Law and Grace

In St. Matthew’s Gospel, we see Jesus commanding his Apostles to go out and make disciples, throughout the world. They were to grant citizenship in this Kingdom established when Jesus himself was baptized, anointed, as its King. And secondly they were to teach all the things Jesus had commanded to the Apostles to these new disciples, citizens, Catholics. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is a type of summary of all Jesus’ teachings, to help a teacher not leave out anything when teaching. And the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is an even shorter outline. These books are like a training curriculum for bringing a person to full participation in their membership in the Catholic Church, in their citizenship in the People of God, the Kingdom of God.

What follows is our understanding of a topic from the Compendium – Catechism of the Catholic Church. The chapter under consideration, titled “God’s Salvation: Law and Grace”, provides a succinct outline of the means in which God works our new life in union with Christ. Full treatments of this outline can be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, as described below, with links to both the texts of the Compendium and the Catechism.

The understanding written here was presented to a class that is studying the Compendium, and it seemed good to make it available to you also. If you are not Catholic, we welcome you take a look into the thinking of the Church. It is a look at the justification and sanctification worked in us by God, describing how we participate in God by his Gift of Grace, wherein we are a new creation “in the world, but not of the world”, in the delight of being One in Christ, who is our Lord.

God’s Salvation: Law and Grace

THE MORAL LAW

  1. What is the moral law?* 1950-1953; 1975-1978 **

The moral law is a work of divine Wisdom. It prescribes the ways and the rules of conduct that lead to the promised beatitude and it forbids the ways that turn away from God.*

  1. In what does the natural moral law consist? 1954-1960; 1978-1979

The natural law which is inscribed by the Creator on the heart of every person consists in a participation in the wisdom and the goodness of God. It expresses that original moral sense which enables one to discern by reason the good and the bad. It is universal and immutable and determines the basis of the duties and fundamental rights of the person as well as those of the human community and civil law.*

“The moral law is a work of divine Wisdom”:

All laws come from a “law-giver”, from a governor of a society or of a people. Laws are never isolated rules or statutes, but are for ordering of a social organism. Laws are always published to the people, so that they know what is required of them morally in the society.

The reason that a law-giver or governor has for giving laws is to make good citizens of the society, so that the society and individuals can thrive and grow. The “natural law” fits this understanding, even though it is “inscribed on our hearts”.

Why is this moral law needed? It is because of our human nature – not that we are wicked, but our nature is that we are capable of many things, thinking many contrary things, choosing many opposite things, doing a variety of actions that are not pre-determined. This is the freedom God gave us in making us rational animals. But he also, then gave us the ability to learn what is good for us and what is not good (this is not the same as the “knowledge of good and evil” in that tree in Eden [Gen. 3] – that tree was about knowing without reasoning, knowing the way angels and devils know, not about learning to know as humans learn). God put in us the power of knowing, the power of our intellect, and of reasoning what was good or not, and the power of will, where we love or desire what we recognize as good or desirable.

And we are not alone in this reasoning of good and not good. We are with others, and they are reasoning with us. We are learning together with others and within ourselves, knowing what pleases us and what hurts us, and seeing what pleases and what hurts those who are with us. And we also find we are hurt somehow when the other is hurt, and we are pleased somehow when the other is happy.

This reasoning in our experiences in community is how God is writing the moral law within each of us. We learn the very basics of law when we notice the pleasure and pain in ourselves and others, and learn what things are required for life together and what things must be rejected.

This is then divine Wisdom, the human person in community, ordering himself to the benefit of God’s creation of the person and the community. And it is done freely, to a great degree, more or less, when people make use of their nature as rational animals, reasoning together.

“It prescribes the ways and the rules of conduct that lead to the promised beatitude and it forbids the ways that turn away from God”.

The natural law seems like it is not coming from a law-giver or governor. It seems as though we come up with it ourselves. Yet, we have to acknowledge that we did not create or invent ourselves, with our rational nature. Somehow in each of us is dissatisfaction until we know what is true, and then a satisfaction when we know what is true. There is also a constant question of “Is this good to have or not?” And when we do conclude that something is good to have, we automatically desire to have it, but if not good, we automatically have a desire to get away from it. This is not just with appetites like hunger or physical pleasure, but it is also automatic with ideas and non-material things that we consider to be good or not. This is natural to us, but we did not make ourselves this way. The law-giver made us this way, so that we would recognize the law, what leads to happiness and what leads away from happiness, within our own operation as humans. He wrote the natural law “on our hearts” where we would find it when we acted rationally, noticing ourselves and our neighbors in community.

Now this natural law did not show the “promised beatitude” of the Gospel, but it hinted at it, at the idea of happiness, of a satisfaction that would be permanent. And to this hint the reason was capable of understanding that something more than bits and pieces of satisfaction must be the real meaning of life.

  1. Is such a law perceived by everyone? 1960

Because of sin the natural law is not always perceived nor is it recognized by everyone with equal clarity and immediacy.

For this reason God “wrote on the tables of the Law what men did not read in their hearts.” (Saint Augustine)*

The Greek word for sin, ἁμαρτία, means “off the mark” or “missing the mark”. The Greek word for trespass, παράπτωμα, like the French, means a “false step”, or a false positioning of oneself. If you position yourself where you should not be, then you are not on the mark. If you are speeding down the highway above the speed limit, then your position on the highway at any given moment is not on the mark of where you would be if you were positioning yourself by the speed limit. False is the opposite of true, or, rather is a defective conclusion about what is true. And so, when sin (missing the mark) is called “okay”, then we are declaring that a false position is the true position. In the end, someone is hurt, either because of ignorance of what is really true due to the failure to reason fully, or hurt because of an intentional choice of something false and claiming it is true.

Because of this, social groups began to codify their understanding of truth and law, selecting leaders (or claiming leadership) for the social group, the family, the tribe, the state, the nation, the empire. And through the leadership, a common statement of laws was created for the common good of that society, so that individuals and the society would live successfully. This then became an enforced set of laws, civil laws, which could be called on when individuals could not see the truth of justice clearly (whether by ignorance or intent).

  1. What is the relationship between the natural law and the Old Law? 1961-1962; 1980

The Old Law is the first stage of revealed Law. It expresses many truths naturally accessible to reason and which are thus affirmed and authenticated in the covenant of salvation. Its moral prescriptions, which are summed up in the Ten Commandments of the Decalogue, lay the foundations of the human vocation, prohibit what is contrary to the love of God and neighbor, and prescribe what is essential to it.*

We know from revelation where sin came from, and from revelation we know of that God who made us as we are as rational animals, with a rational soul that is the image of his rational being. While all human communities were busy (and still are busy) codifying laws, this God who gave the natural law to all, also sent his messenger with his own codified law, what we call the “Old Law”, including the Ten Commandments, plus the ceremonial and judicial laws of Leviticus. As mentioned earlier, laws are given by a law-giver, a governor, of a people. The natural law was given by God as Creator. In the Old Law, God is giving the law as a King of a specific people, a nation. The intent was that it would be a special people in the world, being the people from whom God would save the world. This law included the natural law, where people see from their self-understanding and the understanding of others in their community what must be done or not done, but here in this revealed law it had a new strength and new reason. Its strength was that it called for charity, for love, for the heart, as the intent of actions. Its reason was the self-recognition as a special people in the world with a special King. God called for a decision of “free will” from the people to decide to be his people with this law; they accepted the covenant, the law, because they desired to be in this covenant as his people.

