Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Guest Post: Scapulars are Distractors from What’s Really Important

TBM topic 18: Scapulars

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Guest post by B.

“Take, beloved son, this scapular of thy Order as a badge of my confraternity, and for thee and for all Carmelites, a sign of grace. Whoever dies in this garment will not suffer everlasting fire. It is a sign of salvation, a safeguard in dangers, and a pledge of peace and of the covenant.” 
--The Mother of God, 1251 AD

Among many Catholic traditions, scapulars have always been a source of confusion. At first, they seemed to me a cop-out. Simply wear this piece of cloth around your neck, and get a free ticket to heaven, no matter what you did in your life! It was an amulet that shielded you from your own crimes. Who needs sacraments when you’ve got a scapular? I never wore one in high school because I decided I wanted to get into heaven based on my faith and works, not on what I was wearing when I keeled over.

However, I later learned a much deeper problem with scapulars. Driving home with a few friends of mine, salvation of non-Christians came into the conversation. One Protestant friend asked if Catholics believed if non-Christians automatically went to hell.

 “No,” I replied, “Catholics believe that if a non-Christian leads a good moral life to the best of his knowledge, Jesus will have mercy.”

 The Protestant then followed up with, “Well, if that’s the case, why would you want to evangelize? If you just let them stay in their ignorance, they’ll have a greater chance of getting into heaven, because if a person doesn’t know about Jesus, he won’t be held to the higher standard than a Christian would be.”

I was confused by this as it seemed quite reasonable. A maximal chance to get to heaven made sense to me. Another Catholic friend spoke up and said, “Life’s not about getting to heaven.”


Our Lady of Mt. Carmel: Jesus > scapulars
Life’s not about getting to heaven. I now embrace this idea whole-heartedly. When we’re children, all we understand is punishment/reward. We know if we don’t do our chores, we’ll be punished, but if we do our chores, nice things happen! Later, however, we find out that those chores, be it cleaning your room or washing the dishes, are actually good in of themselves, not because we receive a reward from doing them! We mature and begin to do these things because we want to, not because of a reward we’ll receive.

Life is the same way. When we are immature in our faith, we focus on our reward (heaven) and our punishment (hell). However, as we mature in our faith, we don’t do the right thing so that we can go to heaven; instead we do the right thing because it’s our purpose in this world! We do the right thing because we realize that it’s the best way to glorify God with the life and rationality He gave to us.

Heaven and hell should be the last thing on a Christian’s mind. We need to be focused on why we’re here on earth, and how we make the world a better place than how we found it. Scapulars distract from this as it focuses on what comes after instead of what is in front of us right now. Whatever comes after we die, that’s just extra. We’ll all die someday, and when we do it should be our desire to answer for what we did and what we failed to do. We should be proud to answer for whether we fulfilled our purpose. I don’t want to hide behind an amulet; I want to be exposed.

Judge me, O Lord.


  1. Man's ultimate end is to know and love God. We do this most perfectly in Paradise. In Hell we hate God and on earth we don't fully know God.

    So, if a Christian shouldn't have Paradise and Hell on his mind, what should he have? Because it would seem that anything not orientated towards man's end, would be in fact an useless act.

    And, I don't quite understand your statements on the Scapular. Scapulars aren't automatic passes into Paradise, those that wear them have a devotion to the Scapular and therefore Mother, which is much protection against sin and Hell. However, it is nevertheless not an automatic pass.

  2. "Getting to heaven" isn't the point per se. Having total union with God is the point, and inadvertently this means getting to heaven when we die. So yeah, it is kinda the point of life.

    As for why we evangelize, I'm sure you know "evangelize" means "sharing the good news." Why wouldn't we want to share the good news? Our purpose of evangelizing isn't getting people into heaven. It's introducing them to our Lord Jesus Christ. It's that relationship that we want everyone to experience in this life and the next...

