Four Catholics coming home from Mass died in a car crash and went to the gates of Heaven. Saint Peter asked them each in turn, “Why are you worthy to enter into Heaven?” The first said, “I believe, and belief is enough.” The second said, “I have a lifetime of good works, and good works are enough.” The third said, “I lived my life doing and believing what I felt was right in my heart even when it contradicted the Church, but being a good person is enough.” The fourth said, “I lived my whole life believing and doing good works, but whether or not I’m worthy of God’s grace is up to Him and His plan. I have no control.”
Who gets into Heaven?
None of them.
The first man forgot that James 2:26 instructs us that faith without works is dead. The second man forgot that Hebrews 11:6 tells us that it impossible to please God without faith, so his works without faith were also dead. The third lived a life of moral relativism, who had neither a strong conviction in faith, nor a strong desire to produce works through faith. The fourth, despite belief and works, failed to accept the fact the Jesus Christ’s sacrifice was for everyone, and that God’s grace is available to all who accept Christ as their savior.
Martin Luther believed that faith alone was enough, and this disagreement with Catholic dogma formed a cornerstone of the Protestant reformation. A Celtic monk named Pelagius taught that merely living a life of good works outside of God’s grace was enough, and he was excommunicated by the Church. Bishop Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island wrote that to be Catholic means that you “believe and accept the teachings of the Church, especially on essential matters of faith and morals”. Thus, to be a “cafeteria Catholic” and accept only what you feel is right is to not be Catholic at all. And the Church has widely condemned and denounced as heretical the Jansenistic beliefs that free will plays no role in our acceptance of God’s grace, and that our acceptance or rejection of His grace is predestined.
As it is plain to see, it is not just dangerous, but in some cases heretical to believe in these ways. So if none of these is the correct way to believe and live our faith, what is?
First, as we learn in James 2:22, Abraham’s “faith was working together with his works and his faith was perfected by works.” Our works must be a reflection of what we believe as Catholics, and works and faith must work together in combination. The world will know our faith when we show our faith through our works.
Second, we must reject moral relativism and the dangers of being a “cafeteria Catholic”. If we are to call ourselves Catholic, we must accept the complete and total truth that is Catholic dogma, especially on essential matters of faith and morals.
And finally, we must believe, no matter how sinful we each are, that God’s grace is available to each of us, thanks to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. It is through Him, through our love of Him, and through our relationship with God through Him, that we of our own free will accept God’s grace and become worthy of Heaven.