Sin, Grace, and the Neocatechumenal Way

I recently engaged in an exchange of email messages with a lady who I’ll call “A”, a woman originally from Colorado who had been a member of the Neocatechumenal Way for 15 years.   While our discussion was wide-ranging, at one point I asked her a question about the Last Things which eventually led her to reveal a shocking aspect of the Neocatechumenal view of sin and grace.

What did you learn about the eschatological teachings of the Church while you were walking in the Way, specifically, about Purgatory and the Last Judgment?

Formally, not much on Purgatory. There was no explanation in clear terms. It wasn’t a topic they explained in great detail. I’d say purgatory was implied. The Last Judgment was more in reference to your personal last judgment at the end of your life. nothing was formally taught against Church teaching as far I know. Christ as Judge is a common Icon…Why do you ask about Purgatory and the Last Judgment in particular?

… You mentioned his Last Judgment icon.  Well, that icon was copied from a 15th century Russian icon of the Last Judgment, and in his copy, Kiko removes the “sheep” completely, and leaves only a small number of “goats”.

As for the sheep and the goats… It seems to me that you may be sinIItouching on the Way’s confusing dichotomy between being the chosen people of God and one’s inability to be perfect. They have no middle ground. You are both a chosen one and you are incapable of not sinning. There’s no gradation. I never heard an explanation of venial versus mortal sin. Even the slightest judgmental thought was as grave as premarital sex. It was all equally bad and shameful. So their definition of a saint isn’t one who has struggled to practice virtue and sin less (because that’s impossible, we’re all sinners), but merely someone who acknowledges his weakness, sinfulness, and unworthiness and simply throws himself on the mercy of God. So perhaps the sheep aren’t there because they are an illusion.

I noticed a while ago that the concepts of “sanctifying grace” and being in “the state of grace” seem to be missing from their teaching, and you supply a plausible reason for this… in a real sense, Kiko and the catechists are considered to be the charism and the grace, so maybe that’s why there seems to be a de-emphasis on actual and sanctifying grace.

There is definitely a blurring of the lines between the messenger and gracethe grace itself. Also, the reason people give for turning around their moral life is the community, not the sacraments. Now, community and social interaction has been scientifically shown to “cure” addiction and anxiety, depression, and other issues. So, in a sense, they are freeing them from demons, but not really giving them clear guidance on how to keep their soul in a state of sanctifying grace. It was very confusing growing up, and I am a good listener and student. Now, I know how to keep my soul in a state of grace with frequent confession and pious communions, but before it wasn’t so clear. There was this constant insistence that you are always displeasing God, which might be true, in a sense, but how useful is it to dwell on that? The process of sanctity as a life-long journey towards perfecting ourselves, is completely lost on them. They are all or nothing and the concept of “perfection” as virtuous imitation of Christ, is simply considered impossible. It’s very contradictory. It’s important to distinguish between venial and mortal sin, sanctifying grace and actual grace (the grace to act). They have a strong sense of needing actual grace in order to do anything, but the sanctifying grace is not very well developed if at all.

In neglecting or denying the reality of sanctifying grace, Kiko Arguello and the Neocatechumenal Way preach a pessimistic view of man that is dangerously close to Calvin’s teaching of the total depravity of man.  In that view, souls do not actually become holy, but rather, the holiness is imputed by God.  The Catholic Church, on the other hand, teaches that man, while a sinner but enabled by sanctifying grace, can actually and really become holy.

See also:  Pope St. John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation, Reconciliato et Paenitentia 17, December 2, 1984.