Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Numbers Game

What do we do that makes a difference to our salvation or the salvation of someone else? As an evangelical we asked that question a lot. Some saw salvation in terms of saying the sinner's prayer. There were stats on what ministry activities were generating how many conversions. As a reformed protestant I was always a bit wary of those statistics but I knew many who took them very seriously. Feeding the hungry generated less walks down the aisle then a well organized youth program. So that is where church resources went.

The Catholic doctrine of makes this pretty much impossible. The problem is nobody's salvation is assured and nobody's damnation is assured. So we can't put solid numbers down. We can see if someone goes to Eucharist and confession. If they do go we don't know if they make a good confession or if they have secret mortal sins. If they don't go we don't know if their heart. Is there some deep ignorance that prevents them from living their faith in the normal way?

What I think this is meant to do is allow us to see almost any situation as potentially a matter of heaven and hell. If you help a protestant become catholic will that save their soul? Maybe. If they are already right with God it certainly makes it more likely they will persevere. But even if you encourage a priest perhaps just by showing up. That might be what he needs to prevent him from falling into serious sin.

Catholicism also hold out hope that you might inject salvific grace into the life of someone who will never consider conversion. Someone might be Muslim but your heart might minister to their heart and you might bring them closer to God without them actually changing religions. It could make the difference of heaven or hell for them. They lack the graces of scripture and the sacraments but you can give them some grace for them to respond to.

Knowing so little about salvation kind of makes us like the sower who mindlessly sows his seed everywhere. We have no idea where our holiness can make the difference so we should just sow as much as we can. It is also true that the soul we save might be our own. For if we grow weary in doing good we can be in serious sin in no time. Only spreading seed on what we deem to be fertile soil is likely to make us cold to some groups of people. That is a very dangerous place to go.

So never mind the numbers. We can see that society has much mortal sin. We know there is work to do. Many souls are in danger. It always comes down to being a prophet and priest and king. Teach the word boldly. Yes, that means use words. Sanctify others through constant prayer and penance. Then govern your personal affairs so the fruits of the spirit are there for all to see. Don't calculate where the line between heaven and hell is and how many people can I pull over it.

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