Medicine for Sins
One of the hymns in our first CD is Ave Christe. In this hymn are the words, “medicina peccatorum” or “medicine of sins”. Also in this hymn are the words “Ave Verbum Incarnatum” (hail Word Incarnate) which, with Christmas fast approaching, are very apt words for us today. It is interesting to find both phrases in the same hymn. While Christmas hymns sometimes allude to Calvary, it is a bit out of the ordinary for Holy Week hymns to allude to Christmas. The two events, of course, are inseparably linked; for unlike every other man who has ever lived, Christ was born to die. Likewise, the wood of the manger and the wood of the cross hold the same Savior.
I would first like to remind our readers that I am a layman, not a priest. What I say on this blog is not to be construed in any way as an official statement. It is always my intention to reiterate the infallible teachings of the Church, not to invent anything of my own. If ever any of my statements are dubious, I refer you to The Catechism of the Council of Trent and The Catechism of the Catholic Church. What the Church teaches is true. What I say is only true if it agrees with what the Church teaches.
Second, much of what follows is paraphrased from homilies given by priests of our parish. I wish to credit them with helping me in my own understanding, and I wish to share what I have learned with you.
Sharing The Cure for Hell
With that bit for an introduction, let us ask ourselves this question: “If I had the cure for cancer, would I keep it to myself?” I think any sane person would answer, “No.” Then let us instead ask, “If I had the cure for hell, would I keep it to myself?” Surely this is a much greater cure than the cure for cancer, yet it seems that we are generally timid in sharing this cure. Perhaps we are rightly accused of keeping the Faith…to ourselves. (Yes, I know it is hard enough just to keep the Faith ourselves in this day and age.)
There are various reasons for our timidity. Perhaps we perceive people do not want to have the cure for hell. Perhaps we are afraid we will be laughed at or thought of as “kooks” or “fanatics”. Maybe we’re worried about opsec–if we are known to be Catholics, could that somehow compromise our security some time in the future? At this present time in these United States, we ought to observe that our physical security is much less endangered than in communist China or the Middle East. That notwithstanding, I think many folks rightly recognize religious liberty in the U.S. is not as safe as it used to be.
Even still, do any of these undesirable circumstances compare in any way with a soul going to hell? Clearly, they do not. Arriving at this conclusion, I would like to share with anyone who will read it the cure for hell.
A Nod to Protestants
Before jumping in, I recognize that there are many people who claim to have the cure for hell. Here I refer specifically to Protestants. Oftentimes they will describe the cure for hell as a simple formula done once for all time. Some will claim that once you are saved, you are always saved. Others will say that once you are saved, it is very difficult (although not altogether impossible) to perish. Protestants have told me before, “We are saved by grace through faith.” This can be understood in a Catholic way, which I hope will be evident below. It has been my experience, however, that Protestants do not say this with a Catholic understanding of grace and what it accomplishes in the soul.
Many people claiming to have the cure for hell are well intentioned and–through no fault of their own–are simply mistaken. I do not judge them; I simply point out that they are mistaken. (And I know that they disagree with me.)
That said, going back to the question of keeping the Faith to ourselves, I think we Catholics ought to be ashamed when we see with how much fervor the Protestants evangelize. Why are we, who have the fullness of truth and all of the sacraments, so timid in proclaiming the Gospel?
To go to heaven, it is necessary to have sanctifying grace in our souls at the time we die. If a person has sanctifying grace in his soul, he is said to be in the state of grace. If not, he is said to be in the state of mortal sin. What is sanctifying grace? Sanctifying grace is a created share of God’s own life. It transforms a soul from being an enemy of God into a child of God. It is what makes a person holy. A person in the state of mortal sin is not holy and does not share in God’s life. Such a one is an enemy of God. It should come as no surprise that there are no enemies of God in heaven. If there are no enemies of God in heaven and those without sanctifying grace are enemies of God, then those who are not in the state of grace cannot be in heaven. It is sanctifying grace that makes it possible for us to live in heaven.
An analogy is worth considering. We humans cannot fly on our own. It is beyond our natural ability. However, we are able to devise machines which allow us to fly (airplanes, helicopters, balloons, etc.) If we attempt to fly without one of these devices, we will fail. There is no way, relying on our natural abilities that we can fly. Likewise, we cannot get to heaven on our own. There is nothing in our nature that we can do to produce sanctifying grace in our soul. In fact, we cannot devise any mechanism or formula that will give us sanctifying grace, enabling us to get to heaven and live there. It is an entirely supernatural proposition.
