G - O - S - P - E - L

September 16, 2020


What is the Catholic Gospel?


The Catholic Gospel – shows how the Cross is a scalpel in the hands of God the Father who cuts into the soul and removes the sin and implants the very righteousness and life of Christ his Son. So justification (being saved) in the Catholic Gospel is not simply God the judge acquitting guilty criminals because Christ paid their penalty; rather, its God the Father making certain fatherly judgments about some runaway sons and daughters of His, about us prodigals, whereby through Christ, we’re brought back home in a covenant relationship. Justification is then God’s declaration, ‘You are, once again my beloved children and I am planting my Holy Spirit within you.’ This is the Catholic Gospel, its fuller, it builds on the partial truth and the very real insight that non-Catholics have and share; but then it fills it out with an even more glorious good news. For what God declares, He does through the power of the sacraments which give us sanctifying grace – and so we receive the life of God in our soul.

Martin Luther new that the phrase ‘justification by faith alone’ was not in the original bible, therefore he deliberately inserted the word “alone” in his translation of the German bible in Romans 3:28 which reads that we are justified by faith alone. Now, the reason that he stressed "faith alone" is because he had an inadequate understanding of works. He thought that works were sort of our end of the bargain, our side of the labor contract, the stuff that we did to get our wage, like employees. But that was never what the Catholic Church proclaimed and it is not what St Paul meant when he spoke about works.

Works are more like family chores, once the Father reinstates us through baptism as sons and daughters, it isn’t enough just to have faith alone, we must obey. The way a son and daughter proves they have faith is by the way they live and participate in the family chores. Jesus says, “If you love me than keep my commandments” (cf. John 14:15). We are sons and daughters of God not His employees, yet our Father does employ us in the family chores.

So, for St Paul, we are not saved by our works, but we will not be saved without our works (cf. Matt 25: 31-46). “We are saved” as St Paul says in Ephesians 2:8 and 10, “for good works.” And the Spirit of sonship that we have received  (cf. Gal 4:6) cries out in our hearts, “Abba, Father.” And that Spirit will empower us to do our family chores in love, in faith and obedience. So here again, the non-Catholic Gospel is seriously defective. We are not saved by faith alone, nor are we justified by faith alone, or else Paul could never have said, “If I have the faith to move mountains, but I don’t have love, it profits me nothing” (1 Cor 13). Now, if Luther is right if all we need is "faith alone," than Paul would have said, “If I have faith to move mountains but I don’t have love, it profits me salvation, acquital, innocence, eternal life, my ticket to heaven.” But Paul says no such thing.

All of this gets down to one very fundamental misunderstanding of grace. Grace, according to Protestant theology is God’s favor. It is God’s attitude of mercy and favor that he shows us in spite of the fact that we are sinners. So far, so good; God is favorable towards us even when we have rebelled against him. But in Catholic teaching, grace is not just an attitude of favor, it is what results from that favor, it is God’s gift; and the gift is nothing less than God’s life. That life is nothing less than Divine sonship. It’s not just God lending a hand; it’s God giving us His Son; so that that Son of God became the Son of Man, so that sons of men can become sons of God (St Athanasius)! Grace according to the Catholic Church is the life of Divine sonship within us; not just God’s favorable attitude towards us, but what he gives us because he is so favorably inclined towards us. He gives us nothing less than Himself – his Spirit, his Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.

The essence of the Catholic Gospel is this: Christ reproducing himself in us. This is the Catholic Gospel. It’s not simply Christ taking on our human nature, living a perfect human life, dying and being raised in glory (cf. Phil 3:10-11). What we need is for Him to reproduce in us His own life, his own suffering, his own death and ultimately, his own resurrection and glory. That is the Gospel of the Catholic faith: Christ reproducing His life, his death and his resurection and glory in us (cf. Heb 3:14). 

That entails Christ reproducing in us his life (cf.Gal 2:20), which means his obedience (cf.Hebrews 5:8). It means his sacrificial obedience, his redemptive suffering. This is what makes sense out of suffering, that’s why we offer up our sufferings in union with Christ (cf. Colosians 1:24). St Paul doesn’t mean to say that if Christ had suffered on the cross for a couple of more hours we wouldn’t need too. The point is that what Christ does in His human body, He then does in His Mystical Body – the Church (cf. Col 1:18; St Augustine).

So, as He suffered in his own body, then he completes the work by applying that redemptive suffering to the members of His Mystical Body. That’s what makes our suffering, not just meaningful – “no pain, no gain” – that’s the motto of the serious athlete. We all understand how pain can have gain. The question is, “What gain is there really in pain?” The Catholic Church shows us that through Christ what we can gain through our pain is heaven itself; so that our pain takes on a redemptive significance (cf. 1 Cor 3:9), but precisely because Christ suffering and death on the cross was so sufficient, it could be reproduced by the power of the Spirit effectively in us.

In the bible we read that Christ died in our place; but he didn’t die in place of us. Christ died in our stead but he didn’t die instead of us because we have to die. Christ obeyed in our stead, but he didn’t obey so that we don’t have too. His obedience, his suffering and his death were all done in order to enable us to – obey, suffer and to die a holy death in union with Christ.