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“I give thanks to God … for the grace which has been given to you in
Jesus Christ …that you lack no grace while awaiting the appearance of our
Lord Jesus Christ, Who will keep you secure unto the end, unimpeachable in
the day of His coming....”
What Saint Paul wrote to the Corinthians
is equally important to us. He wrote to them about what we call “final
perseverance”—the idea of dying in the state of sanctifying grace, in order
to spend eternity enjoying the Beatific Vision of God in Heaven.
Paul rejoiced in the fact that the
Corinthian converts to Jesus Christ remained firm in the Faith of their
Baptism, becoming richer and richer “in Him, in all utterance and all
knowledge,” persevering until that day on which the Lord will come for our
Ideally, all Christians should preserve
their baptismal innocence untarnished by any stain of sin. And that may
have been more common in the early days of the Church. For many people,
becoming a Christian was a very dangerous proposition. In various times and
places they faced persecution by the Jews, the Romans, other pagan peoples,
and perhaps even by their own families. Under such conditions these early
converts often possessed great enthusiasm for keeping their new religion—it
made little or no sense to brave the threats of the persecutors and then
lose the prize of eternal salvation by committing some stupid sin!
The urgency wore off somewhat when the
ratio between risk and reward became small (or even vanished). When
Christianity became legal—and even rewarded—by the Empire, the Church began
to receive converts with far less zeal for keeping the Faith. At this point
some joined the Church simply to curry favor with their superiors.
But even in ancient Corinth, there were
people who were less than ideal Christians. In the first few chapters of
the epistles, Paul forcefully denounces specific sins his converts were
“You cannot drink the chalice of the
Lord, and the chalice of devils: you cannot be partakers of the table of the
Lord, and of the table of devils,”
Paul tells them. Concerning Holy Mass, he tells them: “Whosoever shall eat
this bread, or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of
the body and of the blood of the Lord.”
Not surprisingly, the remedy for sin was
the same in the early Church as it is for us today. The sinner must examine
his conscience, sorrowfully resolve to stop doing whatever he was doing
wrong, confess his wrongdoing to the priest, and do penance for his sins.
Where he has harmed another, he must make his best effort to make
restitution. And finally, he must have a “firm purpose of amendment”—which
is to say that he will strive diligently not to sin in the future.
I have mentioned to you before that
there is a connection between sin on the one hand, and sickness, suffering,
and death on the other hand. Adam and Eve would have lived in perfect
comfort and health through the ages, had they not committed original sin and
brought frailty on themselves and their progeny.
In the Gospel, a couple of men are seen
bringing a paralyzed man to Jesus on a sort of stretcher.
The men have deep faith in Jesus’ ability to cure the paralytic—Jesus
rewards their faith by forgiving the paralytic’s sins. This shocks the
Scribes (the lawyers of Jewish Law), accusing Jesus of blasphemy, because
only God could forgive sins.
But that you may know that the
Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then said he to the man
sick of palsy,) Arise, take up thy bed, and go into thy house. And he arose,
and went into his house. And the multitude seeing it, feared, and glorified
God that gave such power to men.
Jesus had healed the paralytic man by
forgiving his sins (and saying so)—He did not tell the man to “be healed” or
any such thing. To demonstrate that He had forgiven the man’s sins, he then
told the man to take advantage of the fact that he had been healed—“pick up
your stretcher and go home!” Which the man did, and which caused the crowd
to marvel and to glorify God, for they recognized that the forgiveness of
sins had worked the cure.
One last word is necessary. The
paralytic’s good fortune was due to the fact that he had people concerned
for his well-being—family or friends, we don’t know. The message is that
whenever our friends or family members become ill—at the earliest possible
moment—we must summon the priest to bring the Sacraments of the Church:
Sacramental Absolution, and the Anointing of the Sick to forgive sins and to
heal the body, and the Apostolic Blessing to give a plenary indulgence at
the moment of death, if death does occur.
That way we help to insure that our
friends or relatives—like Saint Paul’s Corinthians— “lack no grace while
awaiting the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who will keep them secure
unto the end, unimpeachable in the day of His coming….”