I Am Changed

May 14, 2009

In a recent post, I mentioned that two of my best friends from college came to visit me for my birthday. One of them, my first roommate from freshman year, has been through some of the darkest moments of my life with me. She even moved out of the room we shared because of my emotional angst. Although most eighteen year olds can’t claim an overabundance of maturity, I was markedly insecure, emotionally unstable, and prone to “moods.” When I first came to college, I was avoiding church, for reasons explained here. I was also dating the first in a short line of bad boyfriends.

Arguably, any college freshman doesn’t know what they want or what their purpose in life is, and I was the epitome of such a neophyte. With relish, I displayed the infantile stereotypical female behavior as seen in P.S. I Love You. If this stereotype could talk, it would say:

“I don’t know what I want, but demand it from others, especially my significant other. Read my mind, though I don’t know my own. Cherish me to the extent that my every secret whimsical desire becomes your command. When you don’t comply, I will respond with withdrawn pouting fits or outright anger. I will try anything to satisfy this instinctual desire to be loved, including guilt and manipulation.”

The book Do You Think I’m Beautiful (highly recommended) brought much of these needs of mine to the forefront of my consciousness, but did nothing to change my behavior. Chris married me in this state. I peppered him with high expectations of romantic gifts and emotional sensitivity. Chris responded with a highly practical Northern Irish “Catch yourself on!” He’s not an overly romantic type, although he does show up spontaneously with flowers. Holidays aren’t much of an occasion for him and love letters are restricted to times of separation. His sacrifices for me are more on a practical level than an emotional one. For mother’s day, instead of a card, I got seven hours out of the house and dinner with my mom and a flower shopping trip.

When I told Chris I was pregnant only shortly after our engagement (unexpectedly, and yes, pre-marriage) he was on a plane and in the country in less than a week, facing the music. He was there rubbing my back to calm me during my vomitous morning sickness and seven months later marrying me, and eight months later in the horrifying birthing room (first time was rough!). He’s provided for me and my children, materially and spiritually. He’s fought me tooth and nail on issues like birth control and even getting a second car, because it’s not good for us no matter how much I want it. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a man like any other and has his good and bad moments. But in everything important, Chris has always been there for me, acting in love. He seeks my good instead of my desires.

Although I recognized this solid way in which Chris loved me, and married him for it, I wanted more. I wanted what I wanted. For the first year of our marriage and maybe some time after, I kept on with my “moods”. I would lament my sacrificed career. I displayed angst over my confining situation, the menial work, and lack of appreciation for it. If Chris didn’t respond sympathetically, I threw a fit. Sometimes I would sulk all day long if he didn’t instantly make me feel better. I wanted a house and a car, but we had to live with my parents for seven months until he got a work permit. Although we moved into an apartment within weeks of getting his new job, which was almost immediately after getting his permit for all the job hunting he had done, I tormented him with house hunting continuously for the next year.

Basically, I was trying to manipulate Chris to cater to my every subconscious whim, like a mind-reading puppy. You must understand that any failure of Chris’s to satisfy these desires of mine was not a short-coming on his part. It’s ridiculous for either partner in a marriage to put unrealistic expectations on their spouse and look for certain needs to be met by the other person, such as expecting the other person to make you happy. I think typical expectations put on husbands is that they be a warped Cary Grant role, manly and romantic, with a relentless need to make us women happy because they adore us so much. Unrealistic expectations of women tend to involve delusions of hyper-sex kitten status with mysterious allure and lack of need for brushing your hair or teeth in the morning. I’m less familiar with what men want from women, but I know they have different expectations and needs. The male version of Do You Think I’m Beautiful is Wild at Heart. Experts could explain that side better than I! But meeting these needs are not what marriage is about, and that’s not the way to have a successful relationship. My dad always told me you can’t change other people, you can only change the way you respond to them. And nobody can make you unhappy, only you can make yourself happy. Really all you can do is change your own behavior, and stop expecting fulfillment from a mere human.

