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"Why are you afraid?" [Updated with 2 more images]

"And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves. But he was asleep. And they went and woke him, saying, "Save, Lord! We are perishing!" And he said to them, "Why are you afraid, you of little faith?" Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, "What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?" (Mt 8:23-27)Here is another medieval representation, from the Hitda Gospels, ca. 1020.And this image of another sea-wonder may be the one that Claire was thinking of. It's from the medieval (late 12th-century) mosaics in the cathedral of Monreale, Sicily.

Comments

Commenting Guidelines

It's Catholic doctrine (Trent) that we cannot know for certain even that we're in the state of grace, much less that we will be finally saved. This was taught against Protestants who thought that justification consisted in the certain belief that one had been saved. It was a confirmation of Paul's statement that we must "work out our salvation in fear and trembling." But, Jean, this universal condition should not be a reason for staying away from the Lord's table!

Father, isn't there a difference between those who agree with and feel contrition for breaking from Church teaching and those who don't? Those who don't, as I have been advised, have no business calling themselves Catholics or receiving. One must hope for "spiritual communion." And I do.

Jean: There is a long tradition distinguishing degrees to which the Church has committed itself to various doctrines, and whether disagreement with one of those teachings disqualifies one from receiving the eucharist will depend on that degree of commitment. Some people today are inclined to multiply the doctrines a denial of which excludes one. I incline in the other direction. I am what is called a "minimalist," relying on the wise counsel given at the beginning of the revised Code of Canon Law: "Laws that establish a penalty or narrow the free exercise of rights or contain an exception to the law are to be interpreted strictly" [that is, not broadly] (c. 18). "No doctrine is understood to have been infallibly defined unless this is manifestly established" [that is, infallibility is not to be presumed] (c. 749, 3). I was commenting above on your last remarks: "I have to say that becoming a Catholic has made me more thoughtful of my actions and how they affect others, more inclined to pray for others and offer practical help, more afraid of hell, less sure of my salvation, and less trusting in Christs mercy, which is why I dont dare receive at His table any longer." I think that the last two of these considerations suggest more frequent reception of the sacraments, which are meant for sinners, unsure of their salvation and tempted to doubt of Christ's mercy.

Hey Jean, I have an idea. Here's a proposal for you: if you tell me you'll receive communion this Sunday, then this Sunday I will refrain from communion on your behalf. (But just for this one time!) It'll be a Christmas present from me to you, and a Christmas present from you to me. Deal?

A number of Prayers after Communion in the Roman Missal speak of the Eucharist as a healing remedy for body and soul. My adolescence and youth (fifteen years in all) were plagued by a far bleaker view. And yet, where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more. "There is one thing I ask of the Lord, for this I long," and the rest. (Psalm 27, Evening Prayer, Week I)

Jean and JAKI am perplexed by your remarks. I don't believe anyone, including myself, professes with moral certitude that they have not sinned in commission or omission, or whether they did not unknowingly commit a sin that they believed was not a sin. However, I have always been taught in the power of daily prayer, the frequent reception of the sacraments and in the guidance of my spiritual advisor to lead me to God. I choose to believe that God has created from the beginning a place for each and everyone of us in his Kingdom. We need to choose to follow him in faith and works and never to reject him. To fear and tremble that we may be sent to hell or purgatory (and not being with God) is a necessary good motivation to try to become the man or woman God wants us to become. However, fearing the consequences of our actions is not the whole of our calling. We also need to follow Christ and his commandments for the good in it, because He commands it, because of the love it represents.I hold to what I have said, to trust in Christ and in his Divine Mercy. I refuse to allow fear to overwhelm me to the point where I have no sense of his promises, in his divine grace, and in his mercy. This does not mean I minimize sin and its effects, but I refuse to let sin or my fallen-nature to blind me to the joy of heaven and the promises of Christ. If purgatory is the place most of us will have to go to be purified, because only a few of us will be worthy to enter heaven at the hour of our death, then I fail to understand both the sacrament of reconciliation and more importantly the reparation of sins that is offered to us by the Church. I choose to embrace this gift in joy and thanksgiving while I also fear that I am not perfect but broken and in need of healing.Lastly, we do not know for certain if we are doing all we can to live a life God calls us to live. But striving also means striving to be educated and informed about of faith, to seek both a theological and spiritual advisor and to constantly pray. If I have read too much negativism into each of your comments, I hope you will provide more clarification, as I have tried to make my comments clearer to you.

