Forgive Us Our Trespasses As We Forgive

Jesus is adamant that we cannot receive God’s forgiveness unless we forgive others who have hurt us.

Far from being a simplistic admonition to “be nice,” this petition teaches us an invaluable truth about the spiritual life. If we are so caught up in our own grievances that we nurse grudges and refuse to forgive, our hearts are not open to God: we do not have the capacity to receive His mercy.

The Lord doesn’t want us to be turned in on ourselves, and our pain, but instead to give it to Him. We can do this by making an act of the will to forgive.

That doesn’t mean we can easily forget the offense, or trivialize it, or that we no longer feel the hurt. Rather, our decision to forgive is a step in our healing, which also serves to identify us with Christ.

If God Himself on the cross forgave those who were crucifying Him, how much more should we forgive our fellow frail human beings! By experiencing what it means to forgive an offense, we develop a greater appreciation for what God continually does for us. Despite our many failures to love Him, He is always eager to forgive us and begin anew.

For more, see Catechism paragraphs 2838-45.

Thy Kingdom Come

Although the Kingdom of God has begun to come in Christ, and continues among us through His Real Presence in the Eucharist, and in the Church, it has not yet reached its final consummation.

We therefore pray for its perfect fulfillment, when Christ returns in glory, and hands over the Kingdom to God the Father.

By looking forward to the Lord’s coming, our minds turn to the last things – death, judgment, heaven, and hell. We recognize our own need to prepare, so that we may be ready to welcome the Lord whenever He comes for us.

The liturgical season of Advent is focused upon the theme of preparation for His coming. We most often associate Advent with salvation history, setting the stage for our celebration of Christmas, the mystery of God’s becoming a newborn baby.

But Christ’s coming is not just a single historical event. We experience many comings of the Lord: He regularly enters our hearts through His grace, pre-eminently when we receive His Body and Blood in the Eucharist. Let us reflect upon the ways that Christ comes to us, in history, in our lives, and in His ultimate return at the end of time.

For more, see Catechism paragraphs 2816-21.

The Lord’s Prayer

Jesus Himself taught us to say the “Our Father.” Accordingly called the “Lord’s Prayer,” it is an extraordinary gift to us: the very words that flow from the Son’s heart, we now make our own.

Moreover, we have received the Holy Spirit, Who cries “Abba! Father!” within us, and empowers us to pray in spirit and truth.

Thus when we say the Our Father, we are not merely to parrot the familiar phrases as though on auto-pilot. Rather, let us be enveloped in the love of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Let us also be mindful of our place in the communion of saints, who have said this prayer with devotion down through the ages.

Ever present in the Church’s liturgy from the beginning, the Our Father “is truly a summary of the whole Gospel” (Catechism paragraph 2761), and we will examine its petitions in the weeks to come.

For more, see Catechism paragraphs 2759-76.

Jesus Teaches Us to Pray

Jesus shows us how to pray by example, through His own prayers of love, thanksgiving, petition, and obedience to the Father’s will, and He also explains how we are to pray.

Understanding us better than we know ourselves, Jesus sees our struggles and shortcomings in prayer, and He wants to help us through them: “Like a wise teacher, He takes hold of us where we are and leads us progressively toward the Father” (Catechism paragraph 2607).

Jesus first calls us to true conversion of heart, then urges us to have faith, encourages us to ask for our needs with a “filial boldness,” teaches us to pray in His name, counsels us to embrace the Father’s will in all things, and emphasizes the importance of persistence and perseverance in prayer.

Whenever we feel inadequate in our prayer, we should never get discouraged. Instead, let us honestly open up to the Lord about our difficulty, and that in itself will be a true and heartfelt prayer.

Jesus’ most memorable prayer is the one He crafted for us to say – the “Our Father,” which we will examine in upcoming posts.

For more, see Catechism paragraphs 2607-15.

Uniting with Jesus’ Prayer

We should never feel alone or isolated in prayer: made God’s children in Baptism, we are conformed to Christ, and so caught up in the Son’s “filial prayer” to the Father.

