Salvation, Jesus, and Works

As I’ve been gearing up for my first year as a missionary this summer, I’ve had a unique revelation with regards to evangelization and the aspect that “works” play in salvation. I suppose a big part of this is from a Peter Kreeft (and Ronald Tacelli) book that I’m reading, Handbook of Catholic Apologetics.

First off, I’d like to share an awesome piece from that book on the importance of salvation:

“The Church also seems to be in the social service business, the counseling business, the fundraising business, the daycare business- dozens of the same worthy businesses the secular world is also in. Why? What justifies these things? The Church’s ultimate end for all these things is different from the world’s end; it is salvation. This is her distinctive “product.” Why put out a product that is just the same as other companies’ products already on the market? Why would anyone expect such a product to sell? That’s why modernist or liberal Christianity, charitable as its services are, is simply not selling. The only reason for the very existence of the Church at all, is exactly the same as the reason Jesus came to earth: to save poor and lost humanity. The Church, after all, is in the same business as her Head. When a body runs in a different direction from its head, it is like a chicken with its head cut off: it goes nowhere and quickly dies. Jesus did not come to be a philosopher or a doctor. If he did that, he failed. He didn’t solve most of the philosophers’ problems. He healed some people but left most of the world just as sick as before. He healed some bodies to show that he could heal all souls. Not only is salvation the reason for the Church’s existence; it is also the ultimate reason for your existence: your goal, point, purpose, hope, final cause, summum bonum, meaning. The difference between success and failure at life’s first task- becoming who you were meant to be- is not the difference between riches and poverty, fame and obscurity, health and sickness, pleasure and pain, even niceness and nastiness, but between salvation and damnation. Leon Bloy wrote, “There is only one tragedy: not to have been a saint.”

Salvation matters, a lot. So what does it take to be saved? When people with a Christian background talk a little about salvation, they often only mention whether or not you are a “good” person. This is nice, but is it enough? Is it enough to just be a good person to go to heaven?

The Catholic Church has a nice little clause that it seems like I’m always reminding people about (because the Church is so horrible and restricting! haha). This clause is that if someone by no fault of their own doesn’t hear the Gospel or know who Jesus is, they can still be saved by striving their very best during their life to live an upright, charitable, and selfless life, which is common sense whatever background you come from. God is merciful, much more than you and I.

Yes, that’s good and generous of God, isn’t it? The problem is that everyone who reads this blog obviously doesn’t live in a remote area and has had contact with Christians in some way, shape, or form. For people who have heard the Gospel, the nice clause of just being a good person isn’t enough to earn salvation, according to Jesus. Salvation is only possible through Jesus:

“There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” – Acts 4:12

Again, Jesus was clear Himself in this teaching:

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” – John 14:6

In Lecrae’s song Truth, he gives a great analogy for why we need Jesus. In one of the verses (around 3 minutes in) he discusses the issue of why an all  powerful loving God would allow evil to happen. He points out that though God allows evil natural disasters to happen, He also allows people to have free will and murder. Well, we all agree that stuff like that is evil, but here’s the brilliant part: Lecrae asks if lying and cheating are evil too. They are. And things like that are evil even if we just think them. So he turned around the argument: why does God allow us to live, as we all sin? Thanks be to God that Jesus died on the cross to forgive us of our sin, otherwise we’d all be going straight to hell. Only God can forgive sin, that’s why Jesus and the incarnation are such a big deal! No one other than Jesus can forgive us, that’s what St. Peter was saying to the Sanhedrin in Acts 4:12!

Please note that there’s a very important sacramental side with regards to salvation, centering on baptism (1 Peter 3:21 and Mark 16:16), confession (John 20:23), and the Eucharist (John 6:52). Salvation requires faith and works. Gotta offer this life for Jesus and live it out. But for this post I’m staying high level.

With all this in mind, I figure that most Christians- and Catholics are especially susceptible (not by bad teachings but misunderstandings of the teachings)- don’t seek to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ as much as they can because they unfortunately don’t believe that Jesus Christ specifically is very important in the economy of salvation.

