Category Archives: Eschatology

Purgatory consoles


-by Karlo Broussard

“Some Protestants criticize the doctrine of purgatory by saying it’s “bad news” in contrast to the “good news” of salvation revealed in the Bible.

But that’s not so at all. The Catholic doctrine of purgatory is indeed good news.

The joyful truth is that purgatory provides consolation for believers. It does so in a variety of ways.

1. Purgatory consoles believers concerning loved ones who die without the perfect holiness required for heaven.
Purgatory gives us the assurance that even though our loved ones die without the perfect holiness required for heaven, we know they’re not forever excluded from there. The late Marian scholar Fr. Martin Jugie puts it beautifully:

They who mournfully follow the coffin, are consoled with thoughts of the mercy of God; of the expiation of venial sin and the cleansing of the wounds, left by mortal sin, after death; of extenuating circumstances which may have rendered certain sins venial for the dear deceased one. The anguished heart, torn with dread about the fate of the loved one, clings to this last hope, and there finds solace and some peace.

That’s good news!

2. Purgatory consoles believers in knowing that the relationship with our loved ones can continue after death even though they have not yet attained the beatific vision in heaven.
The doctrine of purgatory provides consolation for a believer because it offers hope that our loved ones who die with imperfection aren’t forever excluded from heaven. But a believer might still be disheartened by the thought that if his loved one isn’t in heaven yet, then he can’t have a relationship with that person in the present moment. He would have to wait.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, the doctrine of purgatory entails that we can assist our loved ones in purgatory by offering the Mass, prayers, indulgences, almsgiving, and other works of love for them. This is based on the Christian belief in the communion of saints, which includes the souls in purgatory.

The holy souls are still members of the mystical body of Christ. Death did not separate them from us. As St. Paul writes, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall . . . [the] sword? . . . I am sure that neither death . . . nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:35, 38-39).

From this it follows that we are not separated from our loved ones in purgatory. We are still united to them by grace. Consequently, our relationship with them can continue. We don’t have to wait until they get to heaven. That provides a believer great consolation. That’s definitely not bad news.

Some Protestants say we’re blurring the real distinction between the visible (Christians on earth) and invisible (Christians in purgatory) dimensions of the one body of Christ. Just because there’s one body, so it’s argued, it doesn’t follow that our relationship with each dimension is the same.

It’s true that our relationship with our loved ones in purgatory is not the same as our relationship with them here on earth. But the relationship we have with them by grace is the same. In fact, it’s even better because they’re confirmed in grace without the possibility of falling from it. From this it follows that the relationship with them is secure, on condition that we stay in grace.

This relationship we have with them by grace is what allows us to continue expressing love toward them, even though it’s not the same kind of expressions of love as when they were on earth. We can’t hear or see them when we talk to them. We can’t give them a hug. But we can pray for them and will what’s good for them—namely, the removal of any impediments to entrance into heaven.

The relationship might not be the same. But it is a relationship nevertheless!

3. Purgatory consoles believers in knowing that the souls in purgatory can pray for us.
We have good reasons to think the souls in purgatory pray for us. The Catechism teaches, “Our prayer for them [souls in purgatory] is capable not only of helping them, but also of making their intercession for us effective” (958).

One rationale for this is that the souls in purgatory are perfected in charity. Since charity involves not only love of God, but also love of neighbor, and love of neighbor is expressed in intercessory prayer, it seems reasonable to conclude that the souls in purgatory would express their love by interceding for us.

That our loved ones in purgatory are praying for us is a consoling thought. Their prayer for us, and our private request for their prayers, is one way by which we keep a relationship with them.

It’s good news to know we have friends who can’t waver in charity and are constantly praying for us. For St. James says, “The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects” (James 5:16).

4. Purgatory consoles believers in knowing that our prayers console our loved ones in purgatory.
The consolation that we can provide the holy souls in purgatory in turn brings us consolation. St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that love is “to wish good to someone,” “just as he wills good to himself.”

It follows from this definition of love that the good the souls in purgatory experience by having their impediments to heaven removed is experienced as our own good. That means that their consolation is our consolation; their source of joy is our source of joy. As the late Frank Sheed writes, “there is a special joy for the Catholic in praying for his dead, if only the feeling that there is still something he can do for people he loved upon earth.”

Love,
Matthew

Once saved, better stay saved


-the right panel of a diptych “The Crucifixion, The Last Judgment, by Jan van Eyck, 1440-41, Northern Renaissance painting, a masterpiece of Renaissance art, 11 x 32.5 cm, 4.3 x 12.8 inches 


-by Karlo Broussard

“No, seriously, you could go to Hell. Some Christians think the possibility of going to hell is solely for unbelievers. They don’t believe that a true born-again Christian can lose his salvation, hence the common phrase once saved, always saved.

But for other Christians, hell is a stark reality to contend with, even for justified Christians, since they believe that a Christian can lose the gift of salvation initially received. There are several Scripture passages they commonly turn to for support—e.g., Hebrews 6:4-6, 10:26-31 and John 15:2-3. Each of these passages warns Christians about removing themselves from the source of salvation—namely, Jesus—which implies the possibility of damnation even for Christians. So it’s more like once saved, better stay saved.

There’s a way to rebut these biblical passages, but we’ll have to see how good it is. To get a good look at it, we can check Protestant theologian Michael Norton in his chapter of the book Four Views on Eternal Security.

Basically, the argument goes, scriptural warnings about falling away from the Faith refer to those Christians who trust only in their baptism rather than in what baptism signifies: faith in Christ. Such Christians, it’s argued, are satisfied with having merely an external relation with Christ. As Norton puts it, these are Christians “in the covenant [via baptism] but not personally united by living faith to Jesus Christ.” Such Christians would be akin to those Jews who trusted in their natural descent from Abraham as grounds for their membership in the New Covenant but were cut off (Rom. 11:19-22).