Jesus’ prayer is described in the Gospels – His great love for the Father, absolute acceptance of His will, and heartfelt thanksgiving, poured out even before His request is granted.

Now enthroned at the Father’s right hand, Christ continues to pray unceasingly as our High Priest in heaven.

And because we are members of the Body of Christ, He actually prays within us!

St. Augustine captures this beautiful mystery:

He prays for us as our priest, prays in us as our Head, and is prayed to by us as our God. Therefore let us acknowledge our voice in Him and His in us.

–quoted in Catechism paragraph 2616.

For more, see Catechism paragraphs 2598-2606, 2746-51.

God Thirsts for Us

Having completed the survey of the first three parts of the Catechism — the Profession of Faith (summarized here on the pages Faith Seeking Understanding and Truths of the Faith), the Celebration of the Christian Mystery (Liturgy and Sacraments), and Life in Christ — we now enter Part Four on Christian Prayer.

While we most often think of prayer as our addressing God, we can overlook the fact that it is God Who seeks us first. Even when we’re asking God for things, our prayer is actually a response to His stirring deep within us.

This amazing truth is reflected in the Gospel story of Jesus’ meeting the Samaritan woman at the well, where He asks her for water (John 4:5-26).

As the Catechism explains,

Jesus thirsts; His asking arises from the depths of God’s desire for us. Whether we realize it or not, prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst with ours. God thirsts that we may thirst for Him.

— paragraph 2560.

Prayer is thus an intimate communion with God that takes place in our hearts, an expression of our covenant relationship with Him. We go within to meet the God Who ardently awaits us, our cries, our longings, our thanks and praise.

For more, see Catechism paragraphs 2558-67.

Cultivate Purity of Heart

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 2514-57:

  • With our nature wounded by original sin, we are given to “concupiscence,” an immoderate desire that goes beyond the bounds of reason, and thereby predisposes us to commit sin.
  • If our hearts are dominated by concupiscence, whether toward physical pleasure or material goods, then we cannot open ourselves up to God; this is why we must put a proper check on our worldly desires, so that we are free to allow God to fill us with His desires – the far superior desires of the Spirit.
  • For this reason, God counsels us to keep a strict guard over our desires; the Ninth Commandment, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife,” and the Tenth Commandment, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods,” together identify the roots of sin and prepare us for spiritual growth.
  • Jesus calls us to purity of heart, including chastity, charity toward others, and a love for the truths of the faith; although God gives us grace to help us, we must also cooperate with Him by waging a spiritual battle against our unruly flesh.
  • We must strive for purity of heart by praying consistently for the gift of chastity, disciplining ourselves not to indulge in impure thoughts, and avoiding situations (real or virtual) that tempt us or cause us to fall.
  • Modesty is a prerequisite for purity, for it recognizes and safeguards the dignity of the human person; while this relates primarily to how we dress, modesty also pertains to feelings and emotions; we should avoid all forms of “entertainment” in which people’s lives are exploited or belittled for our amusement.
  • Just as sexual sins originate in the thoughts of the heart, so do sins against the right use of goods; excessive desire for material things gives rise to the sins of greed and avarice, which can lead us to steal, defraud, or otherwise deprive others of their rightful goods.
  • Envy is a sin because it causes us to grieve or regret the good fortune of others; if we want grave harm to befall someone more fortunate, then envy becomes a mortal sin.
  • As an antidote to the allurements of wealth, Jesus calls us to prefer Him to all things, and exercise a radical trust in divine Providence; through this poverty of heart, we learn to rely on God, not on material possessions.
  • When we cultivate purity and poverty of heart, we become more attuned to God and take our joy in Him; thus the Commandments come full circle, for now we are truly loving God above all.

Live Your Faith

Training for sports has much in common with training for the spiritual life. To achieve your goals as an athlete, you have to put in the time, the discipline, the dedication, to master the fundamentals. If you skip practice, slack off, and let things slide, your performance deteriorates.

