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“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 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.