Mr. Barberi: I think we both were (I know that I was) reacting to your comment: "The possibility of going to hell or purgatory is real. However, for Catholics who strive to live an upright and moral life, as best they can, according to Jesus and his Gospel, can be reassured of a place in his Kingdom." Your sentence is not entirely clear, but I took it to mean too great an assurance of salvation. So if you read "too much negativism" in my comments, it was because I read "too much positivism" into yours.My comments, alluding to the Council of Trent's teaching, did not have to do with whether or not someone has sinned, but with whether one can be sure that one is in the state of grace or assured of salvation. Authentic Christian living is always a withdrawal from inauthentic living, and it is never something achieved once and for all. The farther one climbs the mountain of holiness, the farther one can fall. I don't regard this as negativism or pessimism, but simple realism. Who, upon his deathbed, would say, "I have no need of further purification. I'm going straight to heaven"?

Claire, I know your offer is kindly meant, but the sacraments are not for swapping, wagering, or otherwise double-dog-daring. Have a blessed Advent.

JAK,The issue I raised from the beginning is the teaching about the reparation of sins in this life. So, while you may have read too much optimism into my initial comments, and I read too much pessimism in your response, I fail to understand how your recent comments brings more clarity to the issue I raised. Perhaps a short story might help.This year, the pastor of our local Catholic Church brought in a theologian to give a short presentation about Divine Mercy Sunday. His message was clear about the plenary indulgence granted to those that follow the requirements of the Church as it concerns Divine Mercy Sunday. If one satisfies these requirements and died suddenly he/she would enter heaven immediately. In this regard, our past sins are not held against us in terms of the temporal punishment due to them, but only in regard to future sins. I am not an expert on this subject, but based on your comments you believe that when we die we have no idea whether we will be saved or what purification is needed before we enter heaven. IMO, that is a most negative thought that prevents, at least me, the joy and confidence in Christ's divine mercy and the teaching of the Church regarding the reparation of sins. If I take your comments to their logical conclusion, after our death everyone will be waiting in line to be judged while we all stand in fear and trembling. I would rather think more positively unless you believe I am still too optimistic. As for my death bed, I would say "I am joyful and look forward to meeting Christ my Savior in whom I trust. I look forward to worshiping him in heaven perfectly as I have tried to do on earth but imperfectly. Let it be done to me in accordance with his will."

Well, swapping is something that happens all the time in the Church: people pray for one another, do things for one another, represent or are represented by one another, feel for one another, become one another, so sacrament swapping, although a slightly whimsical thought, did not seem to me to be so out of line, at least as a thought experiment. Have a blessed Advent, too.

Mr. Barberi: Our Christian life is one of faith and hope and love. Faith is not sight, and hope is not possession. One can believe and trust in God's mercy in Christ and hope that one will be brought into a full and eternal life, where love will endure, but not faith and hope. I did not say that on one's deathbed we will "have no idea whether we will be saved," but that we could not be certain of it. I do say that we will not know "what purification is needed before we enter heaven." "From my hidden sins cleanse me, Lord," prayed the Psalmist.What do you make of St. Paul's statement: "With fear and trembling work out your salvation" (Ph 2:12)? Commenting on this verse, St. Thomas referred to 1 Cor 10:12, "Let anyone who thinks he is standing take care that he not fall."No private devotion--First Fridays, First Saturdays, Divine Mercy, etc.--can guarantee anything. Any of the promises alleged are contingent on our fidelity, and isn't it presumption to think in advance that one will be finally faithful? The virtue of hope steers a middle ground between despair and presumption.