Similarly, the spiritual life demands that we pay attention to the fundamentals: daily prayer, the sacraments, and striving to live a moral life.

An essential part of our training regimen is a regular examination of conscience. Only by recognizing our weaknesses, and getting to their roots in our flawed desires, can we work with God to improve our performance on the spiritual playing field.

Abide in the Truth

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 2464-2513:

  • Because God Himself is the Truth, become man in Jesus Christ, we as His people are called to abide in truth, in both our words and actions; this is summed up in the Eighth Commandment, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”
  • God created us with a desire for truth, so we have a sacred duty to seek it; once we have found the fullness of Truth in Christ, we are bound to witness to the Gospel with our lives; many have given the ultimate testimony by dying for the faith — they are literally “martyrs,” from the Greek for “witnesses.”
  • God gave us the gift of speech to enable us to communicate the truth; lying is therefore an abuse of this gift, for it intentionally deceives others who have a right to know the truth; a lie is unjust because it fails to give others their due.
  • Lying can rise to the level of mortal sin depending on the factors involved, such as if one knowingly causes serious harm by telling a falsehood; lying under oath (perjury) is particularly grave, as false witness corrupts the process of justice.
  • At the same time, just because something is true, that does not mean that we should always and everywhere divulge it; out of sensitivity and respect for the reputation of others, we must not reveal someone else’s mistakes to people who don’t need to know; if we do so unnecessarily, we commit the sin of detraction.
  • The sin of calumny is the spreading of falsehoods that harm the reputation of others; if we should hear such scandalous gossip, we must be careful not to believe it hastily and thereby sin through rash judgment; whenever we fail in these ways, we should try to repair the damage as best we can.
  • This commandment also covers subtler forms of falsehood, including flattery, especially in the sense of endorsing someone’s sinful behavior; hypocrisy; bragging about ourselves; and ridiculing others in a malicious manner.
  • As consumers of news media, we should be wary of all of these sins against the truth, and judiciously weigh our sources of information; journalists have a serious professional obligation to serve the truth, not dissimulate; governments must promote freedom of information, not orchestrate disinformation campaigns.
  • Although we most often think of truth in terms of speech, truth is also conveyed in other ways; God reveals Himself through the wonder of creation, and human beings proclaim truth through art; the great artists shed light on the human condition and speak to our deepest spiritual longings.
  • Sacred art has a vital role to play in drawing our hearts and minds to God, thus assisting our prayerful devotion; sacred images are visually compelling expressions of what we read in Scripture, and as a result, they provide another avenue to learn about, and grow in love for, the faith.

Live Your Faith

It is extremely easy to fall into sins of speech. Even in what we might consider trivial matters, a careless disregard for truth becomes corrosive.

Once we are acclimated to telling “little” lies, gossiping, or jumping to conclusions, our conscience steadily hardens, and we might not even perceive our sin. Let us examine our consciences, and ask the Lord how we may take greater care to avoid sinful speech.

Honor the Gift of Sexuality

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 2331-2400:

