Category Archives: Heaven

The Boredom of Heaven

Perhaps it is because I am bald, but I cringe at the theological hair splitting that often goes on in the Church.  It is not just “professional” theologians that are guilty of this, but priests and ordinary lay folks as well.  Don’t get me wrong— I think making distinctions, defining your terms and the like are very important to coming to understand the truth.  But it is when the split hair itself becomes the answer that I feel the shiver in my spine.  There are two questions that immediately come to mind.  I will save the second for another time, but in today’s post I would like to look at the first—“how can a loving God send people to hell?”

To ask it is almost to reflexively answer it—“God does not send anyone to hell.  People choose hell.”  In most cases that is sufficient for the prosecution to rest.  But the better prepared interlocutor will demand a cross-examination.  In the parable of the sheep and the goats it certainly seems as if the wicked are being sent by God to “the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Mt 25:41).  Even though it may not fit with the image of God we are trying to portray, the fact of the matter is that there are simply too many references to divine judgment to avoid the conclusion that God sends some people to hell.  There must be a more tactful answer.

Now, I have made the reader cringe.  God becomes not Father but harsh Judge, the exact image you are trying to overcome with your hair splitting answer.  The reflexive answer to the question really only serves to perpetuate two common misconceptions about heaven; misconceptions that are often stumbling blocks to our desire for Heaven.

Heaven May Not Be What You Think It Is

The first delusion embedded in both the question and the answer is that Heaven is a reward for being good and hell a punishment for being bad.  But that is not true.  Heaven is the (super)natural consequence of being holy.  Sure, everyone in Heaven is good, but only because they are holy.  No amount of goodness can make us holy, even though holiness makes us good.  The author to the Letter to the Hebrews says “without holiness no one will see God” (Heb 12:14).

One of the reasons why someone like Aristotle could only get so far in his thinking about God was that he could not conceive of a way for the gods and men to be friends.  Friendship can only occur between equals and since there was a great chasm between the two, while men might placate the gods, they could never enjoy their friendship.  What Aristotle didn’t consider is that the real God was Love and desired nothing more than to be friends with each man.  To make that happen, He would first become equals with us so that we might become equals with Him.

God makes us equals with Himself by filling us with the Divine life, what St. Peter calls becoming “partakers of the Divine nature” (2 Pt 1:4).  Catholics call it sanctifying grace or the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  Whatever you call it, it is the only thing which makes friendship with God possible.  We really must be “like God,” but only on His terms and not our own.

The problem with the answer is that it only feeds the “faith vs works” controversy.  Holiness is bigger than either faith or works.  It is accepting the invitation of friendship with God and then having that friendship grow.  This is why the authors of the New Testament repeatedly stress the necessity of Baptism and all the great missionary saints like St. Peter Claver saw it as their mission to enflame a desire for baptism in the natives (or in the case of St. Peter Claver, slaves) and then baptize them.  Baptism is the only sure way we know of to become friends with God.

Heaven, then properly understood, is the culmination of a lifetime friendship with God.  This leads us to the second delusion veiled in the question and answer and that is the tendency to see Heaven as the place where you finally get everything you ever wanted.  But Heaven is the place where you get the One Thing you really wanted—God.  Heaven is only heaven because God is there.  It is not a collection of the best things of earth.  There may be many other things there, but it is only God that matters.  All of the other things that are there are there simply to increase the enjoyment of Him.

Hell is hell because God is not there.  It may have many other things, but once God is removed their emptiness becomes apparent.  That is why the pain of loss, that is rejection of the free invitation to friendship, is considered to be the greatest pain of hell.  There is a diabolical corollary to the divine maxim “seek ye first the Kingdom of God and all these things will be added unto you”—“seek ye first all these things and the Kingdom of God will be forfeit unto  you.”

