However, within this optimistic frame, Jesus gives a warning. When someone asks, "Lord, will only a few people be saved?" he speaks about a narrow gate which many will not enter. He then paints a frightening picture of some, who thought they were doing just fine, standing on the outside begging to get in. Meanwhile, people they despised are inside, enjoying a great feast.
All the details of such a terrible scene cannot be taken literally. Nevertheless, a person ignores Jesus’ warning at great peril. The eminent theologian Hans Urs Von Balthasar, notwithstanding a certain tendency toward universal salvation, wrote: "It is indispensable that every individual Christian be confronted, in the greatest seriousness, with the possibility of his becoming lost."
Many people have a hard time imagining something so drastic. They can conceive of someone such as Hitler or Lenin, who murdered millions, being in hell. But could little people, like you and me, do anything bad enough to deserve eternal punishment? But that is the wrong way of asking the question. The correct question is: How much freedom has God given you and me? The answer is he respects our human dignity so much that he allows us to choose to love him or not. If you wonder how an ordinary person could lose his soul, check out Descent Into Hell by Charles Williams. Not easy reading, yet one of the most haunting, harrowing stories I have ever encountered.
Jesus’ warning about the narrow gate, the possibility of being left out, comes down to this: Our present life is serious - and the stakes are enormous. Incalculably greater than the outcome of any election or war. C.S. Lewis expressed it incisively:
"People often think of Christian morality as a kind of bargain in which God says, 'If you keep a lot of rules, I'll reward you, and if you don't I'll do the other thing.' I do not think that is the best way of looking at it. I would much rather say that every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a Heaven creature or into a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is Heaven: that is, it is joy, and peace, and knowledge, and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other.” (Mere Christianity)
To recognize that each life will end in salvation or damnation should make us sober – but not sad. Our confidence is not the result our few puny efforts. It comes from experiencing divine mercy. As today’s second reading indicates, we view present disappointments and sufferings in that light. Those trials are part of his “discipline.”
Cardinal Manning, addressing his congregation in Winchester Cathedral, spoke about trust in the Father. “Before Easter next we may be in the light of the Kingdom; or we may be in its outskirts expiating and awaiting the vision of God.” Because of that hope, “What matter, then, a little pain, a little sorrow, a little penance, a few crosses, if after a little while there be an inheritance of eternal joy.”
From Archives (21st Sunday, Year C):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Seattle Columnist Joel Connelly Responds to Anti-Catholic Stereotyping: "On issues from AIDS to stem cell research, Catholic teaching and 'the Vatican' get described as medieval obstacles to 21st century progress. Archbishop Alex Brunett is wondering whose agenda and what purpose is being served."
Germaine Greer on Birth Control
My bulletin column
St. Mary of the Valley Album
My Vocation Story (23 minute video, made at Everett Serra Club on August 14, 2010)
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
Are these homilies a help to you? Please consider making a donation to St. Mary of the Valley Parish
Parish Picture Album
World Youth Day 2013
(about 40 pictures in a slide show)
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru
(new, professional website)
KRA's & SMART Goals (updated June 2013)
A Homilist's Prayer