Slowly, I began to change. I stopped throwing fits if I didn’t get my way. My moods started disappearing, giving way to a more stable acceptance of my daily grind. I started setting budget limits on birthday and Christmas gifts, far below my usual splurges. I satisfied myself with telling Chris what gifts I wanted instead of expecting him to read my mind. I began to value things that others didn’t recognize, things like family priorities and hard work done in obscurity. Suddenly, doing good for the sake of pleasing my God became important, for my sanctification and that of those around me. I focused more on the eternal value of what I do instead of the temporal value, much easier to do once you believe there is eternal value in what we do! With this change of values came a sense of security and peace. I don’t as much require someone to tell me what I’m doing is worthwhile, or need their approval and praise. I know what I’m about and why.

I don’t know when it started, but I know why. As time passed, I began to understand the Catholic Faith more. My entire world shifted off of my self and my desires as my understanding Catholicism helped me better understand what the imitation of Christ actually means. I grew closer to God in that I more desire His will rather than my own. I see Christ in those around me and want to serve them as if He’s standing there, my own Lord and savior. I remember first hearing Mother Teresa speak of seeing Christ in those she served and it sounded like some kind of backward nonsense to me. I had always heard we should be the light of Christ for others, not that they are that for us. Doesn’t that seem so backward now? “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matt 16:24) “Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.” (Luke 17:33) or “The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:25) “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” (Mark 9:35) Give up our selves. Give up our own perspective, our own desires, our own interpretation of the Bible, our own mission. Follow Christ, obey His Church, become His servant. I get it now, and it has changed me.

Oh, I’m still flawed. I have my days where I call Chris way too often at the office to whine about whiny babies. I have the hardest time seeing Christ in a three year old who far too often repeats “I want…” and “Why does it rain?” or “Why does Daddy have to go back to work?” without listening to the answers. It’s hard to take a servant’s attitude for a one year old who sits in his crib for an hour kicking his aquarium instead of sleeping. I snap and I yell. But now I hazard to call myself emotionally stable. My attitude has changed and my behavior is changing for the better. I’m nowhere near where I ought to be, but I can see a difference in myself and know what I’m working toward. I have peace.

My mom told me quite recently how she was proud to have a compassionate daughter like me, referring to how I treat those in need, the sick, and elderly. She said it seems to come naturally to me. It’s kind of funny, but it really doesn’t come naturally to me at all. I remember when I was young once, the hotels in the town we were visiting were full up, so we had to stay in the nursing home’s extra rooms. It caused me so much anxiety to be there that I got physically sick and was throwing up. Definitely not natural. But the way I see things is changing. I look at my 94 year old grandma, who’s frighteningly thin and has a hard time remembering us, and generally thinks all children are girls no matter how often she’s told otherwise, and she looks beautiful to me. I see her soul near the end of its journey on Earth and on the verge of passing on to meet our Lord, and I’m not afraid or repulsed anymore. She tells us how there’s nothing nicer than a family, and repeats how much she loves us, though she can’t remember exactly how I’m related to her, or how many children she has anymore. She remembers what matters. Looking at her, I realize I’m not as afraid of growing old anymore.

My friend from college noticed a change in me as well. During her visit, I told her how I’m so much happier and secure in what I’m doing now than I ever have been, and she can see it. She remembers my dark moments and sees them disappearing. She’s encouraging my Catholic conversion, though I don’t think she understands much of what I’m doing or why.

If someone wants proof of Catholicism, it’s here in the pudding. God gives us the grace to have faith, believe, and be changed, if we only let Him. I know not much we can say will change anyone’s mind, but I pray that God gives every unbeliever who reads this an open heart toward the Catholic faith, and gives believers encouragement in their faith.


The Catholic Heart

May 4, 2009

In my semi-long absence, I’ve lost my trains of thought. I planned to update my thoughts on Redeeming Love since finishing it. I have several posts about Calvin’s use of the Church Fathers percolating. There’s a lot I’ve planned to write, but here’s what’s been on my mind recently: the heart of the Catholic Faith is unlike anything I’ve seen before, and it’s beautiful.

What I mean is that the deep root of Catholicism is surrender to Christ. We are called to deny our selves, take up our cross, and follow Christ. (Matt 16:24,25) Seeking to be our own master is at the heart of our separation from God, and at the heart of reuniting us to Him is rejecting our own desires, submitting to God’s plan, and accepting His way for us in Christ. We are even called to submit to those in authority over us here on Earth, regardless of their behavior. Contrary to what Luther taught (see his bio), this includes those in authority over us in the Church here on Earth.

