In this weekend’s and last weekend’s Gospel readings, Jesus speaks in a painfully clear manner about what we traditionally call the four last things: death, judgement, heaven, and hell. In both passages, Jesus mentions that the angels will come at the end of time and separate the wicked from the righteous. It is in this context that the Church gives us this weekend’s second reading, in which St. Paul uses a nuanced term that is often misunderstood: predestined. How do we understand this term as St. Paul does (i.e., the Catholic sense of that term)?
Properly speaking, the Catholic sense of being “predestined” refers to the dignity and the calling that we receive at Baptism, are fortified in at Confirmation, and conformed to in the Eucharist. (Really, all the sacraments play a role in it.) The Baptism ritual expresses this beautifully when the baptized child receives a white garment immediately after the baptism itself. At that moment, the priest says, “(Name), you have become a new creation and have clothed yourself in Christ. May this white garment be a sign to you of your Christian dignity. With your family and friends to help you by word and example, bring it unstained into eternal life.” That is, what we receive in Baptism already points toward eternal life: being adopted as children of the Father, we are called to share eternal life with him.
However, it must be noted that Baptism is only the first step. After Baptism, we learn from others (parents especially) and rely on the grace of the sacraments to help us grow in virtue and to avoid sin. As such, striving for holiness is a lifelong process; this is why the Baptism ritual emphasizes bringing the dignity of that sacrament into eternal life! Note well that “predestined” does not mean “predetermined!” Even though God knows who will be with him in paradise and who will not, he does not randomly predetermine in advance who will be in which camp. That is, the choice is ours between sin and virtue, and God will never do anything to interrupt our free will because he loves us too much to force us to love him. After all, a tyrant is one who forces people to love himself, and Jesus is certainly not a tyrant!
In other words, with Baptism we inherit the promise of eternal life in heaven. But that promise is ours to keep or ours to lose. We certainly do believe that anyone who dies in the state of grace will enter into heaven, even if that means some purgatory time before. We also believe that mortal sin separates us from God himself, and if we die in that state then we remain separated from him.
The best part is that even when we do fall into mortal sin, Jesus waits for us in the confessional. In fact, he never gets tired of forgiving us; he always remains ready to seek us out and bring us back to himself; what a gift the sacrament of Reconciliation is! No sin is too big or too frequent for him to forgive. He wants to forgive our sins because he wants us to be with him and with his Father and Holy Spirit in eternal life!
Blessings to you all!