The first problem is, because of the sin of Adam (original sin), we do not have sanctifying grace in our souls when we come into this world. We are not in the state of grace when we are born. Adam and Eve, when they were created, were created in the state of grace. When they sinned by transgressing a Divine command, however, they lost that grace and cursed the entire race such that we are conceived in sin and not in grace. Put differently, we are enemies of God from our birth.
The Cure for Hell
If we are all enemies of God from our birth and there are no enemies of God in heaven, and if further, there is nothing we can do within our own abilities to stop being the enemies of God, what then? Are we all doomed?
Well, first an observation. Would ‘slavery’ not be an accurate term to apply to the state described above? Indeed, without grace we are all enslaved in the state of sin, and there is nothing we can do about it. Just as the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt and could not free themselves, all the more is mankind enslaved to sin.
After the sin of Adam and the loss of grace, that was not the end, for God promised a cure, a redeemer. For thousands of years, the world awaited Him, the expectation of the nations. During those millennia, God established a true religion in the expectation of this redeemer, through which men could be saved from eternal damnation. This religion was exercised in the priesthood of Aaron and his successors, but it was not able to restore men to heaven until the fulfillment of the promised redemption. The religion of the first covenant was efficacious through the institutions of circumcision and contrition and animal sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins, again by virtue of looking ahead to the fulfillment of the promised redemption. For this reason, holy men of the Old Testament, while not damned, could not enter heaven until the redemption was accomplished.
This redeemer promised by God, who could he be? First, he must be of the race of men. For as it was by a man that sin came into the world, so too by a man must the sacrifice for that sin be accomplished. Man transgressed; a man was needed to redeem. Second, the redeemer could not be a sinner. If he were a sinner, he would be in the same state as the rest of fallen man. Third, because offenses against God are of an infinite nature (because sins are committed against an infinite Being) the sacrifice of the redeemer must likewise be of infinite value. The only infinite nature there is is God’s nature. Therefore, the redeemer must have God’s nature if he is to redeem infinite offenses.
We seem to come to an impossible barrier, that the redeemer must have both the nature of man and the nature of God. Man cannot take on God’s nature, yet God can take on man’s. This is exactly what God chose to do. In this, are two great mysteries: the mystery of the Trinity and the mystery of the Hypostatic Union.
The Holy Trinity
We recall that a mystery is something we can understand to some extent but that we cannot fully comprehend. What follows is a tremendous simplification, but the mystery of the Trinity is that God has three persons each having the same nature. Person answers the question “Who?” and nature answers the question “What?”. A person acts within the abilities of his nature. A nature does not act. So God has one nature, a Divine nature, which is omnipotent; yet He is three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Each person of the Trinity does not have His own Divine nature; all three have the same Divine nature. This is different from us (obviously). We are men. We each are our own person (only one) and we each have our own, human nature. We all have the same kind of nature (human), but we do not share the same instance of a nature.
It should be self-evident that there can only ever be one instance of an omnipotent nature. If there were two omnipotent natures, neither one would be omnipotent. That there can only ever by one instance of an omnipotent nature is another way of saying there is only one God. It is not, however, self-evident that there is one God in three Divine Persons. Therefore, let’s elaborate on that just a bit.
If I believe in God, then it is pretty clear that I believe there is a person who has a Divine nature. Let us say this is God the Father. God the Father is God, eternal and omnipotent. So far, so good. God the Father understands Himself perfectly. What does that mean? That means that his Understanding of Himself is so entire and complete and perfect that He, being a person, His Understanding of Himself is also a person, namely God the Son. Yet, from eternity, God has always perfectly known Himself (and His Divine nature) and has never not perfectly known Himself. Therefore God the Son, has never not existed and is co-eternal with the Father. God the Son proceeds from the Father by virtue of the Divine Intellect. It is truly right to say that God the Son is the Eternal Word.
God the Father and God the Son love each other perfectly. What does that mean? That means that their love is so complete that these two Persons, being persons, their love is also a Person, namely the Holy Ghost. God the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father and the Son by virtue of the Divine Will whereby the Father and the Son choose to love. God the Father and God the Son have had perfect love for each other from all eternity. Their love has no beginning and no end. Therefore, this Divine Love, this Holy Ghost, is co-eternal with God the Father and God the Son. Can we completely understand this mystery? No…and we will never fully comprehend it, even in eternity.
