Thursday

Do Catholics feel they have to work out their Salvation?

Catholics believe that salvation is a free gift from God. When Jesus died and rose He paid the price for our sins. That salvation is a wonderful gift. I receive that gift by an act of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. This gift is not something that I can earn. It's outright free. But now the question arises, "Do I have to do anything once I have that gift?" Well, of course. The gift from the Lord requires a response. We must love and worship the Lord. We must care for His people. The parable in Matthew 25 speaks of works of love for the poor as a key to attaining salvation.
Back in the 1500's Luther got very upset with the Roman Church over the issue of Indulgences. Catholic leaders were selling indulgences that gave the buyer a guarantee that he or those for whom he bought the indulgences, living and dead, would be freed from the punishment their sins had incurred. In many ways

Luther was correct to object to the practice of selling indulgences as it was carried out in his time. Indulgences in themselves are really quite beautiful. They come from the store of loving acts of Christ and members of His Body. For example, if someone you love is suffering right now with arthritis or cancer, for a Christian, that suffering is not wasted or meaningless. It is united with the sufferings of Christ in a way that transcends time. That suffering can now be applied to help a struggling person perhaps on the other side of the planet. The help comes in the form of grace.

One of the clearest explanations of this power of human suffering comes from the words of St. Paul to the Colossians 1.24: "I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is the church." Indulgences speak of the power of our suffering being united to the suffering of Christ. The Father unites our suffering with those of Christ and brings the grace of salvation to people around our world today. Indulgences speak of the value that God places in our suffering. What a beautiful gift.

The granting of indulgences sometimes lost its deep spiritual significance and was merely a means of manipulation and a way of gaining money. The impression for some was that the Church was saying that salvation could be bought or worked out by prayer or mere human effort. We can never do anything that would merit our salvation. Still, given this gift, we must strive with all our power to be as worthy of this love by loving God and our neighbor as we love ourselves.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dear Father Manning,

Thank-you for this clear explanation of the gift of salvation. I always knew this, but had trouble putting the explanation into words. Now I have your printed explanation. God Bless You!

Laurence Gonzaga & Paul Dion said...

Commentary by Laurence Gonzaga, an ordinary Catholic layman studying theology and apologetics
Fr. Manning did not participate in the responses to the comments submitted by Mr. Gonzaga. Paul Dion, STL, Theology Editor of ParishWorld.net provided clarifying comments from the theological point of view. The three comments headed by letters in parentheses should be read carefully for they touch upon core doctrinal points in the body of the discussion.

It is possible that further questions will arise from the reading of this text. You are requested to direct your comments or inquiries to editor@ParishWorld.net

Fr. Manning: Catholics believe that salvation is a free gift from God When Jesus died and rose He paid the price for our sins.(a)

Laurence: (a)Jesus did not pay the legal price of our sins; otherwise nobody would ever go to Hell. What Jesus “bought” was the mercy of the Father, and the possibility that our sins may be forgiven, upon the repentance of the sinner, which all of us are, and fall short of the glory of God.

Paul Dion: (a) Jesus, being God and Man is the only being capable of paying the full, legal price of our sins, which He did. He is the only one who could bring a sacrificial apology to God that would be of large enough merit to wipe out the infinite damage done to the divinity by the sin of humankind. The price that Jesus paid did not re-create human beings and change their nature. They still remain free beings and still retain the ability to turn away from God, and therefore sin. What Jesus “bought” is the complete renewal of the relationship between humans and God which St. Paul calls Justification. This keeps humans living in the freedom to act and maintain themselves in the presence of God’s grace despite moments of denial. Jesus bought the ability of human beings to renew themselves for the sins that they commit personally after Adam’s sin, and after Baptism.

Fr. Manning: That salvation is a wonderful gift. I receive that gift by an act of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Laurence: Is this is a one time event? Or can we lose this gift? If it is a one time event, then I can’t reconcile this with the Catholic understanding of Salvation.

Paul Dion: This gift is a one time gift that is infinite and spans eternity. From God’s point of view it is always present and therefore is not in need of ever being renewed or amended. An individual human being can accept it and then renege, but the gift remains and can be taken up again and the human individual will indeed be renewed through the response to the gift faith.

Fr. Manning: This gift is not something that I can earn. It's outright free.

Laurence: Depends on what you mean by free.

Fr. Manning: But now the question arises, "Do I have to do anything once I have that gift?" Well, of course. The gift from the Lord requires a response.

Laurence: Why does it require a response, when the gift was allegedly already given?