Most people seem to believe that it is most important to be a good person, and if you believe in Jesus that’s a cherry on top. Actually, we see something that is quite the opposite in terms of Dismas the good thief: he was a thief and pretty bad person all his life, but when the time came, he repented and turned to Jesus in faith. Jesus promised him salvation. Jesus Himself stressed that people believe in Him and repent. He wanted their hearts to be converted not to niceness but to Him.

So is being a good person important? Yes! We ought to follow Jesus who is the way and the truth and the life! We ought to love God and love our neighbors as our self. But good works explicitly without Jesus will do nothing with regards to the economy of salvation. Takeaway: we must be more courageous in actually sharing Jesus with others instead of just assuming that they believe and are faithful.

Baptism: Why Wait?

Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch

Here’s a common question that Catholics get from our Protestant brothers and sisters in Christ: Why do Catholics baptize infants?

First off, let’s go over briefly why baptism is important. Jesus was baptized by St. John the Baptist in a baptism of repentance, but after Pentecost and the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Church, baptism wasn’t just symbolic but salvific, according to Jesus himself in Mark 16:16: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved”. St. Peter clarifies this even more in 1 Peter 3:21: “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ”. So we can see that baptism is actually necessary for salvation (yea there’s exceptions thanks to God’s mercy for people who haven’t ever heard the Gospel and stuff).

The story of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch is one of the cooler passages about baptism and demonstrates its importance:

“An angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down to Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert road. And he rose and went. And behold, an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a minister of Cada’ce the queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of all her treasure, had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go up and join this chariot.” So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said. “How can I, unless some one guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now this passage of the Scripture which he was reading was this: “As a sheep led to the slaughter or a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken up from the earth.” And the eunuch said to Philip, “Please, about whom does the prophet say this, about himself or about some one else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news of Jesus. And as they went along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What is to prevent my being baptized?” And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him.” – Acts 8:26-38

We can see from this story that it is important to be baptized as soon as possible, and the joy that it gave them both.

Now, it’s safe to say that most Christians are in agreement about everything that I’ve said so far. The tricky part is the question of what age is a good age to be baptized. Catholics baptize infants, and some Protestants have issues with that because they really haven’t made a choice for themselves. I can see their point. But we have to remember that Baptism is a sacrament that gives grace, no matter what choice you had in it.

Let’s look at examples of what the apostles said and did in terms of baptism. In his first big speech, St. Peter told all the people of Jerusalem, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to y our children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him” in Acts 2:38-39. There were no clauses in what he or Jesus said that designated only adults. St. Paul baptized Lydia and her entire household (children included probably) in Acts 16:15 after they converted. A similar thing happened with the jailer and his whole family in Acts 16:33. St. Paul wrote in 1 Cor 1:16 that he baptized the entire household of Steph’anas.

As we can see, there is plenty of evidence for the baptism of infants in scripture. Denying the affects of baptism just because of someones age seems to make the sacraments more about us and less about God’s power. In fact, the bulk of the proof lies on the side of the Protestants (as it seems to in all of these sorts of things), since from the earliest Christian traditions infants were always baptized. It is treated like circumcision for the Jews, so the only time that an issue came up in the early Church, in the 3rd century, was whether or not to delay baptism to the 8th day, like circumcision. Origen wrote in Commentaries on Romans 5:9 in A.D. 248 that “The Church received from the apostles the tradition of giving baptism even to infants. The apostles, to whom were committed the secrets of the divine sacraments, knew there are in everyone innate strains of [original] sin, which must be washed away through water and the Spirit.”

Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it; they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” – Luke 18:15-17

See more: Catholic Answers

Perfect Worship

Pope Francis mass

The following is a guest post by John

I think a lot of Christians instinctively think of their worship services in terms of what they get out of them. Was I inspired by the sermon? How did the music make me feel? Did I learn something? While these may be good things to think about, if we step back and think about the purpose of our worship services, we will see that this way of thinking is totally backward.

