In Part One of this series I brought up for discussion the fact that the Protestant mind-set is Fides Sola - Faith alone as Martin Luther falsely proselytized. Such a claim is actually an attack on the value and role of works in our salvation. In this series, I have set out to identify the various categories of "works" that the Protestants disparage, to show that there are different responses to make for each and see their role in our salvation, great or small, as distinct from the role of Faith but also from each other, and to show how Faith is nevertheless interwoven with all of them. Having explored the value of such conspicuous works of such value as the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy, for this installment I continue this today with Categories 2 through 4.
Category 2: The Essential "Inner Choice" for God:
At the opposite extreme are the inner dispositions, the direct and prayerful actions by which we:
1) Adore and worship God our Creator, seeking Him until we find Him
- 2) Request favors or actions of God in supplication
- 3) Ask for forgiveness for our sins
- 4) Express thanks to God for all He as done, beginning with Christ's sacrifice
- 5) Extol and praise the God Who is trustworthy and worthy of all our praise
- 6) Have a real desire to do God's will and be obedient to it
- 7) Have a real desire to join God's Own Church, which is done through baptism
The basic adoration (or worship) of God is something that rests most utterly at the innermost heart of any who will be saved ultimately. Adoration of God is not regarding anything He has done or can do, but simply and purely a heroic appreciation of what God is, in all His righteousness. To the one who adores God, God is the epitome of all righteousness, all beauty, all of everything worth loving for its own sake, independent of what benefit it He could give us in any other thing. To the one who adores God, the bare privilege to gaze upon and contemplate in abject adoration the perfect beauty of all of What God is and Who God is, is itself the supreme compensation of all existence.
Whenever any of us has ever cried out to God for help of any kind, God hears that prayer. What else is done with that prayer is often one of the great mysteries of the Will of God, and why it would be this or that in each particular case, but one thing we know in all cases is that God does not ignore us. Amazingly even atheists who do not believe in God may instinctively ask God (yes, the God they don't believe in!) for help in some dire situation, and they are listened to as well. But how much more appropriate for those who love and seek and adore God to also request help from Him in any of a variety of things. To pray to God, even as merely a request for help, is to acknowledge His Personhood, to talk TO and WITH Him instead of merely AT Him or ABOUT Him.
One of the supreme things to ask for, and a defining characteristic of any and all who would qualify as Christians (in any sense) is to ask for forgiveness for our sins. To know anything of the awesome perfections of God is also to know how far below such a standard that all of us live, even the best and most noble and worthy of us. But how pointless it would be to ask of God forgiveness for our sins, if we imagined that we have no sins! Of course we are all sinners, and our ability to admit that to ourselves and to our Creator, so as to ask forgiveness for them, is an important step out of our self-made fantasylands and back to reality.
And what forgiveness could there be, even if we truly overcame the sins for which we ask forgiveness such that we never commit them again (and how often does that happen?), unless God provided a basis for that. This had to be a basis which does not come cheap and meaninglessly, but in the objective righteousness and glory of God, one that comes at a most great price. On account of our sins, God found it necessary to send His Only-begotten Son to die on the Cross in place of ourselves, paying the full price of our sins. What response from us could possibly be just, apart from that supreme praise to God Who alone is so completely worthy of such unconditional praise.
In this gratitude we cannot help but to be utterly thankful to God, and to wish to express that thanks in song and prayer and good report. And yes, though thanking God most supremely for that supreme Sacrifice on our behalf, we do not shrink back from also praising and thanking Him for all other things, though lesser in themselves, but above and beyond such a great gift. And the greatest thing we can show in this gratitude is trust in God. For to have any idea of What and Who God really is would be to be able to trust that God necessarily has our best and truest interests at heart. Could the perfect God ever be anything but perfectly trustworthy in all things?