Note that the interpretive principle here entails that someone can be in the covenant via baptism, and thus a member of the covenant community, but at the same time not be regenerate, or saved, or justified. Now, there seem to be only two ways that this could be true.

Either . . .

A) A believer was initially regenerated through baptism, became a visible member of the covenant community, and then lost that saving grace,

. . . or . . .

B) A believer became a visible member of the covenant community through baptism but was never regenerated in the first place, which implies that baptism doesn’t make someone regenerate, or, as Norton puts it, “united by living faith to Jesus Christ.”

Of course it can’t be A, because then everyone agrees, and there’s no argument. So it has to be B—but B is not true. Baptism does regenerate and unite a person to Christ by living faith.

Consider what Paul teaches in Romans 6:3-4:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

Paul furthers spell out the effects of this union with Christ through baptism. In verses 6-7, he writes,

We know that our old self was crucified with Him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For he who has died [the baptismal death] is freed [Greek, dedikaiōtai] from sin.

What’s interesting about this passage, as pointed out in Catholic circles by apologist Jimmy Akin, is that the Greek doesn’t say “freed from sin.” The Greek word translated “freed” is dikaioō, which means “to put into a right relationship (with God); acquit, declare and treat as righteous.” This is the same word Paul uses when he speaks of our justification by faith: “Since we are justified [Greek, dikaiōthentes] by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). So the phrase “freed from sin” in Romans 6:7 can literally be translated “justified from sin.”

Modern translations render it as “freed from sin” because the context is clearly about sanctification. In the verse before Paul speaks of baptismal death, he speaks of those in Christ as having “died to sin.” As quoted above, Paul speaks of those who have died the death of baptism as “no longer enslaved to sin.”

So, for Paul, justification can include sanctification, which is the interior renewal of the soul whereby the objective guilt of sin is removed. And that justification, or regeneration, takes place in baptism.

So the contention that baptism doesn’t make us “united by living faith to Jesus Christ” is false. It has to be. And if so, then we can reject the idea that “trusting in baptism” is somehow to be separated from “trusting in Christ,” and doing the former keeps you off the heavenly guest list.

There’s one more thing to bring up here. The “trusting in baptism” principle fails to account for the other Scripture passages that are often cited for the belief that regenerate believers can lose their salvation, like Galatians 5:4. The text reads,

You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.

Notice that Paul says the Galatians were “severed from Christ” and that they had “fallen away from grace.” Both statements imply that the Galatians were saved, or regenerate, since to be in Christ and in grace is to be free from condemnation (Rom. 8:1). If you’re trying to reject the Catholic position on losing salvation, you can’t say here that these Christians merely had an external relationship with Jesus by being members of the Christian community through their baptism. They were in Christ.

Why would Paul speak of the Galatians being in Christ if they didn’t have faith in him? It’s not as if Paul were talking about baptized infants or baptized people who can’t use reason. How can someone who doesn’t fall into these categories of baptized people be in Christ, and thus be not subject to condemnation, and not have faith? Isn’t faith necessary to be free from condemnation, at least for those who can exercise it? It is: “without faith it is impossible to please [God]” (Heb. 11:6).

In the end, the interpretive principle embedded in the counter-response above introduces a novel theology that we shouldn’t accept as Christians: baptized adults united with Christ but without faith. Paul’s teaching on baptism in Romans 6:3-4, 7, and 17-18, and his teaching that believers can be “severed from Christ” (Gal. 5:4), provide the reason why.

The possibility of hell is not a message just for unbelievers. It’s a message for Christians as well, and a sobering one at that. Let’s not forget it.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Physics allows for the soul


-by Tara Macisaac, The Epoch Times

“Henry P. Stapp is a theoretical physicist at the University of California–Berkeley who worked with some of the founding fathers of quantum mechanics. He does not seek to prove that the soul exists, but he does say that the existence of the soul fits within the laws of physics.

It is not true to say belief in the soul is unscientific, according to Stapp. Here the word “soul” refers to a personality independent of the brain or the rest of the human body that can survive beyond death. In his paper, “Compatibility of Contemporary Physical Theory With Personality Survival,” he wrote: “Strong doubts about personality survival based solely on the belief that postmortem survival is incompatible with the laws of physics are unfounded.”

He works with the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics—more or less the interpretation used by some of the founders of quantum mechanics, Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg. Even Bohr and Heisenberg had some disagreements on how quantum mechanics works, and understandings of the theory since that time have also been diverse. Stapp’s paper on the Copenhagen interpretation has been influential. It was written in the 1970s and Heisenberg wrote an appendix for it.

Stapp noted of his own concepts: “There has been no hint in my previous descriptions (or conception) of this orthodox quantum mechanics of any notion of personality survival.”

Why Quantum Theory Could Hint at Life After Death

Stapp explains that the founders of quantum theory required scientists to essentially cut the world into two parts. Above the cut, classical mathematics could describe the physical processes empirically experienced. Below the cut, quantum mathematics describes a realm “which does not entail complete physical determinism.”

Of this realm below the cut, Stapp wrote: “One generally finds that the evolved state of the system below the cut cannot be matched to any conceivable classical description of the properties visible to observers.”

So how do scientists observe the invisible? They choose particular properties of the quantum system and set up apparatus to view their effects on the physical processes “above the cut.”

The key is the experimenter’s choice. When working with the quantum system, the observer’s choice has been shown to physically impact what manifests and can be observed above the cut.

Stapp cited Bohr’s analogy for this interaction between a scientist and his experiment results: “[It’s like] a blind man with a cane: when the cane is held loosely, the boundary between the person and the external world is the divide between hand and cane; but when held tightly the cane becomes part of the probing self: the person feels that he himself extends to the tip of the cane.”

The physical and mental are connected in a dynamic way. In terms of the relationship between mind and brain, it seems the observer can hold in place a chosen brain activity that would otherwise be fleeting. This is a choice similar to the choice a scientist makes when deciding which properties of the quantum system to study.