Medieval art often presented Heaven with cherubs playing harps on clouds.  For those operating under our two embedded assumptions this image of Heaven is not awe-full, but awfully boring.  While it remains just an artistic representation, these images contain a truth that Heaven is about being with God and nothing else.  For those who are interested in that sort of thing then the experience will be far beyond what we could possibly image (c.f. 1 Cor 2:9).  But for the worldly man it would seem boring.  He would soon get weary of heaven because he would continue to hear only about one subject which he has no real interest in hearing about.

Increasing the Desire for Heaven

This is one of the reasons Catholics have a decided advantage thanks to the Mass.  Mass really is training for Heaven.  It is Heaven with a Sacramental veil over it.  If you love the Mass then you will love heaven.  If you don’t love the Mass, then get to work on growing in love with it.  Pray for this singular grace and persevere in that prayer.  As Blessed John Henry Newman says, “‘Enter into the joy of thy Lord’ will sit with us the same way ‘Let us pray’ does now.”

Although the conclusion might not seem obvious at first based on what we have said, it is most certain that God “sends” people to hell because hell is not really the worst thing that can happen to someone.  The worst thing that can happen to a man who is not holy is to go to heaven.  Newman said, “Heaven would be hell to an irreligious man.”  Heaven is a place of happiness only for someone who is holy.  Otherwise it would be a place of eternal torment.  God is “a consuming fire” that burns hotter than the fires of hell.  Only those who have been clothed with grace can withstand and enjoy the heat of His Presence.  The thicker the cloak, the closer one gets.  That is why God does not cease to be merciful even to those in hell.  Returning to Newman once more: “even supposing a man of unholy life were allowed to enter heaven, he would not be happy there; so that it would be no mercy to permit him to enter.”

King Jesus and Queen Mary

Although the Church does not officially celebrate an Octave proceeding from the Solemnity of the Assumption, the timing of the liturgical celebration of the Queenship of Mary eight days later sets up what could still be viewed as an “Octave in spirit.”  The timing is especially apt because her coronation completes the picture first presented to us in the Assumption.  Quite literally, it crowns everything that we know about Mary and, even more importantly, about her Son, Jesus Christ.  It is in the spirit of entering more fully into these two Marian celebration that it is particularly helpful to reflect specifically on her role as Queen.

The Church often finds herself in a defensive stance when it comes to proclaiming the truth about Mary.  This posture mostly follows from a belief, even if only unconscious, that Our Lady’s greatness diminishes Christ’s greatness.  We grow anxious that we might love Mary too much and thus take away from Jesus.  But everything that we believe about Mary flows from the fact that she was predestined to be the Mother of God.  God never calls a person without also giving that person the necessary natural and supernatural endowments to carry out their mission.  Mary’s plentitude of grace comes from God because of her role as the Mother of God.  Her union with her Son was not just mystical but natural and His dependence upon her made her cooperation in His work of redemption wholly unique.

Mary’s Role as Mother of God and Its Consequences

There are consequences that follow from her role as Mother of God.  Related to our particular reflection, she was the mother of the One Whom God would give “the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Lk 1:32-33).  In short, she is the Mother of the King of Kings.

St. Gabriel’s message confirms what we already find in many other places in Scripture, namely that the Davidic kingdom provides a blueprint for the Kingdom of God.  And like the other the other near-East kingdoms of the time, the Mother of the king or the Gebirah in the Davidic kingdom played a pivotal role in the management of that kingdom.

This unique role of the Gebirah has been studied and written about extensively (I especially recommend Dr. Edward Sri’s book called Queen Mother), so I won’t duplicate those efforts here (**see footnote).  Instead, I will point out two passages that are particularly illustrative.  Both involve David’s wife Bathsheba, the mother of future King Solomon.  Early in the First Book of Kings (1:6) when an aging David is coming to the end of his reign, she enters the royal chamber in a posture of obeisance and offered homage to the king.  While acknowledging her, he pays her no particular honor.  Fast forward a chapter (1Kings 2:19ff ) and we find that once Solomon becomes king she enters the royal chamber and the narrative finds him bowing before her, having a throne brought in and placed at his right hand.  She intercedes on behalf of Adonijah and the king says he cannot refuse her.