  1. What place does the Old Law have in the plan of salvation? 1963-1964; 1982

The Old Law permitted one to know many truths which are accessible to reason, showed what must or must not be done and, above all, like a wise tutor, prepared and disposed one for conversion and for the acceptance of the Gospel. However, while being holy, spiritual, and good, the Old Law was still imperfect because in itself it did not give the strength and the grace of the Spirit for its observance.*

When the people accepted the call to be God’s people, they were fulfilling the first movement of the disposition of Faith, that first Virtue you may recall studying several weeks ago. They were pre-figuring what we all go through when we come to recognize we want to be with Jesus as one of his own followers. They wanted to be God’s people, and accepted his law.

However, they wanted God at a distance, the distance of the heart. Remember ‘when they saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, how the people were afraid…, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.”’ [Exodus 20] While they wanted to be God’s people, they did not want to be close to him. Yet, the whole of the Old Testament is the development of that one desire, to be united to God, seeing the need to have “God with us”, “Immanuel”, so that the law is truly about relationship of a divine community of God and man in happiness.

  1. What is the New Law or the Law of the Gospel? 1965-1972; 1983-1985

The New Law or the Law of the Gospel, proclaimed and fulfilled by Christ, is the fullness and completion of the divine law, natural and revealed. It is summed up in the commandment to love God and neighbor and to love one another as Christ loved us. It is also an interior reality: the grace of the Holy Spirit which makes possible such love. It is “the law of freedom” (Galatians 1:25) because it inclines us to act spontaneously by the prompting of charity.

“The New Law is mainly the same grace of the Holy Spirit which is given to believers in Christ.” (Saint Thomas Aquinas)*

The New Law, as with the Old Law, is given by a law-giver, to a community over which he is the leader, to a Kingdom over which he is King. It is not a set of “golden rules” that sit in the middle of nowhere, for individuals to choose as personal moral behavioral preferences. There is no “golden rule”. There is a community with laws given by the leader for all in the community as the boundaries they agree to. People read the Sermon on the Mount as if it were this “golden rule”, but it is actually a King publishing his laws to his citizens, and his citizens liking it, agreeing to it. But, why? There is One reason: They really love their King and want to be with him.

This is the true fulfillment of that first movement of Virtue, called Faith, but with something more, the fulfillment of the Virtue of Charity – they loved their King and chose his law because of their love for him.

There are other kings in the world loved by their people (or some of their people), but what makes this different is who this King is. He is from God, and is God incarnate. These disciples don’t have just “a law-giver”, but they have “THE Law-Giver”. They do not just have “reasoned truth or reasoned goodness”, but they have “THE Truth” and “all goodness” with Him. And his laws are not just for temporal common good, but for eternal happiness, which he promises his people.

  1. Where does one find the New Law? 1971-1974; 1986

The New Law is found in the entire life and preaching of Christ and in the moral catechesis of the apostles. The Sermon on the Mount is its principal expression.*

When we first started, we saw the compendium said that “[the Law] prescribes the ways and the rules of conduct that lead to the promised beatitude and it forbids the ways that turn away from God.” But in this article, 421, it states that the New Law is found in the life and preaching of Christ, and the catechesis of the apostles. It is like this law is found not in written words, but by being in the presence of “living words”, the Law-Giver himself being our Law, either in person, or “in persona” in those he has sent, his apostles.

Now, we have all heard and read the Sermon on the Mount, the beatitudes [Matthew 5ff], the laws about anger, looking lustfully, no divorce, not taking oaths, giving your cloak as well as your tunic, loving enemies, giving to the needy without advertising it, correct prayer and fasting, not being anxious, not judging. This is the Law; this is the set of rules of conduct that lead to beatitude, heaven. These seem like hard and difficult sayings, these laws. Why would anyone sign up to this Kingdom? St. John told us why, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth… from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has declared him.” [John 1]

This is where the Law enters into Grace and Justification, with a Person. As with every set of laws, the new law is only given to the people governed by the Law-giver, by the King. But the beginning of Grace, Sanctifying Grace, is given to every new citizen of this people, to every member of the Church, when they are given the indwelling of the Holy Spirit when Baptized. It is not a natural human being who then receives this new law, but it is a new creature receiving a new law, a new creature with the virtues disposing his intellect with Faith, and disposing his will with Charity and Hope. We are not simply citizens of a new people, but adopted as children of God, given participation in the life of God, participation in the love of God, with the Spirit of Adoption in us, the Holy Spirit. We partake of God, we participate God. You are not from here, but are now aliens where you live. [1 Peter 2] You are not of the world, but of God. In the flesh, you do have the genetics of your parents, but in your soul, in your spirit, you are divinized. And it is your soul that animates your body. Your body now says strange things that the peoples of the world do not know or say. You say words like: “I believe in God, my Father, and in his Son, and in his Spirit, and in the Church, and in the resurrection of the dead, and life everlasting”. Those words bubble up from your soul and into your conscious thoughts and out of your mouth. Your faith in your soul is actualized in your physical words, an Act of Faith. Why? How? You are one with your King, even your friend and brother, Jesus Christ. You are a new creature listening to him give you his new law in the Sermon on the Mount; you are not hearing it as one of the crowds who followed him.

If you take a close look at the introduction to this Sermon on the Mount, you will see Jesus noticing the crowds, but he then takes his disciples up onto the mountain, sits down and begins teaching his disciples, not the crowds. The crowds are observers of this new king teaching his new law to his new citizens, his adopted brothers. Jesus and his disciples are a curiosity to the crowds. [See the chart of the Sermon on the Mount below]

This, then, is where the new law is found: We first see others (the disciples, the Church, the Saints, etc.) being close to Jesus and being taught by him. We see ourselves “outside”, not with “the People”. This is God’s first gift of Gratuitous Grace and the beginning of Justification, when we are shown this King and his People as a desirable thing to be part of. It is with Gratuitous Grace and then the gift of Justification that we find ourselves no longer watching Jesus with his Disciples, but being together with them, being taught his New Law ourselves.

GRACE AND JUSTIFICATION

  1. What is justification? 1987-1995; 2017-2020

Justification is the most excellent work of God’s love. It is the merciful and freely-given act of God which takes away our sins and makes us just and holy in our whole being. It is brought about by means of the grace of the Holy Spirit which has been merited for us by the passion of Christ and is given to us in Baptism. Justification is the beginning of the free response of man, that is, faith in Christ and of cooperation with the grace of the Holy Spirit.*

Earlier it was said that a law-giver gives his laws to make good citizens, so that a community can live and flourish individually and together. No human law-giver can monitor or enforce the heart, but only actual actions can be enforced. So there can be superficial “goodness” or “justice” or “righteousness” no matter whether there is real goodness of persons or not. Some people obey laws out of fear of punishment, some because they believe it is right, some only when they are being watched. So human law-givers can only have a superficially “good” or “just” society to display. But Jesus’ Law, the New Law, was about the heart, the soul, of disciples who loved their Law-giver. As a law-giver he requires the whole person. But he makes “good citizens” in a different way than humanly ordered societies and peoples.

This is God’s Justification.

The meaning of Justification, or of being “justified” equals “being made righteous”, equals “being made good”. It is not the same as “being forgiven” or “forgiveness”, they do not make the person to be regarded as “good”. Justification is where we suddenly become “good”, meaning we become “desirable to God”. And there is only One who is Good, God himself. God creates us as Good by himself dwelling in us as One, divinizing us such that we participate in his life.

  1. What is the grace that justifies? 1996-1998; 2005; 2021

That grace is the gratuitous gift that God gives us to make us participants in his trinitarian life and able to act by his love. It is called habitual, sanctifying or deifying grace because it sanctifies and divinizes us. It is supernatural because it depends entirely on God’s gratuitous initiative and surpasses the abilities of the intellect and the powers of human beings. It therefore escapes our experience.*

We all have “free-will”. It is a highly misunderstood term, but it is real. And before we know Christ, before we are converted we do not have the Virtues that make us good and make our works good. So, how does God convert us in such a way that we freely choose to be converted when we do not yet have the Virtue of Faith, and how does he make us new creatures, participating in his life?

