Striving for heaven

| Father Tom Margevicius | August 21, 2019 | 0 Comments
Stairway to Heaven

iStock/RomoloTavani

I read somewhere (maybe Dale Ahlquist can find it) that GK Chesterton wrote, “Modern man has stopped longing for heaven and now takes it for granted that he will get there.”

It’s hard to argue, “in the end everyone gets to heaven,” in light of this Sunday’s Gospel. Jesus’ words unsettle us. Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” He answered, “Strive to enter through the narrow door, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough” (Luke 13:23–24). Matthew’s version is even starker: “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few” (Matt. 7:13–14). Seven years ago, Dr. Ralph Martin wrote a book entitled, “Will Many Be Saved?” In it he explains that Vatican II does not teach “universal salvation,” as some have supposed; Jesus’ words still hold.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church n. 1817 defines hope as “the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit.” According to CCC 2091, there are two ways to sin against hope: despair, and presumption. Despair is loss of hope; presumption says hope is not necessary, because everyone gets saved anyway. CCC 2092 describes “two kinds of presumption. Either man presumes upon his own capacities, (hoping to be able to save himself without help from on high), or he presumes upon God’s almighty power or his mercy (hoping to obtain his forgiveness without conversion and glory without merit).” Sunday’s Gospel counteracts presumption.

Some have called hope “the forgotten virtue” because no one really knows what it is, or why we need it. That’s not surprising in an age wherein we are accustomed to instant gratification: fast food, faster internet, immediate answers. That sounds like the “broad road” Jesus warns about. It’s not easy to deny ourselves instant pleasure today for the sake of better rewards later.

Hope is hard work. We have to strive. This is not the same thing as “earning our salvation,” as some Reformers accused of Catholics; with them we agree that salvation is a grace God gives freely, and we cannot earn it: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast” (Eph 2:8–9). But God also expects us to do our part: “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12).

Next weekend is Labor Day. Most of us take a day off from work, maybe visit the State Fair, and enjoy summer one last time. As we honor the American worker, let us also remember the most noble and important work of all: striving for heaven.

Father Margevicius is director of worship for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.


Sunday, August 25
Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Category: Sunday Scriptures