15

Salvation Is Not a Right

My last post spurred some interesting comments about human rights. One commenter in particular made an astute observation about three inalienable rights in terms of our temporal life.

  • The Right to Life: Relates to your future; lose your life and you lose your future.
  • The Right to Liberty: Relates to your present; lose your liberty and you lose your present.
  • The Right to Property: Relates to your past; lose your property (the fruit of your life and liberty) and you lose your past.

And in the end no one, other than God, can justly infringe upon these rights assuming there is no need to take your life or liberty in self-defense or as punishment, and that your property was justly acquired.

But aren’t terms like “life”, “liberty” and even “property” subject to interpretation and understanding? You’d think the right to life would be fairly straightforward, but for some, animals and trees have more right to be alive than humans who happen to be physically located in their mother’s womb. Along these same lines, a sense of entitlement can lead one to conclude that the right to an abortion is part of a woman’s “liberty” and that your property is not really yours, but actually communal property that can and should be distributed equally.

Kids and young adults might express this sense of entitlement more freely than older adults and this can all relate to how we view salvation. My confirmation students will sometimes say what many adults might often think. An example is when we discuss Original Sin in class. Objections to the dogma may go something like this…What’s the deal with Original Sin? Adam and Eve disobeyed, not me. I didn’t do anything, especially when I was a newborn baby, so why should I have to deal with all the ramifications of Original Sin? It’s not fair!!

The attitude above seems to imply that we are entitled to salvation; we have a right to the free gift of grace and eternal life with God. In contrast, St Paul spoke of salvation as more of a process “So then, my beloved…work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2:12) “Work out” implies a process, and “fear and trembling” implies that it can be lost or never realized.

The following analogy seems to help clear things up in terms of Original Sin and not taking salvation for granted: Imagine your father was an impoverished man who befriended a billionaire long before you were born. They were such good friends that the billionaire made your dad heir to his fortune. One day your father betrayed the billionaire, so he removed him from his will, leaving him in his poverty. Years later your father met your mother and you were born. Eventually, you learned the story of friendship and betrayal between the billionaire and your father. You realize that you would have been next in line for the fortune if your father would have remained a faithful friend, so you say, “My father betrayed him, not me. I didn’t do anything, so why should I have to deal with this poverty. It’s not fair!! The fortune should still go to me.”

The reality is that you never had a claim to the fortune in the first place.

7

The Occult, R.E. and Me

A commenter on this blog linked an article in MarketWatch entitled Why millennials are ditching religion for witchcraft and astrology. The article was in a business website because of spiking sales among products claiming metaphysical benefits, but it still made some reasonable points about why the ditching is being done.

Summarizing briefly…

  • Young people are looking for a “reference point” to identify with and to place people and events into context.
  • They see the occult as a tangible way for them to take control of their lives when things like politics, economics and the environment seem too big to change
  • There is a “meaning gap”. They might go from work to a bar to dinner and a date with no semblance of meaning. The occult gives the illusion of a way out and a way of putting yourself within the framework of history and the universe.

I get some sense of this fascination with the occult as a Confirmation Catechist. This is my seventh year in Religious Education (RE) and I can tell you it’s sometimes hard to get the attention of a bunch of thirteen-year-olds on a Saturday morning, but when relating the day’s lesson to anything involving the occult, I suddenly have their full attention. This works especially well around Halloween.

We might have some discussion about the origins of Halloween and then talk about All Saints Day and the Holy Day of Obligation, but I’ll also ask the kids what they think about trying to contact any random spirit that might be listening via a Ouija Board or Magic 8 Ball or other means…even if it’s just for fun. Some say nothing; some share an eerie experience they’ve had; some say it’s not such a good idea, but maybe that is said because that is what a catechist would want to hear.

Regardless of the answer we begin with a discussion about angels that goes something like this…The Church teaches that angels are real. They don’t have a body, but are like us in terms of having an intellect and a will, meaning they can think for themselves and then choose what they want to do. Some angels choose not to love and serve God; they are fallen angels, sometimes called “demons” or “evil spirits”.

Now suppose you are calling upon random spirits and one of these demons happens to be in the neighborhood. God or your guardian angel might normally protect you from such a thing, but you have chosen to open a portal via a personal invitation and the demon just might choose to accept the invite. Keep in mind that if an evil spirit hates God, and you are made in the image and likeness of God, then the demon naturally hates you, so you’d be in for rough time. The Church teaches that these things are real, so don’t mess with them! It’s also sinful because you are calling upon spirits instead of calling upon The Lord (see commandment #1).

Mentioning the Catholic Rite of Exorcism and reading to the kids from the Catechism can make it more official. “When the Church asks publicly and authoritatively in the name of Jesus Christ that a person or object be protected against the power of the Evil One and withdrawn from his dominion, it is called exorcism… The solemn exorcism, called “a major exorcism,” can be performed only by a priest and with the permission of the bishop… Exorcism is directed at the expulsion of demons or to the liberation from demonic possession through the spiritual authority which Jesus entrusted to his Church….” (CCC 1673)

I’ll also throw in a story or two written by Exorcist Fr. Gabriele Amorth for good measure:

“One day Father Candidio was expelling a demon. Toward the end of the exorcism, he turned to the evil spirit and sarcastically told him, ‘Get out of here. The Lord has already prepared a nice, well-heated house for you!’ At this, the demon answered, ‘You do not know anything! It wasn’t he [God] who made hell. It was us. He had not even thought about it.’”1

Funny how people poke fun at Catholics until they need an exorcist!

The book of Genesis can provide another teaching opportunity. The seven-day creation story is explained very well in the Great Adventure Bible Timeline during the early world sessions. Day six and day seven can be used to help explain the relationship between God and man and also what certain numbers might mean in an occult-ish sense.

The creation of both man and beast is on the same day; day six (see Genesis 1:24-31). Why is that? Isn’t man set apart from animals with a soul; made in the image & likeness of God? Why don’t we get our own special day?!? Consider this question in light of the 7th day. God blessed the 7th day and made it holy because he rested on that day (see Genesis 2:2-3). God does not need physical rest. The Sabbath day is for us. “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27).

The beasts made with man on day six do not know or love God. How many people do we know who relate to God the same way an animal does? They do not know or love God, even though they were given the capacity. Although made on the same “day”, man is called to leave the beasts behind in day six and find “rest” with God in day seven. A relationship in which two parties can “rest” in one another can conjure up images of a comfortable, self-giving union. This may remind us of the Catholic ideal of marriage or the idea of “covenant”, as it should. This also relates to heaven, which is an eternal rest with God.

Finally, I remind my students that “thinking means connecting things”2:

    • The number 7 in scripture can represent fullness or completion.
    • The number 6 (1 less than 7) corresponds to evil or imperfection
    • The number 3 is also for completeness and perfection
    • So the number six three times (666) would represent something perfectly evil or …
    • The Number of the Beast!!! (see Rev 13:18)

So, will you choose to “rest” with God in day seven or remain with the beasts in day six? It’s up you. Just remember…these things are real!

 

  1. Fr. Gabriele Amorth, An Exorcist Tells His Story (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1999), p.22
  2. G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (New York: Doubleday, 2001), p. 31.