The quantum explanation of how the mind and brain can be separate or different, yet connected by the laws of physics “is a welcome revelation,” wrote Stapp. “It solves a problem that has plagued both science and philosophy for centuries—the imagined science-mandated need either to equate mind with brain, or to make the brain dynamically independent of the mind.”

Stapp said it is not contrary to the laws of physics that the personality of a dead person may attach itself to a living person, as in the case of so-called spirit possession. It wouldn’t require any basic change in orthodox theory, though it would “require a relaxing of the idea that physical and mental events occur only when paired together.”

Classical physical theory can only evade the problem, and classical physicists can only work to discredit intuition as a product of human confusion, said Stapp. Science should instead, he said, recognize “the physical effects of consciousness as a physical problem that needs to be answered in dynamical terms.”

How This Understanding Affects the Moral Fabric of Society

Furthermore, it is imperative for maintaining human morality to consider people as more than just machines of flesh and blood.

In another paper, titled “Attention, Intention, and Will in Quantum Physics,” Stapp wrote: “It has become now widely appreciated that assimilation by the general public of this ‘scientific’ view, according to which each human being is basically a mechanical robot, is likely to have a significant and corrosive impact on the moral fabric of society.”

He wrote of the “growing tendency of people to exonerate themselves by arguing that it is not ‘I’ who is at fault, but some mechanical process within: ‘my genes made me do it’; or ‘my high blood-sugar content made me do it.’ Recall the infamous ‘Twinkie Defense’ that got Dan White off with five years for murdering San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk.”

Love,
Matthew

Can you lose your salvation? Jn 10:27-29


-please click on the image for greater detail


-by Karlo Broussard

“How can the Catholic Church teach that it’s possible for us to lose our salvation when Jesus says that his sheep always hear his voice and that no one can snatch us out of his hand?

Recall that the Catechism warns of “offending God’s love” and “incurring punishment” (2090). To fear incurring the punishment of hell implies that a person can’t have absolute assurance of his salvation. Protestants use 1 John 5:13 to challenge this belief. But there is another Bible passage that some Protestants [64] use to mount the challenge: John 10:27-29:

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me, and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand. My Father, Who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.

If Jesus says that no one shall snatch Christians out of his and the Father’s hand, doesn’t it follow that we are eternally secure?

1. Jesus’ promise to protect his sheep is on the condition that his sheep remain in the flock. It doesn’t exclude the possibility that a sheep could wander off and thus lose the reward of eternal life.

The condition for being among Jesus’ sheep and being rewarded with eternal life is that we continue hearing Jesus’ voice and following him. Jesus teaches this motif of continued faithfulness a few chapters later with his vine and branch metaphor in John 15:4-6:

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned.

Just as we the branches must remain in Christ the vine lest we perish, so, too, we the sheep must continue to listen to the voice of Jesus the shepherd lest we perish.

Even the verbs suggest continuous, ongoing action by the sheep and the shepherd, not a one-time event in the past [65]. Jesus doesn’t say, “My sheep heard my voice, and I knew them.” Instead, he says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them” (v.27). His sheep are those who hear His voice in the present.

2. Jesus only says that no external power can snatch a sheep out of his hands. He doesn’t say that a sheep couldn’t exclude itself from His hands.

The passage says that no one shall snatch—take away by force—Christians out of the hands of Jesus and the Father. This doesn’t preclude the possibility that we can take ourselves out of Jesus’ protecting hands by our sin. A similar passage is Romans 8:35-39 where Paul lists a series of external things that can’t take us out of Christ’s loving embrace. But he never says that our own sin can’t separate us from Christ’s love.

Like Paul in Romans 8:35-39, Jesus is telling us in John 10:27-29 that no external power can snatch us out of his hands. But that doesn’t mean we can’t voluntarily leave his hands by committing a sin “unto death” (1 John 5:16-17). And if we were to die in that state of spiritual death without repentance, we would forfeit the gift that was promised to us: eternal life.

3. There is abundant evidence from Scripture that Christians do, in fact, fall from a saving relationship with Christ due to sin.

The Bible teaches that sheep do go astray. Consider, for example, Jesus’ parable about the lost sheep whom the shepherd goes to find (Matt. 18:12-14; Luke 15:3-7). Sure, the shepherd finds the sheep (Jesus never stops trying to get us back in His flock). But the point is that the sheep can wander away.

The same motif is found in Jesus’ parable about the wicked servant who thinks his master is delayed and beats the other servants and gets drunk (Matt. 24:45-51). Notice that the servant is a member of the master’s household. But because of his failure to be vigilant in preparing for his master’s return, he was found wanting and was kicked out with the hypocrites where “men will weep and gnash their teeth” (v.51). Similarly, Christians can be members of Christ’s flock and members of His household, but if we don’t persevere in fidelity to him we will lose our number among the elect. That Christians can fall out of Christ’s hands due to sin is evident in Paul’s harsh criticism of the Galatians:

Now I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you . . . You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace (Gal. 5:2,4).

If some of the Galatians were “severed from Christ” and “fallen from grace,” then they were first in Christ and in grace. They were counted among the flock, but they later went astray. Not because they were snatched but by their own volition.

Didn’t Jesus give a parable about a sheep wondering away from the flock? (Matt. 18:10-14).

Peter teaches that those who “have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”—that’s to say born-again Christians—can return back to their evil ways: “They are again entangled in them and overpowered” (2 Pet. 2:20). Peter identifies their return to defilement as being worse than their former state, saying, “The last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them” (vv.20-21). He adds salt to the wound by comparing their return to defilement to a dog returning to its vomit (v.22). Clearly, Peter didn’t believe in the doctrine of eternal security.”

Love & Truth,
Matthew

[64] See Waiss and McCarthy, Letters Between a Catholic and an Evangelical, 381; Norm Geisler, “A Moderate Calvinist View,” in Four Views on Eternal Security, ed. J Matthew Pinson (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 71.

