Christ salvation

Time and Salvation –

Eternal salvation is the most pressing issue facing mankind. Whether or not we live the life of grace here and bliss hereafter matters objectively more than any other concern we face, collectively or individually.

Anyone with a catholic sensus should know that this is the most important question. Its urgency explains the heroism of the martyrs and the zeal of the great missionaries like Saint Paul, Saint Francis Xavier and the North American martyrs. It also explains the devotion of the great religious founders of both active and contemplative orders — for monasticism, too, is a pursuit of the glory of God and the salvation of man.

The Dogme extra ecclesiam nulla salus is therefore a vitally important lesson — a matter of eternal life and death. The great heresy of our time, in my opinion, remains indifferentism. Apathy, which is not heresy in itself, is an underlying condition of theological indifferentism. It is also perhaps modern Western man’s most common response to religious questions. It is the atmosphere we breathe.

Despite all its urgency, the work of salvation must not be pursued with that false zeal which we might call “frenzy.” Violent agitation, maniacal enthusiasm, and delirious excitement are the hallmarks of false religion — and, sometimes, of a false approach to true religion. Our God is the God of peace, whose grace works best in us in orderly serenity and tranquility.

Peace of soul is a necessary condition for virtuous living.

When, because the order of his loves is well established, the aspiring apostle is at peace with God, himself and his neighbour, his zeal is no less militant to be calm. It’s quiet because it’s confident — not in human means and endeavors, but in the goodness and mercy of God.

The following ten meditations on “Time and Salvation” are not intended to dampen anyone’s zeal by suggesting that the work of salvation (and therefore conversion) takes time. Rather, they are intended to inform this zeal so that it can be better targeted. “You can’t push a rope,” a friend of mine likes to say. When we know we are working with God’s grace, we are less likely to attempt such a push; we can adopt a calmer and more placid approach to evangelizing our neighbor as well as to the work of our own salvation.

  1. God is eternal – out of time – but He is not, of course, ignorant of time. Just as the vastness of God envelops all space, the eternity of God envelops or contains all time. God has a clear and omniscient view of every passing moment of our time. In the strict sense, since it only applies to God, the word eternity means, according to Father Bernard Wuellner, SJ, author of the Dictionary of Scholastic Philosophy, “duration of being without beginning, succession or end; ‘the entire and perfect simultaneous possession of unlimited life’ (Boethius).
  2. According to Aristotle, time is not a substance but is one of the nine categories of accidents. An accident is something that exists in anothernot, like a substance, something that exists in itself. Time, therefore, was created only secondarily, as a result of God’s creation of subsisting material things. To affirm this is not to make the reality of time insignificant.
  3. When we come into the world at the time of our conception — when our time begins — each one of us is defiled by original sin. If we die in this state, the sky is cut off from us and rightly so. The notion of Limbo — perfectly in conformity with the data of divine revelation — suffices to justify both the justice of God and his mercy.
  4. Those who die in actual mortal sin are forever damned – not only with the pain of loss (which those in limbo have), but also with the pain of meaning. God foreknows who they are, but he did not create them for damnation. He gives them enough grace to be saved.
  5. Those whom God foreknows as being among the elect—the predestined—must attend to the all-important issue of salvation on time. They are offered grace in due time and accept or reject it in due time. The sacraments take place in time, as well as the temptations, the occasions of grace, the good meritorious works, the prayer, the holy sacrifice of the mass and all that concerns human salvation.
  6. The work of salvation is not primarily our work, but God’s. “Let us therefore love God, because God first loved us” (1 John 4:19). “In this is charity, not as though we loved God, but because he first loved us and sent his Son to make atonement for our sins” (1 John 4:10). “But God commends his charity to us; for while we were yet sinners, according to time, Christ died for us…” (Rom. 5:8-9). It is only after God has started it without us that we can begin to cooperate in his saving action in our souls. From then on, our salvation becomes a partnership—a cooperation between God and us. He magnanimously deigns to work with his own creatures, which he freely elevates to the rank of his children by grace. God is the primary cause of human salvation; we are secondary causes. The profound theology of Saint Thomas of operative and cooperative grace explains this well. On our part, all of this is time-limited, and whether or not we cooperate – and to what extent – often changes (even drastically) with time. Our very mutability is both a blessing and not a cursebut one challenge.
  7. The hour of our death is unknown to us. With each “Hail Mary”, the interval between “now” and “at the hour of our death” becomes shorter. Eventually, these words will mean exactly the same time. While the precise moment when this will happen is hidden from our eyes, with a certainty, it will happen precisely when God wills it. It is a dogma of our faith that at that moment all possibility of conversion and merit ceases.
  8. At the beginning of each liturgical year, the epistle of the first Sunday of Advent (ROMs. 13:11-14) reminds us that “our salvation is nearer than when we [first] believed.” Salvation is therefore progressive character, which is why Sacred Scripture speaks of human salvation as a process:[H]e, which began a good work in you, will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). To “perfect,” is the same as for completed or for to fill. Saint Paul describes Heaven as “the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem…the church of the firstborn… the the spirits of the righteous made perfect…” (Heb. 12:22-23). It takes time for all these latent powers of grace and glory to be put into action. The righteous who have begun but not yet, at the time of their death, finish cooperating with God in the actualization of these powers will be “completed” – perfected – in Purgatory.
  9. All the time – from the first fiat of creation until that terrible moment when the Angel swears by Him who lives forever and ever that “time shall be no more” (Rev. 10:6) – is exactly as long as God wants it to be. Throughout the history of salvation there have been times that are clearly times of preparation and times that are clearly times of accomplishment. We see it above all during the liturgical season of Advent, which truncates all of BC history into four weeks in preparation for Christmas: “when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law” (Gal. 4:4).
  10. The sage sees time in the light of eternity. He knows that his life on this earth is a preparation for it. Living virtuously, praying, sacramentally and cooperating with grace: this is the best remote preparation for the moment of death. We cannot allow ourselves time for immediate preparation (which would include Penance, Extreme Unction and Viaticum). To quote Brother Francis:
    • — “Each day is a figure of all life and all time; but the ever-repeating cycle of the day is a figure of eternity.
    • — “All purely temporal questions will be exactly nothing in an interminable eternity; events can acquire permanent significance only insofar as they relate to the salvation of persons.

We were created by God for a purpose—a supernatural end in Christ. By all indications, the majority of those among whom we live are oblivious to this purpose. It is therefore up to each of us to swim against the tide and renew our sense of purpose daily.

“In all your works remember your final end, and you will never sin,” said the sage (Ecclus.7:40). Let us pursue our salvation with peaceful and persevering urgency. We don’t know how long we have.