Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Say something about Jesus

I read this very interesting article over at Catholic Lane about a Catholic man who seems to have been somewhat shaky in his faith. Some Protestant family members picked up on his apparent ignorance of the principles of Catholicism and moved in on him like sharks at the smell of blood. They asked him, "If you died and stood before the Lord and He asked you why He should let you into heaven, what would you say?" Well of course the Lord doesn't let us into heaven based on whether or not we answer some questions correctly; the purpose is a Protestant ruse in order to find out where the Catholic puts his trust.

Well, the Catholic gentleman in question failed the test. When asked why he had confidence in his salvation, he replied, "I just ask the Virgin Mary to pray for me.”

This answer, while not wrong if expressed to another Catholic who understands the tremendous graces that come to us through our Lady's intercession, it is nevertheless problematic in this context for two reasons.

First and foremost, when a Protestant asks you this question, beyond testing you to find out where you place your trust, he is implicitly seeking to either confirm or debunk the myth that Catholics do not know our Lord. It is not primarily a theological, but an ecumenical question. He is thinking to himself, "I have come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior; do you know this same Christ? Have you come to believe and love the same Jesus who I believe in and love?" Even if this is not stated, this is the purpose. It is an opportunity to build bridges and to establish firm footing for a true dialogue.

The average Protestant already suspects that we Catholics pay too much honor to Mary; many accuse us of worshipping her. When he asks this question to a Catholic, he is looking, faintly hoping, for confirmation that this is (or is not) true. To answer, then, by saying, "I just ask the Virgin Mary to pray for me" leads them to suspect the worst about us. It takes what could be a very fruitful ecumenical discussion and ends it before it starts by portraying us as ignorant. As the article above says, "you have to be about as dumb as a box of rocks to sit in Mass for any time and not figure out that your salvation has something to do with Jesus."

But, to come to the second point, why would this answer confirm the worst suspicions of the Protestant? Perhaps we could agree that this answer is "bad form" but it is theologically sound, right?

Not exactly. The Protestant is here inquiring about the primary cause, or efficient cause, of our justification. We know there are many secondary causes. Reading the Bible helps me go to heaven Prayer. Fellowship with other believers. Attending Church assists me on my way to heaven. The intercession of the saints. Even looking at a beautiful piece of art or visiting a beautiful spot in the wilderness might assist me on my way to heaven. Of all these things, in one way or another, it can be said that they "save" us in that they contribute to rendering our salvation more secure.

But this is not what the Protestant is getting at when he asks this question about where we place our trust. He wants to know the efficient cause, the cause from whence all these other secondary causes derive their efficacy. For the answer to this question, there can be no other answer other than the redemptive death of Jesus Christ. This is the only appropriate answer to this question.

St. Thomas agrees. When writing on the cause of sanctifying grace, he of course goes right to the primary cause - God. Nobody but God can save us, and no creature, not even the Blessed Virgin Mary, can possibly be the cause of grace. St. Thomas says:

"Now the gift of grace surpasses every capability of created nature, since it is nothing short of a partaking of the Divine Nature, which exceeds every other nature. And thus it is impossible that any creature should cause grace. For it is as necessary that God alone should deify, bestowing a partaking of the Divine Nature by a participated likeness, as it is impossible that anything save fire should enkindle" (I-II, Q. 112 art. 1).

Protestants and Catholics may disagree over how exactly Christ's death saves us; this is something that is a subject for discussion between us - but this discussion will never happen if we do not know how to skillfully answer the questions posed to us by Protestants who are seeking to challenge our beliefs.

Sometimes we may be ill-prepared and lose an argument; we may forget our Scripture and look foolish; we may say something and later regret it; but, if we are going to lose the argument, let's at least lose an argument that has been had, not lose it before it even has a chance ot begin. We can't begin to properly explain Mary's role as a co-mediator unless we first establish common ground with Protestants that we believe in the one Mediator. We can't convince them to share our beliefs about Mary if they aren't convinced that we share belief in Christ.

So, as I have said with regards to our relations with non-Christians, so I say with our intercourse with Protestants - preach Jesus Christ and let the rest follow. That's the only way things will ever work out.


