I. Sharing a Path With Christ
Yesterday, Fr. Ruskamp (a cross-stitcher for Christ) gave a pretty fascinating homily that I’d like to build off of a bit – what comes next is sort of a hybrid between his homily and my thoughts. The Second Reading was 1 John 3:1-3:
Beloved: See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope based on him makes himself pure, as he is pure.
Fr. Ruskamp began by saying, “No one is saved by his own merits,” proceeded to explain that it’s by putting our trust in the Lord, not in ourselves, that we reach Heaven. If nothing else, this was a fitting way to begin the homily the day after the 492nd anniversary of the posting of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses on the door of All Saint’s Church, and a week after many Protestant churches celebrated “Reformation Sunday.” Father didn’t address Protestantism at all, but rather, the ability to want to achieve salvation on our own, and the despair that can overwhelm us from our sins.
He compared the process to trick-or-treating. On Hallowe’en, trick-or-treaters knock and ask, and even though they often appear rather hideous, with their ghoulish makeup, they’re still given this unmerited gift of candy. It’s worth noting that they do have to ask, however. This isn’t the sit at home kind of Faith; it’s the on your feet following Christ kind of Faith, as last Sunday’s Gospel (Mark 10:46-52) demonstrated: the blind man called out for Jesus, resisting the call to stop his proclaimation, and when called by Christ, he ” threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus,” literally casting off everything that might slow him down. When Jesus asks him what he wants, he replies, “I want to see.” Then:
Jesus told him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” Immediately he received
his sight and followed Him on the way.
This saving Faith is a merging of our path with Christ’s, and a casting off of everything which would keep us from Him.
II. On Mud Puddles and Cleaning Off
Along the path, we may stumble or deviate from Christ path, and encounter some mud puddles of sin, and we may get ourselves filthy. The devil, Fr. Ruskamp reminded us, will want us to stay in the puddles. He’ll want to convince us to try and save ourselves, and when we realize we can’t, to just give up and give in to sin. Of course, we must get up, and we must rely upon Christ to become clean once more. This can happen in different forms: Baptism cleanses us of sin, and Confession-Penance-Reconciliation (the three names for the same Sacrament) recleans us. But Purgatory is the final step of cleansing which some need. These are people who show up still unclean and trick-or-treat, if you will, at Heaven’s Gate. They can’t become clean through their own merit, but Revelation 21:27 tells us that nothing unclean will ever enter Heaven. Luther tried to solve this problem with imputed righteousness; that is, that God looks at us and sees Christ. But this answer is incomplete. Because with Luther’s formulation, we remain sinful us underneath, like wolves in sheep’s clothing entering Heaven. Luther graphically compared imputed righteousness to snow covering a pile of dung. But if that’s all that there was, our dung would get into Heaven, contra Rev. 21:27.
Rather, yesterday’s First Reading laid out a superior way. The reading was Revelation 7:2-4, and Rev 7:9-14 (we skipped Revelation7:5-8, which just numbers off the Twelve Tribes). Anyways, the reading describes part of the Revelation to John; here, he sees a vast multitude of people of every “nation, race, people, and tongue,” standing in harmony before God wearing dazzling white. One of the elders explains to him in Rev. 7:8 that “These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” So our muddy clothes aren’t just covered with snow, nor do they have an imputed white shirt thrown over them. The mud is washed out by the cleansing Blood of the Lamb, our ghoulish makeup is washed off, and our true Nature as creatures made in the Image and Likeness of God is exposed for the first time.