  • The Sixth Commandment, “You shall not commit adultery,” reflects the profound meaning of human sexuality; far more than a mere satisfaction of appetites, sexuality is ordered to God’s plan for us – our vocation to love and communion.
  • God created human beings as male and female, emblematic of God’s own attributes in our different, but complementary, ways; inscribed in our very nature, this physical, moral, and spiritual complementarity is designed for the lifelong union of man and woman in marriage.
  • Our sexual identity as male or female is not to be denied, but integrated properly within our entire being; this wholesome integration is what we call “chastity,” which enables us to live our sexuality in a morally healthy way, whether as unmarried people living in continence, or as spouses in fidelity to each other.
  • All Christians are therefore called to chastity; both a grace from God and a moral virtue that we diligently strive for, chastity empowers us for self-mastery, helps to regulate our passions, and safeguards our personal integrity.
  • Chastity lays the groundwork for, and makes possible, the true gift of self that takes place in marriage; having given themselves to each other totally, exclusively, and irrevocably until death, husband and wife become one flesh; in this way their sexual union expresses their all-encompassing marital covenant.
  • God Himself designed this intimate communion of spouses as the means of transmitting new life; through the gift of the marital embrace, spouses participate in God’s own creativity by conceiving children; sexual union is also for the good of the spouses, but that can never be separated from openness to new life.
  • Children are thus gifts from God, the natural fulfillment of the spouses’ union, not optional accessories to one’s lifestyle; spouses can responsibly decide to regulate their fertility, but must do so by moral means (e.g., periodic continence in NFP), not by contraception, which denies the gift of self and fails to work with God.
  • Because sexuality has such an amazing purpose in God’s plan, any sexual activity outside of marriage is sinful; adultery is a grave sin since it violates the marital bond, hurts the betrayed spouse, and can lead to the tragedy of divorce, a rejection of the covenant that is detrimental to both the family and society.
  • Fornication is similarly a lie, for it speaks the physical language of union without there actually being a covenant; prostitution and pornography are destructive of human dignity because they treat others as objects; masturbation and lust are sinful because they are disordered pursuits of sexual pleasure for its own sake.
  • Homosexual activity is wrong because it is inherently incompatible with God’s design for our sexual expression and with the transmission of life; our brothers and sisters with homosexual orientation are to be welcomed and supported to live out the baptismal call to chastity and holiness.

Live Your Faith

Our culture constantly propagandizes us about sex, as if it were just a recreational activity that we engage in whenever and however we please, without consequences.

But there is a deluge of evidence to the contrary: broken hearts, devastated families, an epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases.

The truth is that sex is not a game; it is wrapped up in the mystery of the human person as created by God.

The Church teaches the full truth about sex, and however unpopular and countercultural it may be, only by honoring God’s gift in the way He intended can we find lasting happiness. If we have failed, the Lord is always eager to forgive us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Respect the Sanctity of Human Life

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 2258-2330:

  • The Fifth Commandment, “You shall not kill,” teaches us the inviolable sanctity of human life; because each of us is willed by God, Who endows us with an immortal soul, it is always wrong, in every circumstance, to kill an innocent person deliberately.
  • Anyone who intentionally kills an innocent person, cooperates in such a murder, or deliberately causes someone to die by indirect means, violates this commandment; the sin is compounded if the perpetrator kills a parent, sibling, spouse, or child, rupturing the family ties that should bind us in love.
  • For this reason, the Church has always condemned abortion, the direct taking of the life of an unborn child, as evil; each innocent human being, however small, has the intrinsic rights of personhood; hence it is gravely wrong to treat embryos as biological commodities, whether for research or in vitro fertilization.
  • Respect for a person’s bodily integrity likewise forbids the use of torture; kidnapping; hostage-taking; scientific experiments that violate human dignity or the moral law, or that are performed without one’s informed consent; and it also enjoins us to care for the bodies of the dead and give them proper burial.
  • Euthanasia – the deliberate ending of the life of the sick, handicapped, aged, or dying – is similarly a sin because of its intent to cause death; but it can be morally permissible to refuse “overzealous treatment,” and let a natural death come, and to receive palliative care, where the intent is to alleviate pain, not to cause death.
  • Suicide is a sin because we are not the lords and masters of our own lives; we have received life as a pure gift of God, to live it for His glory and our eternal happiness; but those who commit suicide are often suffering from mental illness that diminishes their moral responsibility; we entrust their souls to God’s mercy.
  • To protect the innocent from aggressors, the Church upholds the right of self-defense; it is legitimate to defend ourselves, even if the aggressor is killed in the process, because our intent is to protect innocent life; the Church raises her voice against the death penalty because criminals need not be killed to protect society.
  • Sometimes an aggressor on the international stage can be stopped only by waging war; there are strict conditions for a “just war,” e.g., the exhaustion of all other means, high likelihood of success, not unleashing even greater evils; the moral law still holds in war, so any military tactics targeting civilians are reprehensible.
  • We can violate this commandment in ways other than literally killing someone, such as failure to take appropriate care of our body, abusing alcohol or drugs, driving while intoxicated, or engaging in similarly risky behaviors that endanger the lives of others.
  • We can also inflict spiritual violence, so to speak, by influencing others to sin, either directly or indirectly, or by nursing a sense of anger toward others; anger is an emotion that we all feel at times, but it can become sinful if we want revenge, and it can morph into hatred, the sin of deliberately wishing evil upon another.

