Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!


Ave Maria!

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost—2 August AD 2015

On the necessity of grace to do good.

[Ordinary of the Mass]
[English Text]
[Latin Text]

“No one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Ghost.” [1]

    I have always liked today's Gospel about the Pharisee and the Publican, for it teaches us a very important lesson.[2]  It doesn't matter who we are and how much good we do if we give ourselves credit for our own goodness instead of acknowledging that it comes from God.  And likewise, even if we are sinners and relatively unimportant people, we can find our salvation and our forgiveness in God if we approach Him in humility.

    But, since I have made this comment so many times in the past, it would be useful for us to look a bit more closely at the things the Church is telling us in today's Epistle.  It is taken from Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, his newly made Christians in the southern Greek islands.  We read a passage from it last week, and we will read additional passages throughout the year.

    In this Epistle, Saint Paul is particularly concerned with getting these new Catholics to make a firm and complete break with their past as idol worshippers, and the worshippers of many different false gods.  What he had to say is still relevant to us today, when so many people think that belief in the one true God is no longer necessary for salvation;  when so many people think that it matters not at all what you believe as long as you are just and charitable toward your neighbor.

    Paul starts out this passage, quickly disabusing his readers of this notion:  “You used to go to dumb idols when you were heathens,” but now you have received sanctifying grace.  This grace is the thing that makes you different from all who do not possess it—it is transforming grace, making you over into someone who has the life of God within himself.   “No one speaking by the Spirit of God says [anything bad about] Jesus,” precisely because this grace given by the Holy Ghost makes him an adopted son of God, a “brother or a sister,” as it were, “of Jesus Christ.”

    And those who have not received the saving graces of Baptism and the other Sacraments—who have not this divine life—can unite themselves to Jesus Christ only in feeble and ineffective ways:  “No one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Ghost.”

    In chapter 10, Paul is even more emphatic.  Christians simply cannot associate themselves with the practices of those who reject Christ.  They must not disrupt the unity that comes from being united to Christ by uniting themselves with the rituals of pagans.  “The heathens sacrifice to devils, and not to God…. You cannot drink the chalice of the Lord and the chalice of devils.”[3]  He even suggests that it is unwise for Catholics to associate with unbelievers in secular pursuits:  “Bear not the yoke with unbelievers,” he tells them in his second epistle.[4]

    Yet, certainly, St. Paul is not preaching hatred against the non-Catholics who live around us.  And there is no doubt that he would encourage us to join with them in those things of a civic nature, where the cooperation of all citizens of good will is necessary.  But he is very clearly telling us that only those who pursue sanctifying grace in the Sacraments of Jesus Christ can expect to have any sort of just claim on the kingdom of heaven.

    He goes on, by the way, further along in the same chapter that we started today, to explain that any of those charismatic gifts that were given to the members of the early Church, were given to them for the good of all and not for the prestige or advantage of any one person.  It is not in the Epistle, but perhaps in person he quoted them the parable of the Pharisee and publican to remind them of the importance of humility; and that all good things come from God.

    He tells them explicitly that gifts like healing, and prophecy, and wisdom, and speaking or interpreting tongues, are primarily to spread the Gospel so that others may believe and receive God's saving graces.   What he calls “prophecy,” he says is the most important of these gifts    and that is because what he means by “prophecy” is nothing other than the instruction of the ignorant in the mysteries of the Catholic Faith.

    But even these things, Saint Paul is quite clear, are unimportant when compared to the grace of God and our response to that grace; what we call “charity,” or simply the love of God.  When God loves us, we say that we receive His sanctifying grace—charity is the “opposite side of the same coin”;  it is our response to God's love by loving Him in return.  Perhaps this will help us to understand why the Sacraments are so indispensable to salvation; for we are largely incapable of loving God except in response to His love.  Heaven and earth will pass away … prophecy and healing and speaking in tongues will pass away … even faith and hope will pass away, but charity … the love of God … must always remain.

    So remember—the next time you hear someone say that “All religions are good,” or that “It doesn't matter what you believe as long as you are a good person.”  You don't necessarily have to argue with the person who says such things, but you don't have to agree either.  At least know in your own heart that salvation comes not so much from what we do, but from how we respond to the sanctifying grace of God that comes to us only in the Sacraments instituted by Jesus Christ.

    And do receive them often;  and fruitfully.

“No one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Ghost.”




[1]   Epistle:  I Corinthians xii. 2-11






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