19

Hard Sayings

Harrowing of Hell
Jesus passed through towns and villages,
teaching as he went and making his way to Jerusalem.
Someone asked him,
“Lord, will only a few people be saved?”
He answered them,
“Strive to enter through the narrow gate,
for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter
but will not be strong enough.
After the master of the house has arisen and locked the door,
then will you stand outside knocking and saying,
‘Lord, open the door for us.’
He will say to you in reply,
‘I do not know where you are from.
And you will say,
‘We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.’
Then he will say to you,
‘I do not know where you are from.
Depart from me, all you evildoers!’
And there will be wailing and grinding of teeth
when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
and all the prophets in the kingdom of God
and you yourselves cast out.
And people will come from the east and the west
and from the north and the south
and will recline at table in the kingdom of God.
For behold, some are last who will be first,
and some are first who will be last.
Luke 13:22-30
Hell is apparently popular today on The American Catholic!  Go here to read Darwin Catholic’s first rate post on the topic.  My Bishop, Bishop Daniel Jenky of the Peoria diocese, is a good humored bear of a man.  He is also one of the most outspoken Bishops in the country, a fact I have often blogged about.  Here is a homily he preached last month on Hell, a place that most people would assume does not exist if one had to rely on what was heard today from most Catholic pulpits:
Jesus taught that our temporal choices have eternal consequences.  Jesus revealed there is not only an everlasting heaven but there is an everlasting hell.  Today’s popular, liberal Christianity tends to beige all of that over.  The God of our liberal therapeutic culture is usually presented as only a benign kind of higher force.  This concept of God is almost like a tolerant psychiatrist, who for… $400 an hour will patiently listen to absolutely everything we may have to say.  There is no right or wrong, no judgment and certainly no punishment for deliberate sin.  All the challenging and disturbing rough edges revealed in the Holy Scriptures are simply ignored or polished away.  A tame, almost domesticated God, without any real power or authority is invoked mostly for comfort and to ritualize our happy and sad occasions.  It’s nice to have a God something like Santa Claus invited to our baptisms, our marriages, our anniversaries and even our funerals.  But the one true God, revealed throughout the bible, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is certainly a God both mercy and of judgment.  The living God demands our obedience and insists that we love and serve Him with our whole heart, mind, strength and soul, and insists that we love our neighbor as ourselves.  God’s commandments are not optional.  The law of God is not a suggestion.  Sin is always a sham, a lie.  Sin promises so much but delivers so little.  And without any recognition of our sins there can be no experience of God’s grace. 
Why is your bishop ranting and raving about hell fire and damnation?  The short answer is I have no choice.  We do not choose the scripture readings for Sunday’s.  The Church chooses them for us and for our good.  In the course of three years of appointed readings we will hear the whole Gospel.  Not just words of comfort and joy, but also words of awe and trembling.  I, like all priests was ordained to preach Jesus Christ in season and out of season.  Not only his reassuring words but also His hard sayings, even His saying that if we do not repent in time in eternity we may find ourselves locked outside and hear the terrible words of judgment, I do not know you.  Knowledge of Christ without any recognition of our need of Him only leads to loss.  Just as knowledge of our need without any experience of Christ only leads to despair.
Most contemporary Catholics would sooner eat ground glass than talk about Hell.  What?  Be confused with fire and brimstone fundamentalists of a bygone era?  People would laugh at us and all the best parties would be a thing of the past!  We are too sophisticated for all that, in our ability to deploy endless arguments to transform scarlet sins into pure white without the necessity of confession, forgiveness or reformation of life.  The whole concept of sin is looked upon by many as an embarrassing relic unless it can be deployed in current political battles:  the sins of racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.  We have shaped the Good News into Better News, more suited for our times.
The problem of course is that all of it is rubbish.  Christ remains God and His words remain true.  “Teaching” that departs from His words is not teaching but, another currently unpopular word, heresy.  The Church is both a divine and a human institution.  As a divine institution she is victorious with Christ, His spotless bride.  As a human institution she is only too subject to the fads, foolishness and evils of each historical epoch, as even a cursory look at her history shows, in which she finds herself.  We live in a great age of folly and it is no wonder that a fair amount of it has found its way within the Church.  As always our hope is Christ and those brave and stubborn enough to preach what He preached, whether ears are willing to hear it or not.
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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.