Paul Dion: When a gift is given, it always requires a response. Gifts received trigger a response, positive or negative. Not one single person in salvation history received a grace from God who was not expected to perform. Adam and Eve had to respond, and everybody since then has had the same responsibility. If the gift of justification and salvation is not met by a positive response, hell is the result. A positive response during which the positive relationship with the Grace of God is maintained results in eternity before God through the grace of the Beatific Vision.

Fr. Manning: We must love and worship the Lord. We must care for His people. The parable in Matthew 25 speaks of works of love for the poor as a key to attaining salvation.

Laurence: You see this part is true, we need to perform the corporeal works of mercy AND the spiritual works of mercy. The issue is, whether any of that has any bearing on our salvation. Catholic theology says, yes it does. You see, it is because of God’s actual graces which enable us to “do good and avoid evil”, and now by being free to do these works of mercy as well as participating in the sacramental life, that justifies us (makes us right with God), and he sanctifies us (makes us holy). This justification and sanctification is the “gift of salvation”, because God is not obligated to pay or reward us by us doing those works. In other words, it sounds like Father Manning is saying that it is because we are saved that we do good works. (b) But Catholic theology says that it is because we have been given the grace by God to do good works and receive the sacraments, and our free response in doing them, that we are therefore justified and thus saved.

Paul Dion: (b) Catholic theology says that all grace comes to us through Jesus Christ. The grace that justified the Old Testament saints came to them through the anticipated sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ earned us the grace of justification and salvation. It is in and through the gift of the justifying and saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ that the grace of and for our good acts was brought into the world and made efficacious.

Fr. Manning: Back in the 1500's Luther got very upset with the Roman Church over the issue of Indulgences. Catholic leaders were selling indulgences that gave the buyer a guarantee that he or those for whom he bought the indulgences, living and dead, would be freed from the punishment their sins had incurred. In many ways Luther was correct to object to the practice of selling indulgences as it was carried out in his time. Indulgences in themselves are really quite beautiful. They come from the store of loving acts of Christ and members of His Body. For example, if someone you love is suffering right now with arthritis or cancer, for a Christian, that suffering is not wasted or meaningless. It is united with the sufferings of Christ in a way that transcends time. That suffering can now be applied to help a struggling person perhaps on the other side of the planet.

Laurence: Or for the suffering souls in Purgatory; Lets not forget Purgatory!

Fr. Manning: The help comes in the form of grace. One of the clearest explanations of this power of human suffering comes from the words of St. Paul to the Colossians 1.24: "I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is the church." Indulgences speak of the power of our suffering being united to the suffering of Christ. The Father unites our suffering with those of Christ and brings the grace of salvation to people around our world today. Indulgences speak of the value that God places in our suffering. What a beautiful gift.

The granting of indulgences sometimes lost its deep spiritual significance and was merely a means of manipulation and a way of gaining money. The impression for some was that the Church was saying that salvation could be bought or worked out by prayer or mere human effort.

Laurence: This is a bit confusing. Salvation cannot be “bought”, other than Christ purchasing its application with His Blood. “Mere human effort” cannot bring about salvation, since this is Pelagianism, a condemned heresy. But it is okay to say that prayers and good works, can “work out” salvation; after all doesn’t St. Paul say “Work out your salvation in fear and trembling” Phil 2:12]

Paul Dion: Please do not be confused. The last sentence by Fr. Manning describes an opinion that is not a part of Father Mike’s personal presentation in these matters. It describes the thinking of some wrong headed people.

Fr. Manning: (c)We can never do anything that would merit our salvation.

Laurence: (c)Yes we can. If we merit, it is because of Christ. So He gets the first credit, and we get the second credit, since our cooperation in our own salvation is entirely free.

Paul Dion: (c)You’re right. The context of the statement by Father Mike makes the statement that “we can never do anything that would merit our salvation” have the accent on the WE in the absence of the merit of Jesus Christ, as I indicated above. So, we could never do anything that would merit initial salvation, for that is from Jesus Christ, God the Son. Post Jesus Christ, if we could not merit through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, then the response that we are required to make to the Grace of Justification and Salvation would result in absurdly useless behavior. I take it that the two quotes below are from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, right?

2025 We can have merit in God's sight only because of God's free plan to associate man with the work of his grace. Merit is to be ascribed in the first place to the grace of God, and secondly to man's collaboration. Man's merit is due to God.

2027 No one can merit the initial grace which is at the origin of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit, we can merit for ourselves and for others all the graces needed to attain eternal life, as well as necessary temporal goods.

Fr. Manning: Still, given this gift, we must strive with all our power to be as worthy of this love by loving God and our neighbor as we love ourselves.