In the Catholic Faith, every belief, every practice, every prayer, is permeated with submission to God’s will. This is acted out in submission to Christ’s Church and His way for us here on Earth. It is a practical submission, whose efforts are not confined to the spiritual realm, nor are the commands to which we submit. Once the Catholic Church is recognized as Christ’s Church, the dogmas and practices of the Church are to be obeyed and believed as if Christ Himself is speaking to us. For the good Catholic, this includes attending mass every Sunday, believing in the Real Presence, going to confession and accepting penance, obeying your priest in matters of confidence and your bishop and Pope in matters of faith and morals. This includes not getting an abortion if you should find yourself inconveniently pregnant, or not giving into the temptation of homosexuality if that is present. The list goes on, but these are practical things that a faithful person may not always want to obey, but does, not for fear of men in an institution, but for love of our Lord and the desire to do His will instead of our own.

This submission carries over into the attitude that Catholics have in life. Remember when my manicurist asked if I was Catholic? It was because he recognized (or so I believe) my acceptance of God’s will in my family life and faith in His grace. The good Catholic surrenders control of their daily life to God, gladly accepts their calling, and does all work for the glory of God. If you need proof of this, consider the “Universal Call to Holiness”, Opus Dei, Josemaria Escriva, Thomas A. Kempis, Brother Lawrence, and so many others. Also, like in no other faith, Catholics can accept struggles along the way because they put value in it! Every thing is offered to the Lord, so that we may be united to Christ in our suffering, and so become co-heirs and share in His glory. There is merit in our actions, value in our suffering, and reward for faithfulness, unlike anything acknowledged by the Reformed faith and Protestant theologies.

Some may not have read about my ecclesiastic past, so I’ll briefly describe my parent’s Word of Faith beliefs. Besides believing that there is power in words, by virtue of speaking them, Word of Faith-ers also generally believe in “name it, claim it” or “health and wealth” theologies. My parents deny this sort of theology that demands what it wants of God, yet they still believe since we are adopted sons and daughters of God, Christ has already suffered all that we must suffer and God’s riches are our inheritance in this life. They believe prosperity and health are for the taking, freely distributed by God to those who have enough faith, all for the purpose of His glory and to win converts. Although the Word of Faith ideas that my parents adhere to are extreme, I watch them live out such a violent resistance against the struggles in life. I believe this resistance is characteristic of Protestant faith. They lose any benefit they should gain from their struggles and fall into despair, believing that they should overcome their sins and afflictions in this world and not the next. I so much desire for my parents to find peace in these things that I believe they can only find as Catholics.

Protestants may have good intentions to submit to God’s will, and although there are good Protestants who may seek His will in all that they do, the beliefs and actions of the faith are not helpful and in fact hinder growth in surrender to Christ. Consider the once saved, always saved idea. Not only does this lead people to believe that they should be immediately and permanently changed, it nullifies the value of any efforts on their part to change after salvation. The struggle with sin becomes a struggle to prove your salvation experience was real, instead of a process of working out your salvation in fear and trembling (Phil 2:12). On a side note, I was listening to a Protestant radio show a couple weeks ago and found myself listening to the Catholic “saved and being saved” message of justification. It seems there are plenty of non-denominational Protestants returning to Catholic ideas to avoid Reformed pitfalls.

Catholics are more equipped to live out the imitation of Christ and share in His suffering because of the Catholic view of ongoing salvation. Our struggles not only unite us to Christ in our suffering, but we also become co-redeemers with Christ, by God’s grace and through the merit and sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Every step matters, and like a faithful marriage which can’t be called faithful unless it is faithful every day until death, faithfulness to Christ throughout our entire lives is what we must strive for. With this perspective, it becomes delightful to submit to your calling in life, and valuable to bear burdens of sickness and frustration, that we may have been justified and are justified still. Even in their darkest struggles, the good Catholic can say, like Job, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, may the name of the Lord be praised.”

Keep in mind that I’m talking about the good Catholics. Every religion will produce faithful followers and lazy followers. There are those who take their faith to heart and live out their beliefs. Then there are those who go through Sundays like most of us go through high school. All they were supposed to get out of it is lost, and they’re just happy to leave when the bell rings. The rules of any faith have a life of their own; it’s the personality of the institution, and it is seen in the best of the faithful. The form of Catholicism is seen in the Catholic saints. This is the heart of the Faith that I’m talking about.