Live Your Faith

Do we sometimes overlook this commandment, believing that we’re in the clear if we haven’t killed anyone? But Jesus calls us to probe our hearts for the more subtle ways that we violate it.

We can slay others with cruel words and inflict emotional pain. We harm our own souls by holding grudges and letting ourselves be overcome by anger. We cause spiritual injury whenever we make light of sin or connive at it.

Politicians who promote abortion are effectively cooperating in the killing of innocents, and we have the moral responsibility to oppose them, not to turn a blind eye.

Keep Holy the Lord’s Day

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 2168-95:

  • If we love God above all, and revere His holy name, then we will desire to give Him the public worship He deserves; this is the basis of the Third Commandment, that we are to “remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.”
  • The sabbath is vital to the divine revelation given to the people of Israel: the seventh day of the week was consecrated to God, in commemoration of His “rest” after the work of creation, His saving action of liberating them from slavery in Egypt, and their intimate covenant relationship with Him.
  • In keeping with the pattern throughout the Old Testament, the sabbath was a preparation for the coming of Christ; Jesus emphasized its true meaning by performing miraculous healings on the sabbath, freeing people from the shackles of sin and disease.
  • Through His Resurrection on Easter Sunday, Christ ushers in a new creation while completing His work of redemption; because both creation and redemption are intrinsically related to the sabbath, the observance of the sabbath was transferred to Sunday, the “Lord’s Day,” at the dawn of the Church.
  • As the New Testament illustrates, the first Christians were already gathering on the first day of the week for the breaking of the bread; ever since then, for 2,000 years, the Sunday Eucharist has been “at the heart of the Church’s life.”
  • When we assemble in the same way with our parish family to celebrate the Lord’s Day, we testify that we belong to the Church that transcends time and space; like our forebears, we are nourished with the Word of God in Scripture and in sacrament, as we receive the Word made flesh, the Lord, in the Eucharist.
  • This worship is so crucial to our spiritual health, and our right relationship with God, that it is a grave obligation; if we deliberately fail to attend Mass on Sundays or other holy days, without a serious reason (such as illness), we commit a mortal sin and must seek the sacrament of Reconciliation.
  • God also gives us this commandment for the sake of our physical and emotional well-being; He commands us to rest from our usual daily grind of work and toil, reclaim our freedom from material preoccupations, and savor a foretaste of our eternal rest with God.
  • By being faithful to the Sunday rest from work, we can relax with family and friends, enjoy healthy recreations, set aside more quiet time for reflection, and reach out in charity to others in need.
  • Unfortunately, many have to work on Sundays because of the nature of their employment; while this is unavoidable in certain instances, employers and customers should not place excessive or unnecessary burdens on workers, and those who do work should still carve out time to keep the Lord’s Day holy.

Live Your Faith

Whenever we deliberately skip Mass on a Sunday or other holy day, just because we didn’t bother to go, we are telling God, “I’ve got something better to do.”

But nothing in the entire cosmos is more important than thanking God for loving me personally before time began; for creating me; for redeeming me; for forgiving me; for enlightening me with the fullness of His truth in the Catholic Church; for giving me His own Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Eucharist; for desiring me to spend eternal life in unimaginable happiness with Him.

Only in the Mass can we render proper thanks and praise, because it is the very sacrifice of Christ to the Father.

