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Minister Rich wrote:

Mike,

I just recently started visiting your wonderful web site. I am a big fan of the Holy Quotes, and get them every week! They are comprehensive and succinct.

I have some questions involving the issue of salvation which I haven't seen answered on any other Catholic web site. They are questions which I, as a campus minister, am frequently asked regarding suffering, guilt, and the blood of Jesus:

  • Why do you Catholics talk about suffering as a grace, if Christ suffered once for all?
  • The Bible says I do not have any guilt in Christ Jesus, so why should I ever feel guilty or cultivate a healthy sense of guilt, and
  • Why should a Catholic priest make me do a penance for my sins when I can never atone for them?

All I have to do is claim the blood of Jesus and I am washed clean from my sins.

If you could somehow point me in the right direction so that I may answer these questions,
I would really appreciate it. I haven't found anything from any book or web site dealing with these specific issues.

Thank you, and God bless your ministry!

— Rich
And only where God is seen does life truly begin. Only when we meet the living God in Christ do we know what life is. We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary. There is nothing more beautiful than to be surprised by the Gospel, by the encounter with Christ. There is nothing more beautiful than to know Him and to speak to others of our friendship with Him.

Benedict XVI
  { Why do Catholics refer to suffering as a grace, if Christ suffered once for all and why the guilt? }

Mike replied:

Hi Minister Rich,

First, thank-you for your ministry!

With the rise of [secular/liberal] professors on the campus these days, you have a very important calling in getting college students through college spiritually alive. Thanks!

You said:
They are questions which I, as a campus minister, am frequently asked regarding suffering, guilt, and the blood of Jesus.

Many today are justly confused about suffering and why suffering happens in the world.

  • Why does a good God allow even very [good/holy] people to suffer greatly and even die?

The Catechism tells us, under the heading: Illness in human life

1500 Illness and suffering have always been among the gravest problems confronted in human life. In illness, man experiences his powerlessness, his limitations, and his finitude. Every illness can make us glimpse death.

1501 Illness can lead to anguish, self-absorption, sometimes even despair and revolt against God. It can also make a person more mature, helping him discern in his life what is not essential so that he can turn toward that which is. Very often illness provokes a search for God and a return to him.

What I bolded above is important to remember.

That said, there is another more important reason why God allows good people to suffer:

To bring a greater good out of them.

Sure, our loving Heavenly Father is happy with college students who are doing the best they can to study hard and bring their specific vocational calling to its best, but sometimes God sees something better in us, than what we see in ourselves.

You said:

  • Why do you Catholics talk about suffering as a grace, if Christ suffered once for all?

Because the Bible tells us Christ is the head and the Church is the body.

22 And he put all things beneath his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.

Ephesians 1:22-23

Here are some additional notes from my computer bible:

His body: the Church (Ephesians 1:22); cf. the note on Colossians 1:18. Only in Ephesians and Colossians is Christ the head of the body, in contrast to the view in
1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12:4–8 where Christ is equated with the entire body or community.

Fullness: see the note on Colossians 1:19. Some take the one who fills as God, others as Christ (cf. Ephesians 4:10). If in Christ dwells the fullness of the deity bodily (Colossians 2:9), then, as God fills Christ, Christ in turn fills the Church and the believer (Ephesians 3:19; 5:18).

Suffering isn't an individual affair from the Church's point of view. Suffering is a community affair. We are the Body of Christ really!! We are one Church of sinners and saints all striving for holiness.

At times we live much holier, virtuous lives; at other times we struggle with sin a lot.

Yes, I'm speaking for myself. :)

It's a grace from the Church's point of view because when we are involved in virtuous good works and affairs, if we offer them all to God, we can assist and help others in the body of Christ who are struggling more on the sin side of things, and visa-versa. We are family!

Because we are part of the body of Christ and one with Our Lord, we not only share in the joys of his public ministry while He was on earth, but also in His sufferings.

The key: Willingly uniting our suffering to the Body and blood of Christ Our Lord.

Now some may say:

The Bible says, Christ suffered once and for all and it's finished.
They will say, If it's finished, it's finished!

The problem is you can't take a quote out of context. St. Paul states in Colossians 1:24:

Paul's labors in the service of the gentiles

24 It makes me happy to be suffering for you now, and in my own body to make up all the hardships that still have to be undergone by Christ for the sake of his body, the Church, 25 of which I was made a servant with the responsibility towards you that God gave to me, that of completing God's message, 26 the message which was a mystery hidden for generations and centuries and has now been revealed to his holy people.

Colossians 1:24-26

St. Paul sounds pretty Catholic to me :)

You said:

  • The Bible says I do not have any guilt in Christ Jesus, so why should I ever feel guilty or cultivate a healthy sense of guilt.

One of my colleagues will have to help me on this one.

You said:

  • Why should a Catholic priest make me do a penance for my sins when I can never atone for them?