    The relationship that we seek with Christ is what makes Christianity a religion, not just a philosophy. Of course our works on this earth matter, but only in how they foster our relationship with Jesus Christ. If we say that getting to heaven doesn't matter, this kind of makes us nutcases...heaven is what the faith is all about.

  3. I think two clarifications should be made:

    1. B.'s assertion that Heaven is not our point is parallel to playing a sport for the love of the game. He is concerned with intentions of actions and words and not attempting to "earn" Heaven. Christians want to be in Heaven so they can be with God forever. Hell is not where people hate God; it is the absence of God and, thus, the absence of Love. It is where people who make the choice to utterly reject God go.

    2. The brown scapular is very commonly believed to be an assurance of Heaven. This is the basis upon which B. was writing on- as aforementioned above, one does good things out of Love for God, not because Heaven will be the reward. His point, therefore, is that the common misunderstanding and misconception about scapulars and their role in one's salvation distracts from the real task at hand: living one's life for and in accordance with God.

    Hope that helps! Happy reading/ commenting!

  4. We are not made for this world.

    Life is about getting to heaven. Julie, your comment about playing for the love of the GAME, is problematic because well... we ultimately play games to win.

    I think B. is making the desire for heaven and the goal of living a good life for its own sake fallaciously mutually exclusive. I think they are actually inseparable. One cant have a desire for heaven and not a desire to live a good life, at least if they have any hope of their goal. Likewise, living a good life, for God is also a life desirous of Heaven. This is because Heaven is greater than earth and the things of this world are an attempt to love and serve God with free will. Once in Heaven, that will is forever decided through our action on earth.

    I like the thought process, I just dont think it fleshes out in the end. I think that we need to focus on Heaven. He is right, we shouldn't see Heaven as an inverse of Hell, and therefore have it as motivation as good acts. I agree, and most would. But I dont think it is normally or properly the correct framing of our moral action.

  5. I think Joseph hit the nail on the head with: "I think B. is making the desire for heaven and the goal of living a good life for its own sake fallaciously mutually exclusive. I think they are actually inseparable."

    If we desire to do good, we can keep breaking that down to the common denominator: We desire to be with God.

  6. Sacramentals are not talismans, they are a sign of your faith - And not every sacramental is for everyone. If you do not understand the point of it - then it isn't for your.

    On the game point - Heaven is our home we are striving for - it's not a game. God bless you.

  7. The game analogy is not a point. It was an afterthought to reading his post. I used to coach little girls in soccer. They were so little that we didn't even keep score. Did the girls? Yes. But at the end of every game, we told them how to improve and congratulated them on another awesome game. This incredibly imperfect analogy works in this sense: playing for love of the game is something children do. Older people add the competitive edginess in. People living their earthly for God want Heaven, but only in the sense that they want to be with God. If Heaven were just an awesome place to go after dying, a reward, it lessens the Love.

    B.'s point about life not being about getting to Heaven does not mean he's not trying to get there. It means he is not living his life with Heaven as his objective. To quote the song "If It's Love" (by Train): "I'm not in it to win it, I'm in it for you." In this case, the you is God. B.'s point to this whole thing is that we should live for God, not for getting to Heaven. (See grafs 7 & 8.)

    I don't think we're actually disagreeing, I think we're explaining it differently. The moot point is that the Church does not have an official teaching on scapulars and this is B.'s experience and understanding of them.

  8. I agree with B's point that Heaven isn't necessarily the point, but what Heaven is is exactly the point, perfect union with God.

    It makes me think of when I got married, I was counting down to the day of the wedding and when I would be married. But I wasn't really excited for just the wedding or just 'being married,' I was excited to become one with my husband. It's the same with Heaven. The goal of our life on earth is to strive to follow's God will so that we can be in union with him as we will in Heaven. It's always about union with God, but it can easily seem that it's just about Heaven. Scapulars aid in that confusion to some, but for others that make it easier. The Vatican hasn't said yes or no to them so essentially, to each their own. :)