The juxtaposition of these two passages confirms for us two things and help us to see more clearly what role Queen Mary, as the Gebirah, plays in the fulfilled Davidic Kingdom.  First, Bathsheba has no authority as wife of the king, but once her son becomes king, she is given a throne.  Without her son on the throne, she has no authority so that her authority depends upon his royal authority.  Likewise, all that we say about Mary’s Queenship flows only from Christ’s authority.  She has only a share in His authority.  But as is always the case with the Church’s Marian beliefs, take away from Mary and you diminish Christ.  Mary’s exaltation puts flesh, literally and figuritvely, on what we believe about Christ.  Without those beliefs, the teachings about Christ gravitate towards abstraction.  If  you take away her queenship, you will be saying that Christ is not the true heir to the throne of David.  The throne of David always had a throne at the king’s right hand for the Queen Mother.

Second, the Queen Mother was no mere figurehead but had royal authority.  The king could not refuse her.  This helps us to shed light on what can otherwise seem like a rather odd interaction between Our Lord and Our Lady at Cana.  As Queen Mother, Our Lord could not refuse anything that His Mother asked even though His “hour had not yet come.”  She assumes He will do it, because she had such authority to “command” Him.

Why Mary Should Steal Your Heart

While this biblical proof-texting is necessary, we must always have the same goal in sight that Pope Pius XII had when he instituted the liturgical feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen in his encyclical Ad Caeli Reginam, namely, to “renew the praises of Our Heavenly Mother, and enkindle a more fervent devotion towards her, to the spiritual benefit of all mankind.”  The reasons for our devotion might satisfy our heads, but unless it also engages our hearts it will remain sterile facts.  The aforementioned Pontiff helps us begin the longest 18-inch journey by summarizing what we have already said and pointing out that “…as His associate in the redemption, in his struggle with His enemies and His final victory over them, has a share, though in a limited and analogous way, in His royal dignity. For from her union with Christ she attains a radiant eminence transcending that of any other creature; from her union with Christ she receives the royal right to dispose of the treasures of the Divine Redeemer’s Kingdom.”

Well-schooled in democratic logic, we reflexively dismiss monarchical terms and neglect their import.  We must not forget that we are citizens in the Kingdom of God, not in the Democratic Republic of the United States of Humanity and Divinity.  Christ is the benevolent King and seated at His right hand is the benevolent Queen.  You cannot have Christ as King without Mary as Queen.  You cannot honor Him while neglecting to honor her.  A man who pledged loyalty to the King while disrespecting the Queen would be labeled as a traitor.  Our devotion for Christ should overflow onto His Mother (which will always flow back on Him).  We must see her as both Queen and Mother.

A sure way to increase that devotion is to reflect upon the fact that Our Lady has a “royal right to dispose of the treasures of the Divine Redeemer’s Kingdom.”  The role of Advocate and Queen are practically synonymous—the Queen Mother in her royal office in the kingdom of David exercised her role primarily as an advocate, interceding for the people of the Kingdom.  In fact she did not share in any way in the royal judicial power.  Our Lady is never referred to as the Mother of Justice, but Mother of Mercy because her role is to distribute from the treasury of her Son.  When we realize that she has real power and real authority and that she exercises it as a Mother to each one of us, it is hard not to fall more deeply in love with Our Queen.

In a very real way, then, we see why the Queenship of Mary completes the Assumption.  Although her earthly life came to an end at the Assumption, her throne reminds us that her mission was really only just beginning.  She is the Advocate who always makes an offer that can’t be refused and our celebration of her Queenship must be a time of gratitude to God for so solicitous a Queen and to her for her constant intercession before God.

