Monday, May 16, 2011

More on salvation, faith, and the Roman Catholic Church

Thanks everyone for making good points!  Someone who has been a good friend for 40 year posed this question to me which is why I posted this note. The question as I recall  was "do Roman Catholics believe that salvation comes by faith alone."  There is a long avenue which runs from the north to the south of Brooklyn and I used ride the length of it on the B38 bus. I marveled that literally each and every block would have at least one store front church and some blocks had as many as THREE. One sign mentioned that the church was founded by Bishop Elizabeth Brown (I am making up some similar name.)  Basically most if not all of those churches were founded by people with little formal theological training. I am certain that in many of those store front churches if one were to "come to the rail" (at a certain point those who believe are invited to come up front) and confess that Jesus is Lord and ask Jesus to enter their lives as their "personal Savior" would simply be considered "saved." In other words it is a fairly simple and immediate matter of speaking a few words. When I was a kid and used to hide in the woods and smoke, I found a match book from Billy Graham that had literally had a FORM to fill out on the inside of the match cover stating "I accept Jesus as Lord" and you were supposed to mail it in.  Now... the point I would like to make is that IF someone were to attend a Roman Catholic church and approach a priest and inquire about becoming a Roman Catholic, then one would schedule a series of classes or instruction. One would become a "catechumen" which I think means listener.  The Eastern Orthodox liturgy (mass) has a "Litany of the Catechumens" which the deacon says which instructs the non-baptized to leave the church. Only those who have been baptized remain.  Someone preparing for baptism might conceivably be advised to read the 900+ page catechism (which is available on line.)  I will ask some priests how many weeks or months it takes on the average for an adult to be ready for baptism. Once baptized a convert would be encouraged to come to confession several times a year at least and to attend mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation.  No one is really GUARANTEED salvation in this life. The goal is to remain "in friendship with God" which means trying to sin as little as possible and to examine one's conscience for offenses and also to do good works of charity and mercy (e.g. I was in prison and you visited me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was thirsty and you gave me drink... etc) but the ultimate judgement of God is a mystery to humans and no human knows the day or the hour. There is a parable in which some people come to labor in the vineyard from the early morning to the end of the day. But as the day passes more are called to labor in the vineyard, and there are some who come to work only during the last minutes. At the end each is paid one penny. Obviously, that "penny" is salvation. Some worked towards it all their lives. Others sought it only in the final weeks or days of life.  A Orthodox Jew once asked me privately if it were true that Hitler could have been baptized and forgiven all his sins. I explained that in theory someone who did the most monstrous of sins could in theory repent, believe, be baptized and be forgiven. Hitler was baptized a Catholic as a child I believe. The point I want to make is that baptism may sound like a magic wand but in reality it is God who offers to each soul the gift of faith and it is each individual soul which makes a free will choice either to receive that gift like the seeds which are sown some in rocky places, some in sand or gravel, and some in rich moist soil and only some of those seeds mature to bear fruit. The point is that not every monster would suddenly think to be baptized at the last minute and be saved.

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