What is the purpose of our worship services? It seems obvious when you take a step back and think about it; the purpose is to offer our worship to the Lord. The reason why the mass is the most perfect form of worship on earth is because in the mass we offer worship in the way Jesus taught us to worship. We participate in Jesus’ sacrificial offering of himself to the Father. What offering is more perfect than Christ himself, offered by Christ himself? This is what we have in the mass.

The mass is the source and summit of our faith, because in the mass we most closely imitate the perfect worship of heaven. This reveals to us why we make every effort to array the mass in beauty — incense, chanted antiphons, stained glass, vestments, iconography… In the mass, we participate in the worship of heaven, and we should make every effort to imitate more perfectly the worship of heaven. Indeed, our hearts cry out within us to participate in this type of worship, and the more beautiful and universal we make the mass, the more attractive it will be. We will not attract Christians with modern-looking churches and popular music. We will attract Christians with beautifully adorned churches, beautifully chanted music, and our beautiful Lord Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. Indeed, we were designed to be attracted to this type of worship in our very nature, because we were designed for heaven.

When you go back to your worship service, think about what is your purpose for being there — to offer worship to God. Think about what is the most perfect offering we can make to God and the one he told us to make — the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, offered by Jesus Christ. Think about how we can more perfectly participate in the heavenly worship we long for — by making every aspect of our worship as beautiful as possible.

John is a friend of mine from the University of Illinois. He’s a fellow engineer and is now a professor at the University of Minnesota. He’s also part of my mission partner team for FOCUS, and he says you should all contact me to find out how you can join my team too!

FOCUS Parish Talk/Appeal

This is the text of my parish talk that I’m giving this weekend at my home parish, with a few minor changes:

Remember Deacon Jerry’s homily last week about evangelizing? And the Gospel reading, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers.”

Hi *wave*. My name is Chris Goulet and I am a Catholic missionary.

Now the first thing that people ask when I tell them that is which third world country am I going to? Africa? China? Saudi Arabia? Those are good places to go. But look around in the pews right here.

There is a generation missing here – my generation. They are asking questions:   Does the Church even notice me?  Is Jesus Christ really relevant to my life? Why do I need to go to church on Sundays anyways?

What commonly happens is that kids are raised in Catholic homes and then leave for college.  And it’s there where they walk away from the faith. I bet that every single person here personally knows someone who has fallen away from the faith while in college.

But I have good news for you!

Unlike most of my peers, college is the place where my faith matured. I encountered missionaries and fellow students on fire for Jesus Christ, thanks to FOCUS- the Fellowship of Catholic University Students. When I moved into my dorm at the University of Illinois as a freshman, I had the opportunity to sign up for a Catholic bible study. I jumped at the opportunity, as I’d never experienced a Catholic small group before. It turns out that this was a FOCUS bible study, and these guys, especially the leaders, had a profound impact on me. Faith wasn’t just something that they confined to Sunday mornings, it was a way of life for them. Jesus wasn’t just a historical figure but a savior who they personally knew.

We need to reach out to young adults while they are in college. At the campus that I am going to, only about 3% of Catholics go to Sunday mass. 3%, and that’s just counting the Catholic student body- we need to be reaching out to everyone. That’s how urgent this call is.

There are so many different stories that I could share to demonstrate that FOCUS works, but here are some big picture stats. Despite only being around for 15 years, and we’re already at 83 college campuses across the United States, including local schools like Illinois, Bradley, UIC, Northwestern, Wisconsin-Madison, Wisconsin-La Crosse, and Loras College. We reach over 10,000 students in weekly bible studies. In addition, there have been about 400 religious vocations fostered. Because of these results, our founder and president, Curtis Martin, was one of the 9 lay people appointed by Pope Emeritus Benedict last fall to participate in the Synod on the New Evangelization.

As a full time missionary, I will be presenting and witnessing to our faith on campus in a way that only someone my age can, constantly investing in the students and meeting them where they are at. We are investing on college campuses so that the future leaders of this country will take their faith with them everywhere they go, sharing the Gospel with all, serving the poor, and building up the communities where they live.

