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  • Writer's pictureFr. Mastroeni

Salvation and Advent

Updated: May 24, 2018

I remember as a boy the Baptist Church on Madison Avenue just down the street from the old General Hospital. It had a huge neon sign outside the doors which read, “Jesus Saves”. I remember being fascinated by the message, thinking “they can’t be the only ones who believe that. We do too, maybe even more so.”  Then again on the boardwalk in Seaside, there was an area cordoned off where people sat listening to a man. To his back was a huge plain cross with the sign, “Jesus Saves”. Something resonated inside of me, and curious by nature, I wanted to stay and listen, but my friends insisted, “No, we’re going to the bumping cars.”

Advent is a time which helps us relive that profound mystery—the dawning of our salvation when in the fullness of time God sent his Son to be born of a woman to bring those under the grip of the law into their status as adopted Sons. In a word– to begin the work of our redemption. “For God so loved the world that He sent his only begotten Son so that all who believe in Him may not perish, but may have eternal life.”  [Jn.3:15]

Everything the Church does—education, health care, hospitals, child care, elder care, counseling; feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless—all these things and more she does differently from anyone else who attempts them. The reason she does these things differently is because her end or purpose in doing them is different. The purpose is simply salvation, the salvation of souls. The only reason why the Church exists at all is the same reason why Jesus came on earth—to seek out and save what was lost.

Not only is salvation the very reason for the Church’s existence, it is also the ultimate reason for our very own existence, the end, the goal, the purpose, the final cause, the meaning of everyone’s existence. “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world but to suffer the loss of his soul?” What does it matter if you get into Harvard but not into heaven? The old catechism put it so simply and clearly. After the question, “Who is God?” came the next most important question that any human being can ask himself, “Why did God make me?” “He made me to know him, to love him, to serve him in this life and to be happy with him forever in the next.”

Imagine not knowing the answer to that question, to set out on the wide seas of life and not know where you are supposed to be going? Imagine weighing anchor or lifting off the tarmac and having neither a map, nor flight plan, nor compass? Who would be so stupid as to do such a thing? Why do we think we can do it with our lives?

This was the whole and only reason for Don Bosco’s work. We celebrate the 200th anniversary of his birth this year. His motto, which motivated everything he did and accomplished: Da Mihi Animas. Coetere tolle. Without this deep thirst for souls it is hard to understand the dream the young Giovanni had as a boy, or the great work he founded. It was all for the salvation of souls. I believe that Don Bosco from an early age—probably about the time of the famous dream—had received the grace which Jesus merited on the Cross when He cried out, “I thirst”. At that moment our Blessed Lord was thirsting not for a drink, but for souls. This marvelous grace is what motivated D.B. to do what he did, to sacrifice what he did, to suffer what he did—all for souls. You can imagine the photo taken in the Pinardi field which he had leased together with the crude farm shed which he transformed into a beautiful oratory—the oratory of St. Francis de Sales. There in that photo, DB is seen seated on a chair off to the side lines with a prie dieu alongside. He is wearing his cassock of course and his berretta to shield him from the sin and the boys are coming up one by one, as the soccer match is going on. There they kneel and make their Confession. It shows the purpose of it all—to bring the souls of these young boys back to God. It is a simple as that—everything else: the sports, the music, the instruments, the trade classes—it is all to bring them to God. Da mihi animas…

Advent is a time when we focus more closely and personally on the very reason why we’re here at all.

Jesus Saves

The evidence from the N.T. is very clear about our need for Salvation and it comes from Christ alone:

At the Last Supper, Jesus prays to his Father: “This is eternal life: that they may know you, the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). John concludes the body of his gospel: “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ and that believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).

St. Peter as recorded in the Acts, “For there is no name under heaven given to man whereby we must be saved.” [Acts 4:12].

St. Paul assures us: “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9).

St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians: [“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed upon him the name which is above every other name,] that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

In Acts, we see Paul and Silas in prison at Philippi. When their jailer asks them, “What must I do to be saved?” they reply, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.” The jailer and his family at once accepted baptism and rejoiced in their new-found faith (Acts 16:30-34).

