Splendor of Truth - The Moral Life



Is conversion a one time event, or a continuous process? (CCC 1989)

Both. Conversion is turning toward God and away from sin. The word conversion is used in two senses. The most familiar is a one time event in which a person turns from his evil ways and returns to God. This is similar to the prodigal son. He had left his father and was living in sin. He experiences a change of heart, and completely turns around to return home to his father. This complete reversal of direction in favor or God is the first sense of the word conversion. This is the first step in our journey to the Lord. We must first begin by walking in the right direction.

However, though we have turned around and began walking in the right direction, we have not reached our destination yet. Each day, each moment, we must choose to continue walking in this direction. Therefore, our lives require daily conversion. The daily struggle to reject sin and embrace what is good comprises daily conversion. Each day, we must fight to turn our back on sin and choose love instead. Each day we need to continue walking closer and closer to the Father. It is impossible to remain unmoving – we are either moving away from God or toward Him. We need to examine ourselves each day and ask ourselves if we have progressed, if we have loved more and loved better today in comparison to yesterday.

What do we mean when we say that we have been justified? (CCC 1987-1995)

Justification is an acceptance of God’s righteousness, His faith, hope, and love. When we are justified, we are cleansed from our sins and God gives us His righteousness. We change from sinner to child of God. Like conversion, there are also two aspects of justification.

First, it is the remission of our sins. On our part, the first act of justification is conversion – we decide to turn away from our sinful ways and toward the Lord. We freely turn toward God and accept His invitation of love. In this act, we are justified – God forgives us.

Second, justification is not simply a one time act. It is also the “sanctification and renewal of the inner man” (CCC 1989). This means that justification is a process as well as an event. We are not fully holy and perfect because we have turned away from our sinful ways. We need a lifetime of purification, effort and grace to reach holiness. The process of sanctification (being made holy) is justification. Slowly, with time and effort, we become justified. In heaven, we will be perfectly just without spot or blemish.

What is the difference between justification and righteousness? (CCC 1991-1992)

Justification gives us God’s righteousness. Justification is the act of being made righteousness. Justification is the act – we are justified. Righteousness is the gift that we receive from this act.

Once a person has been saved, or justified before God, will he go to Heaven no matter what?

No. This is an erroneous Protestant belief, stemming from the Reformation in the 17th century. It is a myth to believe “once saved, always saved.” Human experience demonstrates that we have free will. Therefore, at any moment we may turn around and begin walking away from the Father again. This is why St. Paul says, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12). As well he states, “No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor 9:27). Paul understands that salvation can be lost. If not, it would be a negation of our free will – it means that we no longer have the choice to turn away again from the Father. Each moment, we have the choice to accept His graces and grow in holiness or to reject them. If we reject God and His graces forever, we choose an eternal destiny without His presence. Though it becomes more difficult to turn away once we have become more holy, the possibility always exists. As well, the Lord is the “Hound of Heaven.” This means that He will do everything in His power to convince us to accept His love. But we always – no matter how holy we have become – have the choice to turn away from Him forever. 

Can we ever be certain that we will go to Heaven?

Yes and no. First, no. We can never have absolute certainty that we are in the state of grace (free from mortal sin). We may be quite confidant, but the state of our soul can never be absolutely known by us.

How then can we be confidant in our salvation? We can have moral certainty of our salvation. What is this based on?

“Now this is how we shall know that we belong to the truth and reassure our hearts before him in whatever our hearts condemn, for God is greater than our hearts and knows everything. Beloved, if (our) hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence in God and receive from him whatever we ask, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And his commandment is this: we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another just as he commanded us. Those who keep his commandments remain in him, and he in them, and the way we know that he remains in us is from the Spirit that he gave us.” (1 John 3:19-24).

We have moral certainty by ascertaining whether or not we are following the commandments of God. If we are doing as He commands, according to Scripture and Tradition, as interpreted by the Magisterium of the Church, we can have moral certainty that we are God’s children. Though we cannot see our souls, we can examine our actions against objective criteria. In other words, if I know what is right and what is wrong, and I am doing what is right because I believe in Jesus as the Son of God, I can have confidence that I will go to Heaven. Moral certainty is based on the evaluation of my actions and the desires of my heart.

Last, as in all things, we should have a confidence and love of the unfathomable mercy of God. God is not a God of checks and balances, who is looking for ways to condemn us. Instead he desires “everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4). If we are truly seeking God with our hearts, we can trust in His goodness and believe that He will guide us safely into His arms.