**For those interested in looking up some further passages supporting this see the succession narratives from 1 and 2 Kings, when each of the kings is mentioned, his mother is also mentioned with him emphasizing her important place beside the king.  The Queen Mother is alsodescried as having a crown (Jer 13:18), a throne (1 Kings 2:19) and is a member of the royal court (2 Kings 24:12-15).

 

 

How the Angels Fell

As Dante journeys to the center of Hell, he learns why it is so cold.  The devil is trapped in the pits of hell in a pool of ice that is constantly cooled by the flapping of his wings.  In other words, he would be free to rise to God if only he would stop trying to raise himself.  Dante is smuggling theology into his literary masterpiece in order to tell us how some of the angels fell and why they will always remain that way.

First of all, how can we possibly know what happened before the creation of mankind (i.e. no human witnesses) and about which there is no explicit divine revelation?  We know that they were tested prior to the creation of mankind (Gn 1:4), some angels fell, but the majority of them of them remained faithful (Rev 12:4), that after they failed their testing they were thrown down to the earth (Rev 12:9) and that their ultimate destination is hell (Mt 25:41).  There are also few Magisterial pronouncements (see CCC 391-395) on the fallen angels, none of which speak of how they fell only that, as the Fourth Lateran Council declared, “The devil and the other demons were indeed created naturally good by God, but they became evil by their own doing.”  With only these few theological data points in hand, what can we say?

Why Specualtive Theology Matters

As a preliminary aside, many people will simply throw up their hands and say we cannot know anything more.  To speculate, in their minds, in theology is dangerous.  But when we allow revelation and the Church to set the boundaries, speculative theology can be an extremely fruitful exercise.  In fact I would say contemplating such questions (which is really all that speculation is) actually serves the purpose of moving what might seem to be abstract theological truths into the practical realm.  It helps us to see more fully the implications of our beliefs and show us how they actually relate to our Christian lives here and now.  It also helps strengthen our faith because it reveals the inner connectedness of all that we believe and how, even though many beliefs could not be known by reason, once they are known, just how reasonable they are.  As Clement of Alexandria once said, those who have “received these things [revelation] fortified by reason, can never lose them.”satan-wings-of-fury

With that said, let us begin with the declaration of the Fourth Lateran Council given above, namely that angels were created by God and insofar as they are created by God and reflect His beauty and wisdom are good.  Yet through a free decision of their own, they became morally wicked.  Reflecting on this, we see the first practical question emerge regarding the nature of reality.  In order to avoid falling into a dualistic understanding of reality—one in which good is equally pitted against evil—we must be able to explain angelic sin.

How Angels were Created

Like any artist, God created in order to reveal something of Himself.  In His plan, all of creation exists in a natural hierarchy.  The higher up the ladder of being, the more the creature naturally images God.  At the top of the ladder, sit the angels and man.  Angels are pure spirits incapable of making errors in the natural order.  All of their knowledge is given to them by God directly at their creation (we call this infused knowledge) and thus they are a rule unto themselves in the natural realm.  They exist in a natural hierarchy of power.  The highest of these angels has been always understood to be Lucifer, who was after his fall to become Satan or the devil.

We encounter here what might be an objection—the impeccability of the angels.  If the angels are incapable of making an error, then how could 1/3 them make such a grievous error of turning away from God?  I was careful to add a key modifier that many people overlook.  The angels are impeccable in the natural realm.  Like man, because angels are rational creatures, they have the natural capacity to live a supernatural life.  Like man prior to his fall, they were created in a state of grace that “activates” this natural capacity.   In other words, to truly be like God, they must receive the life of God directly from Him.  Otherwise they will merely remain His image.

What this means practically speaking is that they didn’t fall from “heaven” in the sense we might think.  We tend to think of Heaven as the place where the Blessed see God face to face.  Prior to their test, the angels were not in Heaven, but instead in some place of testing.  Properly speaking we might say they fell from the heavens in that their fall brought them from outside the material realm into it.

