Thursday, 1 November 2012

CD 263: how many will be saved?

I have recently been reading various gospel texts about how many will be lost. Should we should assume that many (or most) people will not go to heaven. How many will be saved?

You cited Our Lord’s words saying that those who enter by the way of destruction will be many (Matt 7.13), that “Many are called but few are chosen” (Matt 22.14) and that many will seek to enter by the narrow door and will not be able. (Lk 13.24) Our Lord also answered your specific question: “And some one said to him, ‘Lord, will those who are saved be few?’ And he said to them, ‘Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.’” (Lk 13.23-24) As so often, Jesus does not answer a question directly but points us to the underlying call to action in response to the person’s concern. We should not focus on the number of the elect but rather on our own life of Christian charity by which we strive to enter by the narrow door.

The Decree on Justification of the Council of Trent, a beautiful exposition, explains in a balanced way that although a devout person should not doubt the mercy of God, the merits of Christ, and of the virtue and efficacy of the sacraments; we should all nevertheless have regard to our weakness and a holy fear concerning our own grace because we can never be absolutely certain of having obtained the grace of God. (c.9)

This way of thinking is unfashionable today even though it was commonplace among the Fathers of the Church, the great saints and spiritual writers, and can be found unambiguously, for example, in the writings of Blessed John Henry Newman. The point is not to give us an unhealthy fear but to motivate us to convert. As St Alphonsus put it: “To obtain salvation we must tremble at the thought of being lost, and tremble not so much at the thought of hell, as of sin, which alone can send us there.”

Catholic Dilemmas column published in the Catholic Herald
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