The submissive Catholic heart is exemplified in one of her saints, Mother Teresa (obviously one of my favorites, and for this very reason). She experienced a call, in her early closeness to Jesus, to go and love the poor of India and to win souls for Jesus. She felt this call intensely and earnestly, but constantly sought the direction of her spiritual superiors – first her priest, then her bishop. In every step, she did her best to obey their advice, even in remaining silent and “forgetting” about her call for some time. I’ve since learned that this is a common Catholic test of the validity of a call in someone’s life. Those in authority test the spirit of those under them to see if they are obedient, the first sign that their call is from God. I can’t help thinking that if Martin Luther’s superiors tested him in such a way, that he failed miserably. Mother Teresa’s submissive faith continues in her later years, when she experiences a separation from the presence of God, she continues to follow His will for her faithfully. I want to be that kind of saint.


Sacraments: “Everyone” or “Anyone”?

March 19, 2009

Before with my post, My Paradigm Shift, I marked the moment when I realized I had changed from a Protestant worldview to a Catholic worldview. Since then, I have wondered what it was that flipped the switch. The best I can do is to trace the force that caused the breakdown of my Protestant mindset back to a conversation with our old priest, Father Chuck, when we met with him to sign the papers to convalidate our marriage. Chris has already written a little about this, but I thought I could expand on the event a little and why this one thing got through to me when it seemed nothing else would.

Chris and I had gotten married before he had officially converted to Catholicism. I knew full well what I was getting into with him, though. He never minced words when it came to laying out his faith for me to accept him with it or reject them both. Living in Northern Ireland in a Protestant family and a Protestant neighborhood, there were many obstacles to his Catholic conversion. It turns out by immigrating to marry me, Chris was enabled to officially join the Church. It was during the process of RCIA, making preparations for the approaching Easter vigil two years ago at which Chris would take his First Communion and our daughter would be baptized, that several couples were getting their marriages convalidated.

I couldn’t understand the other couples’ cavilier attitude. They behaved as if they were just checking something off the list as they went about joining just another church. I had something of the attitude that I was already married and already said my vows, and once is good enough. Otherwise it would imply that we didn’t mean it the first time or our commitment had waned since then and our marriage needed “refresher” vows. But we met with the priest and I was ready to grumpily sign the papers under protest that my husband’s faith forced me to do all kinds of crazy things on his behalf. Chris would have none of my false sacrificial spirituality and so wanted to make sure that I was comfortable with the whole thing before we committed to it. Then we talked about convalidation.

I related my view on vow renewals, that it somehow invalidated our initial vows, and Father Chuck kindly asked why in light of the fact that Protestants rebaptize people. That’s somewhat like renewing vows, isn’t it? I can’t remember what I stammered out in reply to that, but we went on discussing exactly what convalidation was and meant. Father Chuck repeatedly called it a blessing. I thought I understood blessings, and I was fine with that. If the Catholic Church wanted to ask God to bless our marriage or give their approval for it, let them. Then occasionally he threw in the word “sacramental”, saying that a marriage outside of the Church wasn’t sacramental.

Every time the word “blessing” was mentioned, I calmed down. But every time Father Chuck said the word “sacrament”, the hairs on my neck stood up. What’s a sacrament?, I thought. Outwardly I bristled, “What do you mean my marriage isn’t sacramental!?” How dare anyone say my marriage is missing something! So I asked why the blessing of the Catholic Church was necessary to make it sacramental. Father Chuck seemed to be having a hard time warping his mind, trying to understand exactly where I was coming from and why this concept was so difficult for me. He tried to tell me we needed a priest to perform the blessing. “Why do we need a priest? We already had a pastor marry us and bless us.” Because a pastor hasn’t been ordained by the Church to administer sacraments. What’s a sacrament??

In my usual fumbling and incoherent manner, I explained to Father Chuck that I had been raised to believe that God and His grace was equally available to everyone. A lightbulb appeared over his head. He leaned back in his chair and said, “So you think that anyone is able to perform marriages and convey God’s graces?”

Well, no.

I went on conversing with myself:

Well then, who?

Certainly we cannot base it on our own spirituality. I’ve seen how that doesn’t work. We all fall short of the grace of God.

Then, who?