Fr. K, you're the best. Everything you say to every one, me included, is clear and precise and to the point and, in this thread, measured. And presumably true as well (hopefully). I am envious. Thank you for taking so much time to do this for strangers such as us.

I join in Claire's thanks.

Fr. Komonchak,I do appreciate your comments and do not disrespect your thoughts and advice by my questioning. I agree that we cannot be certain about what purification is needed before we enter heaven. I will bring up what your wrote with my local parish priest and spiritual advisor and study the issues further. I also agree that "No private devotionFirst Fridays, First Saturdays, Divine Mercy, etc.can guarantee anything. As you rightly say, "Any of the promises alleged are contingent on our fidelity." However, I don't think it is presumptuous to believe that one will be finally faithful. Having said that, it is possible that we might not, but I would rather be joyful and trustful in Christ's guiding light, and hopeful of eternal life, not irresponsibly presumptuous of it or his judgment, nor fearful of any purification that may be needed, but to lovingly accept it. I could be wrong but I don't believe that Christ expects us to be fearful and trembling at the hour of our death especially when we have made that good fight as best we could, as imperfect as it may have been. I think we can agree that to be joyful and hopeful of entering heaven is not being presumptuous. Nor is relying on the teachings of the church regarding the reparation of sins being naive in terms of strengthening our hope provided we have not seriously neglected our faith, at least knowingly. As to what I make of St. Paul's statement, It is because of fear and trembling that we work out our faith...through private devotions, First Fridays, Divine Mercy, doing good works, etc. It is because of this fear and trembling, and because we want to love him as he loves us, that motivates us to constantly strive to live a morally good life and become the person he wishes us to become. Perhaps what I wrote came across as too presumptuous about the certainty of eternal life through faith and works, and the teaching of the Church regarding the reparation of sins. Thank you for your valuable words and advice and taking the time to address my questions.

I have always found Fr. Komonchak's comments clear and appreciate his candor and patience. And his sister Bernie's poetry insights. Each time I read something he has shared from her, I am thankful for my own brother, with whom I share a deep connection (although it is not quite as literary).I just now saw the post 12/11/2012 - 4:38 pm, and I appreciate everyone's insights on the Church's teaching on salvation, a topic never far from my thoughts since my dad died a few years ago and as my mother declines into poor mental and physical health. I do apologize for bringing in my personal problems, something I seem to do over here to a large degree, and something I am working on this this new year of Our Lord.Many years ago, I read a meditation by a clergyperson--it may have been in Commonweal--the gist of which was that many of us need to say the prayer, "Dear Lord, help me to just shut up." So I'm gonna practice that now!

Dear Jean --If you shut up it will be a big loss to the blog. Don't.

One last remark for Jean, whose obstinate refusal to go to communion bothers me since I would not pass her worthiness threshold. This Sunday's gospel has John the Baptist telling people how to prepare in practice to receive the Messiah: the rich ought to share some of what they have, the dishonest stop cheating, the violent stop their brutalities. Not radical but moderate changes, not uniform but tailored to each person. (For example, if one's problem is obstinacy, a willingness to yield a little bit might be all that would be asked...) It suggests that communion ought to be available to many. So this is a particularly good Sunday for the unsure to receive communion.

Tried to find that essay about praying to keep your mouth shut. Didn't find it, but did see this:Dear God,So far today,I've done all right.I haven't gossiped.I haven't lost my temper.I haven't been greedy, grumpy,nasty, selfish or overindulgent.I'm very thankful for that.But in a few minutes, God,I'm going to get out of bed;and from then on, I'm probablygoing to need a lot more help.Amen

