On the one hand, I guess this should not shock us, since Jesus came as our Savior, offering us the “good news” of eternal salvation.
However, on the other hand, this is a surprise, because, as some Synod participants have chillingly observed, the Church rarely, if ever, speaks of salvation these days, since most of us today presume it, or don’t think we even need it!
Think about that…why do we need this New Evangelization at all? I suppose because our own faith has grown listless; or because we lost it all together! Why has it grown lax, or been lost? Because we don’t think we need it! We don’t need Jesus or His Church because we don’t need what He has come to give: life everlasting or salvation. “I came that they may have life, and life to the fullest.”
Jesus and his Church are all about salvation, the salvation of souls.
Why in the world would anybody not want the eternal life offered by Jesus and His Church?
Either because we think we can get it on our own – in other words, that we can save ourselves (which is the ancient heresy of “Pelagianism”) – or because it’s so cheap that we think we’re already assured of it, and hardly need any help from Jesus or His Church.
I bring all this up not only because it was a hot topic on the floor of the Synod, but because the month of November invites us to think about eternal salvation.
God wants us all to be saved, so passionately that He sent His only begotten Son to be our savior, sharing with us eternal life, earning our salvation by His death and resurrection.
However, when Jesus was asked if only a few would be saved, he didn’t reassure us that, don’t worry, almost everyone would make it, but rather: “Try your hardest to enter by the narrow door, because, I tell you, many will try to enter and will not succeed.” (Lk. 13:23-24)
On another occasion he made it clear: “Enter by the narrow gate, since the road that leads to destruction is wide and spacious, and many take it; but it is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life and only a few find it.” (Mt. 7:13-14)
We know Jesus wasn’t happy about this situation. We knew he wept when he considered the destiny of those who persisted on the wide road. (Lk. 19:41)
He is so eager to show us mercy, but first we need to recognize our need for mercy, and humble ourselves to receive it, asking forgiveness, and dedicating ourselves to following Him in His Church.
So, we need to recover this somber reality, because we act today like everyone automatically and immediately goes right to heaven.
No, we don’t. God our Father forces His salvation on nobody. We can turn Him down. I’m afraid a lot of us do.
To accept His invitation to salvation means…guess what? Accepting Jesus in and through His Church.
Yes, it’s true that Vatican II teaches that it’s possible, under certain conditions, to be saved without hearing the gospel, but it also clearly teaches (Lumen Gentium, 16) that these conditions are not often met, and that “very often” human beings close their hearts to the grace of God, influenced by the culture, its lies, and our own sin.
A couple of months ago, when I was consulting people about this whole concept of the New Evangelization, a shrewd and successful marketing specialist commented, “You got to decide what your product is! You in the Church are supposed to be salesmen! Well, just what are you selling? If people need your ‘product,’ they’ll come!”
The Church’s “product” – pardon the marketing vocabulary! – is a Person, Jesus, who is our Savior, who offers us eternal life!
The evangelical churches sure know this! The growing, vibrant parts of the Catholic Church in Africa and Asia certainly realize this! That’s why their churches are jammed.
But we here don’t! We shrug, no thanks! Who needs a savior? I don’t. I can save myself, thank you! Nor do I need the Church, the sacraments, or the mercy of Jesus, since I’m automatically assured of heaven. So, leave me alone…
November reminds us of the faithful departed: all the Saints in heaven (November 1); the souls in purgatory awaiting God’s final act of mercy (November 2); and those of us here on earth preparing for eternity.
And eternity is not a “sure thing”! It is a “sure thing” if we admit we need Jesus as our Savior, and live faithfully in His family, the Church.
We ignore the clear, cogent teaching of Jesus and His Church at our everlasting peril: at the moment of our death, we will stand before our eternal Judge, and heaven is not assured. This awesome experience will happen again when He comes again in glory at the end of time, the last judgment.
That’s the message of the Gospel, like it or not. As St. Francis observed, “Sometimes the Gospel makes me smile, but other times it makes me shiver.” That’s driven home this month of November, as we pray for the faithful departed and contemplate our own mortality.
All I know is this: I want to live forever! I want eternal life! I want to be saved! I want to get to heaven! I can’t do it by myself! I need a Savior! God the Father sent me one: his name is Jesus!
How do I meet Jesus? How do I share in His gift of eternal life? In and through the Church!
That’s the message of the Gospel; that’s the New Evangelization; that’s the invitation of November.
Reprinted with permission from the Catholic New York, official newspaper for the diocese of New York.
His Eminence Timothy Cardinal Dolan is the Archbishop of New York City.