Our salvation requires effort, our effort. This does not mean that our efforts save us, but rather is simply an admission that becoming who God would have us to be requires us to avoid frustrating his efforts.
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I. The Desire for God
27 The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for:
The dignity of man rests above all on the fact that he is called to communion with God. This invitation to converse with God is addressed to man as soon as he comes into being. For if man exists it is because God has created him through love, and through love continues to hold him in existence. He cannot live fully according to truth unless he freely acknowledges that love and entrusts himself to his creator.
28 In many ways, throughout history down to the present day, men have given expression to their quest for God in their religious beliefs and behaviour: in their prayers, sacrifices, rituals, meditations, and so forth. These forms of religious expression, despite the ambiguities they often bring with them, are so universal that one may well call man a religious being:
From one ancestor (God) made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him – though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For “in him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:26-28)
29 But this “intimate and vital bond of man to God” (GS 19 # 1) can be forgotten, overlooked, or even explicitly rejected by man. Such attitudes can have different causes: revolt against evil in the world; religious ignorance or indifference; the cares and riches of this world; the scandal of bad example on the part of believers; currents of thought hostile to religion; finally, that attitude of sinful man which makes him hide from God out of fear and flee his call.
30 “Let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.” (Ps 105:3) Although man can forget God or reject him, He never ceases to call every man to seek him, so as to find life and happiness. But this search for God demands of man every effort of intellect, a sound will, “an upright heart”, as well as the witness of others who teach him to seek God.
You are great, O Lord, and greatly to be praised: great is your power and your wisdom is without measure. and man, so small a part of your creation, wants to praise you: this man, though clothed with mortality and bearing the evidence of sin and the proof that you withstand the proud. Despite everything, man, though but a small a part of your creation, wants to praise you. You yourself encourage him to delight in your praise, for you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you. (St. Augustine, Confessions)
Effort and Divine Calling
The human soul longs for God. All recorded history exhibits evidence of humanity’s tireless effort to peer into the divine. There is something deeply ingrained within us to seek spiritual truth, some reality beyond the physical world.
The diverse manifestations of such beliefs across various cultures demonstrate unique attempts to find God. They illustrate the paradox outlined in paragraph twenty-eight above. God is never far from us, yet we must search and grope after him without the guarantee of success.
Rejecting the Divine
Yet, as the revelation of God has become more apparent over the millennia of human existence, finding its final full manifestations in the revelation of Jesus Christ and the spread of his Gospel through the expansion of his Church, the outright rejection of God rose in prominence.
The Catholic Church readily acknowledges the common reasons for such rejections. For example, evil in the world or Christian hypocrisy can turn people away from the Gospel. The Church does not dismiss the validity of these objections out of hand but rather seems to concede their merit.
Yet, the Church also recognizes more earthy reasons. Simple indifference, intellectual hostility, material ambition, and a psychological aversion to the possibility of having to face a holy God.
Yet, despite man’s rejection, God never ceases to call after him. There is a beauty in this. We are free to accept or reject God, but God will continue to pursue us.
Here, there is an incompatibility with Reformed thought. God does not choose some for salvation and others for damnation. The reason for man’s rejection of God is not merely God’s rejection of man. The individual is free to reject or accept God, but God will continue to call all people to himself regardless.
A Call to Holiness
Yet, the way the Catechism outlines this teaching demonstrates nuance and complexity in the divine calling.
God does not merely offer us eternal life. Instead, he calls us to seek him so that we might find eternal life. God invites us to begin the journey, not merely to enjoy its end.
God initiates this adventure by calling us to it. He guides us to its beginning and along its path. Yet, this journey demands something of us too. It compels us to give it every “effort of intellect.” It requires discernment, holy living, and our greatest effort.
We must work to find God. He calls to us, but we must respond. There must be cooperation.
So often in our theology, we approach God as petulant children, expecting him to hand us everything, to give us the fruits of a long and arduous journey without requiring any effort on our part.
In any other situation, we would consider this absurd, and rightfully so.
Cooperation of Grace and Effort
We are, however, so infected with the works versus grace debate that sprung forth from the Protestant Reformation that we fail to consider a larger, more nuanced view of things.
We do not earn our way to heaven. To view the teachings in this section as a demonstration of this belief within Roman Catholic doctrine is to miss the point entirely.
Our salvation requires effort, our effort. This does not mean that our “works” save us, but rather is simply an admission that becoming who God would have us to be requires an effort on our part.
It is the journey in response to God’s call and the effort that that journey entails that transforms our character and molds our soul into the image of Jesus Christ. This effort, in cooperation with God’s work, is the transformative process, and salvation, properly understood, is our transformation into the divine image, otherwise known as theosis. Only God can so transform us, but we must cooperate in his efforts.
The point is not that we have to complete the journey to achieve salvation. God will bring all of those who love him and faithfully follow after him to the end of the journey.
The point is the journey. We must stop seeing the totality of Christianity as a form of fire insurance and start instead to view it as the transformative faith that it is. That is, we are part of God’s work to transform and redeem all of creation.
The quote from St. Augustine sums it up well, particularly his famous line “our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
Effort as a Mark of Grace
Catholicism is not about achieving a certain number of good works, sayings a certain number of Hail Marys, or otherwise engaging in acts of piety that ring hollow if not done for God’s glory.
Catholicism is about helping us along the journey toward God, down a path that God himself has laid out so that our hearts can fully and completely rest in him.