The angels in the supernatural realm are no longer a rule unto themselves.  They must now submit to the higher rule of God.  It is only in this supernatural state that they are vulnerable to error.  Thus we find that they are tested and not in some superficial way.

This distinction between the natural and the supernatural state is very important.  Understanding this distinction puts the faith vs works controversy to rest.  No natural act can get us to heaven.  It is only supernatural acts, namely those good acts that we do animated by sanctifying grace, which activate our “heaven capacity.”  So many fail to make this distinction and spend time thinking it is either faith or good works that will get you to heaven.  But it is supernatural works that get us to heaven.

The First Sin

With this distinction in place we see that the supernatural state or the “order of grace” as it is called is a great equalizer.  It puts everyone on a level playing field regardless of their natural endowment.  Instead it depends upon God’s gracious dispensation.  We find that it is often those who have the greatest natural endowment of gifts that has the hardest time accepting this.  And now we are able to see the sin of Lucifer.  Because he was the one who had the highest natural endowment, he preferred to remain in his singular position as God’s greatest creature rather than associate with the “common folk” who were elevated (maybe even to a place higher to him) by God.

This is why the Church has insisted that the first sin was pride.   As Abbot Vonier, summarizing Aquinas’ teaching says, it is clearly a sin of pride in the sense that it is a love of one’s own proper excellency in opposition to another’s.  For the prideful to admit the other’s excellence would end the singularity of one’s own excellence.  In other words, Satan’s sin consisted in the steady refusal of Satan to enter into communion with other beings because he sees it as a loss of his own excellence.  It shows also why his will remains fixed on his decision.  He is not under the delusion that he will somehow become God, he already knows that.  Instead he really wants to be utterly unique like God.

Practical Matters

There are two practical implications that follow from what we have said.  First, that in the fall of the angels there is nothing like concupiscence. St. Thomas says the fallen spirits did not lose either their intellectual privileges or suffer a weakening of their will.  Their place in the universe remains unchanged and thus their natural capacities far exceed anything we can do.  These are our enemies, not so much because they hate us, but because they hate the grace of God and in jealousy (always the second sin) they seek to prevent man from possessing or keeping God’s grace.  We must never forget their innate power and realize the devil and his minions should not be treated lightly.  We must do all that we can to protect ourselves from their attacks, but ultimately our protection and power rests only in putting on “the full armor of God.”

Second, it helps us to more clearly see the motives behind our own sin.  We tend to look upon the fall of the angles with some disbelief.  How could a creature as smart as Lucifer make such a totally insane decision?  That question is quickly put away when we realize we are no different when we choose to sin.  We know it is insane and yet we do it anyway.  This is because sin is not a matter of knowledge but of the choice of the will.  We cannot know God as He is in this period of testing.  The only way to draw near to Him is through love.  The commandment is to love the Lord, not to learn about the Lord.  This is not to poo-poo learning the Faith, but to constantly be on guard that our knowledge is leading to more reasons to love God and not merely know more about Him.  The former leads to true love, the latter to pride.

The Resurrection of the Body

For those who have a special devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, St. Thomas the Apostle is like a patron saint.  Although he was filled with skepticism regarding the Resurrection of the Lord, once he touched the nail marks and placed his hand upon the Sacred Heart of Jesus, he came to full belief in Jesus Christ as true God and true man.  For only a man could have a heart and only the author of life could be so alive with such wounds.  While we can hardly imagine what that actually felt like, with the help of the other St. Thomas (Aquinas) we can piece together some profound truths about the resurrected body of Our Lord.  What is probably most amazing to ponder is that St. Thomas the Apostle was able to touch a heart that was filled with blood, the same heart that he well knew bled out completely when the wound was made in Our Lord’s side.