You studied about the appetites and passions weeks ago, but basically, we are naturally creatures that perceive things that are around us. We come to recognize what they are, and our will always wants to know whether these things around us are good to consume for life (or whether they would be defective to life). Then, when we conclude it would be good to unite to that thing we see, the will moves us to unite with it, to consume it. And we develop habits of consumption, regularly moving to consume some things when we think of them or see them, and regularly moving away from or avoiding other things. Our free-will is used when we choose to do things that themselves are not desirable, but our free-will chooses to do them because they assist in getting us to where we can consume the good we are thinking of. For instance, some do not like their jobs, and the only reason they work is because of some other good that a paycheck will gain for them. The job and the paycheck are only “good” for their usefulness. But these people do this unpleasant work freely. Other people do unpleasant work as slaves, not freely chosen, not having a choice about it. And that is very offensive to the self-understanding of having free-will, where their actions are determined by someone else.

Now, God knows us, that he created us this way. If he were to appear in glory, we would be dumb-struck, unable to move or speak. He would appear totally better than us, infinitely good, and we unfit to be united to him, would have no hope of union with him.

It is in God’s knowing us, and in his will to share his own goodness with us that he moved with Gratuitous Grace, and displays himself to us in the same way that we see everything we see, and come to decide whether it is good to consume. This display of God to our human way of seeing and human way of knowing is the incarnation of Christ, the life of Christ, the catechization of the Apostles, the Church in our midst with Word and Sacrament. Gratuitous Grace is the appearance of Jesus in the world, and the appearance of his Body the Church. Who is this strange person, Jesus? Who is this strange People, the Church? A new thing is in our sight, new words. What is it? Is it good or evil for uniting to? Gratuitous Grace is God appealing to us as we are naturally, similar to how we react with our appetites to anything we see.

But this appeal is not with something that we can walk up to and grab or buy, then take home. It is a person, Jesus. We already have experience with this kind of goodness, when we like someone or love someone, we find they “appeal to us”, as desirable to be united with. But we cannot just grab them by the hair and take them home. Instead, we must make known back to them our desire for union, and then wait. With inanimate things, you see it, desire it, move to it and take it, consume it. With another person, you see him, desire him, tell him, then wait for him to take you and consume you (unite with you). So you hope he sees you as also desirable for union, and you choose to do things that make yourself look that way.

At this point, without the Holy Spirit, we could not imagine we are desirable to God, but to this person, Jesus – he might want union with us. We see goodness in him, in the Church; we hear that he is from God, and that he will give life to all who are one with him. So we ask him, “What about me? These are my sins, but I want to be with you.” And like the Ethiopian we may say, “Here is water, what is to prevent you from baptizing me?”[Acts 8] That question of the will, making known the desire to the other person, is the place where Gratuitous Grace has worked naturally with us to inspire a choice of Free-Will without overpowering us violently, but instead as a lover appearing in front of his beloved so she could also desire him. And when she desires him, he then consents and baptizes her, but it is a consumption, a real union, and this is where Sanctifying Grace and other gifts come in.

Sanctifying Grace is also called “Habitual Grace”. Habitual, Habit, Habitat – all stem from the same idea. Grace that is habitual has become a disposition in our souls, dwelling in our souls, infused to our nature into a new nature, a new creation. When Christ consented to unite with us, when the Church consented to make us disciples by baptizing us, we were given something, the Holy Spirit. Everything that we know we possess has come to us from outside of us so that we can sense it, by way of our bodies’ experience. And we end up knowing it then in our souls. When baptized, it was not only water that went over us, but words were spoken. “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”, “Receive the Holy Spirit”, etc. And Jesus, in himself, and in his Body, the Church, does literally what he says. You are now “in the Name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” – that is now your “family name”. And when you were breathed on with the words, “Receive the Holy Spirit”, your breathing in was a holy breathing in. God granted you holiness by himself taking habitation in you. Now, suddenly, you are a very desirable thing to God, because you are the bearer of God himself, and he totally likes himself.

Four things happen with Justification

They happen simultaneously and instantaneously, yet they still have a sequence logically. Already, in our natural understanding, we have sought union with Jesus in the human way of wanting to be with him, but his reply to us is not only human, but above human nature, meaning divine nature, a divine reply and union.

  1. This primary thing that happens is the infusion of divine Grace, with the Holy Spirit. This is Sanctifying Grace, and also called Habitual Grace. You only know it because of the words spoken about it, not because you sense the infusion. Suddenly we are “good”, “desirable to God”.
  2. Next, with the new Virtues of Faith, Hope, Charity, is the disposition of your free-will toward God, where you know you are one with Him, and begin choosing to do things based on your union and based on your new identity.
  3. Also, with these new Virtues, your Free-Will now has a disposition to avoid what is contrary to being one with God
  4. The forgiveness or remission of sins – Since you are a new creature, participating in divinity, and disposed to goodness with the Virtues given, God is pardoning you for your old nature

Now this is all about being a new creation, a new creature, with new and super human dispositions. God did not change our wills or our intellect. God is not in the business of making things better over the course of time. Instead he joined perfection to us, with perfect Grace, perfect Virtues. Wherever you will to use the Virtues your work will be good, perfect.

Our acts happen in time, moment by moment they take shape in the world, as a small child actualizing the riding of a racing bike takes shape over many years on many different size bicycles. At the very beginning his parents knew he would be riding that last, best, bike, but he sees only the present one.

But God is eternal, nothing changes from incomplete to complete within God. So he cannot give us things that are incomplete, but only perfect things, only eternal things. And, actually, he does not give us any “thing” at all – not even the virtues or Grace are “things”. Instead of giving us things, God fills his whole life, his whole being, into us who are his faithful. Just as the Holy Spirit moved in joy over the waters of creation, so he is like a lover in union with his beloved within us, within you, dancing around with that same delight and joy over you, his new creation. Prior to this union, we were naturally human, but could not do the works of God, because we were incapable. But now, we are participating in divinity, and able to do things that a human cannot do. We have a new quality that is not human, but above human nature, superhuman, because of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the indwelling of Grace, the presence of Virtue, which we now can use.

The virtues present in us are eternal, not changing with time, as our works grow with time. The virtue of a Saint is the identical virtue in you. It was the same from the time the Saint was first baptized until the day of his death. What we see about a Saint is not the virtue God gave him, but we see the use made of virtue by the Saint, we see what he did over the years of time with the virtue that is eternal, as his soul is eternal.

So God’s gift to us, God’s salvation, is not a modification of our existing wills or intellect or actions. Instead, his gift is a new nature, a new character, which we can use in the world.

Use the Grace given to us

So, what do we do? We use this quality of our new nature. Again, you remember, the Virtues are qualities in the soul, in the will and in the intellect. They are habits, which means when you will to use them in the things you do, you will find they are like second nature. And whenever you will use them, they make your works good (having them makes you desirable and in using them they make your works desirable, they make you righteous, and they make your works righteous). And nothing bad, or evil, or undesirable, can come from using the virtues.

