Tag Archives: grace

Answering THE question

A note from the chairman: As I was thinking about a topic for this month’s column, the topic of sanctifying grace kept coming to me. We looked through the files to see if I had written about this and it was among the very first columns I wrote. Because some things bear repeating, we decided to run it again.

Tom Monaghan

Far be it for me to talk about people’s spiritual lives. I am not a theologian and I am much too imperfect myself to be preaching. However, it has always seemed amazing to me that we (or at least I) hear very little about sanctifying grace.

When I was in the ninth grade, Sr. Andrea asked the class, “How do you get to heaven?” I did not raise my hand very often in class and I did not this time. Many others did. One after another, they gave the wrong answer. For example, “by practicing faith, hope, and charity,” “by obeying the 10 Commandments,” “by loving God and others,” and so on.

Sister’s response was, “No, that’s not what I’m looking for.”

So I finally raised my hand, being very surprised that nobody in the class knew the answer. I suppose since I did not raise my hand that often, Sister promptly acknowledged me and I blurted out my answer.

“To die in the state of sanctifying grace.”

“Right,” she said, “that’s the answer.”

Today the answer is still the same. The Church’s teaching on sanctifying grace has not changed. We are business men and women, generally practical people, wanting to get to the bottom line and be successful, so here’s a bottom-line truth that we can be sure of.

Someone once said there is only one catastrophe in life and that is to lose one’s soul – to go to hell. Everything else is relatively unimportant. Why, on the most important question in life, did not the kids in my class know the answer? I suspect many Catholics today do not know it, either.

That is why regular Confession is so important. Chesterton said he became Catholic to get rid of his sins. That is what Confession (or Reconciliation) does. That is why, as a Legatus policy, we have Reconciliation available at the monthly chapter meetings.

The Holy Father urges Catholics to go to Confession at least once a month. Legatus makes that very convenient for us. Obviously, it has to be a good Confession. As we learned long ago, there are five requirements for a good Confession: 1. Examination of conscience (preparation); 2. Sorrow for sin; 3. Confessing all unconfessed mortal sins; 4. Fulfilling your penance (reparation); 5. Firm purpose of amendment. It’s a small price to pay for winning the big prize: eternal happiness in heaven, the difference between being spiritually alive or dead.

There are many ways to enrich one’s spiritual life, but the place to start is getting into the state of sanctifying grace and staying there.

TOM MONAGHAN is Legatus’ founder, chairman, and CEO.

God’s gift of individual grace is not egalitarian

All human beings, regardless of their religion, nationality, or circumstance, receive a sufficient amount of grace to be saved. God actively desires our salvation; it is incumbent upon us to respond to Him. At the same time, however, it is undeniable that God gives more grace to some than to others. St. Paul explains that “grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (Eph 4:7), to which St. Thomas Aquinas adds that “what is given in measure, is not given to all equally. Hence all have not an equal grace.”

This may strike us as unfair of God, but the varying quantity of supernatural grace conferred on each person mirrors the varying range of natural gifts each person has received. In the natural order, there are an immense range of personalities and abilities among people: some are intellectual geniuses, quick-witted and funny, and physically attractive; others are sickly, have physical ailments and intellectual processing difficulties. In the same way, there is a range of grace received among people in the supernatural order: some are inclined to prayer, to service of others, and to moral living; others struggle daily to relate to God and to keep His commandments.

The parable of the talents (Matt 25: 14-30) provides an insight into God’s diffusion of His grace. The owner of a property entrusted three of his servants with five, two, and one talent, respectively. (One talent, a monetary sum, was worth more than 15 years of wages.) Then, after a long absence, the owner summoned the three servants to settle their accounts with him. The ones who received five and two talents had each doubled their master’s money. The second servant, although his total money was far less than that of the first, heard the same commendation as the first servant from the owner: “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter the joy of your master.” But the third servant, fearing his master’s wrath if he were to lose the money, had buried the single talent and returned it to him in full at the reckoning. The master reprimanded him for not using his money, claiming that he at least “ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.” The master then ordered this servant’s talent seized from him, and given to the other one with 10, and he ordered the servant cast “into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Grace, we learn analogously from this parable, is given to each person as God sees fit.

Excerpt from Steadfast in Faith: Catholicism and the Challenges of Secularism, by David G. Bonagura, Jr. Published by Cluny Media (2019), from Chapter 5, “Living the Catholic Faith,” pp.110-111, www.clunymedia.com Used with permission.

DAVID G. BONAGURA, JR., is an adjunct professor of classical languages at St. Joseph’s Seminary, New York, and an adjunct professor of theology for the Catholic Distance University. He has published scholarly articles in Antiphon, New Blackfriars, and Nova et Vetera, and has written popular essays, articles, and reviews for The Catholic Thing, First Things, and The Wall Street Journal, among others.

What are indulgences?