The upshot of all of this would be a desire to do the Will of God, to be obedient to God in all things, to wish with all our might to do what is right, and to take pleasure in doing so. So often we seek our purpose in life. This is it, to serve our Creator in the manner that He has chosen. And what service can avoid being misdirected but that which is organized and coordinated by God's Church?
And so for that last is our desire, our intention, our will, our commitment, or even a vow (of sorts), to place ourselves specifically and explicitly at the express service of our Creator, in the manner that He directs, through joining with the community of those who similarly have chosen to serve God. This desire, once keenly felt and acted upon and committed to, constitutes the necessary charity of an implicit Baptism of Desire. When we learn that the Sacrament of Baptism is the express means by which we formally place ourselves at God's service in His Church, and in learning of that, can truly say within ourselves, "yes, that is for me; baptize me please," then said desire has matured into the necessary charity of an explicit Baptism of Desire. At such a point we would rightly and justly become Catechumens.
Obviously, none of these things are great visible works, such that we could say of any of them, "look at all the great things I have done," as if we were checking off items on a list. Yet virtually all who consider themselves Christians in any sense of the word would have to know that all of these things comprise a most fundamental inner choice for God, the whole basis upon which God's mercy could ever justly be applied to us. Yet this too is nevertheless a "work" in that it is ours to do, and not that any of it is done for us. And such "works" as this, when done by the great saints, have worked miracles and wonders.
It is actually at this point that one can properly say that the soul in question actually passes from death to life, from Adam's sin to Jesus' redemption. Such a Faith as this, a saving Faith to be sure, is therefore itself a work. Such a choice as this, when real, and when given even the least chance, will evidence itself in the works of the sort listed above, as well as those listed below. For indeed if it didn't, and not through immediate loss of life or opportunity, then that would evidence a lack of the Faith. For though St. Paul wrote (in precisely this sense) that Faith saves, St. James also rightly rejoined it with his call to show our Faith through our Works. If we are around to hear that call, let us proceed to the necessary actions, as would be our intention.
Category 3: Reception of the Sacraments:
The first order of business for the soul committed in love to serve the Creator in the manner directed, is to proceed towards the Sacrament of Baptism, and to receive it at the time appointed by the Church. Though these "works" are exterior and visible signs of the action they imply and accomplish, which sounds like the first category above, they share much more the characteristic of the second category above, in that, unlike the first category these are not works of which any of us could say of any of them, "look at all the great things I have done."
The purpose of this category of works is to render real and visible the Faith nurtured in the heart in the previous category. For while charity covers sins and might well be enough for the soul to be saved, especially if death intervenes (whether in the form of a martyrdom for Christ or else any other death), such a Baptism of Desire, implicit or explicit, as described above, would suffice for salvation, and the soul, instead of entering the Church in life through Water Baptism instead enters the Church in death through Baptism of Blood, or of Desire.
But a true love of God proceeds directly towards obedience to God and to the Church in all things. The first thing told to the newly believing is to be baptized. Even most Protestants have little trouble understanding that if one has made Jesus Christ to be their Lord, then in obedience to their Lord they should do as He says, and the first thing He tells those who have newly chosen to believe in Him is to get baptized. But even so, many Protestants have difficulty understanding the full significance of taking that step.
To the Catholic of course, Water Baptism is only the first of seven Sacraments which the Church provides for the sanctification of souls and their salvation. The seven Sacraments (beginning with Baptism) are:
- 2) Confirmation
- 3) Holy Eucharist
- 4) Penance
- 5) Matrimony
- 6) Holy Orders
- 7) Extreme Unction
Of Baptism I have already spoken, but Confirmation is easily distinguished, even in Sacred Scripture, as a kind of "second experience" that typically comes later, and is indeed a separate and discrete event in the spiritual development of a soul. Confirmation is the infilling of the person with the Holy Ghost, to empower them to serve as a soldier in Christ's army. The Bishop is the ordinary minister of this Sacrament since the Bishop is actually the local "General" in the Lord's army, and as such this Sacrament imparts a degree of authority to fight for the cause of Faith, under the authority of the Bishop, or (by implication) by any Bishop said soul should subsequently come to be subject to. In practice, the primary way anyone fights for right is by simply living a full and adult and responsible Catholic life, avoiding evil, and supporting what is good. But of course a person may be called upon for more, or else graced by God to perform wondrous works or even miracles. And like Baptism, the grace of this Sacrament has at times been received even before the Sacrament itself, or even (at least in the case of the Biblical Cornelius) in advance of Baptism as well.
