Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time – Fr. Pete Iorio
August 25, 2019 – 8:30 & 11:00 AM
Who can be saved?
Bishop Fulton J. Sheen had a television show years ago and his case for canonization is in process. He is called Venerable. He tells us that we will have three surprises in Heaven. The first surprise: We will be surprised to see that many people we expected to be in Heaven are not there. St. John of the Cross gives the reason why they are not there: “At the evening of our life, we shall be judged on how we have loved.” The second surprise: We will be surprised to see that the people we never expected to be in Heaven are there. That is because God judges man’s intentions and rewards them accordingly. The third surprise: We will be surprised to see that we are in Heaven! Since our getting to Heaven is principally God’s work, we should be surprised that God somehow “went out of His way” to save us, simply because we showed the good will and generosity to cooperate with His grace.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus addresses the question, “will only a few be saved?”
In His usual way, Jesus does not answer directly by giving a number. He says: Strive to enter the narrow gate. Take your practice of the faith seriously. It challenges all of us. How can I be as loving as possible today? That can be the narrow gate.
Many will attempt and not be strong enough. This sounds more like exclusion than inclusion. A Number of saints said, no one is going to hell unless they want to. Unless they CHOOSE to live in hatred and evil. The wisdom of the saints is that we only kick ourselves out. One of the greatest gifts is free will so it is our free choice.
Pope Saint John Paul II said in a general audience in 1999 that heaven and hell are not geographical places. They are states of consciousness.
That being said, some people have a state of consciousness that indicate that they might be living in hell right now. They are miserable, hateful, negative, oppositional; they love to pick fights; they exclude other religions and races. That is an attitude of hatred, and that is a state of consciousness that is a kind of hell.
John Paul II said, “Eternal damnation therefore is not attributed to God’s initiative because in his merciful love he can only desire the salvation of the beings he created. In reality it is the creature who closes himself to His love.”
Another wonderful saint, Catherine of Siena said “it is heaven all the way to heaven.” So we live heaven on earth when we live in love and in communion with God and with neighbor. I have to believe that I/we experience a taste of heaven when love is real, and we/I experience that love and joy. I pray for it and I actively seek it out.
When Jesus said: Some will not strong enough to enter the narrow gate. These words were not appreciated by some who heard Jesus because they thought that merely being descendants of Abraham, they had the right to enter the Kingdom of God. To observe the law and all its details was the only criterion for salvation. Jesus says that it is not enough to be part of the people of Israel. If one does not extend the hand to the needy; if one does not help the poor; if one does not forgive sinners, the simple fact of being a Jew did not guarantee a place in the Kingdom of God. The simple fact of being a Catholic and eating and drinking at this holy table in His company is not merely enough. Just like the Jewish people of Jesus’ day, we can be devout and follow all the rules of the Church, and we can fail to put love of neighbor into action. Pride is a mortal sin where we have a smug feeling of being superior to others or thinking that most people are stupid when compared to ourselves.
Jesus followed up by saying that people will come from the east and west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the Kindgom of God. In essence, he proclaims that non-Jews will enter the Kingdom while some Jews will not. These words must have brought forth astonishment and anger to those who heard because it seemed that Jesus was rejecting all that the Jews had learned about themselves as the Chosen People. The bottom line is that Jesus is saying that the Kingdom of God is for all, for everyone who lives according to the law of love and forgiveness.
The important question is not how many will be saved. Questions like that get us stuck in our minds. The question that should engage our individual and communal hearts should be “are we building up the Kingdom of God here and now by our inclusive love of God and of all of our neighbors?” If we live with attitudes and actions that love and forgiveness are characteristics of our faith, you and I and all of us will pass through the narrow gate. When I reflect on the 3 surprises of Venerable Fulton Sheen, I consider as challenging as it might be that those we may judge unworthy to enter: great sinners like abortionists and terrorists, Muslims, Hindus, illegal immigrants, LGBT people, whomever we judge or shun may be some of those who were last and now are first. This is not to say that anything goes or that we condone sin. It means that the Mystery of God’s love and mercy is beyond our human understanding. As disciples of Jesus Christ and as people who live the Mystery of the Cross, we know that there is no greater love than to lay down your life like Jesus did for any neighbor.