The traditional ending to the Salve Regina (Hail Holy Queen) is:
V. Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God. R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
I’ve always been struck by this prayer’s ability to remind us of the surety of Christ’s promises, but also the poverty of the human soul. It says “that we may be made worthy,” reminding us that we are both unworthy and being made worthy.
A man of faith is not a settled man. Something is happening in a man of faith, it is not something already accomplished.
A common understanding among Protestants would render this prayer false (not the least of which because it is directed to Our Lady). They would say that faith is an assurance, that by “coming to faith in Christ” there is no more being made worthy, but that we are totally covered in His Blood and prepared as much as is necessary to take our seat in heaven. “Once Saved, Always Saved” is the iteration of this doctrine.
The Catholic Church, along with St. Paul and the history of the saints, reminds us that faith is our entrance into life in God, but that this gift is not only continually being given, but is also continually being received and enacted by us. It can also be lost! It is not a single invitation and response, but the ongoing battle, and to think otherwise is actually a danger.
St. Paul speaks of being already saved, but also “being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you,” speaking of a future event (1 Cor 15:2). The risk in making “progress” in our salvation, which St. Paul describes as work done in “fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12), is that we begin to think we have become worthy of the faith we possess. (in a completed sense). We think God is pretty lucky to have us on His side!
We get proud of what we know, of sins we’ve done away with, and the example we can provide to such a sad and fallen world. At that point, we have begun to forget that man did nothing to earn God’s grace and the gift that is faith. And by forgetting such a truth, we yet again enact the very sin that drove Adam from the Garden in the first place: pride.
Perhaps if our pride could write a prayer we could pray thus:
V. Pray, O Mother of God. R. That God may be ready to receive such a gift as us.
This is not to say that we cannot celebrate and be thankful for spiritual progress, but it seems best to not really think about it in that way, and to immediately turn our thought of it into a thanksgiving and praise of God’s goodness – especially when someone speaks well of us to us. A saint keeps his head bowed in prayer, not raised to see what attention he has received. “The gate to heaven is very low,” said St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, “only the humble can enter it.”
It is not self-deprecating to remind ourselves of our unworthiness. Of course this feels counter-cultural, because it is. We are told constantly we are worthy and deserving of all sorts of things (and just for 20 easy payments!).
Humility, as St. Theresa of Avila said, is truth. We are NOT worthy. Face it. And by accepting this truth we simultaneously drain our minds and hearts from the lies that crowd out God’s very life in us, which is grace. God can only work in the soul humble enough to recognize the Worker correctly. We have a loving and trustworthy Father, so to remind ourselves of our unworthiness is to invite one in Who is worthy and is able to do in us what we are unable to do ourselves. Faith happens, is happening, and will happen. And at each point it is a gift for which we are not worthy.
Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.