The Sacraments of Baptism and Penance--the means
by which Justification is obtained
The Grace of Justification
by Fr. Michael Muller, 1874
Q. What does the sinner become by receiving the sacrament of baptism or penance?
A. He becomes a child of God, a temple of the Holy Ghost, an heir of heaven, and capable of performing good works towards his salvation.
Q. What is this great grace called?
A. Sanctifying grace, or the grace of justification.
Q. Why is it thus called?
A. Because it makes the soul just or holy in the sight of God.
Q. How long does this sanctifying grace remain in the soul of the justified man?
A. It remains as long as he does not commit mortal sin.
Q. Can the sinner merit sanctifying or justifying grace?
A. No; he cannot.
Q. Why can he not?
A. Because all good works performed in the state of mortal sin, are dead works, and of too little value to merit so great a grace.
Q. Is it an article of our holy faith that a sinner cannot, whilst in the state of mortal sin, merit the grace of justification?
A. It is.
Q. What does the Church teach on this subject?
A. That "whatever precedes justification, whether faith or good works, is insufficient to merit the grace of justification." Council of Trent, Sess. 8. c. viii.
Q. How, then, is the justification of the sinner brought about?
A. It is brought about gratuitously, and through the pure mercy of God.
Q. In consideration of whom?
A. Not in consideration of his own merits, but in consideration of the merits of Jesus Christ.
Q. How so?
A. Jesus Christ is our only mediator, and by the price of His blood He has merited for us the grace of reconciliation with His Father.
Q. Is it then impossible for the sinner to obtain by his good works the grace of justification?
A. The sinner may, by his good works, avert many temporal punishments, dispose himself to receive the grace of conversion, and obtain it infallibly by prayer, but he can never merit it.
Q. What above all disposes the sinner for the grace of justification?
A. Faith in Jesus Christ our blessed Redeemer.
Q. Can any one be justified without this faith?
A. No, because it is impossible to please God, or to perform any good in the supernatural order without faith.
Q. Is faith alone sufficient to justify the sinner?
A. No; because, besides having faith, the sinner must fear and love God; he must be sorry for his sins, and make a firm resolution never to commit them again.
Q. Are all these necessary conditions, or are they works of merit?
A. They are not works of merit, but necessary conditions, without which it is impossible for the sinner to be received into the friendship of God.
Q. What is said in the fourth chapter of Deuteronomy, v. 29?
A. "You shall find God, if you seek him with all your heart."
Q. What says the prophet Ezechiel?
A. "If the impious man be converted and do penance, he shall live and shall not die." Chap, xviii. 21.
Q. What does our Savior Himself say?
A. "You are my friends, if you do the things that I command you." John xv. 14.
Q. What do we learn from these passages?
A. That faith alone is not sufficient to justify the sinner.
Q. Does not St. John say: "He that believeth in the Son hath life everlasting"? (Chap. iii. 36.)
A. St. John speaks here of an efficacious faith, and means that he who believes in the Son of God in such a manner as to practise His doctrine, will have life everlasting.
Q. Does not St. Paul say: "We account a man to be justified by faith without the works of the law"? Rom. iii. 28.
A. St. Paul speaks here of works of the Jewish law, and not of works of the Christian law.
Q. How can you show that he does not speak of works of the Christian law?
A. Because St. Paul surely does not contradict St. James, who writes thus: "You see that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only." Nor does St. Paul contradict himself, and yet he says: "Not the hearers of the law are just before Christ, but the doers of the law shall be justified." Rom. ii. 13. Again he says: "In Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but faith which worketh by charity." Gal. v. 6.
Q. How is it, then, that the same Apostle says: "Therefore, being justified by faith, let us have peace with God"? Rom. v.
A. The Apostle speaks here of a living faith, which is animated by charity and fruitful in good works.
Q. What sacrament conveys the grace of justification to the soul?
A. Baptism or penance.
Q. Can we merit heaven whilst in the state of mortal sin?
A. We cannot, because all the good works performed in the state of mortal sin are dead works, for which we cannot get any reward in heaven.