Mark’s gospel ends with this missionary charge which Jesus gives to his disciples before the Ascension: “Go into the whole world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16).

What is Salvation?

And so, we are saved by Christ. Not by science, not by politics; not by psychology or economics. We’re not saved by TM or staring into a crystal, or being smudged in smoke, by chanting a mantra or shedding a few crocodile tears.

Try stopping someone who is addicted to drugs, alcohol or pornography. Without Christ it is like trying to stop a freight train going at full speed. That is why most rehab programs for drug or alcohol abuse, without the religious component fail miserably and have the highest recidivist rates.

Try putting a marriage back together that is on the rocks, where there is infidelity and both parties can now hardly stand the sight of each other any longer–without Christ it is nearly impossible. Without Christ forgiveness is next to impossible.

Try putting your world back together when everything around you is falling apart.

Try healing the aching hole in your heart from a loss of dear loved one. Do you think a “grief counselor” alone is going to be to console you in your deep loss?

We cannot save ourselves any more than a sick person can heal himself; any more than a surgeon cannot operate on himself; anyone more than the ignorant teach themselves; any more than the mainspring of the clock cannot fix itself; any more than a combustible engine or a computer can repair itself. Neither can the one who is lost ever find himself.

We need more than good ideas and good ideals. We need a friend who can be with us, who can stay with us, who knows us better than we know ourselves; who can get into our minds and hearts; who can love us better than we can love ourselves; who has more power to help than we can help ourselves. We need a friend who loved us to the end and died for us in our place. In a word, we need God.

Nothing and no one can save us but Christ who is God, the Eternal Son. Nothing and no one but Jesus can bring us to heaven, for no one died in our place, in atonement for our sins but Christ.[1]

No one is powerful enough to wipe away his own guilt and restore him to the innocence of a child. Only the blood of Christ. Bishop Sheen reminds us that in every honest and complete Confession when the priest raises his hands to give us the absolution, the Blood of Christ is dripping from his fingers.

Without Christ we manage to spoil everything we touch, even our loved ones. Jesus was right when he told us, “I am the vine and you are the branches. Apart from the vine the branch withers and is good for nothing but to be thrown into the fire…apart from me you can do nothing.” [Jn.15]

And there is only one Savior. Just as all roads do not lead to the same destination, as anyone who has been lost can attest from personal experience, not every way leads to salvation. Jesus assures us, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.”  St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians: “At the name of Jesus, every knee must bow in the heavens, on the earth and under the earth, and every tongue proclaim to the glory of God the Father that Jesus Christ is Lord.”

Saved by the Blood from the Cross

Perhaps at no other time of the year do we feel our weakness or vulnerability as we do at this time. Even the body soon becomes cold and helpless against the elements of biting wind, snow and ice. At no other time of the year do we feel the weight of the loss of loved ones, family disunity, life’s disappointments and failures, sickness, financial ruin. Perhaps that is as it should be because Advent is a time to remind us how much we need Christ as our Savior.

In the “fullness of time” the Son of God is given a human nature, a human body from marry to enable him to do what he could not ordinarily do. Without a human nature and a human body you cannot suffer and die.

The wood of the crèche, the manger would one day give way to the wood of the Cross. He is born in a feeding trough for farm animals to prepare for the day when hanging on the wood of the Cross he could give us his body, broken for us, his blood poured out for us, as nourishment for our souls.

Have you been to the Cross? If you haven’t been to the Cross, you won’t make it to the crib.

  1. Without the Cross the crib will seem like another story of a cute little baby rustling in straw and nothing more.

  2. Without the Cross the sight of this child will not make us feel more humble, smaller, more vulnerable, but without the Cross it will give us the illusion that we are stronger, mightier, maybe even more important than the tinniest of  human life.

