Weekly Newsletter(click to download PDF)
The Rector writes ...
In this Sunday’s Gospel reading, Jesus is asked: “Sir, will there be only a few saved?” It is a question which has taxed Christian thinkers through the ages, and continues to unsettle each one of us as we look ahead to that moment of personal judgement in which we know we have to face God. It might help to focus our thinking if we were to ask what it is we think we might be saved from. The Russian writer, Fyodor Dostoyevsky says: “I ask myself: ‘What does hell mean?’ I maintain it is the inability to love”. God is the source of all that loves – that is the heart of the Christian revelation – and to close love out of a life is to exclude God from it. Are there such hearts and souls? The evidence of our own times would seem to imply that there might well be. Consistent acts of enslavement, barbarism and torture must demonstrate that the individual wellsprings of charity and human warmth have run painfully thin, if not dry. Of course, how a person acts is conditioned by the society and times in which he or she lives – but this is only to a degree and no matter how unjust or corrupt institutional structures might be, the spark of conscience can never be wholly extinguished. We have to take responsibility for our own choices and their consequences. Among the many martyrs of modern times, Blessed Franz Jagerstatter, the Austrian killed for refusing his allegiance to Hitler, stands out as a beacon of integrity amidst a morass of compromise.
Although we would like to believe that ultimately God’s love must overcome the hardest of human hearts, this is not the witness of the Gospel. Jesus is clear (as in the words of the master of the house; “I do not know where you come from - away from me” (John 13:22) that he envisages the possibility of individual condemnation. Any presentation of Christianity which lacks this sharp focus is a denial of an essential element in the teaching and preaching of the Saviour. “The Word of God is something alive and active: it cuts like any double-edged sword but more finely; it can judge the secret emotions and thoughts. No created thing can hide from him: everything is uncovered and open to the eyes of the one to whom we must give account of ourselves” (Hebrews 4:12). The corollary has also to be true: we can choose darkness but we can also choose light: we can deny charity or we can embrace it whole-heartedly. “Your place in heaven will seem to be made for you and you alone, because you were made for it. – made for it stitch by stitch as a glove is made for a hand” (C.S. Lewis). God’s will to salvation for all his creatures cannot be doubted: where the balance is less than certain is in the response which each will offer in return.“Will there be only a few saved?” Our inability to answer that question puts the onus firmly on our own shoulders. We believe that God has made us for himself and that his intention and desire is that we should know him partially in this life and fully in the next. We have a responsibility, therefore, to do everything we can in response to the invitation to eternal communion with the Godhead - and to encourage others to make choices which will further their journey into fullness of life. ”We must love our neighbours; either because they are good, or in order that they might become good” (Saint Augustine). The idea of the “common good” which underpins Catholic ethical teaching clearly challenges us to behave in ways that accord with social justice, but “if our hope in Christ has been for this life only, we are the most unfortunate of people” (1 Corinthians 15:19). We have a duty to one another – as well as to ourselves – never to miss an opportunity to build faith hope and charity in the knowledge that the life of the virtues is the way home to God, and in the understanding that “apart from Jesus Christ we do not know what God, life, death and we ourselves, are” (Blaise Pascal). Evangelisation has always been central to Christianity and Pope Francis would have each of us, according to our own circumstances, share in the salvation of souls as “missionary disciples”.