Father Ed's Blog

A Catholic priest reflects…

A bad Sunday for universalists

This Sunday’s Gospel was hard hitting. We ended the liturgical year with our focus on the world which is to come not on this transitory life. And the message Jesus gave was clear; at the end of time we will all stand before the throne of Almighty God to face judgement. And this judgement, though merciful and just, will be bad news for certain people. Please God I am not amongst them. For those who rejected his divine will in this life will be banished to an eternity without him. Only the sanctified will go with Him into his heavenly kingdom.

Ultimately we choose which path not God. He simply honours what we choose in this life. A life lived in relationship with him is the key to salvation. Meaning those who honoured God and loved their neighbour can expect mercy to be shown to them. But the wicked and selfish ought to worry. God will not be mocked forever. And they will one day reap, Jesus suggests, precisely what they sow. There is no way to cheat this fact for he knows all the secrets of our hearts.

This notion of salvation and damnation, of heaven and hell, tends to jar with modern inclusive sensitivities. Nevertheless it is perfectly logical if you think about it. How would heaven remain heavenly if unrepentant sinners were granted access? Would you desire eternity alongside an unrepentant Saville or Stalin? If heaven is to be everything we hope for- all evil, vice and wickedness must be expunged. Which includes us- if our hearts have rejected God and turned rotten. And so we begin to see why engaging in the spiritual battle in this life is so important. We discern the pressing need to avail ourselves of the sacraments and live a life pleasing to God.

Yet this prime reason for living out the Christian life is in danger of being forgotten. Forgotten because a generation of modernist clerics, disliking the divine message at this point, have chosen to water it down. They teach instead that hell is just a euphemism and that God, being love, will eventually forgive everyone- yes even the fallen angels of the demonic realm including the devil himself! By what authority do they teach this? Certainly not from the lips of Christ- as the readings this Sunday make clear. Nor from the pages of scripture at any single point. One suspects then it might be from the the crazier parts of California during that balmy summer of love!!

It is a serious problem. For when Christians stop believing in hell they also lose the plot concerning salvation. Soon there is no mortal sin that could damn your soul to hell. There are only wrong decisions under some sort of therapeutic model of living. Very soon the point and purpose of Christian faith begins to crumble. The good news- that Christ came into this world to save sinners- becomes rather meaningless. For what does it really matter if we all get to go there in the end?

Make no mistake this is a big one. Indeed I suspect it is at the heart of all Christian malaise in the West in the 21st Century. Many are those who still want the trappings of faith, and who delight in their own romanticised fantasy Christ but who have, in truth, ceased believing in the pressing reality of the four last things. And from there flows all the moral confusion we witness at all levels of ecclesial life in our day. For if hell is not real- who are we to get hung up on mortal sins and private lives? Footnotes in Amoris Laetitia and all that….

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8 Comments

  1. Richard Ashton

    I do find this tricky. Heaven and hell is black and white, whereas we are shades of grey. It’s easy enough to condemn the great villains whom we have never met, but what about our friends and relations who don’t give a fig about faith and religion, but live decent lives?

    • Admin

      I quite agree it is tricky. And I quite support ensuring we emphasise that our judge, on that day, will be more merciful and loving than we can ever be. And yet justice demands truth. What about those friends and relations – perhaps we need a greater sense of urgency in bringing them to the feet of Christ as opposed to the obvious ambivalence we see today precisely because of a loss of belief in such things. Which was kind of the point being made. Uncomfortable truth is harder to peddle than comfortable lies. And therein lies the rub.

  2. The sacraments are an outward sign of a prior spiritual reality. Of themselves they are not the reality. Outward observances cannot substitute for the reality. Vatican II, in Sacrosanctum Concilium 59, says of the sacraments: “They not only presuppose faith, but by words and objects they also nourish, strengthen, and express it; that is why they are called “sacraments of faith”. A life pleasing to God needs to be aware of this. I’m not so sure that this is the case most of the time.

    • David Knowles

      The Real Presence is a reality. In the Blessed Sacrament Jesus continues His Incarnation throughout time. His earthly Presence, endures for ever.

  3. Tony Hill

    Of course, you might be right.

    I like this though by George MacDonald:

    “I do not myself believe that mere punishment exists anywhere in the economy of the highest. I think mere punishment is a human idea, not a divine one. But the consuming fire is more terrible to the evildoer than any idea of punishment invented by the most riotous of human imaginations. Punishment it is, though not mere punishment, which is a thing not of creation but destruction: it is a power of God and for his creature. As love is God’s being and creative energy in one, so the pains of God are to the recreation of the things his love has made, and sin has unmade.

    Every soul that is ultimately lost is a defeat of the love of God.

    Those who exalt free choice believe God must operate only within the sphere of our sovereignty.”

    Any Eternal God of Infinite Love will not terminate that Love at the moment of human death, will He?

    • Admin

      What did Jesus say? There we find explicit teaching regarding the reality of hell and heaven. If we decide Jesus got it wrong. Well why be a Christian at all?

      • Tony isn’t denying that though is he Father? He is pointing out that “punishment” may be far too weak a term for the consequences of failure to achieve the only thing it is, ultimately, worth achieving

  4. Tony Hill

    Well, weeping and gnashing of teeth and so forth may be, as George MacDonald suggests, part of divine creativity rather than human self-destruction. Does Jesus anywhere say otherwise? I suppose it depends on what is meant by The End. If God operates on our scale and we have whatever paltry span allotted to us within which to save ourselves (some longer than others which always strikes me as a bit of a problem) then so be it.

    I just find it more than a bit confusing when you’re setting these rather bleak calculations against the eternal and infinite God.

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