Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Fifth Sunday after Easter—21 May AD 2017

Ave Maria!


Ascension Thursday (Holy Day) falls this week 25 May AD 2017

Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English

 “Religion clean and undefiled before God and the Father is this:
to visit the fatherless, and widows in their tribulation,
and to keep one's self unspotted from the world.”[1]

    Saint James’ epistle is one of those books that Martin Luther wanted to remove from the Bible when he left the Church.  Luther had the mistaken idea that “faith” was all that was needed for salvation.  Saint James was very clear that in addition to “faith,” God demanded practical behavior from us—for example, helping the poor and keeping the Commandments.  Saint James knew that “faith” was the belief in what God has revealed to us—a belief that is essential to being a Christian, but which falls short if it ignores the revelations our Lord gave us.  For example:

    If you love Me, keep my Commandments.[2]

    Amen I say to you, as long as you did it not [feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, and so forth] to one of these least, neither did you do it to Me.  [46] And these shall go into everlasting punishment:[3]

    Luther’s “faith” was not so much the belief in God’s revelation, as it was a presumptuous form of hope—that if he wished hard enough and emotionally enough, God would make up for all of his shortcomings, and that his eternal salvation would be assured without further effort on his part.  Luther was, indeed so presumptuous that he is quoted as saying: “Be a sinner and sin mightily, but more mightily believe and rejoice in Christ.[4]

    With an attitude like that, it is not surprising that Martin Luther wanted to remove James from the Bible.  This morning we read from the first chapter of the Epistle.  If you would go home and read the second chapter, you will get James’ message, even more to the point:

    So faith also, if it have not works, is dead in itself.   [18] But some man will say: Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without works; and I will shew thee, by works, my faith.  [19] Thou believest that there is one God. Thou dost well: the devils also believe and tremble.[5]

    Luther’s theology was born out of despair—he couldn’t imagine that fallen men and women could do anything good enough to merit eternal happiness with God.  The opposite of despair is presumption—he just presumed that God would do everything.  He failed to understand the working of Sanctifying Grace.

    Let me clarify what the Church means by Sanctifying Grace.

    Before the fall of Adam and Eve, the good things they did were pleasing to God and were deemed meritorious in His sight.  We say that Adam and Eve were created in the state of “Original Justice.”  But, if God recognized their good works as being radically good meritorious, He likewise had to recognize their failing as radically evil and blameworthy.  When we talk about “Original sin,” we are talking about a sin which deprived them of “Original Justice”—after the fall Adam and Eve lost this grace of radical holiness—both for themselves and for their descendants.  They couldn’t pass on to their heirs what they had foolishly tossed away.

    It took the sacrificial death of our Lord on the Cross to restore mankind to a state where holiness was once again possible.  Under the dispensation of Jesus Christ men and women are once again capable of “Justification”—receiving the Sanctifying Grace needed to become radically holy and pleasing to God.

    Martin Luther confused “Salvation” with “Justification.”  Be aware that in modern times even a few Catholic authors have adopted his error.[6]  It goes along fairly well with the heresy that all men and women will be saved—the “touchy-feely” notion that one day the fires of Hell will go out and we will all be happy!  This error of “universal salvation” was condemned by the Council of Constantinople in A.D. 543.[7]

    We must believe in the teachings of the Gospels—“he that believes and is baptized shall be saved: he that believes not shall be condemned.”[8]  Those who have read the Gospels and have thereby learned the importance of keeping the Commandments and helping the less fortunate will not make Luther’s mistake of expecting a brief moment of presumption to guarantee eternal life.  Belief in the Gospel “justifies” a person, making his good actions pleasing to God, and giving him the opportunity to merit eternal life.  But, in a normal human life there may be many years between Justification and Salvation—and, indeed, the individual soul may lose its “justification” just as Adam and Eve did, by committing serious sin.  (That is why our Lord gave His priests the power to forgive sins—so that “Justification” or “Sanctifying Grace” could be restored through Sacramental Confession.)[9]

    Baptism can rightly be called “the Sacrament of Faith,” for the adult who has come to believe the Gospel publicly professes his belief by receiving Baptism—or at least by desiring to receive the Sacrament.[10]  In extreme cases, people (known as “martyrs”—a Greek word for witness) have been known to demonstrate their belief by their willingness to die for it.

    Hopefully, none of us need to die in order to profess the Faith (although all of us should be ready to do so).  But let us repeat the words of Saint James:

“Religion clean and undefiled before God and the Father is this:
to visit the fatherless, and widows in their tribulation,
and to keep one's self unspotted from the world.”


[1]   Epistle:  James i: 22-27

[5]   James ii: 17-19  [Emphasis supplied]

[7]   Catholic Encyclopedia s.v. “Apokatastasis”

[9]   Cf. Council of Trent, Session VI, chapter iv, xiii, xiv 13 January 1547, under Pope Paul III

[10]   Cf. Council of Trent, Session VI, chapter iv


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