Salvation Here and Now

Our holy Faith forbids us to say that our salvation is entirely assured in this life and that we cannot fall from grace before we come to our particular judgment and accordingly be damned. The Council of Trent labels such a false assurance “rash presumption” in chapter twelve of its Decree on Justification. The only exception to this is for the just soul who has been confirmed in grace and to whom such has been revealed by a “special revelation” — a rare case indeed.

The rhetorical question of a Protestant street missionary, Are you saved brother?” cannot be answered in the affirmative by a Catholic if, by doing so, one denies these truths. He might answer in the affirmative if he means it in two other senses — and these would have to be explained so much to the Protestant that it might not be worth it unless there is plenty of time: 1.) “I have been objectively saved (i.e., redeemed), as has the entire human race, but that reality accomplished by Jesus Christ has yet to be subjectively completed in me, which will happen if I go to Heaven after death.” In this sense, Saint Francis Xavier’s “Prayer for Unbelievers” says that we have been “redeemed and saved.” 2.) “I am in the state of justification, and this state of sanctifying grace, accompanied by so many supernatural gifts, is a participation in eternal life here and now.”

It is this second sense that I would like to explore.

Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity was asked, when applying to enter the Carmel of Dijon, “Are you sometimes homesick for Heaven?” Her reply was theologically accurate and straightforward: “I am sometimes homesick for Heaven, but apart from the Beatific Vision, I have everything here that I will have in Heaven.”

Just what did she have? Here is a partial list:

  • Sanctifying grace, which is heavenly glory inchoate (while heavenly glory is grace consummate).
  • The Indwelling of the Holy Trinity, for God is present in the just soul “as the known in the knower and the loved in the lover” (ST Ia, Q. 43, A 3). One might say that this great truth became a holy and consuming idée fixe for Blessed Elizabeth.
  • Faith, Hope, and Charity, the first two of which will give place respectively to Vision and Possession, while the third endures forever.
  • The Gifts of the Holy Ghost, which are “of such excellence that they continue to exist even in heaven, though in a more perfect way” (Leo XIII Divinum Illud Munus).
  • The Beatitudes, which are supernatural acts that flow with ease, resulting from the Gifts. For Saint Thomas, the Beatitudes are a “preparation,” “disposition,” and even “some beginning of” the “happiness” of Heaven.
  • The Blessed Eucharist, which is Jesus Himself under sacramental veils, and a “pledge of future glory.”
  • A deep life of contemplative prayer, by which this loving Carmelite was the passive recipient of the communications of the Holy Trinity. Man’s happiness in Heaven consists in contemplation of the divine essence, something the mystics obscurely approximate in this life by contemplative prayer. “We see now through a glass in a dark manner; but then face to face. Now I know in part; but then I shall know even as I am known” (I Cor. 13:12).

The expression “Heaven on Earth” is often used in reference to ephemeral and tawdry things. The interior life as it ought to be lived — as Blessed Elizabeth lived it — can be called Heaven on Earth, or nothing can. Call it “salvation here and now” if you will.

My new favorite author says this about it:

The great truth that the Holy Spirit utters in the depths of our soul ‘in unspeakable groanings’ [Rom. 8:26] is that the Infinite God is present there, living and loving, and offering Himself to us unceasingly, as Truth to the mind and Charity to the heart; and that we have only to make an act of faith in order to possess Him and enter into relations of eternal love with Him. Qui credit in me habet vitam aeternam [“He that believeth in me, hath everlasting life” — John 6:47] … hath eternal life. The present tense fits exactly. (They Speak by Silences by A Carthusian, p. 4, bold emphasis mine.)

We speak of the spiritual life as the “interior life.” It seems ironic that the life we live in intimacy with the transcendent Creator of all things is called “interior,” for He is as much “out” of us as “in” us; numerically, He is more so, since the space occupied by humans is vastly exceeded by the space found in the rest of creation. But this is as He wills it, for He desires to dwell in us, about whom He cares much more than the Pacific Ocean or the Ring Nebula: “For lo, the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21); “If any one love me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and will make our abode with him” (John 14:23).

The saints went deep inside themselves, not to exclude others, but to find God there and know Him in themselves. Saint Teresa of Avila, for example, writes beautifully about going deeper and deeper into herself to find God. The self-knowledge of these great ones — so essential to the spiritual life — was in due proportion to their knowledge of God. At a certain point, self-knowledge and knowledge of God even seem to converge, presumably because the same illumination reveals both and because the just soul that truly knows itself draws closer to, and depends more radically on, God, saying with Saint John the Baptist, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). Such souls are the very opposite of our modern narcissists, who think only of themselves, but not deeply, and for whom the knowledge of God is both unappetizing and incriminating.

Not being self-absorbed, the saints are absorbed in God and fully cognizant of their citizenship in that larger Christian society that includes all the faithful on earth, the suffering in Purgatory, and the Blessed in Heaven.

What a treasure of supernatural life our Catholic Faith opens up to us!

That someone would not want to share such a treasure betrays a deep spiritual problem. As I see it, this problem manifests one of the following errors: either the person does not value the treasure as a very unique treasure, which is some form of indifferentism; or the person wants to keep it for himself, which is utterly contrary to the nature of the treasure, consisting, as it does, essentially of Charity. As Saint Augustine points out, men need not fight over spiritual goods because they are not limited, whereas there is a limit of material goods. Charity, the saint points out, is only augmented the more people partake of it.

And he who truly loves God has salvation here and now — along with a pledge of it hereafter.