[65] See Dale Moody, The Word of Truth: A Summary of Christian Doctrine Based on Biblical Revelation (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1981), 357.

Broussard, Karlo. Meeting the Protestant Challenge: How to Answer 50 Biblical Objections to Catholic Beliefs (p. 74-77). Catholic Answers Press. Kindle Edition.

The Happy Death of the Just – Ven Louis of Granada, OP, (1504-1588)


-please click on the image for greater detail

“The end, it is said, crowns the work, and, therefore, it is in death that the just man’s life is most fittingly crowned, while the departure of the sinner is a no less fitting close to his wretched career.

“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Ps. 115:15), says the Psalmist, but “the death of the wicked is very evil” (Ps. 33:22).

Commenting upon the latter part of this text, St. Bernard says:

“The death of the wicked is bad because it takes them from this world: it is still worse because it separates the soul from the body; and it is worst because it precipitates them into the fire of Hell, and delivers them a prey to the undying worm of remorse.”

To these evils which haunt the sinner at the hour of death add the bitter regrets which gnaw his heart, the anguish which fills his soul, and the torments which rack his body.

He is seized with terror at the thought of the past; of the account he must render; of the sentence which is to be pronounced against him; of the horrors of the tomb; of separation from wife, children, and friends; of bidding farewell to the things he has loved with an inordinate and a guilty love – wealth, luxuries, and even the gifts of nature, the light of day and the pure air of heaven.

The stronger his love for earthly things has been, the bitterer will be his anguish in separating from them. As St. Augustine says, we cannot part without grief from that which we have possessed with love. It was in the same spirit that a certain philosopher said that he who had fewest pleasures in life has least reason to fear death.

But the greatest suffering of the wicked at the hour of death comes from the stings of remorse, and the thought of the terrible future upon which they are about to enter.

The approach of death seems to open man’s eyes and make him see all things as he never saw them before.

“As life ebbs away,” says St. Eusebius, “man is free from all distracting care for the necessities of life. He ceases to desire honors, emoluments, or dignities, for he sees that they are beyond his grasp. Eternal interests and thoughts of God’s justice demand all his attention. The past with its pleasures is gone; the present with its opportunities is rapidly gliding away; all that remains to him is the future, with the dismal prospect of his many sins waiting to accuse him before the judgment seat of the just God.”

“Consider,” the saint again says, “the terror which will seize the negligent soul when she is entering eternity; the anguish with which she will be filled when, foremost among her accusers, her conscience will appear with its innumerable retinue of sins.

Its testimony cannot be denied; its accusations will leave her mute and helpless; there will be no need to seek further witnesses, for the knowledge of this lifelong companion will confound her.”

Still more terrible is the picture of the death of the sinner given by St. Peter Damian:

“Let us try to represent to ourselves,” he says,”the terror which fills the soul of the sinner at the hour of death and the bitter reproaches with which conscience assails him.”

The commandments he has despised and the sins he has committed appear before him to haunt him by their presence.

He sighs for the time which he has squandered, and which was given to him to do penance; he beholds with despair the account he must render before the dread tribunal of God. He longs to arrest the moments, but they speed relentlessly on, bearing him nearer and nearer to his doom.

If he looks back, his life seems but a moment, and before him is the limitless horizon of eternity. He weeps bitterly at the thought of the unspeakable happiness which he has sacrificed for the fleeting pleasures of the flesh.

Confusion and shame overwhelm him when he sees he has forfeited a glorious place among the angelic choirs, through love for his body, which is about to become the food of worms.

When he turns his eyes from the abode of these beings of light to the dark valley of this world, he sees how base and unworthy the things for which he has rejected immortal glory and happiness.

Oh! Could he but regain a small portion of the time he has lost, what austerities, what mortifications he would practice! What is there that could overcome his courage?

What vows would he not offer, and how fervent would be his prayers! But while he is revolving these sad thoughts, the messengers of death appear in the rigid limbs, the dark and hollow eyes, the heaving breast, the foaming lips, and the livid face.

And as these exterior heralds approach, every thought, word, and action of his guilty life appears before him.

“Vainly does he strive to turn his eyes from them; they will not be banished. On one side – and this is true of every man’s death – Satan and his legions are present, tempting the dying man, in the hope of seizing his soul even at the last minute. On the other side are the angels of Heaven, helping, consoling, and strengthening him. And yet it is his own life what will decide the contest between the spirits of darkness and the angels of light. But the impious man, whose unexpiated crimes are crying for vengeance, rejects the help that is offered to him, yields to despair, and as his unhappy soul passes from his pampered body, the demons are ready to seize it and bear it away.”

What stronger proof does man require of the wretched condition of the sinner, and what more does he need to make him avoid a career which ends so deplorably?

If, at this critical hour, riches could help him as they do at many other periods of life, the evil would be less.

But he will receive no succor from his riches, his honors, his dignities, his distinguished friends. The only patronage which will then avail him will be that of virtue and innocence.

“Riches,” says the Wise Man, “shall not profit in the day of revenge, but justice shall deliver from death” (Prov. 11:4).

As the wicked, therefore, receive at the our of death the punishment of their crimes, so do the just then receive the reward of their virtues.

“With him that feareth the Lord,” says the Holy Spirit, “it shall go well in the latter end; and in the day of his death he shall be blessed” (Ecclus. 1:13). St. John declares this truth still more forcefully when he tells us that he heard a voice from Heaven commanding him, “Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord. From henceforth, saith the Spirit, they rest from their labors, for their works follow them” (Apoc. 14:13).

With such a promise from God Himself, how can the just man fear? Can he dread that hour in which he is to receive the reward of his life’s labors?”

