|The Serpent said, "No, you shall not die the death" (cf. Gen 3:4)|
26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
When someone virtuous turns away from virtue to commit iniquity, and dies, it is because of the iniquity he committed that he must die.
“Do you really think that God is going to send me to hell just because I skipped Mass one Sunday?! I mean, I was on vacation!”
To this, we must respond, “If you die without true repentance, you will surely go to hell.”
Speaking to the prophet Ezekiel, Our Lord makes clear that one mortal sin causes not only the loss of the state of grace, but also the loss of all previous merit. For, by a single mortal sin, by which a just man turneth himself away from his justice and comitteth iniquity, all the good he has done will be set aside and forgotten, and he will not live but he shall die eternally.
Without sanctifying grace habitually present in the soul, no man can possibly be saved. The question of a man’s eternal destiny comes down to this: If he should die in the state of grace, with the divine life present in his soul, he will live eternally in heaven. If he should die in mortal sin, without the divine life present in his soul through grace, he will die eternally in hell.
Let us consider why all the good deeds of a lifetime are not enough to save a man who dies in the state of mortal sin.
If the just man turn himself away from his justice and do iniquity … all his justices which he hath done shall not be remembered. (Ezekiel 18:24)
Merit – Condign and Congruous
What may be difficult for some to accept is the fact that all previous merit is lost through a single mortal sin. Some are tempted to state, “Even if I commit a mortal sin, won’t God judge based on my whole life? Won’t he remember the many good things I have done in the past?” However, when we have a proper understanding of merit, it is clear that all previous good works and merits are lost entirely by a single mortal sin.
Merit is divinded into condign and congruous merit. Condign merit is the value of a man’s good works when considered as coming from the Holy Spirit. Congruous merit is the value of those same works considered as coming from the man himself who is a friend of God. Both types of merit can only be gained when a man is in the state of grace – for without sanctifying grace, the Holy Spirit is not present in his soul after the manner which gains condign merit; and further, the man is not a friend of God but his enemy and therefore cannot gain congruous merit.
Why a man loses all previous grace through one mortal sin
Once the divine life is cut off within through a fall to mortal sin, all the growth of that divine life is likewise lost. For this reason, the preceding acts of goodness which were in themselves meritorious even of eternal life are entirely forgotten and set aside by a single mortal sin – even as much as no amount of previous nutrition can be of present benefit to a corpse.
If we make this comparison of the life of the soul to the life of the body, it becomes quite clear that mortal sin (which kills the soul) erases all previous grace. Consider the case of a man who has lived a long and happy life, and taken good care of his body through the years. Now, after that man should die, may any look at the corpse and insist that it must be alive because it had after all lived for so many years and had received such good care over those years? Of course not!
In the same manner, consider a soul which has lived in the state of grace for many years and which has been nourished by the sacraments and other graces. Now, after that soul should fall into mortal sin and die spiritually, may any look at that corpse of a soul and insist that she must yet be alive because she had been in the state of grace for so many preceding years? Of course not!
And if the soul should be found dead by the Judge, his just pronouncement upon her must be nothing else but to admit her spiritual death. And, if a soul is spiritually dead when coming before the Judgment Seat, she will die an eternal death in hell – because only the living may be admitted to the life of heaven. No amount of previous life will be of any benefit to such a soul, for she is now dead.
Must God restore graces to a soul after repentance?
Further, God has no obligation to restore the soul to her previous state if she should repent after a fall. While we do have hope that, in his mercy, he would do this, it must be clear that he is under no such obligation and that the soul can in no way lay any claim to this gift.
All those merits and good works are lost, by virtue of the death of the soul in mortal sin. If she should repent and turn to the Lord so that she may live, it is quite true that God will forgive and set aside all previous sins, but it does not follow that he will thereby recall all previous good works and merits.
Nevertheless, we may hope that God would do this for the soul. We may hope that, even after a fall, the Good God would lift the soul at least some way back to where she had been – and that he would credit to her at least some of her previous merits.
Devotion to Mary and restoration after a fall
We must be clear: No one has any claim to the restoration of previous merits after a fall into mortal sin. However, St. Louis Marie De Montfort does give an indication of where we ought to turn and in whom we should trust if we desire to keep safe our merits and previous good works even in the midst of our own inconsistency and imperfection. We must turn to Mary.
Consider the following words from “The Secret of Mary” which, although not directly stating that Mary will preserve our merits even if we should fall, at least gives us every reason to have great confidence in the most loving of all mothers:
“In adopting this devotion, we put our graces, merits and virtues into safe keeping by making Mary the depositary of them.
“It is as if we said to her, "See, my dear Mother, here is the good that I have done through the grace of your dear Son. I am not capable of keeping it, because of my weakness and inconstancy, and also because so many wicked enemies are assailing me day and night. Alas, every day we see cedars of Lebanon fall into the mire, and eagles which had soared towards the sun become birds of darkness, a thousand of the just falling to the left and ten thousand to the right. But, most powerful Queen, hold me fast lest I fall. Keep a guard on all my possessions lest I be robbed of them. I entrust all I have to you, for I know well who you are, and that is why I confide myself entirely to you. You are faithful to God and man, and you will not suffer anything I entrust to you to perish. You are powerful, and nothing can harm you or rob you of anything you hold."
“"When you follow Mary you will not go astray; when you pray to her, you will not despair; when your mind is on her, you will not wander; when she holds you up, you will not fall; when she protects you, you will have no fear; when she guides you, you will feel no fatigue; when she is on your side, you will arrive safely home" (Saint Bernard).
“And again, "She keeps her Son from striking us; she prevents the devil from harming us; she preserves virtue in us; she prevents our merits from being lost and our graces from receding."
“These words of St Bernard explain in substance all that I have said. Had I but this one motive to impel me to choose this devotion, namely, that of keeping me in the grace of God and increasing that grace in me, my heart would burn with longing for it.”