Relationships And The Four Last Things

When studying grace, we see that it is not only a free gift from God, but that it has a strong relationship with other aspects of soteriology.  What is the relationship between freedom, grace, divine foreknowledge, predestination, and perseverance as they pertain to the Four Last Things?  The relationship between all aspects are intertwined, but it starts with grace.  This understanding is important when it comes to the four last things which are death, judgment, heaven, and hell.

As previously stated grace is a free gift from God.  As with any gift we can either accept it or we can reject it.  When we make the choice to accept grace we then have true freedom.  The supernatural grace given to us leads us to even greater freedom.  Regarding this Charles Journet writes, “It is not only God and man, grace and freedom, but God through man, grace through freedom, that does the good act” (Journet 2.5).  Grace and human freedom are furthermore related of divine foreknowledge.  1 Timothy 2:4 states that God “desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (NRSV).  Though God desired it, not everyone will be saved in the end.  God knows, through divine foreknowledge, who with use their freedom and accept his grace.

Though one may accept grace, one must remain steadfast and ask God for the gift of perseverance (STII, Q109, A10).  Some Protestants would say that those who persevere are predestined, but predestination has a different meaning in Catholic theology.  According to Fr. John Hardon, “only the elect or predestined are members of the Church” (Hardon Ch. 3).  Thus, we can see the fullness of the relationship of freedom, grace, divine foreknowledge, perseverance, and predestination regarding the four last things.  Grace is at the forefront of them all, and grace is given from God through the church and her sacraments.

Works Cited

Aquinas, Thomas.  Summa Theologia. Trans. Thomas Gornall.  Blackfriars, St. Joseph, IN:  Ave Maria Press, 1981.  Accessed August 10, 2018.

Hardon, John.  History and Theology of Grace.  Ann Arbor, MI:  Sapientia Press, 2005.

Journet, Charles.  The Meaning of Grace.   Princeton: Scepter Publishers, 1997.

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The Need For Grace

In the beginning of St. Paul’s letter to the Romans he lays out a case about the desire for people to know God.  He says that by nature they can know things about God and God has shown them.  The verse in question is from Romans 1:19 which states, “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them” (NRSV).  We see that there is something else higher than ourselves, and we long to know what it is.  In contrast with this desire to know something higher than ourselves, there is a desire to sin.

The “something higher” that I am referencing is God.  Many of us have heard of God from an early age, and in different Christian assemblies.  Though many have heard of God they fall into the error of thinking that Heaven is within reach simply by doing good.  This is part of the equation.  There is a synergy between us and God.  Our natures are wounded from the fall, not totally destroyed as the Protestant reformers taught (Lubac 122).  We realize in ourselves that we do things that we do not want to do.  This is also echoed by St. Paul in Romans 7:15 where he writes, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (NRSV).  We know that we are unable to do it on our own and that eventually brings us to the knowledge that we need God.  We need his grace, his mercy, and his forgiveness.  Without his supernatural grace it is impossible to enter the beatific vision.  This grace is a gift that we need from God to enter into eternal life (STII, Q114, A2).

In a way the position I hold follows along with Henri De Lubac.  This position was arrived at through my journey through a few Christian denominations and reinforced through study of church teaching.  Man is not capable of heaven strictly on his own merit.  Man is wounded, not depraved, and able to see that he needs the help of God.  He uses his will to accept the grace needed to get to Heaven and live the Christian life.

 

Works Cited

Aquinas, Thomas.  Summa Theologia. Trans. Thomas Gornall.  Blackfriars, St. Joseph, IN:  Ave Maria Press, 1981.  Accessed September 28, 2018.

Lubac, Henri De.  A Brief Catechesis on Nature & Grace.  San Francisco, CA:  Ignatius Press, 1984.

A Matter of Intent: Abortion and Moral Theology

It happens every day in our communities.  Every day women make a very difficult decision about whether to keep their babies or not.  However, instead of adoption many are choosing abortion.  According to data from the Centers of Disease Control, every day approximately 1,788 pregnancies are ended by abortion (www.cdc.gov).  What is abortion?  What is the official Catholic Church teaching on abortion?  Are there any circumstances where an abortion may be needed to save the life of the mother?  These questions will be explored over the course of this paper, but one thing is certain.  Life is precious, and it is something that must be protected from the beginning of life to natural death (Ostrowski 123).

In layman’s terms an abortion is the termination of a pregnancy before the time of gestation is complete.  The medical definition varies little and is states an “An abortion is a procedure to end a pregnancy. It uses medicine or surgery to remove the embryo or fetus and placenta from the uterus. The procedure is done by a licensed health care professional” (www.medline.gov).  The question of life is one that is central to the topic.  When does life begin?  If life begins at conception, then life is there and must be protected.  If life begins at some further point, then it stands to reason that terminating the pregnancy before that stated period is morally permissible.  Then there are those who are just unsure when the fetus becomes a living being (Kreeft 329).