The issue of indulgences is an area of difficulty for many people. In fact, it was one of the sparks that started the tragic blaze of the Protestant Reformation, a blaze that incinerated the cultural and religious unity of Christendom starting back in the 1500s.

Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC

An indulgence is simply a specific manifestation of God’s grace — one that the Church offers to us as a concrete way to show our love for the Lord and for our neighbor. An indulgence can only be attained with the intention of attaining it. So, if I were to lift my mind to God in the midst of my workday, I wouldn’t receive an indulgence for doing that unless I consciously intended to receive it. Through prayer and sacrifice, we become channels of God’s grace, and an indulgence is a manifestation of that grace.

In the first centuries of the Church, Confession and penance were much more public than than they are now. It wasn’t until the sixth century that Irish monks really began to popularize individual, private confession. Until that era, it was more common for Christians who had fallen into grave sin to make their confession in front of the bishop and the entire congregation — and to be assigned a visible penance.

For example, a public sinner might be required to wear some kind of penitential garb and stay at the back of the church during Mass for six months or even an entire year.

Even during those early centuries, however, the practice of indulgences was emerging. For example, if a believer caved in under pressure of persecution and publicly denied his faith, it was considered the grave sin of apostasy. If that believer repented, he would be given a hefty penance. But that penance could be lessened if he visited a future martyr or confessor who was imprisoned for their faith. He would get this holy person to sign an affidavit by which he would express his desire to apply the merits of his sacrifice to the believer’s penance. He then would bring this document to the bishop and some or all of his penance could be remitted.

After the period of the Roman persecutions, obtaining this kind of remission of penance through the merits of the saints continued. Thus, the practice of indulgences emerged. Until recently, the relative value of the different indulgences was still expressed by correlating them to certain amounts of days. This harkens back to the early Church and its public penances, which were assigned for specific periods of time. Today this method of expressing the relative value of indulgences has been simplified. Instead of specific numbers of days, we just have partial or full (plenary) indulgences.

FR. JOHN BARTUNEK, LC, is a former professional actor who became a Catholic priest in 2003. This column is printed with permission from his book Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions (Servant Books, 2014).


Catechism 101

An indulgence is obtained through the Church who, by virtue of the power of binding and loosing granted her by Christ Jesus, intervenes in favor of individual Christians and opens for them the treasury of the merits of Christ and the saints to obtain from the Father of mercies the remission of the temporal punishments due for their sins. Thus the Church does not want simply to come to the aid of these Christians, but also to spur them to works of devotion, penance and charity.

Since the faithful departed now being purified are also members of the same communion of saints, one way we can help them is to obtain indulgences for them, so that the temporal punishments due for their sins may be remitted.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1478-1479

Sacramental grace

Legatus editor Patrick Novecosky writes about the power of sacramental Confession . . .

Patrick Novecosky

You’ve probably heard fallen away Catholics — or even church-going Catholics — grumble about the sacrament of Confession. The complaint usually goes something like this: “Why should I confess to a priest when I can tell God my sins?”

Jesus didn’t teach that sinners should go directly to God in order to have their sins forgiven. He specifically gave his apostles — the first Catholic priests — the ability to forgive sins (Mt 16:19). Confessing to a priest is the method that God set up to reconcile sinners to Himself.

Sin separates us from God and cuts us off from sanctifying grace. The Church also teaches that those who die without repenting of mortal sin — deliberate serious sin committed by their own free will — risk eternal damnation. And even venial or nominal sins weaken our relationship with the Lord.

One of Christ’s greatest gifts to His Church — the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with the Father — is, sadly, one of the most underused of the seven sacraments (Click here for a related story). “During his public life, Jesus not only forgave sins, but also made plain the effect of this forgiveness: He reintegrated forgiven sinners into the community of the people of God from which sin had alienated or even excluded them” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1443).

We’re all sinners. As St. Paul tells us, we’ve all fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23). We all need reconciliation with Him. That’s the whole reason God launched his massive rescue plan for the human race — sending Jesus to die for us. He did the heavy lifting on the cross, but we need to claim that redemption. The good news is that Jesus desperately wants us back! And the sacrament of Confession is the way to get ourselves right with God again.

When I lived in California 15 years ago, I was overdue for a good Confession. I remember finding the parish priest right after Mass and asking for the sacrament. I met him on the back step of the church. Right after he said the words of absolution, a gentle gust of wind came up and hit us both. We both smiled, recognizing God’s gentle touch. I remember thinking, “Wow! God just blew my sins away!”

A good confession also does something else. It strengthens us against the temptation to sin. We receive graces that act like a force field around us, helping us to recognize and fight the temptations that the devil throws at us every day. If we’re living in a state of grace, there’s not much the devil can do to us. That reassurance is what keeps me coming back to the sacrament every month. With God’s grace, there’s no reason we can’t all get in line to have our sins gently whisked away.

Patrick Novecosky is Legatus Magazine’s editor. He can be reached at editor@legatus.org