Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Sermon on hell, August 22nd

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C.
August 22nd, 2010
Luke 13:22-30, Strive to enter through the narrow gate

Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” He answered them, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.”

A recent movie tells the story of a family in which the grandfather passes away unexpectedly. The granddaughter, who is only a little girl, asks her uncle if there is a heaven. He responds that he doesn’t know for sure, but the little girl adds that she believes in it. Then both the uncle and the little girl decide that, if there is a heaven, certainly everybody gets to go there after death.
It really is a very sweet, cute little scene … quite sentimental. And like many things which are cute and sweet, and like all things which are sentimental, it is inimical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and contrary to the doctrine of our Faith.

We live in a world which denies the existence of hell. The very thought of hell is repulsive to many secular people and, unfortunately, even some Catholics refuse to believe that hell is real – and that people really can go there.
But we must be sure of this: Jesus Christ has very clearly affirmed the reality and the existence of hell. In fact, in all of Sacred Scripture, no single person speaks about hell more often than Christ our Savior. Almost everything we know about hell was revealed to us by the Lord himself. Thus, to deny hell is to deny Christ’s own teaching. To reject hell is to reject Christ.
And if we ask, “Lord, will only a few be saved?”; we must accept our Savior’s answer, “Yes, very few.” Very few indeed will come to eternal life. It is the common opinion of theologians throughout the Church’s history that most people go to hell after death. And so, we can say with reasonable confidence that most people probably go to hell.

Does this upset us? Are we troubled by this thought? Certainly, the world rejects the idea of hell – but why? Is it because the world is so convinced of the Love of God and the Grace of Christ working through the Sacraments of his Church? Is this why so many people believe that everyone goes to heaven? No, I tell you, the world denies hell because the world denies sin! It is not a confidence in God’s Love, but an acceptance of sin which blinds the intellect to the existence of hell.
Perhaps we have a hard time accepting Jesus’ words, perhaps we do not like to hear about hell. Be sure of this: It gave Christ no pleasure to speak of hell – and yet, so long as there was sin, he was driven to speak of it; so long as people turn away from God, the Church and her priests must speak of the reality and the real possibility of eternal damnation.
But be sure of this, it was Love which compelled Christ to speak of hell. It is Love which leads the Church to teach about hell today. It is not wrath or anger or judgment, but Love!

Consider this parable: A man, walking through a forest, fell into a very deep hole out of which he could not climb. Another came upon him and said, “My dear friend, my beloved, you have fallen, you are in danger, let me help you!” Then, lowering down a ladder, he implored the man who had fallen to climb out.
What would we say if the one in the hole replied, “How dare you tell me I have fallen into a hole! Who are you to judge me?” What could be done for that man, if he refused to make use of the ladder to climb out? Why, he would be a fool and all hope for him would be lost!

We, each of us individually and all of us together, have fallen into sin. Christ our Savior has come upon us and spoken to us words of love, “My beloved, you have sinned, you are in danger, you will parish without my grace. Here, I give you a ladder, that is, I offer you my Church and her Sacraments. Do not reject me, but take courage!”
What shall happen to the one who refuses Christ? What would happen if any should refuse to admit the danger of hell, and the reality of sin? He would be lost!

My friends, do not think it was hatred or anger which created hell. It was Love, omnipotent and divine Love!
Hear the words of the theologian Fr. Lacordaire: “Had justice alone created the abyss, there might be remedy. But it is love, the first love sempiternal, which made hell. This it is which banishes hope. Were I condemned by justice, I might flee to love. But if I am condemned by love, whither can I turn? Such is the fate of the damned, Love, that gave his blood for them – this Love, this same Love, must now curse them. […] Love is not a farce. It is God’s love which punishes, God’s crucified love. Love is life or death. And if that love is God’s love, then love is either eternal life or eternal death.