Good point. You can try all you want and you will never be able to atone for your sins to any man.

What's missing: Catholic priests are more then just men. The Church chooses (through the
sacrament of Holy Orders) men to act in the person of Christ to administer the sacraments of the Church that our Lord instituted before ascending into Heaven. Men become priests through the sacrament of Holy Orders. Jesus uses the body and mind of the [priest/man] to bring His sanctifying grace down into the souls of men. And this was by His command:

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 (Jesus) said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the holy Spirit. 23 Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.

John 20:19-23

You can't forgive or retain sins unless you hear them, thus we have priests authorized by the Church to administer the sacrament of Confession.

The Catechism tells us:

CCC 1473 The forgiveness of sin and restoration of communion with God entail the remission of the eternal punishment of sin, but temporal punishment of sin remains.

While patiently bearing sufferings and trials of all kinds and, when the day comes, serenely facing death, the Christian must strive to accept this temporal punishment of sin as a grace. He should strive by works of mercy and charity, as well as by prayer and the various practices of penance, to put off completely the "old man" and to put on the "new man." (Ephesians 4:22,24)

CCC 1472 [... This punishment] must not be conceived of as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature of sin. A conversion which proceeds from a fervent charity can attain the complete purification of the sinner in such a way that no punishment would remain.

For the same reason, the Church requires the faithful to do a very small penance. If the penitent would not do a penance, one can ask:

  • Was he really sorry for his sins?
  • See what I mean?

You also may be interested in a related question by my brother Mark asked a few years ago:

You said:
All I have to do is claim the blood of Jesus and I am washed clean from my sins.

  • Where does it say that in the Bible?
  • What book, chapter, and verse?

If you or your students on campus are interested, check out my list of Biblical verses for Catholic teachings at:

http://www.AskACatholic.com/ScripturePassages

I use to run a free program that sent Catechisms to seeking Protestants and non-Christians but no longer have the financial or operational means to do this anymore. Nevertheless, if you wish to go deeper, consider buying a cheap copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church to learn everything we believe as Catholics.

If you, or any visitor, has been helped by our work at AskACatholic.com, consider financially supporting us today.

Hope this helps,

Mike

John replied:

Hi Rich,

First of all there are two kinds of guilt.

  1. One is the juridical guilt that comes with punishment. You are found guilty and thus you are sentenced for the crime. This applies to those who die outside of grace.

  2. Then there is guilt that we feel when we have sinned. A better word is conviction.
    We know we've done wrong and the Holy Spirit leads us to repent.

The question of penance gets to be confusing to the Evangelical mind set because it tends to be even more juridical than the Catholic mind set.

I believe the way we explain the theology behind penance or punishment for sin for those who repent is a very misunderstood paradigm, but what it amounts to is the following:

Sin separates us from God, and it also inflicts damage to our soul.

For example, when we look at pornography, we not only sin at that time, but we feed the desire to sin further. When we repent, two things happen. We are forgiven and we are restored.

Forgiveness is immediate but restoration can be a process, so penance is intended to heal the self-inflicted wound on our soul.

Remember Scripture says:

"He who began a good work in me, shall be faith to complete it."

Philippians 1:6

That's a process we yield to.

I prefer to use a less juridical model to explain penance. I call it the medicinal model.

In this model, if I were to put my fist through your window, I have sinned against you. After realizing what I did was wrong, I would ask for your forgiveness and you would forgive me.

Then I tell you I can't pay for the window. Nevertheless, you say my debt is paid in full.

Though the transgression is now paid for, we still have a problem:

My hand is bleeding, and I need to go to the emergency room.

That said, the first thing you would do is disinfect my hand and take me to hospital. When you disinfect my hand it hurts — it seems like punishment, but it's really healing pain. You take me to the doctor (which you pay for by the way), and he works on my hand. This hurts some more.

He gives me pills to take. All throughout the healing process I feel pain and you are there for me; you console me.

That's what Christ does for us when we repent. He picks up the tab for everything, except the healing process and everything involved in the healing process, which hurts.

The penance the medicine; it helps to make sure the wound doesn't get worse, and helps it to heal.

  • Does this help?

John DiMascio

Minister Rich replied:

Hello all,

Sorry for the slow response. My wife and I just had our first child last Wednesday. Praise God!

I thank you for your quick and detailed answers.

For the most part, I am convinced, however, the one issue that you did not address, that is certainly Biblical is this one:

Therefore we have no condemnation who are in Christ Jesus.

(Romans 8:1)

This ties into the Passover in Exodus: Just as the avenging angel passed over those whose homes were marked with the blood of the lamb, now that I am marked and sealed with Christ's blood — now that I am in Christ Jesus — I am delivered — passed over from death to life.

By claiming that blood, by reminding myself of God's justifying power and claiming it,
I am washed clean of my sins.

