TSOW reader, Dusky, sent me the following email:
“Hi Dan, I’m a recent reader of your blog. I hope you won’t mind me barging in and ask some things with regards to the blog post that you made, in particular the one about deathbed confessions. I’m a cradle Catholic btw, although I’m just beginning to learn more about the faith.
Does the concept of “last minute conversions” place Christians from different denominations on an even playing field? I mean as far as salvation is concerned, a Catholic is no different from a Baptist or from a Lutheran. Moreover, it would be difficult for other Christians to convert to Catholicism considering that it has a lot of other “trimmings” in their eyes.
Also, doesn’t it also in a way give more credence to what Protestants say about “faith only” as a means to salvation? Certainly not much “works” can be done while you’re in your deathbed.
Thank you very much for the time and keep up the good work on your blog. God Bless.”
Good questions, eh? If it’s alright I’m going to restate them just slightly: If a man is dying, and seeks salvation in Christ, why should the Catholic Church be preferable to a Protestant denomination? Either way, you get salvation. In fact, if that’s true, it implies that Luther was right and works don’t really matter—only faith.
First, Luther wasn’t totally wrong: faith is essential, it’s vital. But it’s dead without works, right (Jas 2:17, 24)? That being the case, Dusky points out that a guy isn’t physically capable of doing many works on his deathbed, so where does that leave his relationship with Christ?
That got me thinking over all the “works” that a person can do—feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, pretending to like Angelina Ballerina so your 4 year old daughter won’t cry—and I have a hard time thinking of a greater “work” than dying in the arms of Holy Mother Church.
Think about that: in one awesome moment you have just testified to the entire world that Jesus is Lord and that the Catholic Church is the place He called you to, thereby not only saving your own soul but also strengthening the faith of all those millions and millions of Catholics out there who hear your story, AND reminding all of those millions and millions of non-Catholics out there that the Church is alive and strong and worthy of their attention. That, it seems to me, is a work par excellence.
This sets the stage for the larger, more important part of Dusky’s question, as re-stated by me: If a man is dying, and seeks salvation in Christ, why should the Catholic Church be preferable to a Protestant denomination? Either way, you get salvation.
As I’m sure Dusky and most TSOW readers already know, nobody has a right to salvation—not even Catholics. It’s by the sheer, unmerited charity of God that anybody is saved. Now, I realize that the big, gnarly can of worms I’m about to open will probably get me banned from speaking in the diocese of Scranton, but if it’s true that God, out of His infinite charity, has sent His only Son to establish a church by which souls can be saved, a church we call “Catholic,” then why wouldn’t someone who desires Jesus desire the Catholic Church?
Maybe they didn’t know that the church Jesus founded “subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him,”* as Vatican II put it. Maybe they weren’t told the truth. We are forbidden to judge (by which we mean “condemn”) anyone, least of all our brothers and sisters who are trying to reach out to God in their last moments the best way that they know how. At the same time we should always bear in mind the Catholic Church’s unique place, and pray that the graces unleashed into the world through her reach everybody who is in their last hour of life, surely the most important hour of all.
Plenty of follow-up questions jump out here, I’m sure. Thoughts, anyone?
* Lumen Gentium, #8