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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Hard but liberating words to live by

In today's Gospel reading, our Lord teaches us how to pray. He also leaves us some hard words to consider about forgiveness:

 ‘Yes, if you forgive others their failings, your heavenly Father will forgive you yours; but if you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive your failings either.’
I am currently discussing with Lutheran friends what they call JBWA: "justified by works also". They object to it based on the Protestant principle of being saved by faith alone (sola fide). But these particular Lutherans do not subscribe that once one is saved, one is always saved (and assured of it). It is therefore plausible to explain that, in that lifetime of being saved, or, having been saved, in the lifetime of remaining saved, one's cooperation has an impact. This cooperation, they see as "works also", and they will never permit that it is a cause of justification. Fair enough, I think. The who of salvation is of course he-who-saves (Yeshua), our Lord and God, Jesus Christ. The what of remaining saved, as in the things that impact our state of grace, includes, significantly, obedience. Not as a cause, but as a requirement of God, i.e., he requires our obedience. In their doctrines, faith that saves (or that which keeps us saved), seems to what we Catholics might refer to as a living faith, or a life of faith. This necessarily involves obedience -- and that involves love, as in the two greatest commandments to love God with all our mind, heart, soul, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Love exhibits itself in good works.

Faith without (good) works is dead, says St. James, so works are in there someplace as the "flesh" of our faith. If we refuse to give our works over to the will of God in obedience, then we most certainly wreck our faith and imperil our salvation. This refusal to obey is the opposite of cooperation with grace. This refusal to love is a rejection of God, who is love. Therefore, cooperation with grace, which is by obedience in our whole being (body included), does impact our salvation. It is not the cause of it, but it is a requirement. More precisely, it is God's requirement.

But a word about the Catholic notion of being saved: we don't generally express it in this way. We know instead of the state of grace, which keeps us in friendship and unity with God. Mortal sin (deliberate and gravely evil works) severs that state of grace, so we therefore understand salvation as a process that mortal sin can interrupt. We also understand that refusing to re-establish that state of grace, that friendship with God, may completely derail salvation. Thus, it is our habit to speak only of the state of grace, not of being certainly saved. The New Testament also refers often to the Last Day, at the hour of judgment, as the definite time of salvation, because that is when the process is complete. It is not a lack of confidence in the God who saves, but a realistic assessment of our sinful nature, which, in the state of grace, is being repaired by the Holy Spirit. It is daunting to think that God has given us the will to resist and rebuff the Holy Spirit. Just look again at what the Lord teaches above about the refusal to forgive. But we take comfort in the fact that we are not without help -- we refer to the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete, the helper. With his help, we can discern, we can forgive, we can love, we can obey.

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