  • How do Catholics respond to that?

This is more than the once-saved-always-saved argument; indeed it extends to living out my salvation and turning away from sin in my every day life.

God bless you,

— Rich

Mary Ann replied:

Hi Rich,

Just to add one small point to Mike and John's great responses:

Christ's suffering once for all doesn't mean no one else ever has to suffer. It means Christ doesn't have to suffer more than once. Christ doesn't have to be sacrificed over and over as was done in the Old Testament sacrifices.

His sacrifice was the submission of human will to the divine will, expressed in the obedience of His whole life and culminating in The offering of His life on the Cross. His Act of Perfect Obedience unto death was what saved us, repairing the breach brought about by the disobedience of Adam. No one else had ever been able to return to union with God — no one could even follow the Law, much less be united to God completely.

We join His offering by joining ourselves to His will, which is His Perfect Sacrifice. One way we join ourselves to His will is by accepting trials and sufferings as He did. He has forever changed the meaning of suffering — from a meaningless threat to an existence and participation in His sacrifice of the heart. He also changed the meaning of death, from a radical separation from God to the doorway by which we go to God.

In a sense, our sacrifices are only sacrifices when joined to His will, because only in Him are we united to God, because He is the God-Man who shares His Resurrection Life with us through the Holy Spirit. Therefore, even looking at all the sufferings offered as sacrifice, there is only one sacrifice — one obedient perfect will.

Mary Ann

Mary Ann followed-up:

Sorry, got so wrapped up in answering that I forgot to add:

Congratulations!!

Mary Ann

Eric replied:

Hi Rich,

Another answer is that we may very well remove ourselves from Christ Jesus.

If a car dealer is trying to sell you a Volvo or Hummer, and he says,

"Nothing will happen to those who are in this car."

he is not precluding that you might do something stupid like jumping out of it or something like that, nor does he mean that if you enter the car once, never again will anything happen to you anywhere. Thus,

"There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus"

does not mean that a one-time event will guarantee you a spot in Heaven no matter what you subsequently do. St. Paul compares the Christian life to a race in 1 Corinthians 9:24, and in fact says he's not even sure he is saved. (1 Corinthians 4:1)

Our salvation is contingent on us persevering. Check out:

Hope this helps!

Eric

Mary Ann replied:

Rich,

I just wanted to add one more point.

Every family killed the Passover lamb and shed its blood, but only the families who took the blood and put it on their houses were saved.

To be in Christ, we have to avail ourselves of His blood. We have to put on Christ, in Baptism, and continue to live in Him. We have to put His blood on us, so to speak.

Claiming it is more than just saying it, or reminding ourselves of it. We don't control God.
In obedience, we put it on our houses. We submit to Baptism and to a life of Baptism, dying and rising daily.

Mary Ann

Rich replied:

Dear Everyone,

Again, thank you all for your responses.

I was amazed at how quickly and thoroughly you responded to me, and then I realized that you thought I was not Catholic!

"What a great opportunity to evangelize Minister Rich!"

I can see how you would think this as my e-mails were not clear, but I assure you that is not the case. I appreciate your patience in responding with good, thought-out answers. My wife and I met in Steubenville where we both got our Theology Masters, and I noticed a lot of Dr. Hahn in some of the answers on penance and reparation.

The thing that I was trying to get at, and I think you did address, is this notion of guilt:

  • What is it?
  • What does it mean to say that Christ takes it away?, and
  • How do I explain that to Protestants?

Along with guilt is being in Christ. To add to what Mary Ann said, not only did the Israelites put the blood on their doorways, a prefiguring of Baptism, but they also consumed the Passover lamb. The sacrifice wasn't complete until the lamb was consumed so consuming our Lord in the Eucharist and living out the graces we receive seems to me how we remain in Him. I just wanted some clarification and help to explain it.

Being a campus minister, employed by the diocese of Pittsburgh, has made me get back to the fundamentals of our rich, beautiful faith. I've had to:

  • look at things I've taken for granted
  • figure out what they meant for me, and
  • figure out how to make them clear to the outside world.

It has been especially important that I understand penance, and how penitential acts like fasting and mortifications are not only good for my soul but for others, when the Bible seems to emphasize Jesus' role as the penitent par excellence.

  • Obviously, my acts of penance will never make up for my sins, so why do I do them?
  • Why are they, in fact necessary, and
  • Why does the Church say that they do help atone for my sins?

This question is the biggest one, and I've just been taking the Church's teaching on faith, increasing my penances and mortifications so that I never stop practicing them, while at the same time looking for a really good answer that explains all this confusion.

So that's all from me. Thank you for your fantastic web site and Holy Quotes; thank you for your
e-mails back to me and all the effort you put into explaining these hard topics. If you have any more clarifications or better places to look for answers, I would be very interested.

God bless you all,

— Rich

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