Revere God’s Holy Name

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 2142-67, 2808-12:

  • The Second Commandment follows logically from the First: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.”
  • By revealing His name, God establishes a personal relationship with us, entrusting us with an aspect of His divine mystery; if we fail to show the respect due to His name, we abuse and violate this gift of friendship.
  • God’s name evokes His majesty – YHWH, “I Am Who Am,” the fundamental ground of all being, encompassing every beauty and perfection; to protect the inviolability of the name of YHWH, the Jewish people have substituted the term Adonai (“Lord”) for it, lest it be pronounced unworthily.
  • When the Son of God became man, He took on a deeply significant name: “Jesus,” meaning “God saves,” sums up His work of salvation; the title of “Christ” conveys His “anointing” by the Holy Spirit as priest, prophet, and king.
  • Ever mindful of God’s sublime holiness, heroes of faith through the ages have been filled with zeal for His holy name; so should we, who are baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit – the Most Holy Trinity.
  • Blasphemy is therefore a grave sin; it ranges from irreverent use of God’s name to expressions of mockery, contempt, or hatred toward God as well as toward the Church, the saints, and things consecrated to Him.
  • We also sin against this commandment when we do not keep promises or oaths made in God’s name; through such a failure on our part, we implicate God, so to speak, in our own lack of fidelity.
  • That is why perjury – the deliberate violation of an oath, or the swearing of a false oath without meaning to keep it – is so grave; God is Truth, yet we misuse His name to promote a lie.
  • For the same reason, we must refuse to take any oath that goes against the dignity of the human person or that harms our unity in the Church, the Body of Christ; we should not take any oath at all unless it is strictly necessary for the sake of truth or justice and administered by legitimate authorities (as in court).
  • Our name is likewise worthy of respect, for it reflects our dignity as a human person and a child of God; our unique individuality will radiate in a special way in His heavenly kingdom.

Live Your Faith

Blasphemy is sadly so common these days that we’re desensitized to it, no longer finding it shocking or offensive. We would react with righteous anger if anyone mocked or otherwise abused the names of our parents, spouse, or children. Yet do we even bat an eye when Our Lord is dishonored?

At a minimum we should guard our own speech and preserve reverence for His sacred name. If someone blasphemes in our presence, let us charitably ask them not to hurt us in this way. Let us also make reparation to Our Lord by offering our own acts of love.

Love God Above All

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 2052 through 2141:

  • The Ten Commandments are our roadmap to true freedom, as opposed to the bondage of sin; it is no accident that God revealed them after liberating the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, to teach a new way of life for a free people.
  • Indeed, this context is vital to understanding the profound meaning of the Commandments: they were given during a “theophany,” or God’s manifestation to His people, and His forming an intimate bond, a “covenant,” with them.
  • The Commandments are a great gift because they describe what we must do to abide in this deep relationship with God; He loved us first, and we respond with love toward Him by keeping the Commandments; the first three regard our right behavior toward God, and the rest govern our relationships with our neighbor.
  • The First Commandment expresses this wholehearted relationship: “I am the Lord your God…You shall have no other gods before Me.”
  • We follow this commandment by adoring God, submitting to Him as the Lord of all, to Whom we owe everything; by daily conversing with Him in prayer, uniting our sacrifices with Christ’s perfect sacrifice; by keeping the promises we make to God; and by helping others to come to the fullness of worship in the Church.
  • Conversely, we sin against God when we prefer other things to Him, and treat them as gods; this is idolatry; our idols need not be the false gods of paganism, for we create modern idols all of the time – money, power, pleasure, sports, etc.
  • We sin against God’s love when we are indifferent to Him, spiritually lazy, ungrateful, or hateful toward Him; we sin against hope when we despair of God’s mercy and forgiveness, or when we presume upon salvation without real conversion; we sin against faith by doubting or rejecting Church teaching.
  • Dabbling in the occult is a sin – e.g., reading horoscopes, going to mediums, engaging in magic; we also sin by falling into superstition, treating our prayers or sacraments as if they were magical formulas; to avoid superstition, we must have a proper disposition of encountering God, not trying to control Him.
  • The sin of sacrilege denigrates sacred things or persons, and is especially heinous when directed against the Eucharist, the Real Presence of Christ; other forms of irreligious behavior include testing God because we question His love for us.
  • By definition, atheism is a sin because of its outright denial of God, and agnosticism, which won’t discern one way or another, similarly fails to give God His due; yet an individual’s level of culpability varies greatly according to circumstances, especially if one has been scandalized by the sins of believers.