"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom," the Scriptures say--the beginning not the end. "Love will come to perfection within us when we can face the day of Judgement without fear... In love there can be no fear, for perfect love casts out fear" (1 Jn 4:17-18). Until the day we die, it will be true to say, "If we say that we are without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us" (1 Jn 1:8), but it is also true that if our hearts condemn us, "God is greater than our hearts" (1 Jn 3:20).St. Augustine meditated long and hard on such texts. He often spoke of the relation between fear and love in the Christian life and urged that the journey should be from one to the other. As long as we are doing or not doing things simply out of fear, we are not yet free (a thought that St. Thomas would develop wonderfully). But when God pours love for him into hearts (Rm 5:5), we are freed and are doing things or not doing things because we love what God loves.Both Augustine and Aquinas appear to have taken "the love of God" in that Pauline text (Rm 5:5) to refer to our love for God rather than God's love for us. But, the two go together: Our love for God is God's loving gift to us.

Thank you again Fr. Komonchak. Your latest comments are very comforting and valuable for reflection.The issue I am struggling with is this:> If we are to do things or not do things for the love of God, and solely for Him, and not "partially" or "secondarily" for another purpose, e.g., for the fear of purgatory and the temporal punishment due to sin, then does this prevent Love from coming to perfection within us and thus we will not be able to face the day of Judgement without fear?

The author of First John states that even thought we will never be without sin, and our hearts may condemn us, God is greater than our hearts. This is the ground of our trust in His mercy, not any actions we may perform. St. Augustine says somewhere: "The more you love the less you fear; the more you fear the less you love." What more can be said? None of us arrives perfect at our deathbed. But God is greater than our hearts. We shouldn't imagine that when we come before the Lord, we'll be able to say, "But, Lord, look at all I've done--prayers, acts of abnegation, devotions, etc., etc.!" Won't we throw ourselves on His mercy? Isn't it a phenomenon that the holier a person gets the more acutely they become aware of their sins and failures?

A man died and went to heaven with Saint Peter meeting him at those pearly gates.St. Peter said to the man, "Here's how it works. You need 100 points to make it into heaven. You tell me all the good things you've done, and I give you a certain number of points for each item, depending on how good it was. When you reach 100 points, you get in.""Okay" the man says, "I attended church every Sunday""That's good, says St. Peter, " that's worth two points""Two points?" he says. "Well, I gave 10% of all my earnings to the church""Well, let's see," answers Peter, "that's worth another 2 points. Did you do anything else?""Two points? Golly. How about this: I started a soup kitchen in my city and worked in a shelter for homeless veterans.""Fantastic, that's certainly worth a point, " he says."hmmm...," the man says, "I was married to the same woman for 50 years and never cheated on her, even in my heart.""That's wonderful," says St. Peter, "that's worth three points!""THREE POINTS!!" the man cries, "At this rate the only way I get into heaven is by the grace of God!""Come on in!"HT - http://www.johnthebaptisttv.com/bbpress/topic/826

Fr. Komonchak,I think it is my fault that we might be misunderstanding each other. I will try one more time and then I will stop.I don't disagree that we are sinners. Frankly, I count myself as the most unworthy of Catholics. It would be foolish to make an argument about what one had done....prayers, acts, devotions etc, as evidence of our worthiness of heaven. We worship God and try to do good works, and make devotions etc, because we sin and offend God and we want to love him as he wants us to do. At the hour of our death and judgment, we must trust in His mercy. I also completely agree that the more holier one becomes that more acutely aware of our sins and failures. I get it.I am questioning the purpose of the teaching about the reparation of sins? Should we not take advantage of plenary and partial indulgences? If so, do we need to do these works for the Love of God, and not to have a partial or secondary purpose., e.g., for the fear of purgatory? If so, it is hard to imagine that one does not have such a secondary purpose. Perhaps, this is something that some but not all of us grow into. Do not indulgences impart some assurance of salvation and the lessening of the temporal punishment due to sin, while it does not guarantee it?It seems that all we can ever have is fear tempered by hope and the trust in God's mercy. I apologize if I am missing your point.

JAK ==If we are supposed to love only God, then how come Jesus tellsl us: "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself"?

