I know that my Redeemer lives! What joy this blest assurance gives…goes the classic Easter season hymn.
In my most recent post here at New Evangelizers, we looked at works-based salvation–aka earning eternal life or “Pelagianism”–as a reason why some Catholics (and Christians in general) lack the fruits of knowing that their Redeemer lives, of having a confident joy that this is an assurance—not a vague hope or wishful thinking about some eternal “report card” of good and bad.
This week, continuing to draw on the evangelistic insights of Fr. James Mallon (Divine Renovation, 2014), we’ll dive into a second reason for a lack of joy, lack of assurance–Jansenism. Now “Jansenism” is an even more obscure theological term than, “Pelagianism”–but it’s still relevant to our modern spirituality. When a person believes that he/she is so unworthy, that cooperation with God’s grace isn’t possible, and it’s up to us to make good through our spiritual practices–this is a form of Jansenism. It might strike un as odd to think of this as an error–I mean, isn’t religious practice good? It is. But, our hearts matter more foundationally, than our practices.
As Pope Francis explains:
“There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter. I realize of course that joy is not expressed the same way at all times in life, especially at moments of great difficulty. Joy adapts and changes, but it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved.” (Evangelii Gaudium, §6).
The sense of unworthiness that trumps one’s ability to confidently cooperate with God’s grace is a huge impediment to evangelization! Religious practices done scrupulously will rarely communicate the joy of personal certainty Pope Francis speaks of, the joy of the blest assurance of infinite love–love eternal. If we act like a life-long Lent is what is takes to “get” God’s mercy, to qualify for forgiveness, then despite anything we say, anything the Church teaches, the world will learn from our actions. The world will see our lack of joy, our hypocrisy in in singing “Blest Assurance” when we truly [or seemingly] perform religious practices out of obligation, guilt, or desire to manipulate God.
I admit, it’s hard to reach out to those in our parishes who are highly religious (in practices) yet seem to be living a life-long Lent, without Easter in sight. In some way, evangelizing the lost sheep outside the fold seems easier or (at a minimum) more obvious. But, the Good Shepherd desires that each and every one of His sheep to know his love and live in the eternal joy and blest assurance of life with God–this means even those who may seem very “inside” the Church when it comes to practices, yet in their hearts be far from our eternally loving, life-giving Lord.
This Easter season, ask yourself honestly, what does the way I go about religious practice say to the world? Does it come across as Jansenism, of trying “make things up” to God in return for a little dose of mercy? If so, know that Jesus is the Blest Assurance, our source of confident hope that “our defilement does not stain us for ever if we have at least continued to reach out towards Christ… indeed, it has already been burned away through Christ’s Passion” (Pope Benedict, Spe Salvi §47). You are worthy of God’s mercy not due to religious practices, but due to God’s infinite love and goodness. Pray for gift of hope, pray that Jesus would be your Blest Assurance–through and through–so that the joy of the Gospel would ring out more clearly to all those who see your religious practices. Sing out with all your heart this Easter season, I know that my Redeemer lives! What joy this blest assurance gives!
Copyright 2016, Colleen Vermeulen