Q. Can we merit heaven whilst we are in the state of the grace?
A. A just man, by his good works, merits an increase of glory, but it is impossible for him to merit the first degree of glory.
Q. To whom are we indebted for the right which we have to Paradise?
A. Solely to the mercy of God, and to the merits of Jesus Christ.
Q. How so?
A. Because it was Jesus Christ who, by His merits, obtained for us heaven as our inheritance.
Q. Why do you say that the just man merits by his good works an increase of glory?
A. Because heaven is held out to us in Scripture as a recompense, and a recompense cannot be obtained without merit.
Q. What are the words of our Savior?
A. "Rejoice and be exceeding glad, because your reward is very great in heaven." St. Matt. v. 12.
Q. What says the Holy Ghost through the wise man?
A. "To him that soweth justice, there is a faithful reward."
Q. What says St. James?
A. "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation, for he shall receive the crown of life." Chap. i. 12.
Q. What says St. Paul?
A. "I have finished my course--there is laid up for me a crown of justice, which the Lord, the just judge, will render to me at that day." 2 Tim. iv. 7, 8.
Q. What is it that gives value to our good works?
A. Sanctifying grace.
Q. Is it God who gives it to us or do we give it to ourselves?
A. It is a gift which we receive from the infinite liberality of God.
Q. What does St. Paul say, speaking of this sanctifying grace?
A. "The charity of God is poured out into our hearts, by the Holy Ghost, who is given to us." Rom. v. 5.
Q. To whom are we indebted for sanctifying or justifying grace?
A. "We are indebted for it solely to the merits of Jesus Christ.
Q. What do we remark concerning the efficacy of the merits of Jesus Christ?
A. That Jesus Christ, not content with meriting heaven for us, has also obtained for us that grace, by means of which we may be enabled to merit still higher degrees of glory.
Q. But since our Savior says: "When you shall have done all the things that are commanded you, says We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which we ought to do "--Luke xvii. 10--how can we presume that we are able to merit anything?
A. We are, it is true, unprofitable servants with regard to God, but not so with regard to ourselves. We are unprofitable servants with regard to God, because, although we should not perform any good actions, God would not be the less happy on that account--whilst we are not unprofitable towards ourselves, since by our good works we are enabled to obtain that recompense which He has been pleased to promise us.
Q. Could God require of us the performance of good works, without promising us, at the same time, any recompense?
A. He certainly could.
Q. What do the Fathers of the Council of Trent say on this subject?
A. "The goodness of God towards man is so great, that He is desirous that His own gifts should be changed into merits for them." Sess. vi. 16.
Q. Are we all bound to do good works?
A. Yes; for "Every tree that doth not yield good fruit, shall be cut down and cast into the fire." Matt. iii. 10.
Q. What kind of good works should we perform before all others?
A. Those, the performance of which is commanded to all Christians by the commandments of God and of the Church; and, 2. Those which are necessary, or useful, to fulfill the duties of our state of life.
Q. Are there any other good works especially recommended to us in Holy Scripture?
A. Yes; prayer, fasting, and alms, that is, the works of devotion, mortification, and charity.
Q. What is it that God is particularly pleased with in our good works?
A. Our intention to please and honor Him by our good works.
Q. How may we make a good intention?
A. We may make it in the following manner: "O my God, I do this for the love of Thee," or, "My Jesus, all for Thy honor and glory."
Q. When should we make a good intention?
A. It is very useful to make it before and after each, action, but we should make it especially in the morning.
Q. Have we any just reason to confide in the good works which we perform in the state of grace, and with the intention of pleasing and honoring God by them?
A. God forbid that a Christian should confide in himself, or glory in himself, and not in the Lord. "God forbid that I should glory but in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified to me and I to the world." Galatians vi. 14.