How do we use them? With me, it happened like this; I had been doing a lot of thinking about this, about grace, gratuitous and sanctifying, and what exactly it meant that virtues were infused; I was studying and contemplating many months, maybe even years. Then one day while driving to work, the thought was suddenly in my consciousness, “I am going to drive to work virtuously.” It was somewhere along the line of reasoning that, “I belong to God. He gave me his Spirit, with Grace, and the Virtues. And I had read the line a number of times in my study, from St. Augustine, that virtues used, whenever you will, had their effect on whatever you were doing. Whenever you will. What was happening with me with my thought to drive virtuously that morning, was a resolution of will making its way from my soul into my physical thoughts. My soul had decided it would be a very desirable thing to be a person doing things virtuously (perhaps compared to being a person who drove as I normally or naturally drove). And my will, naturally, loves what my soul thinks would be good, so my will made the thought come into the world. And I smiled as I followed behind a slower car, rather than weaving in and out and racing to be ahead of everyone. Suddenly there was a Virtuous act happening on Interstate 35E, from me.

Notice, though, the words of my thought: I did not say, “I am going to obey speed limits”, “I am going to follow behind slow drivers”, nor “I am going to drive in the right lane all the time”. No, instead I said, “I am going to drive virtuously”. I was not trying to do certain specific deeds of virtue, and that is not what God gave me. I was determined to do whatever and everything while driving with the character or quality of virtuousness. “I am going to drive virtuously”. If virtue is “used”, every deed is a virtuous deed. Those other deeds about speed limits, and slow drivers, and the right lane, can be done with hate in the heart. Knowing that “I am going to drive virtuously” chases hate from the heart.

Another thing happened over the following months of driving virtuously – I began to see the Law assisting me in my intention. Some highways that I followed were at different posted speed limits, but I would be driving along with the flow, virtuously giving space to other drivers and not taking from them, but one day I noticed the speed limit sign on a specific freeway was 60 miles per hour. The state had a statute for that highway, the intent of which was to state that virtuous driving on that highway needed a speed at or below this limit. The Law was giving me guidance, assistance, in achieving my intent of driving virtuously, letting me know the community’s understanding of virtuous life on that road. I realized then how the Law assisted my understanding of doing my doings virtuously.

  1. What other kinds of grace are there? 1999-2000; 2003-2004; 2023-2024

Besides habitual grace, there are actual graces (gifts for specific circumstances), sacramental graces (gifts proper to each sacrament), special graces or charisms (gifts that are intended for the common good of the Church) among which are the graces of state that accompany the exercise of ecclesial ministries and the responsibilities of life.*

Like the gratuitous Grace that leads us to conversion and makes us new creatures, all the actual graces are ordained by God to one thing, that a person may help another to be led to God. So all these graces and gifts are oriented to our conversion, where we ask Christ, “Will you baptize me?” Or, “Will you forgive me?” Etc. They are meant to win us over to desiring union with Christ, or to aid us in our operation with Sanctifying Grace.

  1. What is the relationship between grace and human freedom? 2001-2002;

Grace precedes, prepares and elicits our free response. It responds to the deep yearnings of human freedom, calls for its cooperation and leads freedom toward its perfection.*

Freedom, will, free-will: this is a power in the soul, a power of the soul.

Grace, however, is a new quality in the soul. It is like a light illuminating the soul to know and desire things it could not know or desire before.

God does not give us what we already naturally have without Grace, which is our will or free will. He does not repair our will either. But he gives us what we do not have, which is Grace, infusing us with supernatural virtues.

Imagine a person lamenting: “Why doesn’t God change me so that I don’t do this sin anymore? I try to stop it but keep doing it… Why doesn’t he fix me?”

Instead God gave us something that we could use in anything and everything we do, so that whatever we do, we could do with the quality of Virtue. Virtue is not certain specific deeds we must do, but a quality that we can infuse into our doings, just as that quality was infused into us. We can look at a work we are about to do and recognize, “I am going to do this virtuously”.

  1. What is merit? 2006-2010; 2025-2026

In general merit refers to the right to recompense for a good deed. With regard to God, we of ourselves are not able to merit anything, having received everything freely from him. However, God gives us the possibility of acquiring merit through union with the love of Christ, who is the source of our merits before God. The merits for good works, therefore must be attributed in the first place to the grace of God and then to the free will of man.*

Consider a Child learning to ride a bike to compare with what is from God gratuitously, and what is merited?

With a child in relation to its parents, what is Gratuitous? Life, birth, development of inner ear, legs, arms, the capacity to think.

Then we think of the operation of the child with the graces given:

The child learns to crawl, then to walk, developing a sense of balance. Because he has made good use of his muscles and inner ear for balance, his parents conclude that he Merits a tiny bike with training wheels. He did not earn it as far as money goes, but he merited it in regard to an understanding with his parents. It was “due to him”, yet it was fully a gift of gratuitous grace at the same time. And when he sees the bike he climbs on proudly and sits there. But now the use of grace continues as he begins to ride this self-balancing bike, then stops and sits, then starts again.

Gradually there is persistence in pedaling longer distances until finally one day his parents conclude he has merited the removal of training wheels with mom or dad or older brother running alongside, balancing for him. The reward earned by his merit is the labor of his parents unbolting the training wheels, and promising to help him finally learn to balance, because without training wheels you must always be moving. Now he proudly sits on the bike with his feet on the ground to balance when not moving. So it begins with mom or dad or brother walking and then running beside him, holding the seat. When he stops, they stop, and let him realize he is tilting to one side, so he will catch himself with a foot on the ground.

Then his determination to ride faster than the balancer can run merits his first solo ride on two wheels. The reward is that the balancer lets go so that he can see his success.

And it goes on; Longer successful rides and longer legs. Merits new 20 inch bike, with streamers in the handlebars.

Use, and wearing out the 20 inch, plus, again, longer legs. Merits a new racing or mountain bike.

Giving a 4 year old child a 28 inch racing bike, GRATUITOUSLY, and walking away, is a useless gift. The child walks away from it. What God gives us GRATUITOUSLY, is something we can fit and like and use at our current “age” in the faith, or “development level” as Children of God. And as we use it, we also grow, and reach a point where God has said, “When you get this far along, I will give you more”. That is Merit.

It is common knowledge in the Church, that a single act of Charity (which means, from the heart), merits beatitude, merits seeing God, face to face, were you to die at the completion of that act. How is a person ready to see God face to face after that? An act of Charity is loving God with all your heart, and your neighbor. That person, at that moment, is a dear friend of God and is suited to see him.

  1. What are the goods that we can merit? 2010-2011; 2027

Moved by the Holy Spirit, we can merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification and for the attainment of eternal life. Even temporal goods, suitable for us, can be merited in accordance with the plan of God. No one, however, can merit the initial grace which is at the origin of conversion and justification.*

  1. Are all called to Christian holiness? 2012-2016; 2028-2029

All the faithful are called to Christian holiness. This is the fullness of Christian life and the perfection of charity and it is brought about by intimate union with Christ and, in him, with the most Holy Trinity. The path to holiness for a Christian goes by way of the cross and will come to its fulfillment in the final resurrection of the just, in which God will be all in all.*

All the faithful are called to Christian holiness. If someone were to say, “Well, that would be nice, if it were possible…”, this person is actually speaking in contradiction of the Catechism and the Faith.

Goal of hour: We have really been looking at the answer to having “the fullness of Christian life and the perfection of Charity”, and “intimate union with Christ”.

Look at title of tonight’s readings: “God’s Salvation: Law and Gospel”. This is where the rubber meets the road, where God provides everything to us that he can provide, himself in us.

In his first letter to the Thessalonians, St. Paul wrote: “and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we have for you, so as to strengthen your hearts, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones. Finally, brothers, we earnestly ask and exhort you in the Lord Jesus that, as you received from us how you should conduct yourselves to please God—and as you are conducting yourselves—you do so even more.