The Holy Eucharist is also mentioned in the Bible, at least indirectly in the reference of "breaking bread" with someone. Like baptism (and unlike all other Sacraments) even the form, the words by which this Sacrament is officially confected, are given directly in Holy Scripture, with only one short phrase drawn from an apparently different part of Scripture, but evidently used in the Sacramental form from the very beginning. By this Sacrament we are quite literally fed with the Body and Blood (and Soul and Divinity as well) of our Savior, as He promised He would provide. This is the Sacrament of Unity, between members of the Church who can and do and must "break bread" together and not apart, unity between the Church Militant (here on earth), the Church Suffering (in Purgatory), and the Church Triumphant (in Heaven), and all together unified with the one God Whose sacred Flesh we all consume together in the unity of Faith, and expressly separated from the world, the flesh, and the Devil, with which we have (and can have) no such union.
As all of us do sin, there is also provided the Sacrament of Penance by which our sins are specifically addressed and forgiven, and counsel given towards avoiding sin in the future. Forgiveness itself is an awesome thing, for without it one mistake would damn a person forever and who can be perfect enough in this life never to make a mistake. With this Sacrament, forgiveness is made possible but not easy, in that we must find a priest and tell him our sins, permitting him to delve into the nature and causes of our sins as he deems necessary, discussing things of a most highly personal nature. But really, we must be able to see that any more superficial treatment would fail to address the weaknesses we have that bring us to such failures in our endeavor to be perfect as God is perfect and fit for Heaven.
Another thing that followers of Christ often do is provide new souls to give God's praise and to continue the human race. And here God has provided a specific grace in the form of the Sacrament of Matrimony so as to empower us to become parents and function in that most challenging capacity. The Sacrament binds a man to a woman permanently without reserve or recall, such that they are able to work out all differences if only both choose to work at it, and provide a stable home for their children to grow up in the Faith therein.
Still another thing needed is for the Church as established by God to continue with its officers and leaders entrusted with the sacred mission to teach, rule, and sanctify in the name of the Church. The Sacrament of Holy Orders provides the recipient with the power to forgive sins, confect the Sacrament of the Mass, provide all priestly sacraments and blessings, and for bishops (receiving the highest degree of Holy Orders), the power to perform all Sacraments of the Church and the authority to rule a particular flock within the Kingdom of God.
Finally, when faced with dire illness or even death, the Sacrament of Extreme Unction provides the recipient with the graces to bear up under the conditions, to be healed of his ailment if God so chooses, or else to be prepared for death if it is the person's time. In this Sacrament, sins are forgiven and even much of their penalty remitted as the soul obtains a particular peace with God, fit for either a miraculous healing or else to be as ready as possible for that final Judgment before their Maker.
The Sacraments serve to apply the Grace of God directly to our souls, the normal means by which we are sanctified. They render "official" and real what our inner intent should be, and thereby convey the rights and duties of a follower of Christ. Think of them all as being like marriage. A man and a woman might love each other and wish to spend the rest of their lives together, but it is the Sacrament of Matrimony (the wedding) which actually makes them husband and wife. A person might wish to be a Christian (and God in His mercy can count that wish as the becoming if the person seeking it is cut off from life prematurely), but it is water Baptism that makes the person a Christian in fact and in life, such that the Christian life becomes obligatory and possible. For a person to claim faith in Christ without ever bothering to get baptized even when possible is like a couple shacking up without ever bothering to get married.