With abortion defined, that leads to the next question.  What does the Catholic Church have to say about abortion?  It may come as a surprise to some to learn that church has a lot to say about the topic.  The church has defended life from its infancy.  Regarding this the Didache states, “you shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill that which is begotten” (newadvent.org).  The Didache is an ancient catechism in the church that dates back to the first century.  The issue of abortion is nothing new, but an ongoing battle for the unborn.  Also regarding abortion, the catechism states “Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law” (CCC para 2271).

The church gets its teaching on the subject from sacred scripture as well as sacred tradition.  Many places in scripture speak of God molding and creating life in the womb.  What is conspicuous by its absence is any mention as to at how many weeks of gestation life begins.  Sacred scripture makes it clear that it begins immediately.  Life begins upon conception.  One such verse is Jeremiah 1:5 which states, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (NRSV).  If God knew us before the womb, it makes sense that he knew us when we were immediately placed into the womb.  To know is to imply a relationship, and one cannot have a relationship with something that is not alive.  Since the embryo is a person upon conception it must be defended as any person should be (CCC para 2274)

Church teaching holds that abortion is intrinsically evil, and as such is never justified.  The same can be said for many other things such as rape, torture, euthanasia, and kidnapping (Gaudiem et Spes para 27).  Though an individual may have the best intentions, it does not justify an act that moral law and revelation have deemed evil.  That is because absolute truth and morality are incapable of being changed.  Regarding this Saint Pope John Paul II writes, “If acts are intrinsically evil, a good intention or particular circumstances can diminish their evil, but they cannot remove it. They remain “irremediably” evil acts; per se and in themselves they are not capable of being ordered to God and to the good of the person” (Veritatis Splendor para 81).

Unfortunately, in today’s society, abortion is looked at like a basic human right.  Opponents of church teaching give a variety of scenarios to support the need for an abortion.  What if an abortion is needed to save the life of a mother?  What if the mother had uterine cancer and the only treatment was to remove the uterus, and thus, killing the child in the process?  These two examples may seem extreme, but they are ones often given by the pro-choice movement.  There are others, but these two questions will be the focus.  When it comes to the life of the mother there are many cases written about by world renowned doctors who say the opposite.  Dr. Collen Malloy wrote a letter to the editor of the Chicago Sun Times stating, “Abortion performed to “save” a mother’s life almost never — if ever — is necessary” (Malloy 2009).  This same article cites a statement by Ireland’s board of Obstetricians which states, “there are no medical circumstances justifying direct abortion, that is, no circumstances in which the life of a mother may only be saved by directly terminating the life of her unborn child” (Malloy 2009).

 

 

            The word that sticks out very prominently in the last quotation cited is the word “directly’.  This word is given in many church documents when they discuss abortion.  It comes down to a matter of intent.  Was it the intent to destroy the child in the womb, or was it the cause of something else?  In their book Life Issues, Medical Choices the writers state, “It is never moral to intentionally kill an innocent human being in order to lower the likelihood of adverse effects for someone else” (Smith & Kaczor 37).

This begs the question asked earlier.  What if a woman has uterine cancer and the only way to save her life is to remove the uterus?  To further complicate things imagine she has a husband and four other children at home.  This is truly a heart wrenching decision that must be made.  She can forgo treatment and die, and the child in the womb may possibly live.  Or she can have the treatment and live to take care of her four other children.  If she chooses to have the procedure it is not a direct attack on the child because it lacks intent.  In situations such as this the principle of double effect becomes relevant.  The reasoning for double effect requires the following four factors: “1.  The act itself is not evil.  2.  The evil is not a means to a good.  3.  The evil is not intended as an end.  4.  There is a proportionate reason for allowing the evil effect” (Smith & Kaczor 50).  The first step is satisfied because having a hysterectomy is not evil.  The second step is satisfied because the intent is not there.  The mother would much rather give birth to her child.  The third step is satisfied as the surgery is not intended to end the life of the child.  The forth step is satisfied because if she does not have the surgery she will die and leave her other four children without a mother.  The intent is not to have an abortion to live, but her uterus must be removed to destroy the cancer that will inevitably kill her if she does nothing.  There is an enormous difference between the two.  It is the intent that is intrinsically evil according to Humana Vitae (Pinckaers 53).

The above scenario is heartbreaking and does happen, but the moral teaching of the church deals with intent.  One should consult their physician and spiritual director or priest to get the best well rounded advice for the situation.  It is important to remember that these situations are highly emotional, and there is much pain and distress taking place.  The same goes for those who may have had an abortion in the past and they realize the mistake they made.