(As a side note, I once wondered along these lines: If the Father and Son also love the Holy Ghost perfectly, would that not produce another Divine person, ad infinitum? The answer is that the perfection of the love of God would not be complete if it was not already complete in the Holy Ghost. Again, this is a mystery we cannot fully comprehend…ever.)
The Hypostatic Union
The Hypostatic Union is a term to describe Jesus Christ. Before explaining that, for clarification, Jesus Christ is God the Son, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. Jesus is no one else. He is not a human person. He is a Divine person. When Jesus acts, it is God the Son acting, not God the Son acting through Jesus or any other such nonsense. The answer to the question “Who is Jesus?” is “Jesus is God the Son, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity.”
In order to redeem us, however, our redeemer needed to be a man. That is, he needed a human nature. In order to redeem us from infinite offenses, he also needed an infinite nature. God the Son already had a Divine nature. In the fullness of time, then, God the Son took on a created human nature and became truly man. He never ceased to be truly God. Nor did he become some other person. God the Son (the Eternal Word) became flesh. His two natures joined to his one person is called the Hypostatic Union. This, too is a great mystery to ponder. Consider too that God subjected Himself to the will of Mary and asked if she would consent to be His mother.
Let us have no confusion here either. Mary is not Jesus’ human mother. She is Jesus’ mother. A nature does not have a mother. A person has a mother. Therefore, Mary is the mother of God the Son and is rightly called Mother of God. This is very simple. Jesus is God the Son. Mary is the mother of Jesus. Ergo, Mary is the mother of God the Son. This was God’s plan from all eternity. It does not deify Mary. Mary’s being the mother of God, does not give her a Divine nature. Jesus taking on a human nature does not in any way nullify or reduce the fact that Mary is the Mother of a Divine Person. Quite the opposite.
Back to The Cure for Hell
We have now Jesus Christ, God the Son, co-eternal with God the Father, born of the Virgin Mary, His mother. Unlike every other human being who has ever lived, Jesus was born to die. He was born to die for us to make an infinite reconciliation for our infinite offenses. (Again, our sins are infinite insofar as they are committed against an infinite Being, They are not infinite because they are committed by infinite beings, for we are not infinite beings.)
Why did Jesus have to die? Could He not have brought about our redemption without going to all that trouble? Yes, God could have chosen to ignore our sins and purge us and give us sanctifying grace by a decree of His will. But He didn’t. Why not? First, the infinite offenses. Would their existence without a remedy go on forever, mocking God, as it were? Second, would we appreciate the gravity of our sins if there were no consequences? Let us consider then the remedy.
We recall that God made a covenant with Abraham. We recall that God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, the son of the promise; that Abraham had Isaac carry the wood for the sacrifice up to the place of sacrifice; and that, in the end, God restrained Abraham and rewarded him for his faith and obedience. In the fullness of time, we see that God did Himself exactly what he had required of Abraham. He sacrificed His own Son, loading upon Him the wood of the cross and the weight of our sins. Only God did not restrain Himself, for it was His will that He should redeem man, and in doing so fulfilled the promise. We recall also that Moses sprinkled the people with the blood of the covenant and that at Christ’s death, the Jews declared, “Let His blood be on us and on our children.”
Consider the gravity of our sins that they should require so unfathomable a price as the tormented death of God the Son. Consider more the superabundance of this sacrifice, infinitely greater than the whole of our infinite offenses. This was the perfect sacrifice. This sacrifice was more than sufficient to save every human being, and it was given even with the full knowledge that many, many souls would reject it and that it would not be efficacious for them because of their rejection of it. This is the source from which every sin that is forgiven is forgiven.
What of the first covenant and the priesthood of Aaron? After the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, the Jewish religion was no longer the true religion. It had rejected Christ and dissolved the original covenant. How could the covenant have been dissolved? Like marriage, a covenant is good until one of the parties dies, and God died. Likewise, with the consummation of the perfect sacrifice of Jesus, there was no longer any need for the blood offering of animals. Jesus was the Lamb of God. What further need was there for the lambs of men?
I ran across the following: “The Old Testament is an indispensable part of Sacred Scripture. Its books are divinely inspired and retain a permanent value, for the Old Covenant has never been revoked” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 121).
Unfortunately, the Catechism does not elaborate on this last phrase, nor does it speak of any implication other than that the “[Old Testament’s] books are divinely inspired and retain a permanent value.” (That was never a question in my mind.)