J. said...

I'm not sure we should be overly concerned about disingenuously phrased questions from heretics. The hypothetical query from our Lord is not presented as a quiz on correct doctrine, but as a more personally oriented demand: Why should I let you into heaven? The correct answer to that question would not be, Because of the efficacious redemption you wrought on the Cross, but rather an honest and humble account of our personal spiritual life and piety, Marian piety included.

The problem is not so much in this man's response to his relatives' two-faced question (unfortunately simplistic as it was), but in the question itself. This kind of "evangelistic" railroading is common among Protestants, and it's certainly not something Catholics ought to bend over backward to accommodate.

BONIFACE said...

I agree in principle. But even though the question is misplaced, I am seeing this more as a potential for ecumenical discussion, in which I can humble myself and give the answer in a manner consonant with what I know they are seeking to know, rather than just retorting that they are asking a bad question. In these sorts of discussions, I generally take the questions as they come, even if flawed.

Although, if Jesus asked me that, I would not recount my own acts of piety or spiritual life, but I would base it on His death and what His grace had wrought. I don't think this is Protestant thinking. I certainly would never say, "Because I did X,Y, and Z." I would avoid any answer that suggested that I had a right to heaven.

Anonymous said...

If the Protestants insist on this nonsense of 'asking questions at Heaven's gates' tell them that the answer is: 'Lord, I am not worthy, but only by your blood and in your mercy will I be'.

BONIFACE said...

That is a perfect answer.

J. said...

But even though the question is misplaced, I am seeing this more as a potential for ecumenical discussion, in which I can humble myself and give the answer in a manner consonant with what I know they are seeking to know, rather than just retorting that they are asking a bad question.

Well, I don't know. Can a flawed question receive anything but a flawed answer? The only way around this is to re-frame the question, and then to answer that question.

The Protestant questioning of Catholics usually involves some sort of entrapment mentality, and Catholics have to be on their guard about what their Protestant friends or family (both in my case) are really asking. Maybe your approach is best, since to mention Catholic devotion to Protestants—especially Marian devotion—is like casting pearls before swine so that they may be trampled upon.

Although, if Jesus asked me that, I would not recount my own acts of piety or spiritual life, but I would base it on His death and what His grace had wrought.

Wouldn't it be appropriate to say something like, "Judge me, O God, and distinguish my cause from the nation that is not holy. Send forth Thy light and Thy truth: they have led me and brought me unto Thy holy hill, and into Thy tabernacles." Of course everything is possible because of God's grace and His creative act, but God doesn't "let anybody in" without their free response and action, except for those beneath the age of reason.

No, we don't have any kind of "right" to heaven, any more than we have any "right" to existence. We can still base our worthiness (such as it is) on God's promises of reward and on Mary's help.

BONIFACE said...

Well, I don't think the question is flawed or wrong; it is just unrealistic to expect our Lord to quiz us when we die and does evidence as desire to entrap - but I don't think it's a question that can't be answered satisfactorily, especially if we recognize what the Protestant is really getting at.

I do like your "Judge me O' Lord" answer. My point was just to emphasize that all is grace.

JesusOnly said...

When questions arise such as this, we need to ask ourselves what is the true word of God says concerning salvation. Read for ourselves and understand for ourselves not only through human teaching but through the direct word of God on the subject of salvation. Romans 10:9-10 says
9 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.
This is Gods requirement for salvation. Should we (mere human being) look for another salvation? Let me asks blatantly the question that should be ask. Where in the original Hebrew Scriptures did they mention Mary as an avenue or co-mediator to get to God Almighty? I ask where it is in the Hebrew script because according to God’s word the Jews are given the divine scriptures from God. Ask yourselves this and then maybe we can have an answer to the Protestants.

Anonymous said...