We live in a fallen world, and we have all sinned.  We all have some mortal sin that we have committed in the past.  It is vital to not judge and to show mercy.  In Matthew 5:7 our Lord says, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy” (NRSV).  We have been forgiven much and have been shown limitless mercy.  It is important to reciprocate it to those who are hurting because of their past mistakes.  In the very beginning of sacred scripture we read, “So God created humankind  in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (NRSV).  Each person, no matter their past, was created in the image of God.  As such, we are called to show everyone the dignity and respect that being made in his image calls for.  To summarize we must do what the Lord says in the beatitudes.  We must show mercy.  In Hebrew, showing mercy is being compassionate (especially expressed by רחום): showing pity at another person’s sorrow or misfortune, with the desire to alleviate, or, on occasion, even to suffer in the other’s place.  This is exactly what the Lord did for us when he suffered on the cross.

 

WORKS CITED

 

Catechism of the Catholic Church.  Doubleday Books.  New York, NY:  1995.  Print.

Centers for Disease Control. https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/data_stats/abortion.htm.  Accessed March 23, 2018.

Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version

Kreeft, Peter & Tacelli, Ronald K.  Handbook of Christian Apologetics.  IVP Academic.  Downers Grove, Il: 1994.  Print.

M.B. Riddle. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 7. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0714.htm&gt;.

Ostrowski, Thaddeus ed., Primary Source Readings in Christian Morality.  Winona, MN: Saint Mary’s Press, 2008, Print.

Pinckaers, Servais.  Morality:  The Catholic View.  St. Augustine’s Press.  South Bend, IN:  2001.  Print.

Pope John Paul II.  Veritatis Splendorhttp://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_06081993_veritatis-splendor.html.  Accessed March 24, 2018.

Smith, Janet E. & Kaczor, Christopher.  Life Issues, Medical Choices:  Questions and Answers for Catholics.  Servant.  Cincinatti, OH: 2016.  Print

Tanner, Norman ed.  Vatican II:  The Essential Texts.  New York:  Image Books, 2012.  Print.

Grace, Free Will, and the Beatific Vision

Grace is a free gift that is given by God.  What does one do with the grace received?  When a gift is given to someone it requires upkeep or it will deteriorate and decay.  In the gift of grace, we must cooperate through our own free will, or we can destroy this divine gift (Journet 2.1).  Grace cleanses us from original sin, we cooperate with this grace through free will, and as a result we get oriented toward our divine destiny in the beatific vision (Hardon).  The three work together in such a way that their relationship is integral to each other.

The Catholic tradition is not a type of semi-pelagian motif, but views grace as of first importance.  One cannot earn their way into Heaven because without grace there is no salvation (Hardon).  One cannot get to Heaven, no matter how many good works, without grace.  If one is estranged from God, then grace is needed to be disposed to justification (Hardon).  Once received there is the possibly, through free will, to reject this grace.

St. Augustine observed this struggle with free will and grace quite brilliantly.  Regarding this Dr. Ireland writes, “When he places side by side the consequences of his sin and the effects of God’s grace in his life, he detects two wills in conflict with each other:  the corrupt will turn away from God, the pristine will turn toward God” (Ireland 24).  In one scenario the grace of God is rejected, and we go our own way.  In another we embrace this gift, it is free, but some action was taken on our part (i.e. accepting).  Charles Journet uses an analogy of two men stuck in a well.  God reaches out his hand to save and one takes his hand while the other does not (Journet 2.3).  In this scenario each used their free will to accept the gift or deny it.  By accepting the gift of grace through free will daily we reach a higher stage in sanctifying grace.  God calls us to be like him and we must be willing to take that extra step, take his hand, and be obedient to his call.  Through his mercy we can accept this grace and embrace the beatific vision.

Image result for beatific vision

Works Cited

Hardon, John.  History and Theology of Grace.  Ann Arbor, MI:  Sapientia Press, 2005.

Ireland, Patricia.  Guardian of a Pure Heart: St. Augustine on the Path to Heaven.  Staten Island:  St. Pauls/Alba House, 2009.

Journet, Charles.  The Meaning of Grace.   Princeton: Scepter Publishers, 1997.

What is Pelagianism?

Many Protestant Christians say that the Catholic church teaches Pelagianism, or at the very least semi-Pelagianism.  This line of reasoning shows a fundamental misunderstanding of not only what the church teaches, but what Pelagianism is.  Pelagianism is a heresy that was condemned by the church and is superfluous for beatitude.