Category 4: Avoidance of Sin:
One prominent component of the Christian life is the avoidance of sin. With each sin we offend God Who wishes the best for us and of us. We damage ourselves in ways we cannot even begin to guess at, and the seriousness of which is beyond calculation. And as with the previous categories, even sin finds itself in seven basic categories, seven fonts of sinfulness that can destroy us seven different ways if we let it. These seven different ways to sin, or "Capital" or "deadly" sins are:
1) Pride - by which one thinks oneself to know better than God what things are right or what things are wrong
- 2) Envy - by which one wishes ill for and of others and to see their ruin, the exact inverse of what God wishes and labors for with regards to all
- 3) Lust - by which one surrenders to the base desires of the flesh and without regard for the intended purpose of such desires
- 4) Greed - by which one seeks to acquire more than they need and without regard for the needs of others
- 5) Wrath - by which one desires harm to other individuals, "punishing" not merely to correct and educate a person or give them a chance to redeem themselves, but to get even or inflict hurt for its own sake
- 6) Sloth - by which one is too lazy to accomplish anything one must accomplish in order to fulfill one's cause for being born in this earth
- 7) Gluttony - by which one yields to appetites (mostly food) going beyond what is necessary for sustenance and decorum
There are, of course, any number of other sins, some even greater than these in terms of sheer objective sinfulness, but these greater sins all boil down to extremes of the above seven, or combinations of two or more of them. The Faith obliges us to distance ourselves from all sin, avoiding even the near occasion of sin. This notion seems to be rather scarce outside Catholic circles, as I recall a Protestant coworker of mine once commenting (with admiration) on how the Catholics concerned themselves not only with avoiding sin, but even avoiding near occasions of sin, which his own kind of church never seemed to be too concerned about.
The fact is that fake Christianities often tend to make light of sin, taking the forgiveness of God as though it were some sort of automatic thing somehow cancelling out all punishment for sin and hence rendering sin irrelevant to one's life. But sin truly is a great evil, a woeful distortion of what we are all put here to do, an injury to ourselves and to the work of God as us and in us that goes way beyond the mere practical ramifications of our sins. Any one of these sins render us unfit for Heaven, as by sinning we permit the Devil rulership over our souls.
Think of pride for a moment. This was not only the sin of the Devil when he fell from grace way back when, but also of Adam and Eve. Remember the "knowledge of good and evil"? That was not about knowing good things and bad things, but about deciding for oneself what is to be considered good and what is to be considered bad. God has already told us what is good and what is bad. For any of us to claim to know better than God what is good and what is bad is not only pridefully arrogant and stupid, but also whatever we call good that God says is not good and whatever we call bad that God calls good will injure us and make a sick mockery of what God intended for us. When we say (for example) that abortion is a good thing, then we have approved rampant murder of the innocent, and are no better than serial killers. When we say (for example) that having a chain of authority is bad, then we have approved chaos and utter anarchy and lawlessness. Without authority all that remains is power; without Right all that remains is Might.
But envy is also quite horrible. Wanting something not even for itself, whatever good of this world it could have at least represented, but merely because someone else can't have it if we do and that give us pleasure, what an ugly thing! Outright cruelties can be borne of such things. With envy, we desire the suffering of others, merely for its own sake and for our own sadistic pleasure. And when someone else has something that we can't have we think it unfair and call the whole universe and God unfair. It isn't that we would like to have the thing for ourselves as well, but that we would wish to take it away from others out of spite, regardless of whether that obtains it for us or not. Who could ever wish to be like that?
