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How many will be saved?

August 25, 2013

My homily for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary time, year C. The readings are Isaiah 66:18-21; Psalm 117; Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13 and Luke 13:22-30.

I can picture the Pentecostal pastor or the Baptist preacher, leaning over the pulpit and asking, “Are you saved, brothah? Are you saved, sistah?” Are you saved? That’s a question that seems to be more important to non-Catholic Christians than it is for Catholics. I mean, whenever an Evangelical has asked me if I’m saved, my response is (shrugging), “It depends.” Do you mean, do I believe in God, or do I believe in Christ? Or has Christ already saved me or do I accept the fact that He has saved me? Or do you mean, am I going to Heaven? Because I don’t know. I’d like to go to Heaven, but I don’t want to presume.

Are you going to Heaven? Now that’s a question that’s important for everyone; probably the most important question. Who wants to go to Heaven? I want to go to Heaven. The Catholic Church’s response to the “are you saved?” question is the Universal Call to Holiness. I’ve written about this before. We are all called to be holy. We are all called to be Saints. That means we are all called to go to Heaven. We are all called to salvation. That’s what it’s all about. That’s the most important thing we’ll ever do: get to Heaven!
And two thousand years ago, the followers of Jesus had the same question: Am I going to enter the Kingdom? Who will be saved? How many will be saved? That is where we are in today’s Gospel.

Jesus’ answer, at a first glance might give the impression that not many will be saved. But I think that if we look closer, we’ll find that what He’s saying is very different.

Jesus’ answer is in three parts and so I am going to give you three words to help you remember:

1-      STRIVE.  “Strive to enter through the narrow door.” (Luke 13:22) There are some Christians who want you to think that there is nothing that we can do to be saved – that it’s Jesus who saves us and that’s true: Jesus saves us. There is nothing that you can do to earn salvation and there is nothing you can do to not have access to salvation. Jesus opens the door for everyone. If it was up to God, everyone would be saved! Unfortunately, because of free will, it is not entirely up to God. We have to cooperate with Christ’s saving action. We have to respond to His saving Grace.

So this idea that “we are saved by faith alone” is not true. St. Paul says that we are saved by faith, actually “by Grace, through Faith” (Ephesians 2:8 and in Galatians 2:16, “we are justified by faith in Jesus Christ”). He doesn’t say that we are saved by faith alone. Faith is the necessary ingredient for salvation. We have to believe that Jesus saved us and we have to accept that, but we are not saved by faith alone. If that was the case, Jesus would not tell us today that we have to “strive.” Strive means effort, it means hard work. The door is narrow but we can get through it. We just have to work hard at it.

Pope Francis, at World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro four weeks ago, told young people that athletes work hard; they train 8-10 hours a day; they sweat, they suffer, they deny themselves things, they diet – it’s like penance and fasting – for what? For a gold medal? To be inducted in the baseball hall of fame? To win the Stanley Cup? These are important goals for an athlete and it’s a good thing to make it to the Olympics – don’t get me wrong,  but St. Paul says that “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last” (1 Corinthians 9:25). Pope Francis told young people that Jesus Christ offers us something much better than the Gold Cup; He offers us eternal life: Salvation. How hard are we working at our salvation? We go to Mass once a week? We dedicate one hour a week to our salvation? We pray twice a day or before meals? We sign a yearly cheque to ShareLife? How hard to you work at your salvation? How hard do you work at making a living? How hard do you work at supporting your family? How hard do you work at passing your exams or moving up in your career? Those are important things, but what about the most important thing? How hard do you work at your salvation?

It’s easy to imagine the kind of things an athlete does while training, but perhaps you need some suggestiions for the spiritual exercises we need to do in order to work for our salvation. Let me give you three that Pope Francis gave us a tWorld Youth Day: Prayer, Sacraments and Service.

-Prayer: Twice a day or before meals may not be enough.  Are you praying every day? If not, can I suggest that you begin today. If you already pray every day, can I suggest that you pray one more time a day. Bring all your thoughts, your concerns, your joys, your fears to the Lord. Always talk and listen to Him (and Scripture is a good way to pray too).

-Sacraments: They’re all important, but particularly the Eucharist and Reconciliation. These are Sacraments that we can receive every day. Mass once a week? A lot of us can go more often. Let’s go more often. Reconciliation once a year, we can go more often. Let’s make an effort. Let’s strive to do better.

-Service: Love each other as I have loved you. A yearly cheque to ShareLife or some other charity? How about we do something nice for someone every day? It may seem simple, but it’s not easy. It’s hard, that’s why we have to strive.

The first thing we have to remember is that it’s hard work: Strive.

2-      The second word is “NOW”: Jesus opens the door and I’m sure that it will be open for a long time, but it’s not going to be open forever. Why are we waiting? This is the most important thing we’ll ever do. Why are we waiting? This is what we were speaking about two weeks ago when Jesus tells the parable of the rich man who’s building barns and amassing riches here on earth (Luke 12:13-21). Jesus said, “you fool, for on this very night your life will be taken from you!” Let’s not be fools. Let’s not wait. Let’s start now. Don’t wait until you’re ready or until you’re older or until you’ve gone to more parties or until you understand it all. Don’t wait until you have no more doubts or until you have no more fears or until you are no longer struggling with sin. This is the most important thing – eternal life. Don’t wait. Begin striving NOW.

3-      And the last word is what we need to start with: REPENTANCE:  That’s a scary word for many. Repentance means “turning around.” Let’s turn our lives around. Turn away from sin and turn towards God. This is not something we do once and then that’s it. We do it daily. It’s not scary. Jesus is waiting with arms open wide ready to help us up and receive us. (Pope Francis spoke about this today in his Angelus address.) Let’s not be the ones caught outside the door and God saying to us, “I don’t know you. I don’t care that you were eating and drinking with me at Mass every Sunday” and we end up on the outside weeping, or worse, gnashing our teeth in anger and hate.

If repentance scares you, think about this:  It’s discipline. It’s like the discipline of the athletes. I mess up and God corrects me, I repent and then I get up and move on. This is the discipline and correction that we heard of in the second reading (Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13). God loves us and that’s why He disciplines us when we make mistakes. If I’m at the store and some kid is having a tantrum, I’m not going to discipline him. I couldn’t care less if someone else’s kid is a brat. But I discipline my kids because I love them, I want them to grow up and be healthy and happy. Well, God wants us to grow up and be healthy and happy and go to Heaven. He wants us saved, that’s why He disciplines us. And we He disciplines us, we have to repent.

So, we strive: we work hard; we begin now: why are we waiting; and we begin with repentance, with a daily turning around, back to God, back to holiness.

If you ask me how many will be saved, I would say many. God wants everyone to be saved and He will do everything in His power to save everyone. The Book of Revelation tells us that it’s a “multitude that no one could count (Rev 7:9). That’s the prophecy from Isaiah that we heard in the first reading (Isaiah 66:18-21). All the nations will be gathered, from the north, the south, the east and the west. Everyone. And if we believe in Jesus Christ and we strive; if we begin now and we begin with repentance – we can be sure to be among them. And we can then go worry about other people’s salvation, because it’s not just about “me.” That is why the Psalm response today was, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news.”

God loves us so much that He will do everything He can, for as long as He can, to make sure that as many people as possible are saved. That’s great news!

May the Body and Blood of Christ give us the strength to strive, the resolve to begin now and the courage to repent daily.

Photo: “A multitude that could be counted.” 3.7 million pilgrims on Copacabana Beach on Sunday, July 28th, 2013 for the Closing Mass of World Youth Day Rio 2013. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

From → English, Reflections

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