Only those ordained by God through the Holy Spirit.

Who has been ordained by God through the Holy Spirit?

I don’t know. But I don’t think being ordained by men who have formed a church of their own accord is the same as being ordained by the Holy Spirit. It should look like something… like something real… so those of us seeking Him can find His grace…

But I replied to Father Chuck, “Uh… yeah.” We left without signing the papers and still haven’t convalidated our marriage. I think my pride still says “How dare you say my marriage is missing something!” But that simple word change, from everyone to anyone, had worked on my thoughts for a year and a half before I began to understand it.

God gives us actual grace. He has left us actual means to come to Him and receive that grace, and those means are known as “sacraments”. However, He has not based the conferrence of His grace on our own righteousness or that of the person administering sacraments, because “not one is righteous” (Rom 3:9-10). Instead, He has given His blessing, and enabled some of us sinful creatures to serve as His instruments of grace through His ordination. That ordination can be found in Christ’s choice of the twelve disciples and His life given to them, Him living in them and through them, at the Last Supper, passed on through those men by the laying on of hands to others who would succeed them. By partaking of the sacraments, we acknowledge our utter dependence on God and His grace, denying our own merit to find these things apart from Him and His chosen.

It’s not surprising that the concept of sacraments and things sacred as blessed by those ordained by Christ through Apostolic succession was completely foreign to me. What is sacred in the Protestant world apart from the Bible? I don’t know much about those Protestant churches who retain “sacraments” as they call them, but it is not like the Catholic term. Reading through Luther’s biography, Luther the Reformer: The Man and His Career, I see the reduction of sacraments from seven to two, and the debate of any actual grace being conferred. Though Luther steadfastly held to baptism and the Eucharist and desired reform of the Catholic Church, his contemporaries were looking for a way to separate from the Church, not only from the authority of the pope but also from the power of the priests in the sacraments. If the Eucharist hold the real presence of Christ and real graces are conferred in sacraments, then the priesthood is necessary. They knew there was no turning to our own qualifications to confer God’s grace. If there was actual grace, then we needed those ordained by God. Their solution was simply to destroy the sacred, annihilate the sacraments, and maintain that God’s grace is only ephemeral and handed out on a case by case basis by the Holy Spirit working alone.

Much like the Eucharist drew Chris to the Catholic Church, the sacraments drew me in. I began to understand how God works through us and not by our own merit. This humble reliance on God’s grace was in stark contrast with the theology of glory found in my early evangelical days, complete with pastor veneration and self-proclaimed callings. Things began to fall into place. For me, Sunday fellowship began to depend on the sacraments instead of the pastor’s ability to preach a good sermon. The unity of the Church depends on God grace and our submission to Him, not on the greatness of any given man to lend logic, consistency and loyalty to his theology. All because God chose to use Father Chuck and two little words, “everyone” and “anyone”, to reveal His sacraments to me.


On Grace and Free Will

February 22, 2009

Throughout history, the Catholic Church has struggled to convey the balance necessary between grace and free will to her children. The Church Fathers repeatedly dealt with such issues against the Pelagians and the Manicheans. Again at the Reformation, Martin Luther accused the Church of preaching a gospel void of grace and teaching salvation earned by their own merit. He claimed that the good works and free will taught at the time debased the grace of God, even in our ability to turn to Him and seek salvation. Since Luther was a learned professor and monk, I must assume he knew the Church never actually taught in such a way despite what individual Catholics may have done or believed. I then must take all that he said to mean the practices alone of the Church encouraged the attitude he condemned. Yet in decrying these practices, he made the same mistake as heretics before him and affirmed grace to the point of denying free will. He lost the balance the Fathers so carefully struggled to maintain.

Below I will let the Church Fathers in their own beautiful words describe this fine line between grace and free will as maintained by the Catholic Church throughout history. I will also include excerpt from the Councils of Orange and Trent and the Catholic Catechism showing the official teachings on these issues.

The Church Fathers on Grace and Free Will

I have stolen the title of my compilation from Augustine’s book On Grace and Free Will. He says about his own book:

There are some persons who suppose that the freedom of the will is denied whenever God’s grace is maintained, and who on their side defend their liberty of will so peremptorily as to deny the grace of God. This grace, as they assert, is bestowed according to our own merits. It is in consequence of their opinions that I wrote the book entitled On Grace and Free Will.