I'm puzzled by your question. Who has said that we are supposed to love only God? Certainly not I.

St. Augustine often developed the theme of "chaste love," by which he meant a love that is not for anything other than the Beloved. A woman who loves a man because of his wealth, loves his wealth and not him. This would be supremely true of God: Gratis amandus Deus, God is to be loved for His own sake, and not for the sake of something else that he might give us, in this world or the next. This would be a very pure love, perhaps attained by only a few, as you seem to suggest. Doing good things, even (especially?) ones with an indulgence attached, for some purpose other than God wouldn't meet Augustine's criterion for a chaste love. Acts of reparation undertaken out of genuine regret for one's sin or as an effort to repair a relationship, newly appreciated and embraced, can be quite chaste, in Augustine's sense of the word. Perhaps we need to personalize all this, or, better, to inter-personalize it. Think of interpersonal relationships--a marriage, a deep friendship--and what authenticity and selfless love do and expect and require.Remember the act of contrition: "And I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell. But most of all because they offend Thee, my God, who art all good and deserving of all my love." Contrition out of fear of hell is a very imperfect thing, and wouldn't get to the root of sin in one's own heart. The contrition should be motivated by the love of God, not the fear of punishment. (What would we think of a man who is faithful to his wife only out of fear of being discovered?)

Just one text from Augustine on "chaste love" of God:

Is it a great thing to fear evil? Heres a great thing: not to do evil; heres a great thing: to love the good. Even a thief fears evil, and where he doesnt do it because he cant do it, he remains a thief. God examines the heart, not the hand. A wolf comes to a sheepfold, seeks to enter, wants to kill, wants to devour; but the shepherds are watchful, the dogs bark; it cant do anything, take anything away, kill anything. It was a wolf when it came and a wolf when it went away. Just because he didnt take a sheep away, did he come as a wolf and leave as a sheep? ... If you dont do evil when you could and when its not out of fear of being punished by men that you wouldnt do it, then its God you are fearing. No ones there except you and the one you might do evil toand God, who sees both of you. ... But what Im been saying is a slight thing. Love the good. For if its out of fear of hell that you dont some evil, youre not yet perfect. I dare to say it: If you dont do the evil out of fear of hell, you have faith because you believe in Gods future judgment. Im glad for your faith, but Im afraid of your wickedness. Why have I said this? Because if you dont do the evil out of fear of hell, you dont do the good out of love of righteousness.Its one thing to fear punishment; its another to love righteousness. You ought to have a chaste love in you, by which love you desire not heaven and earth, not the bright expanses of the sea, not trifling sights, not flashing and glittering jewels; no, you desire to see God, to love your God, because it is said; Beloved, we are children of God, and it is not yet apparent what we shall be; but we know that when he appears, we shall be like him because we shall see him as he is (1 Jn 3:2). Thats it: do the good for the sake of that sight; for its sake dont do evil. For if you wish to see your God, if in this wandering you sigh with that lovesee, Gods testing you, as if he were saying to you, Go ahead; do what you want; fulfill your desires; expand your wickedness; indulge your pleasures; consider licit whatever you want; I wont punish you for it, wont send you to hell; Ill only deny you my face. If that terrifies you, you love; if your heart trembled when it was said that God will deny you his face, if you think it is a great punishment not to see God, then you love gratis [without hope of reward]. So then, if my words have found in your hearts some spark of a gratuitous love of God, nourish it; to increase it avail yourselves of prayer, humility, repentant sorrow, love of righteousness, good works, sincere groans, praiseworthy conversation, faithful friendship. Blow on that spark of good love in yourselves; nourish it in yourselves. When it has grown and caused a most fitting and roaring flame, it will consume the grass of all your fleshly desires.