What is Pelagianism?  It is a system that relies on the sufficiency of man’s will (Hardon).  Pelagianism was started by a Bishop named Julian who had been a friend of St. Augustine.  It would later become more popular by a British theologian by the name of Pelagius.  At the heart of the movement were two issues:  the denial “for the need of divine grace and the doctrine of the generative transmission of original sin” (Ireland 38).

As noted above, Pelagianism teaches that original sin does not exist and that Adam left us a bad example.  Since his sin was merely a bad example, our nature is not corrupted, and we acquire the penalty of sin by our misdeeds.  This has huge ramifications when it comes to the concept of grace.  At its root it teaches the unrealistic thought that we can get to heaven by what we do, without the help of God.  Regarding this John Hardon writes, “We can always will and do good, even when de facto we will and do otherwise, depending entirely on our own moral strength” (Hardon).

Since we can do it on our own it lends to the ineffectiveness of sacraments, particularly that of baptism.  In this system baptism becomes a public declaration of faith and an incorporation into the church.  In fact, this is eerily similar to most Protestant denominations today.  Pelagianism makes grace superfluous to beatitude because it removes the need for grace.  If one can do it himself what is the need for God to be involved.  It makes Jesus into a wise moral teacher instead of the divine Son of God who came to take away the sins of the world.

Image result for pelagianism

Works Cited

Hardon, John.  History and Theology of Grace.  Ann Arbor, MI:  Sapientia Press, 2005.

Ireland, Patricia.  Guardian of a Pure Heart: St. Augustine on the Path to Heaven.  Staten Island:  St. Pauls/Alba House, 2009.

Grace and Liberation

In the New Testament there are many passages that speak of grace as liberation.  Sin is a plague that has overtaken the world, and it enslaves us (Stevens 9).  We are born in original sin, and though that is washed away through the sacrament of Baptism, concupiscence remains.  Concupiscence is the tendency to still drift toward sin.  This concept of liberation is seen in Romans 5:17 where St. Paul writes, “because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ” (NRSV).  St. Paul states this again in Romans 7:6 where he says we are no longer slaves and held captive.

In bestowing grace, the Blessed Trinity looks to the bounty, or freedom of the one who receives (Hardon).  In the grace of God, we discover our true freedom.  When we have a new life in Christ the destructive power that evil had over us is no more (Stevens 10).  Some may call this being born again, and it is a concept that is discussed frequently throughout the New Testament.  When we have this new birth the bonds that held us captive to sin are now shattered.  Just as God gave life to Adam in the garden of Eden, we are given new life through grace (Stevens 11).  Adam sinned, and through his sin death came into the world.  Through Christ we are free from that and we can live.  Regarding this Charles Journet writes, “Since the soul of Christ is so close to the person of the Word, grace finds there its true home, and there unfolds itself in perfect freedom” (Journet 2.12).

This liberation is also much more than being free from the bonds of sin.  Liberation in the New Testament grace established a union between the Christian and Christ (Stevens 17).  This is open to all men who are seeking the light of Christ and not seeking the attachment to sin (Stevens 17).  Grace is thus liberation because it breaks the bonds of death and united us fully to the source of life.

Image result for grace

Works Cited

Hardon, John.  History and Theology of Grace.  Ann Arbor, MI:  Sapientia Press, 2005.

Journet, Charles.  The Meaning of Grace.   Princeton: Scepter Publishers, 1997.

Stevens, G. The Life of Grace. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1963. 1-65. Print.

God is Love

Beloved, if God so loved us,
we also must love one another.
No one has ever seen God.
Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us,
and his love is brought to perfection in us.

This is how we know that we remain in him and he in us,
that he has given us of his Spirit.
Moreover, we have seen and testify
that the Father sent his Son as savior of the world.
Whoever acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God,
God remains in him and he in God.
We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us.

God is love, and whoever remains in love
remains in God and God in him.-1 John 4:11-16

The second reading in today’s mass is from the first letter of St. John.  This letter is a personal favorite of mine.  There is so much theological depth and things we can use on an everyday basis.  This letter is an extension of the Gospel he wrote, and we see a lot of talk about love.  Today’s passage is especially challenging for us.  St. John writes that to love is how we remain in God because God is love.  In a world that seems to be about revenge and shaming to get what we want this may seem extreme.  In fact, it is outright countercultural.

If we acknowledge and accept Christ as the Son of God then St. John says that we have come to know the love that God has for us.  Since we know that love we have been called, and have the obligation, to love others.  Even those who may not like us.  This doesn’t mean that we need to have someone in our home who does us harm, but we have to acknowledge their worth as someone who is made in the image of God.  Remember that God is love, and if we claim Christ then we have an obligation to reflect that love to others.  Are we doing it?

Quote

The proof of love is in the works. Where love exists, it works great things. But when it ceases to act, it ceases to exist.
–Pope St. Gregory the Great

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