"As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame; / [ . . . ] Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: / Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; / Selves -- goes itself; 'myself' it speaks and spells, / Crying 'What I do is me; for that I came'." --Gerard Manley Hopkins

27 February 2007

Only His Merit

The second chapter of Death on a Friday Afternoon is on the words of Jesus to the thief: "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise." It has much food for thought, much to help me understand and appreciate certain Catholic ways of thinking I'd only known as caricatures before.

What all of us can agree on is worth quoting at some length; Neuhaus says it far better than I ever could. (I've added caps for pronouns referring to God because I find them helpful.)

When our faith is weak, when we are assailed by contradictions and doubts, we are tempted to look at our faith, to worry about our faith, to try to work up more faith. At such times, however, we must not look to our faith but look to Him. Look to Him, listen to Him, and faith will take care of itself. Keep looking. Keep listening. (my emphasis)

And later:

When I come before the judgment throne, I will plead the promise of God in the shed blood of Jesus Christ. I will not plead any work that I have done, although I will thank God that He has enabled me to do some good. I will plead no merits other than the merits of Christ, [. . .]. I will not plead that I had faith, for sometimes I was unsure of my faith, and in any event that would be to turn faith into a meritorious work of my own. I will not plead that I held the correct understanding of "justification by faith alone," although I will thank God that He led me to know ever more fully the great truth [which] much misunderstood formulation was intended to protect. Whatever little growth in holiness I have experienced [. . .], whatever understanding I have attained of God and His ways -- these and all other gifts received I will bring gratefully to the throne. But in seeking entry to that heavenly kingdom, I will, with [the thief on the cross], look to Christ and Him alone. (my emphasis again)

I have left out what applies particularly to a Catholic understanding of the saints, which all do not agree about. What I have quoted from the passage is certainly the common belief of all Christians, though I often do not live as though it is. I think that if I really grasped this, with more than the mind, I would live in so much more freedom than I often allow myself. Because if I'm looking to Him, I don't need to worry and fret over whether I'm "good enough" for Him -- how arrogant to think I ever could be! I am only "good enough" because He has placed me in Himself, the only Good who exists.

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