(Sermon 178)

Thank you Fr. Komonchak. This is much clearer to me and you have been very generous with you time in answering my questions. I will reflect on your comments. If I may provide a final comment (really).The act of contrition says "but most of all". This means that one also detests their sins because they dreads the loss of heaven and the pains of hell. As you rightly stated, if one is doing acts et al., because of sorrow for sin, to repair the relationship with Christ, because you have offended Him, because you love Him, then this may be a form of chaste love. I fear I have all of these intentions, including wanting to love God for Himself and not for the consequences of loving him, but I also have a fear of purgatory and the desire to avoid punishment. Thus, the teaching about the reparation of sins seems to be a catch 22, because few can ever achieve a pure love of God. Thus, fear is a good thing when it leads one to growth in the love of God and neighbor. However, it seems to me that fear is always with us, perhaps more or less so for one versus another, but to have a partial purpose in seeking indulgences (for fear of purgatory), while one also has the overwhelming primarily one of loving God and repairing the relationship, is something that I fear will always be there...at least for me.This teaching about the reparation for sins is highly confusing and not clearly understood. In the end, I will leave my destiny to the grace and love of God who as a wise and loving parent will guide me appropriately and forgive me for my sins because I have a sincere heart but weaknesses.

I regularly take the train at a station in the middle of a forest. There is no staff, only a ticket-vending machine and a machine to punch one's ticket before boarding. I have bought lots of tickets in advance, and always have spare tickets. But one day I saw that the ticket-vending machine was broken. "Great!", I thought: "Now I can take the train without punching my ticket, and if a controller comes by, I can always tell him that I couldn't buy a ticket because of the broken machine, and I won't have to pay a fine." So, without further ado, I boarded the train without punching my ticket, and thus traveled for free as a matter of course.But the next time, I was with my daughter. Then I punched my ticket, of course: I wanted to set a good example of honesty. And the following time, I was with friends. Then I also punched my ticket, after a short hesitation: they know that I am a scrupulously honest citizen, and I would not disappoint them.The next time, I was alone. What to do? I hesitated at length, then thought "it's only 8 dollars" and punched my ticket. Upon further reflection, I decided that I wanted my previous decisions to punch my ticket to be a testimony of my honesty, rather than of a mere wish to project an image of honesty. I wondered just how expensive the ticket would have to be in order for me to decide otherwise, but as soon as the question was posed in those terms, the answer was obvious: honesty is part of my character and cannot be bought at any price. I was pleased with myself to have reached that conclusion. How many people would be as honest as I am? Such admirable integrity. After that lengthy internal debate, the matter was settled: the next few times until the machine was repaired, I was alone, but always faithfully - and smugly - punched my ticket with no hesitation.Now the question is: such decisions are not out of the fear of any particular consequence. Are they "gratis"? Given that no one can see what I am doing (the controller never showed up), does the resulting smug feeling come from a "love of the good"? I think that there is a wide grey area between "fear of punishment" and pure "love of the good". Fear of punishment is way too crude a gauge. Rather than lack of fear of punishment, here is a possible test for "pure love of the good": does it give as much pleasure to see someone else doing it as it does to do it ourselves? If so, then I think that that's a good indication.

Your criterion will go far, I think, Claire. Aquinas' criterion was that one do the good because it is the good thing to do and refrain from the evil because it is evil. People of integrity do that; the rest of us do it sometimes and not other times. We'd all love to have some "objective" criterion that would tell us what's the right thing to do--a kind of moral yardstick. But, of course, there's no such yardstick that can work as infallibly in determining moral issues as the physical yardstick does in determining physical dimensions. Lonergan said that such a notion of objectivity is a myth, and he agreed with Aristotle and Aquinas that the measure of virtue is the conscience of a good man. If we're lucky, in the course of our lifetimes we encounter a person or persons who exemplify what it means to be a person of integrity, and we can begin the long process of becoming such ourselves.

