“Lord, will those who are saved be few?”

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There is no way to avoid the tremendous fact: souls will be damned

Our Lord Jesus Christ spoke of the damnation of souls not as a possibility but as a fact

“The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 13:41-42, 49-50)

The Church has always taught this doctrine, the Fathers of the Church have upheld it, and many of the saints have  argued that not only some but many will be damned.

In the apparitions of Our Lady approved by the Church, Hell as a real possibility for every person has been explicitly or implicitly presented. But at Fatima, on July 13, 1917, the Blessed Virgin even empowered the three children to have a vision of the damned in Hell. As Sister Lucia narrated in her memoirs: 

“Our Lady opened Her hands once more as She had done the two previous months, the rays of light seemed to penetrate the earth.

And we saw as it were a sea of fire; plunged in this fire we saw the demons and the souls of the damned.

The latter were like transparent burning embers, all blackened, burnished, bronzed, having human forms.

They were floating about in that conflagration, now raised into the air by the flames that issued from within themselves together with great clouds of smoke, now they fell back on every side like huge sparks in huge fires without weight or equilibrium, amid shrieks and groans of pain and despair which horrified us and made us tremble with fright. (It must have been this sight which caused me to cry out as people say they heard me.)

The demons were distinguished from the souls of the damned by their terrifying and repellent likeness to unknown animals, black and transparent like burning coals.

The vision only lasted for a moment, thanks to our good heavenly Mother who, at the first apparition had promised to take us to Heaven. Without that, I think, we would have died of fear.”

Our Lady then told them: “You have seen Hell where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to My Immaculate Heart.”

“Strive to enter by the narrow gate”

The Society of Ignatians, while faithfully teaching the Church’s doctrine on salvation, never refers to the risk of damnation without in the same breath recalling Christ the Savior who “for us men and our salvation came down from Heaven” (Nicene Credo).

She focuses mens’ attention not on the apostles’ question – “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” (Lk 13:23) ‒ but on Christ’s answer “Strive to enter by the narrow gate” (Lk 13:24) since “unless you repent, you too will all perish” (Luke 13:5).

And she calls on us to have that healthy fear that Our Lord urged: “But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!” (Luke 12:5)

Thus, she expresses the quintessentially Catholic attitude of militant combativeness against the forces of destruction, urged on by  the strong hope of the promise of the Savior who has told us that “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Cor 10:13).

This is the balanced Catholic attitude maintained in the face of heresies of  hopelessness and “a sort of cheap cheeriness, at the back of which there is a curious sort of hollow unbelief in reality; a mere worldly weakness of encouraging the world to do whatever it happens to be doing; an attempt to whitewash evil.” [1]

Futile speculations on the number of the saved she discourages. For, as the wise St. Thomas Aquinas recognized, they lead nowhere:  “It is better to say that to God alone is known the number reserved for eternal happiness”[2]. Above all, she ardently encourages Catholics to do everything possible to bring about the salvation of non-Catholics. This vehemently felt conviction was fundamental to the Catholic mentality in the first millennium, during the centuries of Christendom, and for centuries afterwards. It alone explains the monumental heroism of the Catholic missionary during almost two millennia[3].

Beauty and Grandeur of Salvation

More than the mere avoidance of damnation Ignatians will seek to motivate men with insights into the beauty and grandeur of salvation.

Ignatians will present the Catholic doctrine of salvation as a magnificent reality in which man, through attaining the Beatific Vision, reaches total fulfillment of soul and body, becomes a member of the perfect society of the saved, and is thereby immersed in total joy. How deeply this vision of Heaven as the patria and the land of those who are fully alive affected the intellectual and ruling classes of the West can be seen in the medieval poetry, prose, and drama culminating in Dante’s Divina Commedia[4].

Moreover, Ignatians will point out to men and women that salvation is not only as the end-result ‒ man’s fulfillment in Heaven ‒ but an outcome that is already occurring on Earth in man’s lifetime in the measure in which he allows the supernatural life received chiefly through baptism and the Eucharist to transform his thought and action with truth, goodness and beauty.

By leading Catholics to salvation through the sacred liturgy, Ignatians will enable them to see in the commemorations and feast days  of the saints, the beautiful Christlike women and men in whom the supernatural life has already triumphed, the grandeur of transformation into Christ and the ability through grace to triumph over Satan and all the evils of the world.

Joy is one of the hallmarks of the convinced Catholic. And of a Catholic society. Historians acknowledge that the Catholic worldview seems to have contributed not a little to a medieval Christendom that had, generally speaking, a joyful atmosphere. Contrasting contemporary Western society with its widespread use of antidepressants and high suicide rates, they acknowledge that medieval Catholics were people who seem to have been serene in the face of existential problems.[5] Philippe Ariès, in his seminal study, Western Attitudes Toward Death from the Middle Ages to the Present, concludes, “The truth is that probably at no time has man so loved life as he did at the end of the Middle Ages”.[6]  This joy will, we pray, mark the spirit of Ignatians as they lead men and women on the pathways to Eternity.

Footnotes

[1] G. K. Chesterton, in an article in Illustrated London News, August 30, 1930; G. K.’s Weekly, July 13, 1939; “On the Alleged Optimism of Dickens,” Charles Dickens, quoted in G. K. Chesterton, The Universe according to G. K. Chesterton: A Dictionary of the Mad, Mundane and Metaphysical (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2011), ed., Dale Ahlquist, p. 82.

[2] St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I, q. 23, article 7 ad 3.

[3] An urgency restated by the twentieth-century council, Vatican II (1962-1965) in its document Ad Gentes, no. 7: “This missionary activity derives its reason from the will of God, ‘who wishes all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and 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, made known by the Church’s preaching, and all must be incorporated into Him by baptism and into the Church which is His body. For Christ Himself ‘by stressing in express language the necessity of faith and baptism (cf. Mark 16:16; John 3:5), at the same time confirmed the necessity of the Church, into which men enter by baptism, as by a door. Therefore those men cannot be saved, who though aware that God, through Jesus Christ founded the Church as something necessary, still do not wish to enter into it, or to persevere in it’(Lumen Gentium, n. 14)….”

[4] See the insightful translation and notes of Dante’s Divina Commedia in the three-volume work: Anthony Esolen, (ed., and transl.), The Divine Comedy (New York: Random House, 2002-2007).

[5]  “The starkest difference between medieval and modern suicide is in the rate per 100,000 of population. Modern rates are usually judged this way, and run between approximately 3 and, say, 25 (the latter figure is from Paris in the 1870s). I can wrangle no medieval source into suggesting a higher rate than around one, and of course even that involves much speculation.” Alexander Murray, “Suicide in the Middle Ages” in Synergy (Kingston, ON: Queen’s University, Dept. of Psychiatry), vol. 18, no. 5, Fall-Winter 2012, p. 3. “The unified world-view of the Middle Ages bestowed peace and happiness as long as it satisfied men; there was no suicide tendency” in Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, Alan Woolfolk, Jonathan B. Imber, (eds.), Constructive Sociological Theory (New Brunswick, USA: Transaction Publishers, 1994), p. 62.

[6] Philippe Ariès, Western Attitudes Toward Death from the Middle Ages to the Present (London-Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1975),  p. 44.