How can we know this?  It follows directly from what we know about the Eucharist.  It is the Resurrected Body and Blood of the Lord that we receive.  Therefore, we know that Our Lord’s blood also rose with Him.  Because the heart is the organ that “houses” blood, Our Lord’s resurrected heart too would contain blood.  While this certainly aids us in our devotion, there is also a more practical reason why we should study this.  St. Paul in writing to the Philippians tells them that “Christ will change our lowly body to conform with His glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself” (Phil 3:21).  In other words, when we confess in the Creed that we “look forward to the resurrection of the body” we can gain access to the content of what it is specifically we are looking forward to in living with resurrected bodies, even if it strains our imagination what the experience will be like.

Like Our Lord, our resurrected bodies will have all of our organs intact.  This follows from one of Aquinas’ common sense principles, namely that because “‘[T]he works of God are perfect’ (Deuteronomy 32:4) and the resurrection will be the work of God, therefore man will be remade perfect in all his members.”  Everything that is part of the perfection of our nature, will be part of our resurrected bodies.  This includes even those things like hair and nails.  Aquinas, again quotes Scripture (“not a hair of your head shall perish”) and uses common sense (Christ clearly had hair and nails in His Resurrected Body or else he would have freaked people out as a glorified man with no hair and nails) to prove this.

By this same principle, namely that all defects of the body will be removed, St. Thomas even goes so far as to say everyone will be of a youthful age because it lacks the defect of not yet being full-grown and the defect of being no longer perfect.  He takes the idea that we will be conformed to Christ’s resurrection quite literally by saying this age is 33 since that is the age of Our Lord.  This, by the way, is also why he says it is fitting that Our Lord was crucified at the age of 33 because it was when He was at His greatest vigor.

resurrection

If all defects of the body are removed, then why do Our Lord’s wounds of Crucifixion remain?  St. Thomas says that wounds will not be in the bodies insofar as they imply a defect but will remain if they are signs of steadfast virtue and marks that will increase their own and others’ joy.  That is why some of Our Lord’s wounds remain and the wounds, say of the scourging, do not.  Saints who were beheaded will have their heads back, but there will be some marks to distinguish them as being martyred.

In his treatise of the resurrected body at the end of his first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul lists four distinctive marks of the glorified body (1 Cor 15:42-44).  First he says that it is incapable of suffering, or what is called “impassible” when he says “It is sown corruptible; it is raised incorruptible.”  Because the body will be completely subject to the soul (more on this in a moment) and the soul in complete bliss of the beatific vision, the body will be incapable of suffering.  This obviously is why those in hell, even though they too receive their bodies back, are capable of suffering in their bodies (even if they cannot die again).

Secondly, he speaks of the clarity of the resurrected body when he says “It is sown dishonorable; it is raised glorious.”  Clarity simply means that the glory of the soul will overflow into the body.  Because, as St. Paul says “the sun has a splendor of its own, so has the moon; and the stars theirs. Even among the stars one differs from another in brightness. So it is with the resurrection of the dead,” each person’s clarity will be different based upon their earthly merits.  Yet, there will be no jealousy among the blessed because Heaven is a beautiful whole.  Even though the clarity of the Resurrected body surpasses the sun, it does not disturb the vision of the eyes but instead soothes it, thus we will all be pleased at seeing each other.

Third, he refers to the mark of agility when he says “It is sown weak; it is raised powerful.”  Agility refers to the freedom “from the heaviness that now presses it down, and will take on a capability of moving with the utmost ease and swiftness, wherever the soul pleases” (Roman Catechism).  This is why Our Lord was able to travel about so freely during the 40 days after Easter and was a fulfillment of the promise of Isaiah (40:31) “They shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