Love,
Matthew

Being made righteous by God is more than a legal standing, it’s a reality


-by Karlo Broussard

“Some Protestants believe, contrary to Catholic teaching, that our justification doesn’t consist in us being intrinsically righteous. Rather, God merely declares us righteous, whereby we receive Christ’s personal righteousness, and God treats us just as he treats Christ. In other words, God sees Christ when he sees us.

To make their case, these Protestants will often appeal to 2 Corinthians 5:21, where Paul writes, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Just as Christ is said to be sin when he wasn’t, so the argument goes, so too sinners are reckoned to be righteous (“become the righteousness of God”) when they aren’t. And if we’re reckoned righteous without being intrinsically righteous, then it must be Christ’s righteousness that we receive.

Let’s see how we might respond to this argument.

Key to the argument is its interpretation of the term sin. It interprets sin as literally referring to actions that contravene God’s law. But we have good reason to think Paul is referring to something else here—namely, a sin offering.

In the Old Testament, the term “sin” (Greek, hamartia) is often used to refer to a “sin offering.” Consider, for example, Leviticus 4:33:

If he brings a lamb as his offering for a sin offering [Greek, hamartia], he shall bring a female without blemish, and lay his hand upon the head of the sin offering [Greek, hamartia], and kill it for a sin offering in the place where they kill the burnt offering.

(The English translator inserted the third “sin offering” above for clarity. There’s no corresponding hamartia in the original text, so the third “sin offering” above does not translate hamartia only in a technical sense.)

Other passages include Leviticus 5:12 and 6:25. Isaiah 53:10 directly applies hamartia to the suffering Messiah, who is expected to make himself a sin offering: “Yet it was the will of the Lord to bruise him; he has put him to grief; when he makes himself an offering for sin [Greek, hamartia].”

It’s against this Old Testament backdrop that Paul speaks of Jesus as being “made sin.” And he does so within a context where he speaks of Christ reconciling the world back to God:

  • 18: “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.”
  • 19: “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them.”
  • 20: “We beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

Given this context of Christ’s reconciliation and the Old Testament usage of hamartia to refer to a sin offering, it’s reasonable to interpret Paul’s use of hamartia in 2 Corinthians 5:21 as referring to Jesus, the suffering Messiah, becoming the atoning sacrifice for the redemption of the world rather than being considered something he’s not: sin itself.

Since the fundamental assumption of the argument that we’re considering here is false, it fails to justify (yes, the pun is intended) the idea that we can be reckoned righteous when we’re not actually (intrinsically) righteous.

This leads to a second response. Given our above interpretation that “sin” refers to “sin offering,” notice that Paul doesn’t think Christ is “considered” a sin offering; rather, Christ actually is the sin offering. Jesus bore our sins as the sacrificial victim so we could be reconciled back to God, as Paul teaches in the preceding verses (vv. 18-20). If Christ actually is the atoning sacrifice and is not merely “considered” to be so, and our “becoming the righteousness of God” is parallel to that, which many Protestants affirm, then we should interpret our becoming righteous as actually becoming righteous rather than being merely considered or reckoned righteous.

Protestant New Testament scholar N.T. Wright concurs:

The little word genōmetha in 2 Corinthians 5:21b—“that we might become God’s righteousness in him”—does not sit comfortably with the normal interpretation, according to which God’s righteousness is “imputed” or “reckoned” to believers. If that was what Paul meant, with the overtones of “extraneous righteousness” that normally come with that theory, the one thing he ought not to have said is that we “become” that righteousness. Surely that leans far too much toward a Roman Catholic notion of infused righteousness?

It’s important to note here that Catholics do not believe that the phrase “becoming the righteousness of God” means we become the righteousness that is God’s own righteousness in virtue, being pure existence. Rather, the idea is that the righteousness that we receive when we’re justified is a righteousness that comes from God, since it is he who makes us just. This is the sense that Paul has in mind in Philippians 3:9, where he writes, “That I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”

Now, it’s possible that the phrase “becoming the righteousness of God” refers not to something about us, but rather to God’s own righteousness, or faithfulness to the covenant, being manifest in the world through us. This is how Paul uses the phrase “the righteousness of God” in Romans 3:25-26: “This [Jesus’s expiatory death] was to show God’s righteousness . . . it was to prove at the present time that he is righteous.” So Paul could be saying in 2 Corinthians 5:21 that God has manifested his righteousness (fidelity to the covenant) by saving us through Christ, who is the promised sin offering (“sin”) that reconciles the human race back to God.

Although this interpretation of the phrase “becoming the righteousness of God” excludes 2 Corinthians 5:21 as positive evidence for God making us actually righteous, it remains the case that 2 Corinthians 5:21 does not support the teaching that we, as justified Christians, have only our legal standing changed before God.

So, as Catholics, we need not change our view of justification based on 2 Corinthians 5:21. We can still believe that when God justifies us, he makes us intrinsically righteous by his grace. In the words of Paul, he makes us a “new creation,” with the old passing away and the new having come (2 Cor. 5:17).

Love & truth,
Matthew

Offer it up


-please click on the image for greater detail

Morning Offering

O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary,
I offer you my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day
for all the intentions of your Sacred Heart
in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world,
for the salvation of souls, the reparation of sins, the reunion of all Christians,
and in particular for the intentions of the Holy Father this month.

Amen.


-by Br Finbar Kantor, OP

“Offer it up” is a phrase well-known to Catholics both young and old. It is a phrase that we often use to satirize stern teaching-sisters and good Catholic mothers alike. But, despite its worn familiarity, it is a phrase that has not yet lost its use! In Spe salvi Pope Benedict XVI said that “offering it up” is a way that “even the small inconveniences of daily life could acquire meaning and contribute to the economy of good and of human love” (Spe salvi, 40). Furthermore, he suggested that “maybe we should consider whether it might be judicious to revive this practice.” Especially during this month dedicated to the remembrance of the deceased, we can make an effort to offer up our suffering on behalf of those souls in Purgatory.