And then there is lust. Having the particulars of our deepest and most private fantasies made known to others, which our lust seeks us to do in the sick interest of realizing those fantasies, has got to be most rightly quite embarrassing. For this reason we cover our members that others will not see what things it is that arouse us and when. For it is quite dreadful to have others learn of what that is so as to be at their mercy as they can exploit that intimate knowledge of us to take advantage of us by giving to us or promising to give to us whatever fantasy realization our deep dark subconscious values for its own dark reasons, and for what that tells all about what makes us tick. By lust we are persuaded to go along with serious evils of all sorts, merely to get what we want as if with some obviously unhealthy addiction.
And then there is greed. I know there have been some in recent times who have spoken of "good greed" in some sense of motivating persons to be diligent in managing their own affairs and pursuing a serious career in life. But that is not the sin of greed but the virtue of diligence. But greed can be a bad and unworthy inner motivation for the admitted good of diligence, but such seeming diligence thus motivated will nevertheless misdirect our efforts towards becoming wealthy instead of achieving what God has put us here to do. It is one thing to be mindful of one's future in this life, when one will be too old and weak to work, but not yet ready to pass into the next life. And sometimes it can be hard to know whether one has sufficiently prepared for that eventuality, as one who rightly counts the cost. But greed seeks more than that, and would gladly steal what it cannot or will not be bothered to rightly earn, and is often a motive for a great many evils, for example when a person can be bought, bribed, or be willing to blackmail others. Oftentimes cowardice is actually motivated by greed as a person fears to lose some material asset, even to the point of committing evil merely to protect their asset.
Wrath goes way beyond any valid call for justice. It is all about hate, as one with wrath hates others and for that hate will do anything to bring harm to the one(s) hated, itself a direct evil. It is revenge sought in a disorderly fashion, without even bothering to ascertain that the one hated even did whatever occasioned the original hatred. With such hatred, a person will hate and punish another, imagining them to have stolen something from them, when all along it was another who stole it and the victim of their hatred never deserved anything bad at all. With wrath, the evil one receives is passed on to others and widely multiplied: "Someone did something terrible to me, so therefore I will do like terrible things to others."
With sloth, one accomplishes nothing, but watches poverty and want approach like a robber they cannot stop or turn aside. With sloth, one does not perform the due diligence needed for so many pursuits in life. One does not learn how to do anything. One does not learn how to discern who is lying and who is telling the truth since they are too lazy to check it out for themselves. With such sloth, one is easily deceived by those with any sort of false claims, such that they become a slave to them and can be led around by the nose. The mindless sheep of the world who thoughtlessly go along with the spreading evils reflect such sloth in that they do not bother to think and discover for themselves but leave those jobs to others to do for them, and by whom they are easily manipulated.
And by gluttony one surrenders all control of their own behavior. Whoever or whatever can feed them becomes their god, indeed even their own belly can be their god. It is one thing to fatten up a bit for the coming winter when food might be scarce and additional adipose tissue helpful in retaining necessary body heat, but then the Spring comes and they must let it go as food is plentiful and retention of body heat becomes a bad thing. But the glutton is more like the cow or the sheep or goat or pig being fattened for the slaughter. By gluttony one refuses to feed another who is starving on their own doorstep, and thus destroying one's charity. And of course by gluttony one endangers one's health and shortens one's life. It is, to food and dining pleasure for its own sake, what greed is to money and wealth. In the New Testament times, ancient Rome employed a facility known as a vomitorium, a place where those who feasted sumptuously could disgorge their food so as to be able to eat again, or at least stay thin. Everything that is eaten was once alive. What grave disrespect for the Creation of God when one kills and eats it, not for necessary food, but merely for pleasure, be it the pleasure and sport of the hunt, or the pleasure of unnecessary eating.
It should be obvious how these things and all other sins of any and all kinds truly do render a person quite specifically unfit for Heaven. How can one expect hospitality from God as to be welcomed into God's realm of Heaven while they go about insulting God with their ugly sins? Can it not be obvious that the avoidance of sin, sought in the inner sanctum of one's choices, and obtained for and in actuality as preparation for practical circumstances through reception of the Sacraments, is quite key to the purpose of all the graces of God?