As a former member of a millitant Protestant sect (SDA) for 21 years (1984-2005) (from the age of 13-34 after an all too common experience with anglicanism in my childhood/teen years) only to be granted freedom from said sect by my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, given space to breathe and 'come down' in anglicanism for another 6 years (during this time finding my way into a theology degree at a small Catholic university and being blessed beyond belief when taking a unit on the Sacriments which did for me, coupled with several very good Catholic blogs on the net and some straight shooting from our campus chaplain - a wonderful young priest whose faith and zeal is amazing), you do not know how important this question is. To we who are emerging from such protestantism, often shroudded in sickening fear for our eternal lives (when one has been told during the most formative years of one's life that said sect is the only truth and to wantonly leave is nothing short of a fulfilment of 2 Pet 2: 22) among other things, this is essential! When we are caused to come back into contact with those who knew us in said sect and find ourselves bombarded with questions, especially when still very fragile from the upheaval of change, one needs to be able to confidently draw on Christ, and Scripture. Remember, we have been programmed to interpret the Bible along very narrow and specific denominational lines e.g. remnant theology, CC being equated with the WOB, the Daniel/Revelation emphasis that places stock in the 1260 and 2300 day prophecies as proof of said denomination's correctness etc, the lamb like beast, the power who would seek to change times and seasons etc, we need to be able to focus upon the reason any of us have any jot of hope at all, Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour.

Tim Staples (whose walk virtually mirrors mine and that of the author you have highlighted here) emphasises the incredible importance of this approach also, and for us to know our scriptures (often in a new light) and draw upon them for the hot button issues, especially

'call no man father'
Grace and Works in Salvation.

it is doubly hard for those of us emerging from ultra-fundi evangelicalism, JW'ism, SDA'ism, Mormanism etc into Catholic christianity (many of us transition via an intermediate denomination such as Anglicanism or Orthodoxy). Many have given up family, employment, networks of support both community and friendships, and even have experienced very difficult strain upon marriages when 'coming out' into Catholic Christianity.

Oh my goodness, how i wish i had access to a Catholic priest who understands the unique needs of cult/sect survivors! Though RCIA is good, and the one i am part of is excellent, there's still that gaping ache and fear just beneath the surface even now. Many who exit high impact sects do not get out with their faith intact.

Tim Staples is an author who has written and spoken upon many of these issues in his 'Nuts and bolts' book, his 'Sword of the Spirit' series, many public talks and so on that have been recorded and made available. I wish there were an ex Adventist pastor who got out and found his way into the Catholic priesthood who i could correspond with, for instance, or unburden myself to.

I know this is a lot to bombard the comments box with and I thank you for your time. never thought the old 'tapes' would rattle back into life again, but here they are... meeting with SDA's in a fortnight, can't get out of it. Please pray.

PS: commenter 1, remember, I was like this once and thought I was 100% correct without a shadow of a doubt.

JFM said...

"The Protestant questioning of Catholics usually involves some sort of entrapment mentality"...

Huh? Not "usually," but sometimes. Many Protestants could care less if you are Catholic, as long as they think you are trusting in Christ. For crying out loud, get away from your sectarianism of

JFM said...

From circa 1914 Wilfrid Ward, biographer of Newman:

It is only if St. Paul's words represent the facts that the Gospel has any foothold in my souL For myself I find them true, and the other not true to my inner life. It is that very "worrying" about sin which I cannot escape that obstructs all my desires to be up and doing and blights even my highest and purest thoughts. Doubtless I might be happier, could I feel myself a man of the new dogmatic, not " essentially a sinner " ! But I cannot. I cannot help it ; I have this burden, like Christian in the story, and I cannot roll it off except at the foot of the Cross. Miserable and well-nigh hopeless in face of the future, I have to live. Taught by oft-recurring failures to distrust my best resolves, and finding sincerest love and all the hardest sacrifices vain, stained with the past, frightened in face of the tempter, aware how easy it is to yield and what little rest he gives, tortured with lustful passions, a prey to pride and malice, contemptible even more than odious in my weakness, divided in my inmost being, torn every hour between God and the devil, to whom shall I go? What must I do to be saved? Alas ! I know that I can do nothing. I have no quid pro quo to offer God, and cannot win my pardon by any virtue or gift ; I am naked, beaten, prostrate.

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy Cross I cling :
Naked, come to Thee for dress ;
Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly ;
Wash me, Saviour, or I die.