The reality of human suffering in a world ruled by “a God gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in love and fidelity” (Exod 34:6) is a profound mystery. St. Thomas Aquinas writes that God’s allowance of suffering is part of God’s infinite goodness so that out of that suffering he can produce immense good (ST I, q. 2, a. 3). From blind beggars and sick servants to the crucifixion of Christ, the Gospel is filled with examples of Jesus transforming sickness and suffering into prosperity and joy. This transformation is also possible in our lives. When we realize that God permitting our suffering is a part of his goodness, we are able to sanctify it by “offering it up” to God.

When faced with suffering, we can do one of two things. We can reject that our pain has any meaning or purpose, or we can offer up our daily struggles. By offering it up, we accept our suffering and acknowledge that God can bring good out of it. Our suffering can open the door to our sanctification. When we offer up these moments, we hand them over to God, and he transforms them into acts of love. “Offering it up” can be as simple as praying:

Dear Lord, I offer you my suffering today

For the conversion of sinners,

For the forgiveness of sins, and

For the salvation of souls. Amen.

All suffering, from mild discomfort to profound miseries, can be offered to God. By accepting our suffering, we take up our crosses, where “Christ’s sufferings overflow to us” (2 Cor 1:5). By handing over our suffering to Christ, we join ourselves to the suffering he endured for us, “sharing of His sufferings by being conformed to His death” (Phil 3:10). It is by joining ourselves to Christ’s suffering that we can make expiation for our own sins and more perfectly conform ourselves to God’s will.

In addition to being sanctified ourselves, we can offer our suffering for the sanctification of others—especially for those in Purgatory. The souls in Purgatory cannot help themselves; they rely on our prayers for relief. (ST II-II, q. 83, a. 11) We can and should always pray for them. By turning to prayer during moments of suffering, joining ourselves to Christ’s cross, and offering our sufferings for the souls in Purgatory, we can say with St. Paul, “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church” (Col 1:24).”

Love,
Matthew

Explaining Purgatory



Saint Lawrence Liberates Souls from Purgatory, Lorenzo di Niccolò, ca. 1412, Tempera and tooled gold on poplar panel, 13 5/16 x 26 5/8 in. (33.8 x 67.6 cm)Frame: 16 x 26 5/8 in. (40.6 x 67.6 cm), Brooklyn Museum, please click on the image for greater detail

-lighter tone


-by Karlo Broussard

“When it comes to the most misunderstood doctrines of the Catholic Church, purgatory probably ranks at the top. Often, these misunderstandings are manifested in what everyday folks say about purgatory.

Let’s consider some of these catchphrases here.

“If I don’t get a chance to turn my life around for the Lord here on earth, I’ll just do it when I’m in purgatory.”

This saying exposes perhaps the greatest myth about purgatory: that it’s a second chance for salvation. At least for the Catholic Church, purgatory is only for those who, in the words of the Catechism (CCC), “die in God’s grace and friendship” (1030). The Catechism goes on to affirm that such people are “assured of their eternal salvation.”

The Bible supports this view of purgatory. Consider, for example, Hebrews 9:27: “It is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment.” Jesus’s parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16 confirms the idea that the judgment immediately following death (the particular judgment—CCC 1022) secures one’s eternal destiny.

We’re told that Lazarus died and then “was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom” (v.22). After the rich man’s death, he found himself “in Hades, being in torment” (v.23). That their destinies were secure is indicated what Abraham tells the rich man, “Between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us’” (v.26).

Since the Bible reveals that a soul’s ultimate destiny is secure immediately after death, whether heaven or hell, it follows that the ultimate destiny of every soul in purgatory is secure. And since the Catholic Church teaches that the destiny of every soul in purgatory is heaven (they died in God’s grace and friendship), it follows that every soul in purgatory is secure with respect to his salvation. Purgatory, therefore, is not a place for second chances.

“There’s no point praying for souls in purgatory because they’re all going to heaven anyway.”

Although it’s true that the souls in purgatory will eventually enter heaven, that doesn’t mean there’s no point in praying for them. There are several reasons why we should pray for the faithful departed.

First, it expresses love for them. St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that love is “to wish good to someone” (Summa Theologiae I-II:26:4). The possession of God in the beatific vision, which is temporally delayed for the holy souls, is the greatest good for the souls in purgatory (it’s the greatest good for us all). As such, anything we do to help them achieve that good, like praying for them, is an expression of our love.

This expression of love for the holy souls in turn brings us consolation, which makes for a second reason to pray for them.

Aquinas teaches that love is not only “to wish good to someone,” but also to wish it “just as he wills good to himself” (ST I-II:28:1). It follows from this definition of love that the good the souls in purgatory experience by having their impediments to heaven removed is experienced as our own good. That means that their consolation is our consolation; their source of joy is our source of joy. As the late Frank Sheed writes, “there is a special joy for the Catholic in praying for his dead, if only the feeling that there is still something he can do for people he loved upon earth.”

A third reason to pray for the holy souls is that our prayer for them makes their prayer for us more effective. The Catechism teaches, “Our prayer for them [souls in purgatory] is capable not only of helping them, but also of making their intercession for us effective” (958).

The rationale here is that the holier a person is (the less sin or remnants of sin a person has), the more effective his prayers are. St. James writes, “The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects” (James 5:16). Since the souls in purgatory are made holier (more righteous) as we pray for them, it follows that as we pray for them, their prayers for us become more effective.

“We’re not good enough for heaven, so we should content ourselves to hope for purgatory.”

This statement assumes that no one can bypass purgatory. But that’s not true, according to Catholic teaching. In paragraph 1472, the Catechism teaches, “A conversion which proceeds from a fervent charity can attain the complete purification of the sinner in such a way that no punishment would remain.”

