thinking and writing about it is helpful. As always, please feel free to point out any place you think I have erred.