Lastly, he speaks of the mark of subtility when he says, “It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.”  The idea of a spiritual body can be confusing for many people when they read this text.  Notice that he makes the distinction between a “natural body” and a “spiritual body” and not between a “physical body” and a “spiritual body.”  It does not mean that the body is somehow changed into a spirit.  It remains a physical body, but a spiritual one that has different properties.  Again, viewing our own resurrection through the lens of the resurrected Christ we find him telling the Apostles “Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have” (Lk 24:39).  It has flesh and bones, yet it can pass through burial clothes and locked doors

To understand the difference between a spiritual and natural body, we need to clarify some important points about the human soul.  Recall that strictly speaking all living things have souls.  It is only man who has a spiritual soul, or more accurately it is man’s spirit that acts as his soul.  In this life the soul has a two-fold function, both as spirit and animating principle.  Once it is separated from the body it no longer has a body to animate and is only a spirit.  In the first animation the soul is made conformable to the body (even if it is superior to it) but because the body comes first, the soul is created to animate the organism.  It is the body that is the occasion for the creation of this particular soul by God.  In the resurrection, it is the soul that makes the particular body.  The particular soul best expresses itself through the body that it was assigned to by God at its creation, so it follows that the soul would draw that body to itself.

Although this may go without saying after all that has been put forth above, it is important to emphasize that we will receive the same bodies in the resurrection.  While it is not clear what the principle of continuity is—after all our bodies now are not composed of the same matter as they were 20 years ago—St. Paul is clear that our souls return to the same body.  As St. Thomas says,

For we cannot call it resurrection unless the soul return to the same body, since resurrection is a second rising, and the same thing rises that falls: wherefore resurrection regards the body which after death falls rather than the soul which after death lives. And consequently if it be not the same body which the soul resumes, it will not be a resurrection, but rather the assuming of a new body.

Clearly this does not mean that the body is the same in every way.  St Paul likens the relationship between our natural bodies and our risen bodies as seedling to mature plant.

While it is comforting for those of us who are bald to know we will have our hair back in heaven, there is a further reason why we should try to flesh out (pun intended) what the resurrection of the body will be like.  When he declared the dogma of the Assumption, Pius XII warned about the rise of the cult of the body that he saw coming.  From too-skinny models to cosmetic surgery, to photo-shop, to tattoos, I think we would all agree that he was right.  By being witnesses of the Resurrection of the Body we will keep from being dragged into that.  How many women try to hide the effects in their body from all the children they have had, when in the resurrection those are likely to be “glory-scars?”  How about the effects of sleepless nights from taking care of a sick family member? Those who make a gift of themselves often have the scars to prove it.  The world says hide these, Christ says in the resurrection all these and more will add to our glory.  Rejoice, I say it again, rejoice in carrying about the wounds of Christ in your body.

Why Many Could be Lost

In his encyclical on evangelization, Redemptoris Missio, St. John Paul II remarked that the number of those who do not belong to the Church had nearly doubled since the close of the Second Vatican Council.  While this presents a tremendous opportunity for bringing souls to Christ, the Church has been somewhat hamstrung in making wide-scale evangelization a reality.  This is because actions follow from beliefs.  Since the close of the Council, many people in the Church have come to believe in Universalism; that is the belief that all men will be saved.  A traditional motivation for preaching the Gospel has always been that there are men whose salvation is in jeopardy.  Once this motivation is taking away the urgency of missionary activity dies with it.

In addressing the falsehood of Universalism, it is important to understand what the Church means (and also doesn’t) mean when she says that “outside the Church there is no salvation.”  This affirmation comes from the fact that the Church is by its very nature as His Body linked with Christ Himself.  The Council makes this link clear in the unequivocal words that there is “‘one mediator between God and men, Himself a man, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself as a ransom for all’ (1 Tim. 2:45), ‘neither is there salvation in any other’(Acts 4:12). Therefore, all must be converted to Him…”(Ad Gentes, 7).

