Monday, January 14, 2008

There But for the Grace of God Go I

My co-worker Matt Yonke, a Byzantine Catholic, notes on his blog that yesterday the Gospel reading proclaimed in the Eastern Churches was that of the Pharisee and the Publican.

He recalls:

Catholic moms have a bunch of sayings that, as a protestant without Catholic friends, I was never exposed to. Among them is, when a kid is acting self-righteous in relation to another person, “Just remember, they could go to heaven and you could go to hell.”

We’re preparing for a season or repentance. So repent, Pascha is at hand. And give the pharisee a break. He could be in heaven and you could end up in hell.

And how.

On a closely related note, I've always had a special affinity for deathbed conversion stories — Oscar Wilde, Wallace Stevens (supposedly), John Wayne, et al.

Think of how absolutely maddening deathbed conversions must be to the Evil One: a soul is mere moments away from being snatched into hell for all eternity, but then, suddenly, through the grace of the Holy Spirit, is rescued from his clutches.

Think of the wailing and gnashing of teeth that must take place in hell every time this happens.

And then rejoice, and pray that the Evil One be similarly enraged when you die.

I'm reminded of an article H.W. Crocker wrote in what was then known as Crisis Magazine titled "What's So Great about Catholicism", in which he wrote:

Classical paganism, as we know, always ended in despair—a noble despair sometimes, but despair nevertheless. Eastern religions don’t offer much in the way of hope, as they are tied to doctrines of fate, cycles of history, and a nirvana of extinction. Reformation Protestantism is pretty despairing, too, with Calvin’s belief that it would have been better for most people if they had never been born, predestined as they are for damnation. Secularism and materialism are no better, as wealthy secular societies tend to have the highest rates of suicide.

But in the Catholic Church, there is hope. Salvation is open to every man willing to take it. And though Jesus warned His apostles that following His way meant enduring inevitable persecution and hatred, He also gave them this promise: The gates of hell would not prevail against the Church. Even outsiders recognize this. Who ever heard of a deathbed conversion to Methodism? Hope comes from the Real Thing.

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