Claire,Thank you. I very briefly perused the comments and I will indeed study them further.While I respect Fr. Komonchak and agree with much of what he has written and spoke about, his comments to me on America Magazine reflect a sense that we ought to focus on doing good and avoiding evil and not on prayers, devotions and indulgences. While I found a lot of truth and have learned from his comments, I objected to the fact that I was being presumptuous about being joyful about going to heaven at the hour of my death. Perhaps he meant that I should not be counting on indulgences with certainty, or not counting on anything we do in this life because it is only by the grace, mercy and love of God that we gain everlasting life. If so, I get it. Nevertheless, I was equally confused and critical about the teaching regarding the reparation for sins and the plenary indulgence attached to certain works and devotions. I wonder how many people are doing special devotions because they believe they are pilling up "points' in heaven? Having said that, I do believe that good works and doing what pleases God and hating what God hates does amount to something. Why else would we be doing it? I often pray to God to give me the right intentions and disposition in all that I do, to love him for Himself, for the good in it, because He commands it, and not for myself. However, who among has a perfect love of God and neighbor? We should strive for it, and never give up and make progress but we will never know where we stand in terms of perfection, in terms of what God expects us to be.I ask "What is wrong with being joyful and optimistic about being with God forever and trusting in His Divine Mercy at the hour of our death? I believe that if we ask God for his guidance throughout our life, sincerely feel sorry for our sins, frequently pray, receive the sacraments and make devotions for others as well as a reparation for our sins and to repair the offense against God, then I believe He will accept us as we are with all of our brokenness, weaknesses and past sins. What the Church wants us to believe is that we will all likely spend time in purgatory because we all are in need of a certain purification that only God knows and wants. However, I find it perplexing and in a way misleading when the Church also says "fear not", we offer you these indulgences so that you will likely only spend a short time in purgatory, or none at all. Whatever God gives us in terms of a judgment, we should accept it lovingly. However, at the hour of death I sincerely hope to be joyful, not fearful, optimistic and not pessimistic, trustful in His mercy with an assurance of heaven but not irresponsibly presumptuous of it. This will be based on, I hope, a sincere heart in doing what I believe to be right, good and just, even if I make mistakes out of ignorance. "Under these circumstances", what loving parent would inflict a certain pain and suffering on their child, to refuse to show them their face for a short or long time, to refuse to let them into their house because he/she did not measure up to a certain standard of love that clearly very few can realistically achieve? However, this is but one human reflection and imperfect. Thus, I admit to ignorance.As you say and as Fr. Komochak implies (I believe), we should focus on loving God and neighbor, to be a person of integrity, a good person doing good things, by living a virtuous life and striving as best we can, with God's grace, to be the man or woman He wants us to become.

Mr. Barberi: What has America Magazine to do with this? I haven't published anything there that's relevant to our conversation. I agree with this statement of yours above:"However, who among has a perfect love of God and neighbor? We should strive for it, and never give up and make progress but we will never know where we stand in terms of perfection, in terms of what God expects us to be."But I would have reservations about this statement: "Whatever God gives us in terms of a judgment, we should accept it lovingly. However, at the hour of death I sincerely hope to be joyful, not fearful, optimistic and not pessimistic, trustful in His mercy with an assurance of heaven but not irresponsibly presumptuous of it. This will be based on, I hope, a sincere heart in doing what I believe to be right, good and just, even if I make mistakes out of ignorance."I'd put this rather in terms of one's confidence on one's deathbed, not on what one has done, but on God's over-flowing love and forgiveness. We don't have to earn that love, and I don't think we should conceive of our Christian lives as efforts to do enough good works in order to be confident on the day of judgment but rather as an effort to live up to the love already granted to us in Christ and in his Holy Spirit. Christian morality should be a morality of response to the gift already given.

