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There is a prevalent view that a man involved in good works is on his way to Heaven — that salvation is either assured or demonstrated, depending on which theological square you may be standing on.
There are, for example, many involved in the very important work of pro-life activism or feeding the poor or helping out at soup kitchens or teaching the Faith. All of that is laudable and, of course, needs to be done.
But a serious question for the individual here arises: Is it possible to be involved in such work, even if it's your life's work, and still be damned? Well, of course it is.
The distinction was made by St. Bernard when he spoke of the difference (in the spiritual life) between being a channel versus being a reservoir.
The channels let the water flow away, and do not retain a drop. But the reservoir is first filled, and then, without emptying itself, pours out its overflow, which is ever renewed, over the fields which it waters. How many there are that are devoted to works, who are never anything but channels, and retain nothing for themselves, but remain dry while trying to pass on life-giving grace to souls! We have many channels in the Church today, but very few reservoirs.
Consider: Even the work of sinners and the (eventually) damned, God uses in His providence. He even uses Satan's malice for His own end.
The damned Apostle Judas was a channel of grace. Pontius Pilate was a channel of grace. Annas and Caiaphas were both channels of grace.
While we each have free will and may choose our own demise, what our future choices will be is already known to God, and He crafts His divine plan of salvation accordingly.
This is why, when understanding the spiritual battle, one must never view it in terms of Satan versus God. No creature stands in juxtaposition to the Creator. The battle began between Michael and Satan and is now concluded in Our Lady: the woman and Satan.
God has no rival, as He is outside of time as well as completely over it. So the sinner, in the natural order or otherwise, never knows the future — but God does. Accordingly, He incorporates the freewill decisions men make against Him into His divine providence, reducing such men to channels of grace. As the saying goes, God even uses evil to bring forth good.
So in a topsy-turvy world where, today, so many people recognize the evil in politics, culture, the Church — wherever — and militate against it, if they are merely channels of grace in their good works and not reservoirs, they shall not see Heaven.
All good works, to give merit to the person, must originate from a life of holiness or, at least, striving to be holy. It is not the works that make one holy; it is the interior disposition from which the works flow that is necessary.
I'm directing this thought especially to young adults who are bearing the brunt of so much evil in society — the work that many of you do to try to stem the evil of corrupt politics, for example. That work may be availing to some; it may, on some level, even succeed.
But if you are trapped in a world of pornography and masturbation, it avails you nothing. If you and your live-in girlfriend or boyfriend or same-sex whatever are fighting for the unborn, that's good for the unborn but means nothing for you when you stand before Christ the Judge.
If you are a soup kitchen volunteer or routinely hand money to the homeless at red lights, that's good for the poor — certainly, they benefit — but if you are trapped in serious sin, you benefit nothing. You are reduced to a mere channel of grace — grace for the other, but you retain nothing of it.
Too many young people today have been inured to sin, especially their own: constant pornography, acceptance of masturbation, carefree sexual license of multiple types. These destroy your ability to fight the fight that matters most.
They cast their anger (justifiable anger, mind you) on a culture that has largely abandoned them and not passed on to them the necessary cultural and spiritual realities to advance into manhood.
But every man, and that includes men in their 20s and early 30s, still has the natural law written on his heart and, absent actual doctrinal truths being transmitted to him, will still be judged on how he conformed his life to the natural law.
If young men desire to fight the culture, to strike back at the disenfranchisement they rightly feel, then sainthood is the path. That does not mean to not engage in the culture wars — quite the opposite. But no matter what good in the natural order you may very well accomplish, it means absolutely nothing if you are damned.
Satan has many tricks to fool people into a false sense of security about their own eternal fate, even those working within the Church and doing objectively good things. Saint Paul warned of this, and most importantly, so, too, did the Son of God.
He recounts what it will be like for some of His followers when judgment comes, and they are refused entry into the heavenly banquet. In what has always struck me personally as the most horrifying words in all of Sacred Scripture, He says to them, Go away; I tell you solemnly I do not know you.
This, from the divine lips, even after they recount their close association with Him and works for Him — Go away; I do not know you.
Grace flows from God, is the lifeblood of God. When we each die, we must be as a reservoir containing grace, containing Him. That grace passed through us will account for nothing; grace passed through Judas.
While the words of St. Bernard are good for all of us to think on and amend ourselves accordingly, I'd like to especially direct them to young adults who are so rightly passionate about the destruction of the culture. Fighting for patriotism, fighting even for Catholicism, will mean nothing if you are damned.
If you have habitual sin, fight that first. Conquer the demon within. Bring him to heel in your souls, before fighting him in the streets. The remedy for the evil in the world is holiness. Strong men are only truly strong when they battle for holiness.
Only then can they attack the empire of evil and bring about change. All else is an illusion, even if a momentary victory is logged here or there. Satan can organize a cunning retreat on the cultural battlefield, only to turn around and launch a vicious assault against your soul. In the end, that's all he wants: your soul.
Give up sin, especially sins of the flesh, and you will have your victory.