So today, on Ash Wednesday - of all days the most ideal for this - my priest, Fr. Paul, said something that was a definitive and unmistakable answer to one of my prayers.
Over the past few months, I've been praying like mad to get some clarification on the issue of "justification". From the time of Luther, the debate about this has been one of the basic things keeping Protestants and Catholics apart. Really, it's a problem dating even further back, from the Pelagian heresy in the early Church. The question at stake is how mankind is saved, or "justified." Most Protestants basically believe (although this certainly is a caricature at best) that one is justified by Faith alone. That is, once a person has ‘accepted Christ’, nothing they do can prevent their salvation. Pelagianism is the opposite position. This heresy says that one can reach heaven entirely through one’s own merits and works.
Now I have always been rightly taught that the Catholic position is a delicate balance between these two extremes. However, try to explain the exact position to any non-Catholic! You end up with a litany of “not quite that”-s and “well, we don’t look at it quite that way, more in this way”-s and “no, it’s not semi-Pelagianism at all, that’s a heresy according to the Church.” I reseached everywhere in apologetics magazines and websites, hoping to find some succinct way of putting the answer, or at least an answer that didn’t seem to trip over itself.
After our parish Bible class tonight, Father was talking to a bunch of us about the Faith. I don’t remember how the subject came up, but the next thing I knew, Fr. Paul was saying: “The answer to the debate about justification, as they call it, is in St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Contra Gentiles. God does 100% in our salvation… but we do 100% as well. God saves us completely in His order, and we must still give ourselves completely in order to enable Him to save us. We do 100% towards our salvation, but only in the order of our creation; in the order of our humanity.”
Immediately a light went on. A thousand things seemed clearer, and I felt that I had advanced farther in my understanding of things in a moment than I had in the past several years combined. This is entirely Providential, coming when it did. After all, Lent is the time of year when works of penitence are most emphasized for Catholics. Now I have a whole new point of view through which I can better appreciate the importance at this time of year. Lent should be even more exciting than ususal!