Again: Use the Grace given you

I suggest that a good place to start is to look at the next thing you are going to do, remembering you were given Sanctifying Grace, with the Virtues, and try them out, recognizing, “I am going to do this virtuously”. Do this with all the next things you are going to do.

PRAYER:

Grant, O Lord my God, that I may never fall away in success or in failure;
          [Perseverance – fruit of virtue]
that I may not be prideful in prosperity nor dejected in adversity.
          [two vices – deliver us from evil]
Let me rejoice only in what unites us and sorrow only in what separates us.
          [charity unites – selfishness separates]
May I strive to please no one or fear to displease anyone except Yourself.
          [love of praise rather than love of God]
May I see always the things that are eternal and never those that are only temporal.
          [virtue perfecting appetite]
May I shun any joy that is without You and never seek any joy that is beside You.
          [Charity for God]
Lord, may I delight in any work I do for You and tire of any satisfaction that is apart from You.
          [Delight in our real Last End, God]
My God, let me direct my heart towards You, and in my failings, always repent with a purpose of amendment.”
          [Free-Will loving its goal]
― St. Thomas Aquinas

From Matthew 4 & 5 : The Sermon on the Mount
And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.
So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them.
And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.
Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down,
his disciples came to him.
And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
He taught His disciples / The crowds were watching him teach his disciples
Merit (accomplishment) Reward (the heart’s desire)
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. The crowds are not the salt of the earth; but the disciples are. So, if the crowds wish to be preserved by the salt of the earth, they now know where to go, to the disciples.

*Compendium paragraph, quoted with permission+, and may be found here: http://www.vatican.va/archive/compendium_ccc/documents/archive_2005_compendium-ccc_en.html

**Number lists are references to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraphs and may be found here: http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/_INDEX.HTM

+ English translation of the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church copyright © 2006 Libreria Editrice Vaticana. All rights reserved. The exclusive licensee in the United States is the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, D.C., and all requests for United States uses of the Title should be directed to United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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The Last Things Part I

There is a mystery called the Last Things.  Again, it is a mystery because you cannot know it or know about it apart from being told and trusting the one telling you.  The content of the Mystery of the Last Things can be understood but understanding it as truth is a matter of faith (that believes the messenger of the truth, reasoning that it is good to know this truth, and consenting to call it truth and pursue it).

To all people, the experientially known last thing is death.  But actually, what is experientially known is not your own death as the last thing. It is, rather, experientially knowing the death of others.  That is the end of mutual contact with an “other”.  So it is the last thing of that other that you experience.  No one, upon dying, can start speaking to us and say, “Yes, death is the last thing for me.”  We can’t report back when we die.

But to the Baptized, there is the promise and hope of eternal life or life everlasting.

The term “Heaven”, or the phrase “going to Heaven”, is almost universally used by all, yet with varying ideas of its reality, from harps and angels and clouds to many ideas strange to western minds.  But all refer to some idea of a reality that follows death, whether meant as a myth or as a means of consoling those who mourn someone or meant as a deep religious conviction of life after death.

The following series of explanations of the mystery of the Last Things is meant for the Baptized and will not attempt to convince those outside the Church to choose this understanding.  But I mention the various notions because of the impact of those outside the Church on those who confess Christ.  Living in the midst of the world while sojourning to our last end, we do not always distinguish who is talking about Heaven when we hear it described.  And with this we can develop many confused notions that conflict with the revealed mystery from the Person we trust, yet without thinking we join the notions to the revelation for a distorted image.

There are other mysteries tied in with the Mystery of the Last Things, such as the mystery of God, the mystery of your own soul, etc.  If you read the earlier description of the Trinity, and if you tried out the experiment there, you perhaps had some level of recognizing your own soul animating your conscious thinking, your soul giving to your conscious thoughts the right words at the right time, one after the other and making sense as they appeared in your thoughts.  The soul, the invisible source of the words or images that appear in your consciousness, and the source of all your movements as a living human, is what separates from your physical or material body when you die.  This soul, this source of animation of your thinking and doing in the world, leaves.  And when it leaves, it has no longer any way to express itself in words or deeds by informing a “body” to think specific thoughts consciously, or speak specific words, or move specific ways, such that what the soul understands and wants within itself might become real outside itself.  Also in that mystery of the Trinity was presented an understanding of the Persons of God, Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Upon death, these are the objects of interest, and in the resurrection of the dead, the body again returns as an object.

When you die, you are either in a relationship of mutual friendship with God, or at enmity with God.  This is true of everyone, whether Baptized or not.  Friendship with God might be visualized by thinking about the ability to look someone in the eye, and both of you are able to be happy in that gaze, glad to see each other, and concealing no hidden animosity about the other.  You both consider the other to be “good” and “good to be with”.  This is what the Church considers “being Justified” – being “good” in the presence of God who is “Good” and understanding it is true.

Also when you die, you in your soul are either debt free or in debt.  This requires perhaps greater explanation. Your soul is the place where satisfaction happens right now.  It is the place where your will is and your emotions, your appetites.  When you say, “Aaaahhh..” as you sink into a nice hot bath, it is in your soul that the actual satisfaction happens.  Your soul understands the bodily sensations that are happening in the aching muscles as the water warms them, and moves your thoughts and your speech to express outwardly what it knows inwardly, so you say, “aaahh.”  In effect, your soul is moving your thoughts and body to stop all movement now and remain in the water so that the water can do its warming and “heal” the aching muscle tissue. This is “satisfaction” in the soul.  Satisfaction or pleasure or joy happen whenever there is success at some activity that the soul wills the body or mind to act out.  It is a good thing.

There are times when we “sin”, doing things contrary to what is right, contrary to correct reasoning, sometimes evading any reasoning.  When we have success at those things, our soul is “satisfied”, the appetite or emotion or will is successful and now is at rest in enjoying the results.  If I steal a candy bar from the candy store successfully and find a secluded spot to sit down and begin eating it, I am enjoying satisfaction and at rest.  How does this fit in with my soul being debt free or in debt?  I am enjoying a satisfaction that was never meant for me, that specific candy bar and the pleasure it gave.  If I suddenly understand it was wrong, if in contrition I go to confess my sin, and if I receive forgiveness, still I am the “possessor” of an experience that should not have been mine. In my stomach perhaps the candy is still being digested when it should never have been there in the first place.  The guilt of my sin was forgiven me at confession, God has refreshed me with his Grace and the Virtues, and God and I are again friends, but there is still an “injustice”.  My stomach has something which does not belong to it.  My soul has a moment of satisfaction in its history that does not belong to it. And someone else’s soul (the candy store owner’s soul) has sadness at the loss of part of his livelihood.  If I now go back to the store and repay him (plus interest at my joy of being forgiven by God), I have restored the justice, the equality of satisfaction, between us both. If I do not go back, I carry this excess with me when I die, this fruit of sin, in my soul.  While the sin was forgiven, the damage done was not repaired.  I am friends with God, but I cannot yet be in his presence while I have in my possession what does not belong to me, and how do I part with it?

This is the place or reason of Purgatory, and the topic of this first installment of the series on the Mystery of the Last Things.  When speaking of the Last Things, “Heaven” is what is often thought of first, but there is also Purgatory.  This is often misunderstood and caricatured.  It is called a place of torment, but explanations of this often involve pain that only a “body” could experience, while the separated soul cannot feel pain through its body because it left its body dead.  Sometimes it is called a purification, but again there is little insight into what the soul is experiencing with this purification.  While it may seem strange, the word “punishment” will actually give us the key to understanding Purgatory.

