Saint Paul warns us that to be saved we need more than Baptism and belief in Christ; we must still “with fear and trembling work out our salvation” (Philippians 2:12). God has given us our two great powers of understanding and free-will and He ordained that these must be used for His glory, and He will never dispense us from that obligation once we have become capable of exercising these two powers of the soul. We must use these faculties to co-operate with Christ’s redemption; our understanding to learn and believe His teaching, and our free-will to choose and love Him. To assist us in this work God gives us three supernatural gifts at Baptism, faith, hope and charity, three virtues, which we must use to save our souls. These three virtues are called theological, because they relate immediately to God.
Grace Makes Heaven Possible
The supernatural life which we received in Baptism is in reality the everlasting life promised to us by Christ but still, as it were, hidden in the seed and not yet in the full flower of the glory and happiness of heaven. Nevertheless it is essentially the same, and so without it, it would be absolutely impossible for the soul to see, love and enjoy God. As long as we are on earth, in our state of trial, we cannot begin to conceive what that joy will be, but we do know that our soul craves for perfect happiness and that God will not leave that craving unsatisfied.
The Resurrection Of The Body
Not only our souls but also our bodies will find their perfect happiness after the Day of Judgment when all will rise again from the dead. “Wonder not at this,” Christ says, “for the hour cometh wherein all that are in the graves shall hear the voice of the Son of God. And they that have done good things shall come forth unto the resurrection of life; but they that have done evil, , unto the resurrection of judgment.” (John 5:28,29) And, indeed, it is more fitting that God, having made man a creature of body and soul, should ordain that he should so remain for ever and not be maimed by loss of his body after death.
Cremation Of The Dead Forbidden
It is this truth that has always made Catholics show great reverence for the dead bodies of the faithful by burial rites that are holy and becoming. It is this reverence that has made all pagan burial customs, such as cremation, appear offensive to pious feelings, save in cases of extreme necessity. There is undoubtedly something brutally final and destructive in deliberately burning the bodies of those we love and reverence, no matter how genteelly it is attempted to disguise the fact. It is true the prohibition is a matter of Church discipline and could be changed or dispensed, but the origin of cremation is pagan, and its revival is the work of modern paganism as an implied protest against the Christian belief in resurrection, and therefore the Church still forbids it. The numbers in brackets refer to the Catechism of Christian Doctrine.
Danger Of Losing Our Faith
The first condition for gaining the life of grace in the soul is belief: “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved.” Hence one way of losing this life, is the sinful loss of our faith. It would be utter folly to run the risk by neglect of our spiritual duties, reading bad books, and neglecting the study of our faith. Moreover, we would be disloyal to our faith in the one true religion revealed by God if we even gave the impression of accepting the false idea that any other religion is true by taking part in its prayers or services. Obviously Catholic parents are bound to foster and preserve the faith Of their children by sending them to Catholic schools and bringing them up carefully in the Catholic faith.
Sinning Against Hope
If we are to persevere without losing our supernatural life we must have God’s help, and this means that we must hope in God. We must realize that God longs for our salvation more than we can ever yearn for it ourselves, and that He will never fail to bring us safely to heaven if only we trust in Him. Christ has warned us that “Without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5) and that we need God’s grace at every moment. We may lose the supernatural life of our soul either because we do not trust God enough and insult Him by despair, or because we are foolish enough to imagine that we do not need His help and can save our souls without using the means or following the way taught by Him, which is to sin by presumption. The help that God gives us to perform the acts which assist our salvation is called actual grace. True conversion depends greatly on the increase of the virtue of Hope by surrender to God’s will in love and confidence.
Sinning Against Charity
If our faith and hope are to be worthy of salvation they must be inspired by the love of God, which is the virtue of charity. All our personal sin, which we ourselves commit, is called actual sin; it shows a lack of this love and if it is so grave as to amount to complete absence of the love of God, it kills the supernatural life of the soul and is called mortal sin. Such sin takes away all the sanctifying grace of the soul and destroys God’s friendship. It is the greatest evil that can befall us. No earthly gain or apparent good can justify it or compensate the evil it does to our own soul or to mankind in general. “What doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his own soul?” (Matthew 16:26)
To commit mortal sin two conditions are necessary; first, the sinful act must be known, or at least thought, to be gravely sinful at the time when we do it; secondly, we must have full use of our faculties and not be wholly or partly unconscious of what we are doing.