The rationale behind this is that when a soul turns to God in conversion, the detestation of sin and love of God can create a sorrow for sin so intense that it suffices as the pain due the soul for the pleasure taken in the sin, thus discharging any remaining debt of temporal punishment. Also, love for God could be so intense that it suffices to purify the soul of any unhealthy attachments to created goods and remit any guilt of venial sin.

Being content to hope for purgatory is not a proper Catholic perspective. Purgatory is not our final destination; heaven is. As such, Christians should strive to attain that degree of holiness such that upon death, we can immediately enter heaven. Like St. Paul, we should desire to be “away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8).

True Christian hope doesn’t entail a desire to be delayed in attaining our ultimate goal. It entails the desire to attain it without delay. So every Christian should desire to bypass purgatory. It’s that desire that inspires us to order our lives more and more toward union with God in heaven. This is the way of holiness. Sirach 7:36 says, “In all you do, remember the end of your life, and then you will never sin.”

“Purgatory’s not that bad.”

It’s true that it might not be that bad for all. It’s also true that purgatory consists of great joys—joys that far exceed what we can experience in this life. The Italian mystic St. Catherine of Genoa writes, “I believe no happiness can be found worthy to be compared with that of a soul in purgatory except that of the saints in paradise.”

However, the purgatorial visions of a fourteenth-century saint, St. Bridget of Sweden (as well as others), suggest that purgatory can be an intense experience of suffering, at least for some. These visions are recorded in Book 6 of her revelations.

Bridget records how she was transported to purgatory. There she saw a highborn woman who had lived a life of luxury and vanities of the world.

“Happily,” she told Bridget, “before death I confessed my sins in such dispositions as to escape hell, but now I suffer here to expiate the worldly life that my mother did not prevent me from leading.”

The soul continued with a sigh, “Alas! This head, which loved to be adorned, and which sought to draw the attention of others, is now devoured with flames within and without, and these flames are so violent that every moment it seems to me that I must die.”

The soul went on:

These shoulders, these arms, which I loved to see admired, are cruelly bound in chains of red-hot iron. These feet, formerly trained for the dance, are now surrounded with vipers that tear them with their fangs and soil them with their filthy slime; all these members which I have adorned with jewels, flowers, and divers other ornaments, are now a prey to the most horrible torture.

All the same, the soul rejoiced in God’s mercy for not damning her.

Such torments for worldly vanities ought to give us reason to re-think our attachments to worldly goods, especially physical beauty.

It also gives us reason to take purgatory seriously—not as a place to give seeking salvation another go, or the only place we can expect to get to, or a place where our departed loved ones don’t need us anymore . . . but a realm of purification, given to us by a merciful God who exhausts every avenue to see us happy with him in heaven.”

Love, pray for the holy souls in Purgatory,
Matthew

Praying for holy souls in Purgatory


-Mary, Mother of Poor Souls in Purgatory

“Why should we pray for the souls in purgatory if we know they’ll go to heaven?

This question was posed at a recent Theology on Tap event. We know that God holds His children dear to Him, and that if people choose Him, they will eventually enter into heaven. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven” (CCC 1030).

Purgatory is not a punishment but a response to what we need after death. In heaven, we will experience the fullness of God’s glory and majesty, but if we remain imperfect when we die, we cannot yet experience that glory. Purgatory is the process by which souls are prepared to receive the full gift of life with God in heaven. However, as I heard pointed out at Theology on Tap, if these souls are being prepared for heaven, why bother praying for them?

It is important to instead ask ourselves another question: “If we don’t pray for them, who will?” The souls in purgatory cannot pray for themselves. They rely completely on the sacrifices and prayers of others. Yet, even though they desperately need us, we tend to forget about them. Occasionally, when praying the Rosary, we may toss in the intention, “For the souls in purgatory,” but other than that rare occasion, when do offer prayers for them? God uses our prayers and sacrifices to purify these souls, so we need to step up and remember them daily.

We need to remember that the souls in purgatory are not some distant group, unrelated to ourselves. Instead, the souls being purified in purgatory are connected to us. We are all part of the Body of Christ, and we are all members of the Communion of Saints. The souls in purgatory are our brothers and sisters in Christ; they are our deceased relatives, friends, classmates, and neighbors, as well as those we have never met. Since they can no longer act on earth and have not yet entered the Beatific Vision, they are dependent on us to pray for them. They are helpless without our prayers. Baptized in Christ, we are a family of love—so we should pray for the souls of the deceased often.

On All Souls’ Day in 2014, Pope Francis said the following in his Angelus address: “Church tradition has always urged prayer for the dead, in particular by offering the celebration of the Eucharist for them: it is the best spiritual help we can give to their souls, particularly to the most abandoned ones. The foundation of prayers in suffrage of souls is in the communion of the Mystical Body.”

There are so many ways to pray for the souls in purgatory. We can add them to our list of prayer intentions for our daily prayers, we can have Masses said, and we can offer sacrifices for them. We can pray the Prayer of St. Gertrude or the Requiem Aeternam. We can visit cemeteries from November 1–8 and gain partial or plenary indulgences for the souls in purgatory. These souls need our prayers; will we help them?

As St. John Chrysostom once said in a homily, “Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.”

Love, all you holy souls in Purgatory,
Matthew

The demonic is real


-Gustave Dore, please click on the image for greater detail


-by Joseph Heschmeyer, a former lawyer and seminarian, he blogs at Shameless Popery.

“One reason that we might find it hard to believe the New Testament is because we don’t know what to do with all that talk about the devil and the demonic. Jesus drives out demons throughout the Gospels. For instance, St. Mark’s Gospel is the shortest, describing only thirteen healings, yet four of them (1:21-28, 5:1-20, 7:24-30, and 9:14-29) are exorcisms.

There are several reasons that we might struggle to believe in such accounts. Let’s briefly consider three possible objections before looking at how we might respond to them.