Punishment seems like a very common word.  We punish children by setting them in a corner or other ways when they misbehave.  We punish criminals by sending them to jail for a time when they commit felonies.  But what really is “punishment”?  When a child is in a corner, that child is enduring an amount of time without satisfaction of the desire to move and act freely.  When a criminal is in jail, that person is enduring a predetermined amount of time without satisfaction of the will to go where he wills and do what he wills.  Our hope for both is that they would come out of that restraint with the understanding of behaving lawfully.  But the actual reason we put them in these restraints is because they took satisfactions during their offenses that were not rightfully theirs.  And they are now restrained to endure an amount of “dis-satisfaction of desire” that is somewhat proportionately equal to the satisfaction which they wrongfully enjoyed, and to experience some of the sorrow they caused for their victims.  When the restraint time is complete, we consider the “satisfaction books balanced”. They “paid their dues” and there is equality in society or in the family, so that all can now be reconciled with each other.

Christian Law is much more all-encompassing than civil law or family behavioral requirements.  Whenever we sin, even though not even noticed by the society in which we find ourselves as Christians, we are taking into our souls an undue satisfaction, and we are giving someone else undue sorrow.  God’s justice notices it all.  Even if we do things to reconcile some of the imbalances, we do not even notice much of it.  This is the source of why the Church practices things like almsgiving and fasting.  We consciously take time to endure loss of satisfaction in our souls through forcing our bodies (fasting) and minds (almsgiving) to give up good things from ourselves and give good things to others so that they have satisfaction restored to them. These are acts of our souls to recognize and eliminate injustice by returning just goods to others.

But, we do not know the whole picture that God knows in his justice.  Rather than let us perish, God intends to finally purify us, his friends, to be fully justified and just in his presence.  To this end is Purgatory.  It is a “punishment”.  It is a time period of being restrained without satisfaction of the desire of the will to be with God.  In a way, its duration is not fully defined.  If I hurt someone and that hurt continued past my death, and maybe unto several generations of descendants of the hurt person, that is the debt I bear – return of equality to all the sorrow or pain I caused by stealing satisfaction for myself.  Purgatory is a place and time of restraint where you (your soul) are not able to move or do anything to satisfy your will to finally be united with God.  It actually does nothing to help the people you stole satisfaction from, but only affects you, returning you to a state of justice where you have endured “your due share” of sorrow that is not outweighed by an undue amount of satisfaction.  You will then not enter your joy carrying along a history that does not belong to you.  St Paul phrased it this way:  ‘If the work which any man has built on the foundation [which is Christ] survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire’ (1 Cor 3:14-15).  You might say that the excess satisfaction and the hurt suffered by another are burned from your self-understanding by this restraint now endured in awaiting the end of Purgatory.  Before purgatory, there has already been accomplished the making of the person “good”, yet there remain the effects of the sin (the person has in his possession what should not be in his possession, namely the “history” of the satisfaction, which history should not exist.  These are the “works of straw” that are burned away.  How? By a temporal “punishment” where a proper amount of “lack of satisfaction” balances the person to where they would have been had they not stolen satisfactions temporally.  Why does God care about this? Simply stated, it is his Justice.  He not only “makes us good” with justification (Grace infusing Virtues, and by which Virtues we understand we are his People and we act good, act as his People), but he also “reforms” our history to display that equality of justice, so that we do not “walk into heaven with riches that were not our due”.

When a child is confined to a corner, he may be told it is for an hour, some amount of time, or some other factor (such as a change of attitude).  But while sitting there, looking at the corner, time seems unending and, in a way, cannot be measured, cannot be sensed.  The child may be so bold as to ask, “How much longer?”  Without bodies to sense, we also will not sense time, so how long is it? How long has it been? How much longer will it be until I am able to be with God?  That kind of thinking will actually not be present in Purgatory, either, because it happens in the brain, the analysis of time and of waiting.  And the brain died with the body.  Actually, there will be a desire for God, and a sorrow because that desire is not “do-able”.  A human needs his body to do things, so it will be like frustration, like “dis-satisfaction”.  But there will also be the understanding, the knowing, of the soul.  And somehow it will come about that the soul will finally know only the grace, the goodness, the justice of God

While you are enduring the time of restraint from satisfaction in Purgatory, it may be that someone yet alive in the world remembers you and prays to God for you.  That person may also enter a period of self-denial, enduring loss of their will’s satisfaction, and asking God that he take this instead of continuing to restrain you.  And this is acceptable to God, that a person may restore equality of justice in place of the person owing the equality.

When the Spirit moves you from Purgatory to the presence of God, you will enter in the joy of friendship and bring with you the satisfaction of what he intends you to have rather than the satisfactions your sins procured.  If someone else has made reparation for you, you will know their suffering as your own.  In this end in the presence of God you are “pure”.  That means you stand before God both as his friend, his child, his subject, and you will stand in an “ordered fashion” before him, for you stand as a person who has in his makeup, his history, only the equivalent of blessing that comes from God alone, and you do not stand with an understanding of yourself possessing self-acquired happiness apart from God.

Is it possible to forego Purgatory altogether, being immediately brought into the presence and friendship of God when your die?

It is possible, and Jesus himself told his disciples about it.  When they asked him to teach them to pray, he gave them this phrase to address to their Father, “Forgive us our trespasses / debts, as we forgive those who trespass against us / our debtors.”  At another time he told them about an unforgiving servant who had himself been forgiven.   The unforgiving servant refused forgiveness to a fellow servant, but when his master found out this unforgiving servant was put into prison until his own debt was paid.  The servant did not want to do without the “satisfaction” of having the money the other owed him, while his own master was willing to do without the satisfaction of having the money this wicked servant owed him.  Jesus was telling his disciples when you give up your “rightful satisfaction” that someone stole from you (by their trespassing against you) you are being like your Father in heaven, and like his Son, Jesus, who did without his life so you would be forgiven.
Why would that enable full forgiveness of all experiences of satisfaction that we stole?  Because when you give up your hope of satisfaction, your anticipation, you are actually giving up your life.  We think we need to experience this satisfaction to be “fully alive”, but giving up this anticipation of the justice owed to you is letting go of life you had once wanted in order that another person would not suffer.  You are suited for heaven because you are looking to your Father to grant you life in spite of the “death of not being fulfilled” with repayment from those who have sinned against you.  Repeating a line from above, “You stand as a person who has in his makeup, his history, only the equivalent of blessing that comes from God alone, and you do not stand with an understanding of yourself possessing self-acquired happiness apart from God.”

Forgiving those who “owe you”, who have stolen goodness from you, is not as easy as simply saying, “I forgive everyone.”  It means looking inside yourself to see what is missing in you.  What happiness do you lack, what justice is missing? And who is the cause of this missing happiness or justice?  If it were a matter of money, as in the story Jesus related to his disciples, if your actual net worth was one million dollars, yet part of that worth was a debt owed you of two hundred thousand dollars, and the debtor could not pay, forgiveness would mean you tell the debtor he is free of the debt, and then, more importantly you no longer look at your net worth the same, but you start your books afresh and declare your net worth to yourself to be eight hundred thousand dollars, with no more looks at the former debtor as a debtor.  Forgiveness is in yourself, no longer believing you are missing anything, and being grateful to the God who says that He, as well, is missing nothing you had owed Him.

But, how will you “stand before God” when you have no body when upon death or from Purgatory you attain Heaven?  How will you see God, to look him in the eyes when you have no eyes?  How will you thank him without a tongue?  And how will you ponder his goodness and majesty without a brain?  That will be the next installment on the Mystery of Heaven.

John Martin (with collaboration of Mark Anthony)

Prayer

Another Mystery is Prayer.  Why would I say that prayer is a mystery?  Doesn’t everyone, even Atheists, know what prayer is?  Non-Christians pray, also, so how is this a Mystery?  Perhaps a better way to say that prayer is a mystery is to say that Effective Prayer is a Mystery.