Live Your Faith

Each one of us is personally addressed by God in the Commandments, as the Hebrew text makes clear. When God says, “You,” He is using the singular form, not the plural, underscoring the personal relationship He courts with every single one of us.

This prompts us to examine our consciences, and reflect upon how faithfully we have given love in response to the One Who has loved us so. What do I put first in my life, prioritizing above everything else? If it’s not God, it’s an idol.

 

Grace and Justification

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 1987-2051:

  • Grace is the “free and undeserved help” that God gives us so that we can respond to His call to friendship and communion with Him; through grace comes our justification – being cleansed of sin and infused with God’s righteousness.
  • The Holy Spirit showers us with the initial grace of conversion, empowering us to repent, turn away from sin, and open ourselves up to receive God’s abundant forgiveness; not a single one of us can merit, or deserve, this initial grace, which is simply a sheer gift of God.
  • But justification goes well beyond just canceling out our sins; it extends to our total interior transformation, our sanctification, and even more radical, our partaking of the divine nature.
  • Our justification is so ardently desired by God that the Father sent His beloved Son, Who willingly endured death by the torments of crucifixion to accomplish it; as a result, justification is an awe-inspiring work of God, revealing the depths of His love and mercy toward us.
  • Through Baptism, we receive justification: we are incorporated into Christ, adopted as God’s children, and filled with his sanctifying or “deifying” grace, which draws us into the very life of the Holy Trinity now, and makes us fit to share His glory for eternity in heaven.
  • Sanctifying grace is an “habitual gift” enabling us to “live with God, to act by His love” (a state we lose by committing a mortal sin); besides habitual grace, God also gives us helps called “actual graces” at particular times, e.g., in the sacraments, graces for our state in life, and charisms, or special graces, to build up the Church.
  • Although the grace of God goes before us, and seeks us first, we have the free will to act upon that grace and draw closer to Him, or to fritter it away; God does not treat us as automatons, but wants us to be free and willing co-workers with Him.
  • Once we are members of the Body of Christ, we can merit additional graces for ourselves and others; even so, our ability to gather more graces is in itself due to the merits of Christ; His grace is constantly at work in us, supporting our own efforts every step of the way, and making our own “merits” possible.
  • Because we share in the intimate life of the Holy Trinity, we are all called to holiness, each and every one of us; our vocation to holiness is fulfilled in the Church, where we are fortified by the sacraments, illumined by the Truth, and inspired by heroic role models – the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints.
  • Just as the Church infallibly transmits the doctrine of faith, so does she hand on authoritative teachings on morals; in this context, the precepts of the Church enjoin us to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days; confess our sins at least once a year; receive the Eucharist at a minimum during the Easter season; observe the days of fasting and abstinence; and support the Church materially.

Live Your Faith

Our justification cost Jesus His life. If God Himself went to such extraordinary measures for us, we have no excuse for settling for mediocrity, or imagining that a lukewarm, half-hearted “getting by” is enough.

Instead, we are called to give a similarly radical response — nothing less than total commitment to God. Such an extreme spiritual makeover would contribute to our personal growth, and serve as a powerful witness of our faith. Just by living morally, we become highly effective evangelizers.

Engaging the Gospel: Epiphany of the Lord

Gospel – Matthew 2:1-12The Magi adore the Lord made manifest

“The Epiphany is the manifestation of Jesus as Messiah of Israel, Son of God and Savior of the world,” as he is adored “by the wise men (magi) from the East” (Catechism paragraph 528).

Pope Benedict XVI commented upon the meaning of the magi’s gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh:

These gifts have a profound significance: they are an act of justice. In fact, according to the mentality prevailing then in the Orient, they represent the recognition of a person as God and King, that is, an act of submission. They were meant to say that from that moment, the donors belonged to the sovereign and they recognize his authority.