Laurence: If I have erred in any way, I submit my teachings to the scrutiny of Holy Mother Church, for She is our Mater et Magistra, our Mother and Teacher. I have no authority to teach as a catechist, except by the wielding of Her official teachings found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. God bless Father Manning and his ministry.

Paul Dion: Thank you for your comments, Laurence.

Anonymous said...

The question is really very simple.

Father Manning says that we cannot earn our salvation. We receive that gift at Baptism. But it seems clear that we are required to do good works AFTER Baptism in order to KEEP that gift. So we ARE earning our salvation, no matter what anyone says.

I am astounded how every Catholic on the net who says we can't earn our salvation then goes on to say that we have to earn it anyway, by doing good works in order to get to Heaven. That's earning your salvation if ever I heard it.

We MUST give money to the Church. We MUST do works of charity.

No wonder Luther was upset. Good works done just so you can get to Heaven don't really seem so good anymore. The grace that accompanies those good works may be a free gift from God, but it's not really free if you are forced on pain of going to Hell to do good works.

The way I see it, the Catholic life must be one of extraordinary stress. In order to get to Heaven, Catholics must constantly be thinking of when to perform their next good work. They must be left in constant doubt as to whether they have done enough to escape Hell.

How much is enough? How do your know? What if you are not moved in your HEART to do good works? Does charity really count if your heart isn't in it?

And what if you want to just live quietly at home, as I am told a lot of Catholics do? Are you going to Hell if you don't associate with other people in order to do good works?

The Catholic life sounds remarkably uncomfortable and anxious. Given all these requirements, I have a hard time understanding why ANYONE would want to be Catholic. Why go through the pain and the despair?
It's just unreal.

As an outsider looking in, I think these are honest questions. I like to live alone, and I give little to charity. I am investigating the Catholic Church, but what I am finding is not encouraging. I'm not going to do good works just because some Church law requires me to do so. I'm not going to give to charity when I don't want to. This would not be moral behavior at all.

If you want to change my mind, feel free. But I'm not going to do "good" works if my heart isn't in them, and it often is not. To my mind, giving money and doing "good" when I'm not moved to do so sounds like coercion. And I don't respond to coercion for one second.

Paul Dion, STL said...

Baptism gives us the gift of Salvation from sin, thereby opening us up to the presence of God within us through his saving Grace. It is our responsibility to so live righteously to maintain the presence of that Grace within us. If we do that, we don’t earn salvation, we keep ourselves deserving of it by living constantly within God’s final and eternal covenant.

Are you sure that every Catholic on the ‘Net goes on to say that we have to earn it anyway? Or are those your words? It is not “earning” our salvation, it is deserving it through the good works that we do within the promptings of the gift of grace earned for us by Jesus Christ.
Forced? That’s your word. Obliged? Yes. Forced? No. We have free will, remember? We can’t be forced, but we can be obligated though we may not obey. Why obliged? We are obligated to obey the commission given to us by God. Obliged. We are obliged to live by the relationship that He constructed through the covenants that He handed down through the ages. To stay in the same context as your language, Jesus did tell us that if we do not do good works we will be damned to hell. Even a quick reading of Matthew 25 should make that very clear. Do you suppose that Luther didn’t know that chapter?
Catholics live in a daily effort to maintain a loving relationship with God, just as He commanded us to do. Catholics live under the stress common to all humans who strive to maintain meaningful relationships. (Spouse to spouse; child to parent, etc.) Catholics strive to be perfect as God is perfect so that Heaven’s gate will be open to them as to family.

How much is enough? In the Catholic world, there is no doubt as to how much is “enough.” There is never enough. What was enough for Jesus? How do you know? How do we know what? We already know that there is no “enough.”
You are right, these are all honest questions. Asking good, honest questions in the investigation of the Catholic Church is good works. ParishWorld.net has addressed them. We have been straightforward in our answers and not once did we invoke the mandates of the Catholic Church. Please note that we did refer to the demands of Jesus Himself with regards good works. Church law is not what essential Catholicism is about. I repeat, Catholicism is about receiving an invitation from God to be His disciple and answering it with a dynamic “Yes” that is a commitment to strive for perfection without measure.

I can’t and I won’t speak for others. As for myself, I don’t go around changing people’s minds. They have to do that themselves in the presence of God. God dictates the good works that He wants us to do. He respects the freedom that He Himself gives us. So, there is no coercion on His part, just the Grace of invitation and that of perseverance in the response thereto. If you think of His expectations of us as coercion and you don’t respond, He respects that. We Catholics believe that shutting down the effort to maintain a strong and vibrant mutual behavior between God and us is a dangerous way to live indeed.
Paul Dion, STL
Theology Editor, ParishWorld.net