A prayer is simply a petition, a request, from one to another, for some action.  When people pray or petition to the courts for some ruling, they know how to do it, based on the legal codes of the jurisdiction, and they know with a certain degree of confidence whether the petition will be granted or not.  But, when praying to a deity, you are petitioning something or someone that is unknown and with methods that are uncertain.  It is only with Revelation from God of whether and for what and how to pray that such certainty can be found.  And it is only in faith in that revelation as being real or true and good, that you will consider your prayers effective and pleasing to the God who revealed prayer.

So, what is that revelation that we might believe it and participate in the Mystery of True Prayer?

Some people will say they just pray what they see explained in the Bible, such as Jesus teaching his disciples to pray.  If that is true, then what did the people do in 200AD, before the Catholic Church defined the contents of the Bible.  Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were not Scipture then.  They were only independent manuscripts that not every Christian had access to read, and held no more authority than other written documents.  Yet those people prayed, as is evident from early Christian descriptions of their lives and practices.  How did they come to believe the Mystery and know what to pray?

It is interesting that Jesus did not write out instructions.  The Gospels do not show him writing prayer work instructions, but they show him talking to his disciples and telling them what to do and say.  Upon hearing Jesus’ command, the disciples were faced with a dilemma:  do they take Jesus at his word?  Do they trust He is from God and knows what God will hear and answer?  For them, revelation was not some text book of answers, but it was this person, Jesus, and the things he declared to them.

We do not have Jesus here in front of us, but we have pastors and teachers representing Him, with a line of representation that does go back to those first disciples.  Each next generation of followers believed their pastors and teachers and bishops and popes were teaching them the truth, and so they did what their teachers asked them to do, just as Peter, James, and John did what Jesus asked them to do.  He did not ask them to try and understand the words: “Our Father, who art in Heaven,…” and when you finally understand, you will start praying.  Instead he commanded them:  “When you pray, pray like this: Our Father, who art in Heaven…”  In effect, he was asking them to simply repeat the words to ingrain the habit, much as a child learns to pray by repetition.  While warning them against vain repetition in prayer, he gave them words that would not be in vain, words to repeat over and over that were effective words in the mind of God when He hears them.  This was revealed and effetive prayer rather than vain humanly invented prayer that does not know the God revealed in Jesus and His Church.

The Church teaches some prayers that some people call questionable.  One often called to the forefront is the Hail Mary, the Rosary.  Those who have broken away in their history from the Catholic Church to go their own reason’s way, starting their own denominations, call the Rosary “vain repetition”; repeating “Hail Mary…” fifty-three times.  If being in the Bible were necessary for true prayer, the words of the Rosary are only there once, either explicity or by inference.  But, as said above, the confidence of prayer does not come from a written work instruction, but from believing the person who is commanding you to pray with the words he asks you to say.  A Catholic is a member of a People that takes seriously that the disciples became the Church, and that the Holy Spirit fully inspires the Church in its teaching.  Therefore, this people believes the Priest, Bishop, or Pope, when they are taught how to pray.  This people believes that when they hear this Priest, Bishop, or Pope, that they are hearing and obeying Jesus.  In the Bible we see twelve disciples who had been praying all of their lives as they knew how, asking their teacher to teach them to pray, and we see Him teach them.  We cannot go back 2000 years to ask him to teach us, but we can ask those who were taught – they know how and can teach us what they were taught.  That is our connection with Jesus, learning all that Jesus commanded and taught  them from the people he sent, hearing Him in our hearing and obeying these sent teachers, the Priests, Bishops, Pope, the Church here face to face which the Holy Spirit unfailingly inspires.

With the Holy Spirit inspiring this Church, inspiring this People, the Rosary came to light as effective prayer and was taught.  And this People obediently learned what they were taught, and they practice it with confidence, taking the word of the teachers that Mary is alive, hears their Rosary prayers, is with her Son in Heaven, and talks to Him in their behalf, and that He hears her.  Catholics do not believe Mary is a mediator between God and man, but she is a mediator between men and their King, the Man Jesus, who is also the Son of God.  Her prayers for men are answered by God.  It is only within the person of Jesus that there is mediation between God and Man for forgiveness and life.

It is only in this last week that I have understood why to pray the Rosary.  It is simply disciple’s obedience to a teacher whom I trust since I am a member of that People in my teacher’s charge.  I was taught to pray the Lord’s Prayer many decades ago by my parents in the same fashion – repeat after me… Now, when I am old, I am claiming that childhood right of letting my teacher teach me and of doing as he says, repeating “Hail Mary…” fifty-three times, intermingled with “Our Father…” and short descriptions of teachings about Jesus.  And I am addressing Mary as instructed by people inspired by the Holy Spirit.

A Mystery is what we cannot know except it be revealed.  Once revealed it can also be understood.  But even if understood, the reality is an object of Faith.  That is the way of the Prayers of the Church.  We pray as we are taught, and understanding comes in its own good time, and the understanding is remarkable.

Experiment: Try to remember when you were taught the Lord’s Prayer; visualize the Apostle’s representative (your mother or father or pastor, whoever,) asking you to repeat what they are teaching you to pray:

  • You say:  “Teach me to pray…”
  • Disciple:  “When you pray, pray like this, these words: Our Father, who art in heaven”
  • You say:  “Our Father, who art in heaven”.
  • Disciple:  “Next say this, Hallowed be thy Name”
  • You say:  “Hallowed be thy Name”
  • Disciple:  “Thy Kingdome come”
  • You say:  “Thy Kingdome come”
  • Disciple:  “Thy will be done”
  • You say:  “Thy will be done”
  • Disciple:  “On earth as it is in heaven”
  • You say:  “On earth as it is in heaven”
  • Disciple:  “Give us this day our daily bread”
  • You say:  “Give us this day our daily bread”
  • Disciple:  “And forgive us our trespasses”
  • You say:  “And forgive us our trespasses”
  • Disciple:  “As we forgive those who trespass against us”
  • You say:  “As we forgive those who trespass against us”
  • Disciple:  “and lead us not into temptation”
  • You say:  “and lead us not into temptation”
  • Disciple:  “but deliver us from evil”
  • You say:  “but deliver us from evil”
  • Disciple:  “Amen”
  • You say:  “Amen”

Participating in the Mystery of Prayer is through being taught by someone who was sent to you who knows, and doing what they taught you.   And as you participate, repeating, over time, you will find more words filling themselves in, such as when saying, “Thy will be done”, you may find words in you saying, “I am your obedient son / daughter, my Father; what you want done, I will do, so that what you want done by me in the world actually is done in the world.”  And one day you may teach another to participate in this Mystery.

John Martin

The Trinity

The Trinity is called a Mystery.  That does not mean it is not describable, but means it cannot be recognized as True except to Faith.  And it is the same with the description of the Trinity – the description, also, can only be claimed to be true by an act of faith.

So, let’s take a look at the Mystery’s description.

To begin, it will be a great help to look at ourselves, specifically at our Soul.  The name “soul” is a term used for whatever it is that “animates” our bodies and minds.  The word for soul in Latin is “anima”, from which we get the term “animate”.

But what is this animator?  Philosophy has used the word “soul” to refer to that invisible, non-material “thing” that keeps all the various elements within a body all working together as a single living body, rather than falling apart and going their separate ways (as with a dead body, or corpse, after death) .  When looking for the definition of the Trinity, it is best to focus on the relation of the Soul to the human mind, thought processes, since we hear things like “the Son of God is the Word, begotten of the Father,” etc.  A word is something having to do with the intellect, with thought, with the mind.