First, there’s the claim that belief in the devil is really an import from paganism. Elon Gilad argues in Haaretz that the Jewish belief in Satan derives from Zoroastrianism, which envisions the universe “as a battle ground between [two] opposing supreme gods[:] Ahura Mazda, the ‘wise lord,’ and Angra Mainyu, the ‘destructive spirit.’” Much of his argument is circular: for instance, he claims that the earliest biblical books don’t depict Satan but also argues that if a book does depict Satan, it must not be very old.

Gilad gets one thing right: there is an evil god of Zoroastrianism. That said, Angra Mainyu is said “to have existed ‘from the beginning’, independent of Ahura Mazda (i.e. he is coeval).” That’s not particularly similar to Satan, a creature created by God who then rebels. But still, Gilad is raising an important question: What should Christians make of the fact that many other religions do have a supreme evil figure?

Second, we might struggle with biblical accounts of possession and exorcism because such stories are common in the ancient Mediterranean world. The Lutheran theologian and New Testament scholar Rudolf Bultmann points out that we find similar accounts in non-biblical Jewish literature and in Greek literature, with authors like Philostratus and Lucian describing exorcisms. Bultmann argues that their common “stylistic characteristics” suggest that the New Testament description of exorcisms is really just “folk stories of miracles” that made their way into the Bible.

Third, there’s the idea that exorcisms are a belief of a pre-scientific age. The usual story goes something like this: back before we knew about disease or mental health, people believed that demons were responsible for physical and mental illness, but today we know better. Bultmann argues that “faith in spirits and demons” is “finished” by modern scientific knowledge.

“Likewise, illnesses and their cures have natural causes and do not depend on the work of demons and on exorcising them. Thus, the wonders of the New Testament are also finished as wonders; anyone who seeks to salvage their historicity by recourse to nervous disorders, hypnotic influences, suggestion, and the like only confirms this. Even occultism pretends to be a science. We cannot use electric lights and radios and, in the event of illness, avail ourselves of modern medical and clinical means and at the same time believe in the spirit and wonder world of the New Testament.”

Bultmann’s argument calls Jesus’ ministry into serious question, since it suggests that (1) Jesus falsely believed in demons because he was ignorant of things like disease or mental illness, (2) Jesus knew about disease and mental illness but encouraged the crowds in falsely associating these things with demons, or (3) the evangelists simply made up these healing stories. How could an all-knowing and good Jesus act as if demonic possession were a real thing if it isn’t?

In short, because demons, possession, and exorcism are all real things. As C.S. Lewis observed in Mere Christianity, modern readers balk at this kind of talk: “I know someone will ask me, ‘Do you really mean, at this time of day, to re-introduce our old friend the devil—hoofs and horns and all?’ Well, what the time of day has to do with it I do not know. And I am not particular about the hoofs and horns. But in other respects my answer is ‘Yes, I do.’” Simply put, neither modern science nor Rudolph Bultmann has actually disproven the ideas of possession and exorcism.

What all three of the above objections get wrong is that they’re too narrow. It’s true that Zoroastrians believed in a powerful evil spirit that was sort of like the devil. But so do cultures on every inhabited continent. Are we to conclude that the Israelites took this idea from all of them, too, or that they all took it from Zoroastrianism? Likewise, it’s true that possession and exorcism stories are found throughout the ancient Mediterranean world. But the same goes for cultures across the world, in both the ancient and the modern world, including places that have never been Christian. As Craig Keener explains in “Spirit Possession as a Cross-cultural Experience”:

“Possession experience is not limited to either the [New Testament] or the ancient eastern Mediterranean world. One specialist, Erika Bourguignon, has observed that spirit-possession beliefs are geographically and culturally pervasive, “as any reader of ethnographies knows.” After sampling 488 societies, she found spirit-possession beliefs in 74% of them (that is, 360 societies), with particularly high ranges in the islands of the Pacific (88%) and 77% around the Mediterranean. . . .

Transcultural elements in fact include a biological element that cannot be reduced to (though may be patterned according to) cultural models. Studies reveal “an altered neurophysiology” during many possession states. While some anthropologists note that neurophysiological studies cannot resolve whether supernatural factors might supplement natural ones, it is clear that neurophysiological changes, including hyperarousal, do occur.”

It’s worth stressing that these are cultures in which possession cases are still happening. Rather than electric lights and radios and modern medicine disproving these events, modern science reveals that something is happening on a neurological level, and it’s happening across cultures and continents, including in plenty of places that don’t believe in the Bible.

This is exactly what you should expect to see if Christianity is right about the devil and his demons. Think about it this way. The Christian claim is that there are powerful spiritual beings who do harm to human beings. If we didn’t find evidence of such beings in any other culture, that would point to this being a Christian invention. The fact that we do find evidence of such beings, throughout history and today, in places that have little or nothing to do with Christianity, is evidence of the truth of the Christian teaching.

That doesn’t automatically mean that each of these possession cases is authentic. Some of the cases of alleged possession are surely misdiagnosed cases of mental illness, after all. But the fact that some cases are misdiagnosed mental illness doesn’t mean that all of them are. After all, the fact that some cases of mental illness are misdiagnosed as physical illness, and vice versa, doesn’t disprove the existence of two distinct (but related) categories of mental and physical illness. What Christianity, and countless other religions, is saying is that there are in fact three distinct (but related) categories: mental, physical, and spiritual.

Jesus wasn’t oblivious to the fact that these three categories existed. As Matthew 4:24 puts it, when Jesus’ “fame spread throughout all Syria . . . they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them.” Some of those coming to Jesus had physical and viral problems, and others had neurological problems, but others had spiritual problems. And rather than debunking this idea, the fact that we find similar-sounding beliefs in Zoroastrianism, ancient Greek culture, and across the ancient and modern world suggests that it’s true.”


-Michael the Archangel by Guido Reni, Santa Maria della Concezione, Rome, 1636, please click on the image for greater detail

“Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil; May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; And do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all evil spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls. Amen.”

Love & divine protection,
Matthew