It is only near the Cross that we will hear that final summons: “Come blest of my Father take possession of the kingdom…” [Mt.25: 34]

It is only near the Cross that we hear the final trumpet sound opening the gates of heaven.[2]

Authentic Christian Faith and Salvation

The Christian faith begins not simply when someone acknowledges that there is a God. It begins with the belief that this God who exists has sent his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, who is also God to come and save us.  “Christianity does not begin by telling man what he must do, but rather what God has done for him… “God so loved the world that he sent…”  Jesus did not begin to preach saying: ‘Repent and believe in the Gospel so that the Kingdom will come to you’; he began by saying: ‘The Kingdom of God is among you: repent and believe in the Gospel.’ Not conversion first and then salvation, but salvation is first—it is already here, but you need to repent and convert.,

We begin the life of faith with the belief that Christ has come to save us; that help is not merely on the way, but is already here; that without him we are lost. Our response of faith is to “repent, confess, convert”. “We don’t belong to the church of the Latter Day Saints, but to the present day Sinners.” And that is why we need Confession.  Groeshel

“Even the saints were sinners who simply kept struggling” and never gave up. Andrew Apostoli

“The side who wins the war”, said Winston Churchill, “is the side that continues to stay and fight a little longer.”

[1] Ralph Martin, one of the founders of the Catholic Charismatic movement here in the United States, has recently written a book on this subject of Christ as the only cause of salvation. In it he takes issue with the thinking of two theologians of recent times who have been known and appreciated for their erudition and cutting-edge thinking. However, some of the conclusions that others may have drawn from their ideas has caused not a small deal of confusion. He is referring to Karl Rahner’s idea of the “anonymous Christian” and Hans Urs von Balthasar’s “Dare we hope…”from which many have concluded a kind of universal salvation. While Christ on the Cross died for all, the conclusion does not follow that “all are saved.” He does not tell us, “Enter through the wide gate, for the gate to eternal life is wide and many there are who find it, while the gate to perdition is narrow and few there are who pass through it.” It is just the opposite. If everyone is going to slide into heaven like a yankee at home plate on opening day, then there is no need to send missionaries to foreign lands, to leave family and country to preach the Gospel in some forsaken corner of the world. If everyone is going to be saved, St. Paul would never have left Tarsus, but remained there making a living making tents. If all are to be saved, then no need even to struggle to live the challenging demands of the moral law. Simply follow your feelings and your passions.

And among the consequences of unbelief are found also that same chapter 3 of St. John it goes on to say: “No one who believes in him will be condemned, but whoever refuses to believe is already condemned, because he has refused to believe in the name of God’s only Son. On these grounds is sentenced pronounced: that though the light has come into the world men have shown they prefer darkness to the light because their deeds were evil.”

Possibility of Salvation for those who through no fault of their own know not Christ

The Church teaches, however, that for those who through no fault of their own, through invincible ignorance, do not know of Christ can be saved by sincerely seeking him, in following the dictates of the Natural Moral Law, who believe that God rewards good and punishes evil, who remain free from grave sin, and who strive toward the perfection of Charity—all of which is implicit testimony that “He who seeks, finds.” When this is truly verified in a person’s life, it is also implicit evidence that grace is already operating in their lives—a Baptism of desire. However, in no way should this possibility, which is surely not without its formidable obstacles, cause us to slacken for one moment our efforts to draw others to Christ, and to the Church He founded. Given the state of the world without Christ, it would be naïve to presume that most people without Jesus actually live this way. Those who do are few and far.

“God so loved the world that he gave us his only Son, so that all who believe in Him may not perish but may have eternal life.” [Jn.3:15]

[2] Msgr. Fenton points out that St.Peter, in his first missionary sermon on Pentecost [Acts 2] never offered conversion as merely an invitation: as if to say, “you Jews are a small sea-worthy row- boat going to heaven but the Catholic Church is a magnificent ocean liner going to Heaven in a better and faster method. So hop aboard the ocean liner because it’s a surer means to arrive at our common destination.” St.Peter did not give the impression that the Jews had a legitimate way to salvation and he was just issuing the invitation to a better or more effective way. [No, he let them know that by being part of the Old Jewish covenant that had been superseded by the New Covenant; that without Christ we are all making our way merrily along, but on a sinking ship. “Save ourselves from this perverse generation”, he told them. Salvation is here through Christ, and he taught the one and only way they could save their souls was to be baptized and become a member of the one true ecclesia that Christ established.

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