Now if faith is simply of free will, and is not given by God, why do we pray for those who will not believe, that they may believe? This it would be absolutely useless to do, unless we believe, with perfect propriety, that Almighty God is able to turn to belief wills that are perverse and opposed to faith.
[Augustine, On Grace and Free Will, Ch. 29]

As far, then, as lay in our power, we have used our influence with them, as both your brethren and our own, with a view to their persevering in the soundness of the catholic faith, Which neither denies free will whether for an evil or a good life, nor attributes to it so much power that it can avail anything without God’s grace, whether that it may be changed from evil to good, or that it may persevere in the pursuit of good, or that it may attain to eternal good when there is no further fear of failure.
[Augustine, Letter to Valentinus, No. 215:4]

The freedom of the will is not destroyed by being helped, it is rather helped because it is not destroyed. He who says to God: ‘Be thou my helper,’ confesses that he wishes to carry out what is commanded, but asks help of Him who gave the command so that he may be able to do it.
[Augustine, Letter to Hilary, No. 157, 2:10]

Now for the commission of sin we get no help from God; but we are not able to do justly, and to fulfill the law of righteousness in every part thereof, except we are helped by God. For as the bodily eye is not helped by the light to turn away therefrom shut or averted, but is helped by it to see, and cannot see at all unless it help it; so God, who is the light of the inner man, helps our mental sight, in order that we may do some good, not according to our own, but according to His righteousness.
[Augustine, On the Merits and Remission of Sins, and the Baptism of Infants, Bk. 2, Ch. 5]

For if any of those who are present should think to tempt God’s grace, he deceives himself, and knows not its power. Keep your soul free from hypocrisy, O man, because of Him who searches hearts and reins. For as those who are going to make a levy for war examine the ages and the bodies of those who are taking service, so also the Lord in enlisting souls examines their purpose: and if any has a secret hypocrisy, He rejects the man as unfit for His true service; but if He finds one worthy, to him He readily gives His grace… For as a writing-reed or a dart has need of one to use it, so grace also has need of believing minds… As then it is His part to plant and to water , so it is thine to bear fruit: it is God’s to grant grace, but thine to receive and guard it. Despise not the grace because it is freely given, but receive and treasure it devoutly.
[Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechitical, Lecture 1:3]

“No man can come unto Me, except the Father which has sent Me draw Him.” (Jn. 6:44) The Manich├Žans spring upon these words, saying, “that nothing lies in our own power”; yet the expression shows that we are masters of our will. “For if a man comes to Him,” says some one, “what need is there of drawing?” But the words do not take away our free will, but show that we greatly need assistance. And He implies not an unwilling comer, but one enjoying much succor.
[John Chrysostom, Homilies on St. John, No. 46:1]

And if by grace, it will be said, how came we all not to be saved? Because ye would not. For grace, though it be grace, saves the willing, not those who will not have it, and turn away from it, who persist in fighting against it, and opposing themselves to it.
[John Chrysostom, Epistle to the Romans, 18:5]

The skill of God, therefore, is not defective, for He has power of the stones to raise up children to Abraham; Matthew 3:9 but the man who does not obtain it is the cause to himself of his own imperfection. Nor, [in like manner], does the light fail because of those who have blinded themselves; but while it remains the same as ever, those who are [thus] blinded are involved in darkness through their own fault. The light does never enslave any one by necessity; nor, again, does God exercise compulsion upon any one unwilling to accept the exercise of His skill. Those persons, therefore, who have apostatized from the light given by the Father, and transgressed the law of liberty, have done so through their own fault, since they have been created free agents, and possessed of power over themselves.
[Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Bk. 4, Ch. 39]

Church Documents and Official teachings on Grace and Free Will

The following are excerpts from the Council of Orange and the Council of Trent and the Catholic Catechism. They show that the Catholic Church does not teach nor has ever taught that humans can merit their own salvation or earn their way to heaven through works. At the same time these documents affirm with the Church Fathers that what we do matters, we have ability to reject God’s grace, and we can do His work through His grace therefore not all that we do is sin.

