Faith and Life

Sin, Salvation, Effort

The Church reminds us that “called to beatitude but wounded by sin, man stands in need of salvation from God. Divine help comes to him in Christ through the law that guides him and the grace that sustains him”.

But we sometimes have the notion that salvation depends on us and upon our personal efforts to achieve it or secure it – of course, it does not; salvation is that free gift which the Lord offers us.

The Catechism tells us that –

“the grace of the Holy Spirit has the power to justify us, that is, to cleanse us from our sins and to communicate to us ‘the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ’ and through Baptism.. Through the power of the Holy Spirit we take part in Christ’s Passion by dying to sin, and in His Resurrection by being born to a new life.. Justification has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ who offered himself on the cross as a living victim, holy and pleasing to God, and whose blood has become the instrument of atonement for the sins of all men..”

And this justification of which the Church speaks “establishes cooperation between God’s grace and man’s freedom”.

What is apparent, then, is that the work is Christ’s – we do not ‘achieve’ salvation through our efforts or by any work on our own part except through co-operating with Christ, Who alone has achieved it and made it possible for us. We work toward salvation, placing our hope in Christ alone and doing all we can to remain close to Him.

The key for us here is that word ‘co-operation’. That is, in a practical sense, the important part of the equation. Christ achieves and offers salvation – it is then up to us to accept and to co-operate with His gift, so that one day we might stand before Him.

When we think the work is ours alone, we end up in all sorts of tangles.

For some, the temptation is to believe that having in some way ‘won’ salvation, it is then assured for us no matter what. Needless to say, that is not the case – if this were so, it would not matter a jot what we did in the remainder of our lives, because we would ‘know’ Heaven was ours. We know no such thing and have been given no such assurance – but we do hope. Not even the Saints were certain of their eventual salvation. And so, any sense of a ‘universal’ salvation is completely wrong. Remember that “man’s freedom” which the Church speaks of – we are free to reject salvation, just as we are free to embrace it. Our daily lives determine the choice we make.

For others, the realisation of personal – actual – sin can be so overwhelming, that all hope seems impossible; but this, too, is wrong. No-one, no sinner, is beyond redemption. Christ opened His arms upon the Cross for every single one of us, no matter who or what we are – no matter how good and no matter how bad. It all depends on our co-operation with Him in the life of grace – that freedom again.

Many people, both in the past and also in the present day, fall into that error of thinking it’s all about them, that they have to ‘achieve’ salvation by their personal efforts. An example of this might be the way many have looked upon indulgences, seeing them simply as giving a specific ‘time’ of dispensation from the purification of Purgatory – “say this prayer and you get four years off; do that practice and you get ten quarantines off”. This resulted in the goal being entirely misplaced – it was about building up the ‘time-off’, getting ‘out’ of Purgatory sooner, rather than considering what that purgation is actually intended to achieve. Purgatory builds upon and completes the work begun in life; it is to entirely purify us, so that we might be ready for Heaven. And so the goal is not one of time, but of doing as much of that work in life, rather than after it. You could think of it as answering the universal call to holiness in life as fully and as perfectly as we can, so that there is less still required from us after death.

The real danger of these two temptations described above is that we close ourselves – in one way or another – to the action of divine grace. In the first, we close ourselves off from that grace because we think we already have everything we need; and in the second, we close ourselves by thinking that grace is impossible for us because we are beyond it’s power. Each temptation is equally erroneous and likely to have a disastrous end result.

God loves us. He desires our salvation. He desires this so much that He sent His own Son into the world to die for us upon the Cross, the means of our salvation. Our task is to realise this and, as a result, to make the active decision to co-operate ever more perfectly with the divine grace which Christ, crucified and risen, obtains for us continually from the Father.

That very co-operation is our answering of this universal call to holiness. The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council spoke at length on this subject and our present Holy Father, Pope Francis, often reminds us of our need to answer that call by co-operating with divine grace day after day after day. He reminds us, too, of the possible outcomes of this co-operation; his document on the call to holiness in today’s world speaks at some length about what our co-operation with this divine grace can achieve –

“A Christian cannot think of his or her mission on earth without seeing it as a path of holiness.. Each saint is a mission, planned by the Father to reflect and embody, at a specific moment in history, a certain aspect of the Gospel. That mission has its fullest meaning in Christ, and can only be understood through him. At its core, holiness is experiencing, in union with Christ, the mysteries of his life.. As a result, ‘the measure of our holiness stems from the stature that Christ achieves in us, to the extent that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we model our whole life on His’.

Every saint is a message which the Holy Spirit takes from the riches of Jesus Christ and gives to His people.. Not everything a saint says is completely faithful to the Gospel; not everything he or she does is authentic or perfect. What we need to contemplate is the totality of their life, their entire journey of growth in holiness, the reflection of Jesus Christ that emerges when we grasp their overall meaning as a person..

This is a powerful summons to all of us. You too need to see the entirety of your life as a mission..”

Here, then, is the clear message for all us; we are asked to see the whole of our lives as a journey in which we constantly seek to improve how we co-operate with Christ and with His divine grace, such that we begin to resemble Him more and more as each day passes, always in the hope that when this present life draws to a close, we will begin a new and eternal life with Him, and our hope will find it’s fulfilment.

We might well begin as sinners, even the worst of sinners; but our call is to lead, more and more fully, the lives of saints.


Catholic | Retired Nurse | UK

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