Homily of January 6, 2010

In the same way, the Catechism teaches that we “render to God what we as creatures owe him in all justice” (2095) – first of all, adoration:

To adore God is to acknowledge him as God, as the Creator and Savior, the Lord and Master of everything that exists, as infinite and merciful Love…

To adore God is to acknowledge, in respect and absolute submission, the ‘nothingness of the creature’ who would not exist but for God. To adore God is to praise and exalt him and to humble oneself…confessing with gratitude that he has done great things and holy is his name. The worship of the one God sets [us] free from turning in on [ourselves], from the slavery of sin and the idolatry of the world.

Catechism paragraphs 2096-97

Question for reflection: In what ways do I adore the Lord?

Moral Law

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 1949-1986:

  • The moral law arises from God’s Wisdom; reflecting the harmonious beauty of His design for us, it points out the right path for us to take for our own good, and our ultimate happiness in eternal life.
  • Its elemental expression is “natural law,” referring to the moral compass inscribed within human nature and discernible by our reason.
  • Implanted in our hearts by God, natural law serves as the building block of civil law and social norms of morality.
  • But since our human nature has been wounded by sin, our ability to discern this natural law readily, and with clarity, has been weakened as well.
  • God, ever desirous of drawing us to Himself, has devised another expression of His Law, through divine revelation; as St Augustine phrased it, “God wrote on the tables of the Law what men did not read in their hearts.”
  • The first stage of this revealed Law was given to the people of Israel: the Law of Moses, enshrined in the Ten Commandments, builds on natural law and teaches us about right and wrong.
  • Although the Law of Moses defines sinful behavior, it does not strengthen us to overcome it; hence the Old Law serves as a preparation for the fullness of revelation in Christ.
  • Christ gives us the New Law, the perfection of divine Law on earth; He fulfills the Law of Moses by deepening the meaning of the Ten Commandments and by purifying our hearts.
  • The Law of the Gospel is a Law of love; of grace, for we are empowered by the Holy Spirit and the sacraments to live accordingly; and of freedom as God’s children, not as slaves.
  • Expressed most vividly in the Sermon on the Mount, the New Law is summed up in the Golden Rule, “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you,” and even more profoundly in Jesus’ new commandment, “Love one another as I have loved you.”

Live Your Faith

The moral law is not a mere checklist of rules, imposed upon us from without.

Rather, it is deeply bound up in our design as human beings: we were created to live in intimacy with God, Whose perfect holiness is reflected in the moral law.

When we sin, we violate this very order within us, in ways that are self-defeating and self-destructive. But we have a sure way out through the grace of God, Who heals us and strengthens us.

As we grow in union with Christ, we become more like Him, and experience greater freedom to live the moral life that is best for us.

Engaging the Gospel: Third Sunday of Advent

Gospel – Matthew 11:2-11: Jesus answers John the Baptist’s question by recounting His fulfillment of prophecy

The fulfillment of prophecy is a recurring theme in St. Matthew’s Gospel, as exemplified in today’s passage. When St. John the Baptist’s disciples ask Jesus if He indeed is the one to come, the Lord responds by citing His miracles — the signs of the Messianic age as foretold by the prophet Isaiah.

Jesus’ wondrous deeds “manifest that the kingdom is present in him and attest that he was the promised Messiah…They invite belief in him…So miracles strengthen faith in the One who does his Father’s works; they bear witness that he is the Son of God” (Catechism paragraphs 547-48).

Therefore Jesus’ response to the disciples, who would bring this confirmation back to John in prison, reminds us that faith involves our intellect too. Jesus provides evidence to appeal to our rational minds.

Such proofs of the truth of divine revelation are called “motives of credibility, which show that the assent of faith is by no means a blind impulse of the mind” (156).

As the Council Fathers of Vatican II noted, God’s deeds and words have an “inner unity; the deeds wrought by God in the history of salvation manifest and confirm the teaching and realities signified by the words, while the words proclaim the deeds and clarify the mystery contained in them” (Dei Verbum 2).

Question for reflection: How have I sought answers to questions of faith?