The Canons of the Council of Orange

CANON 6: If anyone says that God has mercy upon us when, apart from his grace, we believe, will, desire, strive, labor, pray, watch, study, seek, ask, or knock, but does not confess that it is by the infusion and inspiration of the Holy Spirit within us that we have the faith, the will, or the strength to do all these things as we ought; or if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, “What have you that you did not receive?” (1 Cor. 4:7), and, “But by the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor. 15:10).

CANON 9: Concerning the succor of God. It is a mark of divine favor when we are of a right purpose and keep our feet from hypocrisy and unrighteousness; for as often as we do good, God is at work in us and with us, in order that we may do so.

CANON 18: That grace is not preceded by merit. Recompense is due to good works if they are performed; but grace, to which we have no claim, precedes them, to enable them to be done.

CANON 20: That a man can do no good without God. God does much that is good in a man that the man does not do; but a man does nothing good for which God is not responsible, so as to let him do it.

CANON 23: Concerning the will of God and of man. Men do their own will and not the will of God when they do what displeases him; but when they follow their own will and comply with the will of God, however willingly they do so, yet it is his will by which what they will is both prepared and instructed.

The Decrees of the Sixth Session of the Council of Trent

Chapter 5: The Synod furthermore declares, that in adults, the beginning of the said Justification is to be derived from the prevenient grace of God, through Jesus Christ, that is to say, from His vocation, whereby, without any merits existing on their parts, they are called; that so they, who by sins were alienated from God, may be disposed through His quickening and assisting grace, to convert themselves to their own justification, by freely assenting to and co-operating with that said grace: in such sort that, while God touches the heart of man by the illumination of the Holy Ghost, neither is man himself utterly without doing anything while he receives that inspiration, forasmuch as he is also able to reject it; yet is he not able, by his own free will, without the grace of God, to move himself unto justice in His sight. Whence, when it is said in the sacred writings: Turn ye to me, and I will turn to you, we are admonished of our liberty; and when we answer; Convert us, O Lord, to thee, and we shall be converted, we confess that we are prevented by the grace of God.

Chapter 8: And whereas the Apostle saith, that man is justified by faith and freely, those words are to be understood in that sense which the perpetual consent of the Catholic Church hath held and expressed; to wit, that we are therefore said to be justified by faith, because faith is the beginning of human salvation, the foundation, and the root of all Justification; without which it is impossible to please God, and to come unto the fellowship of His sons: but we are therefore said to be justified freely, because that none of those things which precede justification-whether faith or works-merit the grace itself of justification. For, if it be a grace, it is not now by works, otherwise, as the same Apostle says, grace is no more grace.

Chapter 10: They, through the observance of the commandments of God and of the Church, faith co-operating with good works, increase in that justice which they have received through the grace of Christ, and are still further justified, as it is written; He that is just, let him be justified still; and again, Be not afraid to be justified even to death; and also, Do you see that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. And this increase of justification holy Church begs, when she prays, “Give unto us, O Lord, increase of faith, hope, and charity.”

Chapter 16: Abound in every good work, knowing that your labour is not in vain in the Lord; for God is not unjust, that he should forget your work, and the love which you have shown in his name; and, do not lose your confidence, which hath a great reward. And, for this cause, life eternal is to be proposed to those working well unto the end, and hoping in God, both as a grace mercifully promised to the sons of God through Jesus Christ, and as a reward which is according to the promise of God Himself, to be faithfully rendered to their good works and merits… Thus, neither is our own justice established as our own as from ourselves; nor is the justice of God ignored or repudiated: for that justice which is called ours, because that we are justified from its being inherent in us, that same is (the justice) of God, because that it is infused into us of God, through the merit of Christ.

Canons of the Council of Trent

CANON 3: If any one saith, that without the prevenient inspiration of the Holy Ghost, and without his help, man can believe, hope, love, or be penitent as he ought, so as that the grace of Justification may be bestowed upon him; let him be anathema.

CANON 4: If any one saith, that man’s free will moved and excited by God, by assenting to God exciting and calling, nowise co-operates towards disposing and preparing itself for obtaining the grace of Justification; that it cannot refuse its consent, if it would, but that, as something inanimate, it does nothing whatever and is merely passive; let him be anathema.

CANON 5: If any one saith, that, since Adam’s sin, the free will of man is lost and extinguished; or, that it is a thing with only a name, yea a name without a reality, a figment, in fine, introduced into the Church by Satan; let him be anathema.