In a world that is drinking from a relativistic fountain, this is often thought to be very intolerant so we need to be clear in what is being said.  First, this is not saying that a person necessarily has to be a member of the Church to be saved, only that it is because of the merits of Christ that He deposited in the Church that they will be saved.  Second, there is the level of personal knowledge and culpability.  Certainly “they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it” (CCC 846).  This also means that “Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience.   Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life. Whatever good or truth is found amongst them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel” (Lumen Gentium, 16).

It is a verbal sleight of hand associated with this paragraph that has allowed Universalism to creep in.  Many have read into the possibility that one might achieve eternal salvation to mean that it is probable or even definite.  But the true “spirit” of the Council seems to agree with St. Thomas’ assessment that the majority of non-Christians are lost when she proclaims that:

“…often men, deceived by the Evil One, have become vain in their reasonings and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator.  Or some there are who, living and dying in this world without God, are exposed to final despair.” (LG 16, emphasis added).

Returning back to the first part of Paragraph 16, we find that the Council gave four conditions for the non-Christian to possibly be saved.  First, there must be no culpability for their ignorance.  Second they should be seeking God with a sincere heart.  Third, they must be “moved by grace” to live in accordance with God’s will as they know it.  Finally, they must receive whatever “good or truth” that is contained in their religion.

All Dogs in Heaven

When confronted with this, the usual response is a question—“what about the person on some deserted island who never even heard of Christ?”  St. Thomas addressed this question of invincible ignorance (i.e. ignorance that could not be overcome) by an appeal to Divine Providence based on the revealed truth that “God wills all men to be saved” (1Tim 2:4).  He says that,

“it pertains to divine providence to furnish everyone with what is necessary for salvation, provided that on his part there is no hindrance. Thus, if someone so brought up followed the direction of natural reason in seeking good and avoiding evil, we must most certainly hold that God would either reveal to him through internal inspiration what had to be believed, or would send some preacher of the faith to him as he sent Peter to Cornelius (Acts 10:20).”

As a necessary tangent, it seems we need to somehow reconcile the fact that St. Paul tells Timothy that “God wills all men to be saved” and yet Scripture also tells us of at least two people who are lost (while the Church has never engaged in negative canonizations declaring a particular person in hell, Scriptures tells us that the false prophet of Rev 20:10 ends up in hell and seems to suggest that Judas is reprobated.  Matthew26:24 and John 6:70, 17:2 could hardly be true were he among the blessed.).  St. Thomas makes the distinction between God’s antecedent and consequent will to make this understandable.  Antecedent will is what He wills for a thing in isolation by considering only the individual parts of His plan (a single person) and not the entire plan (all people).  In order to achieve the good, there must also be consideration of the circumstances.  This is the consequent will.  To make this clear, St. Thomas gives the example of a just judge who antecedently wills all men to live but consequently wills the murderer to be executed.  The judge not only evaluates the murderer as an individual absolutely but looks to the good of the whole of which all share.  So then, in His antecedent will, God wills to save all men, but in his consequent will He wills to save only some while permitting others to be damned.

The interlocutor seems to be asking about the deserted man’s salvation, but we should not despair of his salvation, but our own for not preaching the Gospel to him.  This is because all too often we do not believe that the Gospel is really Good News.  Those who hear it and conform their lives to it are better off not just in the next world, but even now.  Eternal life doesn’t begin at death, but now.  Christ is the answer to man’s deepest longings and aspirations and true disciples know that a life without Christ is a life that is incomplete.  So it is a supreme act of charity and a sacred duty to go out and meet the desires of all men with the liberating truth of the Gospel in its fullness.  By depriving others of the truth of Christ’s enduring presence in the Church, we are depriving them of the graces (through Baptism and Confession) that are necessary for salvation.  Men are not damned for Original Sin, but for those sins by which they are culpable.  There is only one place where those sins can infallibly forgiven and eternal life given and restored—the Church.  To the extent that we believe this, we will be missionaries.  In this way we can see that in the Church’s history missionary drive has always been a sign of the vitality of the faith of the members of the Church.