Right now you are hearing Words (or reading them here).  Words are entering your conscious thoughts from somewhere outside of you.  Hopefully as you hear (or read) them, the words are making sense as the words become phrases and as the phrases become sentences, and as the sentences become an idea.  One after another, one word follows another word making an understandable idea in your thoughts. 

So, your conscious thoughts get their words from something besides themselves.  Your thoughts “receive” words, rather than make them up.  And, it is the same with your own thoughts.  Your Soul is something you cannot see or hear or point to or feel.  But, it can do and does do for you the same thing I just did with my words to you.  Your soul puts words into your conscious thoughts, one word at a time, and they make sense as each word appears in your thinking.  There is an invisible, “spiritual”, intelligence that puts words in your thoughts or out your mouth, making sense as you think them or speak them.  That invisible intellect that gives words to your thinking is what we give the name “soul”.  That invisible thing “animates” your conscious mind with words and also with images.  Try this: make up a sentence, either in your thoughts or by writing it down.  Here is a starter for the sentence:  “The road went winding …”  and as you finish the sentence, pay attention to how you get each next word for completing it, where are the words coming from; try to see where the next words come from. 

(Pause a moment and complete your own sentence)

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I will give you my sentence:  “The road went winding, uphill and down, until it came to a dead-end”. 

Where did “uphill and down” come from?  “Uphill and down” were simply there as the seemingly appropriate next words, so they were part of my thought’s sentence.  They were not there, and a moment later they were in my thoughts.  And what about “dead-end”?  Actually, with “dead-end”, two words appeared in my thoughts: “dead-end” and “cliff”.  And also out of the blue (from my soul), came the choice of “dead-end”, like a decision I was not aware of making.  Of course in normal conversation I would say that “I chose to use ‘dead-end’” but it was not really that way. 

Words appear in us, from somewhere we cannot perceive.  And strangely, they make perfect sense when they appear.  Your sentences make as much sense as mine.  You did not have a thousand words sitting in front of you and you did not have to pick and choose from those thousand words to find a group that make sense for your sentence.  The correct words were all there, one after another, making sense.  That is your soul animating your thought.  This invisible, spiritual, thing called the Soul is intelligent.  It knows what it knows and it knows how to operate the body, operate the brain, to bring what it knows into the material world of your thoughts, the material world of your brain.  Why does your soul do this?  Why bring words and ideas into your conscious thought or into your speech?

Your soul’s biggest desire is to make true in the physical world what it knows in itself, and to bring truth from the outside physical world into itself.  When you hear someone else talk, it is not just going into your conscious thought, but your soul is taking it into itself also, so it has inside (intellectually and spiritually) what exists in the physical world. 

What your soul knows, it wants the body to experience physically, so that your soul’s “understanding” matches the reality outside the soul, since it is one being, one person, with the body.  When I asked you to make a sentence, your soul knew the sentence long before you did consciously.  It knew, and it wanted the physical reality of your brain, your thoughts, to equal what it knew inside.  So your soul “spoke” and the “words” entered your flesh (your thoughts). 

What is in your soul? 
Your soul is the place of your intellect, the place of your reason and your will.  It is also the place of your appetites.  We won’t go into those.  It is enough for talking about the Trinity what we have already seen.

We are like God in our souls, in that we are intelligent.  We know truth. 

We are also like God in that we want the truth we know to not just be in our understanding, but to be outside us, all around, so that what we know are not just ideas, but is real substance also.  Your souls knew the words of your sentences, and then there was suddenly substance to your words as they began to appear in your thoughts or on paper in front of you.  The outside and inside of your intellect were matching.

We say that God is infinite in many ways.  He is Truth.  And he knows.  And, what is the biggest thing that God knows inside himself:  what might that be? 

God knows himself.  He knows he is Truth.  He knows it is Good to be one with Him.  And he knows he is Beauty.  What do we do, our souls, when we know something inside?  We move our bodies, our minds, our thoughts to make it also real outside our intellect.  We think thoughts, we write, we speak. 

God does this also.  That is how we are like him.  He knows himself, and from forever he has “described himself”.  He has “spoken himself”.  One thing about God; when he speaks, what he says is real.  So when he describes himself, the one he is describing is actually there with him, looking back at him.  That is the “Father generating the Son”, from forever.  Looking back at the speaker, the “Son” is real, just as your words in your thoughts are real, or your words on Paper.  But this “Son” is not a lifeless material word, but a living Word – it is exactly what the “Father” is describing.  And the Father is describing God.  God is describing God – the Father is Speaking the Word, the Son.

So, Father and Son are facing each other.  The Father is speaking, the Son knowing he is “known” by his Father.  It is perhaps something like you knowing consciously now that your soul generates your conscious thoughts.  In your conscious thoughts you can think about your soul generating your conscious thoughts.  Father and Son face one another, both infinite Truth, both infinitely Good to be One with.  And they desire that union.  These “persons” of Father and Son, Being God, all powerful – they make that union real with their Will.  Love proceeds from each to the other.  That is the Holy Spirit.  It is the Life of the Son going into the Father, and the Life of the Father going into the Son.  (the Breath of the Son into the Father, the Breath of the Father into the Son).  And it is the Breath of God, all powerful, Truth, Good, Love, it is the Living Breath of one being breathed by the other.   

Like our soul generates truth outside us that matches the truth it knows, God has generated the Truth he knows, namely himself.  But that Word of God is God.  And the Speaker is God.  And the Spirit they give to one another is God.  Three Persons.  Can this Truth, this Goodness, this Relationship of Love be shared by something that is not God?  Can something that is not God, can a creature, appreciate the Truth, be united to the Good, take in the Beauty?  God knew in himself the answer was “Yes”, if there were a creature like him, able to know truth, able to will what is good, able to love, to participate in union. 

That is why we are.  To participate God.  But it is necessary to learn of him before we see him inside himself, to be suited to be one with him before we come in contact with him inside himself, to love him before we see him in glory, so that we are confident to love him when we see him face to face.  That is where the preaching of the Gospel, Faith, Grace, and Sanctification come into view. 

Now, let’s consider something familiar to us all:  “1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  2 He was in the beginning with God;  ”

In the beginning, or always, God knew himself; God knew God.  And he spoke Himself.  It was not just a “divine nature” that did the speaking, but an individual, a Person, and it was not just a dead idea of who he is, but his Word was him.  But the “divine nature” was not the Word; He, too, was a Person.  His Word was his own reality being looked at and uttered by himself and was face to face with him.  His Truth and Goodness was now relationship in God, matching him in Truth and Goodness.  And breathing themselves into each other, they were not breathing “divine nature” into each other, but their Living Spirit, a Person.

… “14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.  ”  The Father also spoke his being out into that which is not God, just as we do not only hold our words in our own thoughts, but we send them out into the air for going into other flesh.  And now the Truth and Goodness of Union with God became a reality outside of God in the man Jesus.  There was now an equality of God outside that matched God within himself, by his Speech, just as our souls present words to our minds and our mouths so that the outside (what is in the flesh) matches what the soul knows inside itself.  When we walk with Jesus or those he sent to us, we are walking with the person who matches the Father who speaks.  

Why is all this good to know?  In knowing God this way, and in knowing ourselves this way (with our souls) we can see that God is like us (or we are like God, or both).  We are “suitable for relationship”.  When something is not suited to you, you cannot love it, but instead you will ignore it or hate it.  But when it suits you, and is desirable, then you can and do love it and will work to be together with it.  In Jesus, in the Church (his Body), we are participating, in relationship, with the Trinity, of one flesh with the Word made Flesh.