CANON 9: If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.

CANON 10: If any one saith, that men are just without the justice of Christ, whereby He merited for us to be justified; or that it is by that justice itself that they are formally just; let him be anathema.

CANON 11: If any one saith, that men are justified, either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ, or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of the grace and the charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, and is inherent in them; or even that the grace, whereby we are justified, is only the favour of God; let him be anathema.

CANON 24: If any one saith, that the justice received is not preserved and also increased before God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of Justification obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof; let him be anathema.

CANON 25: If any one saith, that, in every good work, the just sins venially at least, or-which is more intolerable still-mortally, and consequently deserves eternal punishments; and that for this cause only he is not damned, that God does not impute those works unto damnation; let him be anathema.

CANON 31: If any one saith, that the justified sins when he performs good works with a view to an eternal recompense; let him be anathema.

CANON 32: If any one saith, that the good works of one that is justified are in such manner the gifts of God, as that they are not also the good merits of him that is justified; or, that the said justified, by the good works which he performs through the grace of God and the merit of Jesus Christ, whose living member he is, does not truly merit increase of grace, eternal life, and the attainment of that eternal life,-if so be, however, that he depart in grace,-and also an increase of glory; let him be anathema.

Excerpts from the Catechism of the Catholic Church

The first work of the grace of the Holy Spirit is conversion, effecting justification in accordance with Jesus’ proclamation at the beginning of the Gospel: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Moved by grace, man turns toward God and away from sin, thus accepting forgiveness and righteousness from on high. “Justification is not only the remission of sins, but also the sanctification and renewal of the interior man.

Justification has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ who offered himself on the cross as a living victim, holy and pleasing to God, and whose blood has become the instrument of atonement for the sins of all men. Justification is conferred in Baptism, the sacrament of faith. It conforms us to the righteousness of God, who makes us inwardly just by the power of his mercy. Its purpose is the glory of God and of Christ, and the gift of eternal life.

Justification establishes cooperation between God’s grace and man’s freedom. On man’s part it is expressed by the assent of faith to the Word of God, which invites him to conversion, and in the cooperation of charity with the prompting of the Holy Spirit who precedes and preserves his assent.

Our justification comes from the grace of God. Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life.

The preparation of man for the reception of grace is already a work of grace. This latter is needed to arouse and sustain our collaboration in justification through faith, and in sanctification through charity. God brings to completion in us what he has begun, “since he who completes his work by cooperating with our will began by working so that we might will it:”

God’s free initiative demands man’s free response, for God has created man in his image by conferring on him, along with freedom, the power to know him and love him. The soul only enters freely into the communion of love. God immediately touches and directly moves the heart of man. He has placed in man a longing for truth and goodness that only he can satisfy. The promises of “eternal life” respond, beyond all hope, to this desire.

Since it belongs to the supernatural order, grace escapes our experience and cannot be known except by faith. We cannot therefore rely on our feelings or our works to conclude that we are justified and saved. However, according to the Lord’s words “Thus you will know them by their fruits” – reflection on God’s blessings in our life and in the lives of the saints offers us a guarantee that grace is at work in us and spurs us on to an ever greater faith and an attitude of trustful poverty.

With regard to God, there is no strict right to any merit on the part of man. Between God and us there is an immeasurable inequality, for we have received everything from him, our Creator.

The merit of man before God in the Christian life arises from the fact that God has freely chosen to associate man with the work of his grace. The fatherly action of God is first on his own initiative, and then follows man’s free acting through his collaboration, so that the merit of good works is to be attributed in the first place to the grace of God, then to the faithful. Man’s merit, moreover, itself is due to God, for his good actions proceed in Christ, from the predispositions and assistance given by the Holy Spirit.

Filial adoption, in making us partakers by grace in the divine nature, can bestow true merit on us as a result of God’s gratuitous justice. This is our right by grace, the full right of love, making us “co-heirs” with Christ and worthy of obtaining “the promised inheritance of eternal life.” The merits of our good works are gifts of the divine goodness. “Grace has gone before us; now we are given what is due. . . . Our merits are God’s gifts.”

Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification, at the beginning of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life. Even temporal goods like health and friendship can be merited in accordance with God’s wisdom. These graces and goods are the object of Christian prayer. Prayer attends to the grace we need for meritorious actions.