I believe that if , then I believe He will accept us as we are with all of our brokenness, weaknesses and past sins. By professional bias I tend to view everything under the lens of education and learning: our hope to share in Christ's divinity is not merely a matter of being accepted thanks to God's generous judgment, but also of learning to become divine. As I see it the problem is not God's acceptance of us but our own ability to be with God in a perfect union.For a concrete analogy, think about sex: rare is the time when it is a near-perfect experience, when the two partners are heart to heart, the barriers raised by our egos are gone, we have enough trust to show ourselves to each other just as we are, we do not get bruised by an untimely look, word or move - whatever misstep may occur is swept away by the partner's obvious care for us, and feelings can merge so that sex feels like the expression of a union of our souls. Maybe that's an overly romantic view of sex, and it is certainly not the every day sex experience, but it seems to me that it can give us a glimpse of heaven. How can sex be like that? It's not enough that one's partner is an experienced and caring lover, and that we have goodwill. It is not sufficient that the Other is willing to accept our inadequacies. Both partners have to be humbly open. Both have to be willing to be vulnerable, disarmed. Both have to be focused on one another. Both have to know enough about themselves to be able to reveal themselves as they are. Even under loving guidance, even with grace, all that will take time to learn.So I guess that that's my image of purgatory: learning to have great sex.

JAK --I haven't responded to your comment to me of 12-14 because I]m havng some eye trouble, have apparently misread your posts, and can't re-read them. I thought that was a funny thing for you to say, but that's the way I interpreted them. Sorry;

I think that the first chapter of 2 Timothy has a comforting phrase: "I know whom I have believed [or: "in whom I have trusted"; or: "to whom I have entrusted myself"], and I am certain..." The important thing is that the one whom we believe, to whom we have entrusted ourselves, follows the logic of the father in the parable, not that of the elder son.Claire: The analogy was familiar to the mystics, and to others. For St. Paul life below is the period of betrothal (2 Cor 11:2); the marriage embrace comes at the End. Your analogy is the sort of thing I meant when I suggested above that we personalize--even interpersonalize--how we think of our relation with God.

"Christian morality should be a morality of response to the gift already given."I like this a lot, and will think about it in my Advent contemplations.

I see. I had not read that paragraph carefully and had missed it, but now I get it.

Fr. Komonchak,I think you are taking my comment out of context. I also said "I often pray to God to give me the right intentions and disposition in all that I do, to love him for Himself, for the good in it, because He commands it, and not for myself." As well as trusting in His Divine Mercy at the hour of our death.What does "living up to the love of God already granted" mean if not to love what God loves, hate what he hates, live virtuous lives, trust in His Divine Mercy, pray and act with the right intentions and dispositions in loving him for Himself and not for ourselves, et al.? We love Him by our actions, and we love Him as we serve him. I did not want to imply that my joy at the hour of my death was "solely" based on what I have done, as though everything I did will earn me heaven. I was referring to the fact that I am a sinner and that God will be merciful to me and because "Christian theology teaches that God will judge us, not on the basis of our actions being objectively right or wrong, but on the basis of the sincerity of our hearts in seeking to do what is right, even if we make a mistake (Richard Gula, "The Moral Conscience" p. 57, in Conscience by Charles Curran, 2004). This also must be understood in its proper context.Let us not argue about what we agree on, that we will be saved, judged and enter heaven based on God's grace, love and divine mercy, not on what we have done as if what we did earns it. However, there is nothing wrong with being joyful at the hour of death and not fearful because we have sinned and are imperfect. Nor is it presumptuous if we believe in the assurance of heaven (not certainty) based on his divine mercy. However, indulgences emphasizes works and the lessening of the temporal punishment due to them, so that we might go to heaven and not to purgatory. They might help but I have serious reservations about them. I discussed this topic at length with my parish priest on Friday, and he agrees with my understanding. Clare,Marriage and conjugal love is not perfect as you know. We need to be open and vulnerable so that we can strip away our false faces, our defense mechanisms, in order to truly learn to love our spouses. Unfortunately, there is no criteria or guide book that is perfect. Our journey to love God is also a journey of striving and education and being open to the spirit. If purgatory is a a state one must remain in for a period of time in order to be purified before entering heaven (as a judgment of God), I accept it. However, the teaching on purgatory and indulgences has a lot to be desired in directing Catholics to love God as He wants us to love Him.

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About the Author

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.