So that there is no confusion, my source for what I wrote was what I heard in a homily. The priest may have been mistaken in the terms he chose. Nevertheless, I think the priest’s opinion can be reconciled with the Catechism in the fact that today, our path to salvation is through baptism, the Old Covenant having been fulfilled by Jesus Christ. We see after Pentecost that the Jews who converted were baptized and that this was necessary. Likewise, the circumcision of the Old Covenant was no longer required. If the Church is teaching “the Old Covenant has never been revoked” then I accept that; I just don’t know entirely what that means.
With the fulfillment of the promise was begun the new covenant. The blood of the new covenant was the blood of it’s High Priest Victim, Jesus Christ. He established a Church and with it, a priesthood, His priesthood. In the exercise of that priesthood, Jesus Christ established the means of applying his sacrifice to us, namely the sacraments. These sacraments are outward signs instituted by Christ to give grace (specifically sanctifying grace), and they are conferred by His ministers. At the heart of the sacraments is the Holy Eucharist, the very Sacrament of Jesus Body and Blood. As the Israelites sacrificed the pascal lamb and ate its flesh, so too, Jesus, our Pascal Lamb is sacrificed and has given us His Flesh to be our food. In the natural order we consume food, and it becomes part of us; but in the supernatural order, we consume this Food and we become part of Him.
First, we must believe and be baptized. We may receive baptism only once, but baptism washes away original sin and any actual sins we have committed to that time. It is the second birth of which Christ speaks, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, but that which is born of the spirit is spirt.” Baptism infuses the soul with sanctifying grace and removes all punishment due to sin committed to that point. When we are baptized, we put off the old man Adam and put on Christ. We promise to live a moral, Christian life. We promise to obey the commandments and precepts. We become children of God and coheirs of heaven with Christ.
Yet, just as Adam, being in the state of grace, chose to transgress the Divine command, and thereby kicked out of his soul that Divine life, so too, by committing serious sins, we can reject sanctifying grace and revert to a state of sin. If we die in that state, we will be condemned, for we will be the enemies of God and unable to go to heaven. Praised be Jesus Christ that He has given a sacrament for the case where we should commit serious sins after baptism, namely confession. Like baptism, sacramental confession removes sin and infuses the soul with sanctifying grace, resurrecting Divine life in the soul. Unlike baptism, it does not necessarily remove all temporal punishment due to sin.
All of the sacraments–and I have only mentioned three of the seven–exist because of the sacrifice of Jesus. They apply to us the graces of that atoning sacrifice. That very sacrifice is daily made present on our altars by the priests of Jesus Christ. Jesus is not sacrificed again, but his bloody sacrifice is re-presented to us in an unbloody manner. We are transported to Calvary. Jesus gives Himself to us continually. He desires that all men come to Him to be freed from bondage to sin and receive sanctifying grace.
What Should You Do?
God desires that all men be saved, but He won’t save you without you. Salvation is a gift freely given and freely rejected, and yes, it can be rejected after being accepted. And yes, it can be accepted again after being rejected, as long as you are still alive. Once you have died, the state of your soul at that moment will determine your eternal destiny. Indeed, the hour of death is for each of us the most important hour of our lives.
If you would save your soul, seek out a Catholic priest and ask for baptism, if you have not already been validly baptized. Ask to become a Catholic. Be instructed in the Faith. After baptism, confess your mortal sins in number and kind (those mortal sins committed after baptism or after your last good confession). Pray. Stay in the state of grace. Receive Holy Communion often (always while you are in the state of grace). Do good to all men, and love your enemies. Have recourse to Mary, Jesus’ mother. Jesus gave her to us at the cross to be our mother too. She, more than any other, knows the path to her Son and to pleasing God. In the words of St. Louis de Montfort, “He who has not Mary for his Mother has not God for his Father.”
Ave Verbum Incarnatum
With Christmas imminent, let us meditate on the cure for hell, Jesus Christ, God the Son, the Eternal Word made flesh, Emmanuel, God with us, the medicine of sins. Let us prepare ourselves to come and adore Him, to accept His magnificent gift to us of His very self. Let us avail ourselves of the sacraments with joy, recognizing that these are the means Jesus has given us to become holy and attain salvation. Let us run with joy and longing to Holy Mass as often as we can. This, the very same sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, has infinite value.
An Act of Faith
O my God, I firmly believe that thou art one God in three divine persons, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. I believe that thy divine Son became man and died for our sins, and the he shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe these and all the truths which the holy Catholic Church teaches because Thou hast revealed them, who canst neither deceive nor be deceived.
About the Featured Image
The featured image for this post is by Carl Bloch and is in the public domain.