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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

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Presumption of Salvation

A chief sin against the Holy Spirit is the Presumption of Salvation. This may be one of the most prevalent contemporary sins in that many seem quick to canonize the dead. How often have we heard the expression that he or she “is in a better place” or that the person is no longer in pain? While we can hope, how can we absolutely know this?

(If there is a bookend sin to Presumption and the laxity it promotes then it is the Despair of Salvation. I am not sure we see as much of it today, except for maybe those who suffer from being overly scrupulous about their behavior and sins. Such a person believes that he or she is beyond redemption and cannot be forgiven. If the former exaggerates value, this sort of person devalues it. The presumptuous person makes a mockery of divine justice; the person who despairs impugns divine mercy. Neither one makes room to trust in God’s power and will. The sin of suicide is often discussed under the topic of such despair, but today many kill themselves not because they despair of salvation but rather for more immediate and terrestrial reasons, i.e. because they feel unloved or to escape physical pain. Often they claim an atheism which denies an afterlife entirely, viewing existence and awareness as a mean cosmic joke.)

While there was once a stigma attached to suicide, the presumption today is not that a person has committed the unforgiveable sin (since repentance is impossible), but rather that the person’s guilt must be mitigated by distress or by mental illness. In truth, we cannot absolutely presume either way, but it seems the possibility of a negative judgment is taken off the table except maybe for the most despised of reprobates.

There is an ongoing argument as to whether or not certain Protestant sects fall into the error of presumption because of their teaching about “Blessed Assurance.” It is claimed that once a person has made a faith profession in Jesus Christ as their “personal Lord and Savior” that he or she is henceforth irrevocably saved. If a person falls into egregious sin then it is posited in retrospect that the profession was counterfeit. Catholicism would argue instead that a good faith can sour. That is why we have the sacrament of penance.

Others go further and there is a presumption of a generic salvation that embraces us and everyone about whom we care. This comes along with a failure to pray for the poor souls in purgatory and an outright denial of hell. While such optimism is vocalized by many theologians, it is traditionally regarded as the terrible sin of universalism. It teaches that everyone or most everyone (Judas might be keeping the devil company, along with Hitler and Stalin) but that everyone else will be saved. Along with this mentality comes a gross sentimentality— “a good God would never damn a person to eternal fire and to exclusion from paradise.” This view makes the divine mercy superfluous and utterly destroys the reckoning of divine justice. Further, it reduces the redemptive sacrifice of Christ to something unnecessary as everyone would be saved anyway. Nonsense! We cannot save ourselves and we cannot wish ourselves to be saved. The most we can say is that there is a universal call to salvation. That call must be answered. This response that respects human freedom also finds its place within the mysterious providence and election of almighty God. Saving faith in Christ is made real by loving obedience. The Paraclete or Holy Spirit makes possible a saving faith. If it were not for the movement of the Holy Spirit within us then we could not say that “Jesus is Lord” or even pray. The gift of eternal life comes from the mediation of Jesus Christ and from nowhere else. Given that the Church is his mystical body, we can speak of salvation as in Christ and in his Church, alone. That is the doctrine of the faith from the earliest days.

While we walk in this world a saving faith can sour and we can forfeit sanctifying grace through mortal sin. It is for this reason that we are called upon by Christ to be constant in the faith and to keep our lamps burning as his sentinels. NOW is always the appointed time and we must be ever-alert for the coming particular judgment. We are realists and must admit that evil is real and that it has consumed some of our brothers and sisters. Indeed, we must not deceive ourselves about the presence of evil in us and our own personal struggles. Consciences can readily be blinded or corrupted by the flesh, the world and the devil. We must be disposed to the working of grace in our lives. We must cooperate with the Spirit of God in living out our faith in a real manner. God sees all things and merely going through the motions with avail us nothing.

We must also not underestimate the missionary mandate of the Church to which we are each commissioned in our baptism. A faith that is not shared is a faith that dies. None who are ashamed of Christ or who rebuke his saving name should expect a place with the holy ones of God. There are too many people who never pray and who give little thought to the poor; and yet, they imagine they deserve a place in heaven. Compounding their error, they do not even have a proper view as to what constitutes heaven. It is not the materialistic Islamic view where all their lusts and passions will be satisfied. Neither is it simply a fantasy abode where angels lazily sit on fluffy clouds and play harps. Heaven is literally to enter into the triune mystery that is God. The saints know happiness and satisfaction in seeing (the beatific vision) and being in the presence of God whom they love above all things. Those who have no relationship with God or even hate him would reject heaven on their own accord. I suspect that when the veil is lifted we shall find that judgment is not so much imposed by God as it is something that is willingly embraced by the creature.

Judgment will present us with a truth that none can deny— not just about God but about our own identity— who we are and what we most desire. Saints will fly to the Lord. The damned will race from his sight. While in this world, presumption of salvation is possible; however, in the next world there can be no such delusion.

The sin of presumption displaces fidelity to providence for the masquerade that comes by trusting first in the human will. Additionally, it causes us to waste the short time that we have as a people called to repent and to believe. Only God is perfect and good. If human “goodness” does not reflect this as in a prism then it is a lie. Indeed, the core or heart of this malignancy in the soul is the arch-sin of pride. While a person in mortal sin cannot find merit in his works; we must remember that the true value for a holy disciple is in the likeness to Christ— only that which the Lord does or works through us merits reward. Finally, the virtue that must displace the sin of presumption is always hope— if we walk with the Lord then we can live in the sure and certain HOPE of our salvation in Christ.