Not all our personal or actual sins are so grave that they show complete lack of the love of God. Most show only a lack of fervour in our love and are called venial, because they are more easily forgiven than mortal sins. This lack of grave malice may be due either to the fact that the thing done was not a very serious matter, or because the person committing some more serious offence was not fully conscious of what he was doing or of its gravity at the time he did it. Such sins do not destroy all the supernatural life of the soul, but they may weaken it if they are persisted in habitually and deliberately, so that the soul will lack the strength to resist temptation to grave sin when later it may have to face it. In this way venial sins often lead to mortal sin,
God created us and placed us in this world to give glory to Him by the right use of the great powers of understanding and free-will. When our time of trial is over, our eternity will be determined by the way we have used these powers and God will judge us immediately we die. After this life there will be no possibility of changing our choice and the Last Judgment can only be a confirmation of the Particular Judgment, welcoming the just to everlasting happiness in heaven, and condemning the wicked to hell.
Before the judgment seat of the Jewish High Priest our Saviour foretold His own coming in glory to judge mankind. “Nevertheless I say to you, hereafter you shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of the power of God and coming in the clouds of heaven.” (Matthew 26:64) In many places, Jesus warns us that He will come at the Last Day to Judge all our thoughts, words, works and omissions, and that the just will be gathered into His Icingdom but the unjust cast out into exterior darkness (Matthew 25:31-46. See also Matthew 5:22,25,29; 16:27; 25:13, etc.). This theme of heaven and hell runs all through Our Lord’s teaching and it would be impossible to make sense of the Gospels without belief in it. Over and over again He warns us that the punishment of grave sin is hell for all eternity.
To Lack Grace Is To Lose Heaven
As we have already seen, the supernatural life of the soul which we receive in Baptism is the fife of the Blessed in embryo and it is utterly impossible to be united to God without it. Hence should a soul die lacking this supernatural life it cannot possibly enter heaven and must be separated from God for ever. This separation is the essence of hell’s pain, for if once a soul has enjoyed the gift of union by grace, its loss, when fully realized, must cause the most unimaginable suffering. Souls that have never been raised to the supernatural life can enjoy a natural union with God which gives natural happiness in Limbo, for they cannot realize the loss of something they have never had. Moreover, in this case its absence cannot be in any way their fault, whereas if once a soul has possessed this precious gift it can be lost only through its own deliberate rebellion against God by mortal sin. Such a soul has declared itself God’s enemy and unless it repents it must for ever remain God’s enemy and God can never be its friend.
Hell Is Separation From God For Ever
We need not make a difficulty of the fact that hell must be eternal, as though eternal punishment were something incompatible with God’s mercy, for it is the sinner, not God, who makes its eternity inevitable. Moreover, it is impossible for us to know or imagine what effect eternity can have on suffering. It is not the same as endless time as we now experience time, but rather a timeless state quite outside our earthly experience. We know that God is merciful as well as just, who “will render to every man according to his works.” (Matthew 16:27)
The Penalty Of Sin
While repentance for mortal sin releases the soul from the supreme penalty of hell, God does leave us some penance to fulfil as an acknowledgement of His Dominion and Justice. This temporal punishment must be paid either in this life or the next. Moreover, we must repent not only mortal sin but also venial sin before it can be forgiven and many persons die without ever having done so. Venial sin, however, does not make them worthy of hell, but it definitely makes them unworthy of heaven, for we are warned that “nothing defiled can enter heaven” (Apocalypse 21:27), and we must be “perfect even as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48). Saint Paul compares this work of perfecting the soul to building on the foundation given to us by Christ. A few will build solidly and well, but many will be satisfied with shoddy work of hay or stubble. The former’s building will stand up to the trial even of fire, but of the latter’s he says: “If any man’s work burn, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire” (1st Corinthians 3:8-15).
This fire, which destroys the unworthy work in the imperfect soul due to venial sin, and will pay the debt still due to mortal sin is called Purgatory. The souls that go there fully realize their unworthiness to enter into God’s all-pure presence and, far from being cast unwilling prisoners into torment, they themselves seek this cleansing fire with thankfulness for God’s mercy in giving them yet another chance to become like to Him. Filled with burning love of God, like the saints, these Holy Souls long to become more and more Christ-like in His Sacred Passion. As He chose suffering as the proof and testimony of His love for us, so shall we, either in this life or the next, realize that this is the true proof of our love for Him.
We Must Be Perfect
The purpose of Purgatory, and indeed of the true spiritual life on earth, is that Christ may be more perfectly reproduced in us. In many places in Scripture (Eg. Ezechiel 22:20-21; Zacharias 13:9; Psalm 65:10) God compares the trying of His People to the refining of silver. This refining continues for the imperfect in Purgatory; and is a very beautiful and significant analogy, for the refiner knew that his pot of molten silver was free of all dross the moment his features were reflected most clearly on its surface. So must God wait until our soul reflects most perfectly the beauty of His Divine Holiness before we can be perfect even as “our heavenly Father is perfect”, and so be worthy of heaven.
- Father Herbert C Fincham. “How We Are Saved”. , 1951. CatholicSaints.Info. 12 April 2016. Web. 27 October 2016. <>