But this mission isn’t just about me and my fellow missionaries,

YOU can join me in making a difference in the lives of young people!

As you could imagine, college students don’t pay us to serve them.

As a full-time FOCUS missionary, all of my funding will come from concerned individuals like you.

Specifically, I need to find about 50 partners who are willing to join my monthly support team, so that I can get on campus.

  • I ask you to prayerfully consider partnering with me.  Support, in any amount, is very much appreciated and makes a significant impact.
  • FOCUS is a nonprofit organization, so your gifts are 100% tax deductible, and there are no maximum or minimum gift amounts.

In your brochure, you will find a response card.  By filling out this card, you are not making a financial commitment today.  But please fill out the response card now with your contact information if you are interested in hearing more about FOCUS.  I would love to sit down with you this week, so I will be in the back of the church after Mass to collect them from you.

While you are filling that out, I would like to thank Father and you all for allowing me to share my work with you.  FOCUS gives me so much hope for the future of the Church. I extend a special thank you to those of you who are considering partnering with me to make a difference.

With your help, I can reach out and touch the lives of many young people!

I look forward to meeting you right after Mass.  God bless you all.

*** If you would like to join me as a mission partner, I’d be more than happy to speak with you and share more about what I’ll be doing. You can email me at chris.goulet@focus.org. ***

Why Faith?

door to heaven

Why is faith so important to God? Why does He have to “hide” from us? After all, in other relationships, people who love us reveal themselves to us and are personally involved in our lives. Why would God seemingly do the opposite?

I don’t have the official answer, but I’d love to take a stab at it. Let’s imagine that God revealed Himself to everyone out of love for them. It’s kind of funny to write that out because you could understand it two ways: God HAS revealed Himself to everyone through Jesus Christ, yet God HASN’T personally revealed Himself to everyone in the same way that people reveal themselves to each other.

Faith is important because we haven’t experienced God in a very tangible way, even very active Christians like myself. I don’t have to have faith that my laptop exists, it’s right here in front of me. I can touch it, it functions how I’d expect a laptop to, it makes noises, etc. Since God doesn’t often reveal Himself in a tangible way to us, we need faith to believe in Him because He isn’t someone we can see or hear. This faith isn’t as unreasonable as some people might say it is. We also use the same type of faith to trust that the brakes in our car are working.. we haven’t checked the brakes every time before we get in the car to even see if they are there, let alone working, before we drive off on our way. We have faith in many things that aren’t God, and it isn’t out of ignorance but out of understanding what makes the most sense. I have faith because I have experienced God. God has revealed Himself to me through the generosity of Christians, the infinite desires in my heart, the reality of the story of Jesus and the Catholic Church- especially Jesus’ life and the lives of the Apostles, prayer (I think I could write a whole post about this one), answered prayers, the complexity of nature and the universe, and of course in the sacraments! With all of these experiences, the only reasonable explanation IS to believe in God!

So why would God value faith? I began this post by pointing out that having faith isn’t just limited to religious things. But there has to be more too it than that. I think that God values faith because it is a test to see if we truly love Him. He will reveal enough of Himself for us to begin to know Him, and He is always running after us (remember, He’s the God who came to us, that’s why Christmas and the Incarnation are such big deals!), but He also gives us enough wiggle room to actually have difficulty in this department. He’s not going to just show up the moment that we are about to do our favorite sin. He’s there cheering us on to do the right thing, but He gives us all free will. He doesn’t force us to believe in Him but lets us find Him.

God does not have us rely on faith to “hide” from us, He is the one seeking us, and I’m only one of many baptized Christians whose job it is to share His message with the whole world. That’s what He commanded us to do in Matthew 28:18-20. If God really wanted to hide from us, He definitely wouldn’t have sent Jesus. Another point of note was that God the Father didn’t even reveal Himself to Jesus, the Son, even at His darkest hour! Jesus participated in the same difficulty that we do!

God likes to see if we actually love and trust Him as much as He loves us. Faith is just one of the methods of His perfect justice and love. He can’t wait to reveal His love to anyone who seeks Him.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” – Jesus, Matthew 7:7