When God justifies us, do we really change and actually become holy? Or does God simply look at us through the Person of Jesus and see us as holy, but in fact we are not?

We really do become holy in the act of justification. Most Protestants believe that justification is like a blanket thrown over our evilness. In other words, we don’t really become holy. We just look like it because instead of seeing us, He sees Jesus.  Many people use the visual of a pile of dung covered by snow. Unfortunately, this view of holiness means we are still dung – yes, dung covered by a pile of snow, but still dung. The truth is that holiness is real – in other words, we really are changed. We really do become holy. We do not remain a pile of dung. In time, with our participation and the power of God’s transforming grace, Jesus who lives inside of us transforms our inner nature. We are made perfect and without flaw, ready to enjoy eternal life with God. This is truly good news, and it manifests the great power of God. Instead of merely covering us and choosing to look past our weaknesses, He has the power to change them and make us strong again.

Does the act of justification require our participation, or is it solely the work of God? (CCC 1993, 2002)

Justification requires the participation of both God and man. God offers His grace and life, and we accept it or reject. If we accept it, we become justified. If we reject it, we remain in our slavery to sin. The Holy Spirit comes with His power to prepare us to receive the grace and to accept it. He both precedes our justification and He assists in it. All is grace, and we could not even accept the graces of God were it not for the graces of God. However, again, we still have to give our free assent, in which we say “yes” to all these graces. Though the work of God, justification still requires man’s free cooperation.

What is grace? (CCC 1996-1999)

First, “Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life” (CCC 1996). Again, we see that everything is a grace. The Lord wants us to spend eternity with Him. We lost our chance to do this with sin, and we are far too weak and powerless to remedy the situation. Therefore, we comes to us with His divine help so that we can become His children and share in His divine life.

As well, grace is actually participation in the divine life of the Trinity. He puts His very own life into us. The Trinity dwells inside of us. Because of this, we are united with Son, we can call God our Father, and the Holy Spirit works in our hearts to purify us of sin so that we can increase our union with God and receive more grace. This grace, this participation in His divine life is purely supernatural and pure gift. We cannot comprehend its depth or its power or the love that motivates it. We must only pray for the grace to give proper thanks and worship to God for this unmerited gift.

Are there different types of grace? (CCC 2000-2005)

Sanctifying grace – Sanctifying grace is a habitual and permanent grace that resides in us, giving us supernatural life. It elevates our souls, deifying them, making them able to participate in God’s life.

For our own sake we have classified grace into categories that aid in our understanding of it.

Actual grace – Actual grace is divine help at given moments in our life that help us to accept further graces, to move closer to God, and to perform good acts. They are divine impulses that help us move toward salvation. In general, they are temporary, in that they are given at certain moments, specifically when we need them. Though sanctifying grace has primacy over actual grace, actual graces must precede those of sanctification because they prepare us to accept them.

Sacramental graces – These are the graces received from the Sacraments. There is a wealth of powerful graces available through the Sacraments that is often overlooked or underestimated by many Catholics. We should approach the fount of grace available through the Sacraments, especially those of the Eucharist and Reconciliation, as frequently as possible.

Special graces/Charisms – These are special graces given to a few for the benefits of the Church as a whole. They are not meant fro simply and individual, but they should be at the service of the whole Church. They include (but are not limited to) the gift of tongues, prophecy, teaching, and healing.

Graces of state – These graces help us carry out the responsibilities associated with our particular state in life. If we are married, this includes graces to be a good spouse, parent, and employee.

What is merit? (CCC 2006-2011)

Merit is the recompense given to us for our works and actions. This recompense can either be a reward or punishment. Merit is associated with justice.

Man alone cannot merit justification (being made righteous and holy) or the grace of final perseverance and life with God and heaven. Alone, we merit nothing.

However, God desires to reward us. Therefore, when we have accepted sanctifying grace and we are in the state of grace (not in mortal sin), He allows us to cooperate in His work of salvation. In other words, He wants our help, and He wants to reward us for it. He does not need it, but He wants us to have the satisfaction that comes with working hard and receiving a reward. Therefore, when we perform good works (in the state of grace), He attaches merit to these works. This merit will be reward in heaven and more grace here on earth.

Here we see the incredible love and mercy of God. He gives us the ability to perform good works, He makes them meritous, and He gives the reward – all of our merit is due to God. This is why St. Augustine says, “in crowning your merits, you are crowning your own gifts” (cited in CCC 2006). The Council of Trent states that the Lord’s goodness is such that “He wants His own gifts to be their merits” (DS 1548). How great is our God.



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