19 Comments

  1. St Augustine, the doctor of grace, preaching on the words, “I have prayed for you, Peter, that your faith fail not” (Luke 22:32) says “Will you dare to say that even when Christ prayed that Peter’s faith might not fail, it would still have failed if Peter had willed it to fail; that is, if he had been unwilling that it should continue even to the end? As if Peter could in any measure will otherwise than Christ had asked for him that he might will. For who does not know that Peter’s faith would then have perished if that will by which he was faithful should fail, and that it would have continued if that same will should abide? But because “the will is prepared by the Lord,” (Proverbs 8:35) therefore Christ’s petition on his behalf could not be a vain petition. When, then, He prayed that Peter’s faith should not fail, what was it that He asked for, but that in his faith Peter should have a most free, strong, invincible, persevering will! Behold to what an extent the freedom of the will is defended in accordance with the grace of God, not in opposition to it; because the human will does not attain grace by freedom, but rather attains freedom by grace, and a delightful constancy, and an insuperable fortitude that it may persevere.”

    He also says, in another place, “if the obstinacy of the will can be such that the mind’s aversion from all modes of calling becomes hardened, the question is whether that very hardening does not come from some divine penalty, as if God abandons a man by not calling him in the way in which he might be moved to faith. Who would dare to affirm that the Omnipotent lacked a method of persuading even Esau to believe?”

  2. I have observed that secular associates are, in some ways, better (in some respects worse) people than I. However, they are not good because of Faith.

    I am not a good person. I try (varying degrees of success) to avoid sin and be “good” because of Faith and Jesus’ teachings.

    So, I pray many times each day and night, “O my Jesus, forgive us our sins; save us from the fire of hell; take all souls to Heaven; and help especially those most in need of thy Mercy. Amen.”

    I also pray for the grace, courage and insight needed to repent of my sins; confess my sins; do penance; amend my life; and, through good, works glorify Almighty God.

    Also, I pray that I may love those whom I encounter; never let me do an evil thing; and not to be overcome by evil.

    I am not good. Only God is good. But, I believe in the “forgiveness of sins”, from the Apostle’s Creed.

    The Fifth Sorrowful Mystery, The Crucifixion. Desire the grace of final perseverence. Think of the Love which filled Christ’s Sacred Heart during His three hours agony on the Holy Cross; and ask that He be with you at the hour of death.

    And, don’t forget: frequent Confession.

    “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners; now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”

    I’m not the brightest turnip in the bushel, either.

  3. I preached on this gospel at Mass on the 21st Sunday, and made some similar points to your good bishop. Most people thanked me for it – but a couple of women raised an objection, when I referred to abortion. Its good to get that sort of reaction – its the objectors that the I design my homilies for.

  4. I appreciate the homily.
    I also pray very similarly to T Shaw. Being a mother and a teacher am conscious of responsibility to not mislead any of those entrusted to my care or teaching. (Remember the millstone)
    I am very interested in MPS contribution to this discussion and will retread thoroughly. The judgment of my son’s culpability in his darkness is up to The Lord but I am looking for comfort and help as the “wedding” date approaches.
    Oh Lady, Undoer of Knots pray for him.

  5. Re: Don the Kiwi’s comment about abortion….I was thinking about the necessity of mentioning any particular sin when preaching on the result/punishment/wages of sin. Notice that the bishop did not mention any in particular. Distracts from the point for that day.

  6. I didn’t think of distracting from the theoretical meaning of the post when I mentioned my son’s particular mortal sin. But now that I am thinking about it, I disagree with exNOAAman, if I understood him right.
    Keeping hell and the behaviors that lead to hell always in the abstract would make it hard to take homiletics about it out of the intellect to motivate behavior modification.
    Abortion, like homosexual behavior is serious sin- there may be levels of culpability for various reasons; that is for the Lord to decide. And it is a spiritual work of mercy to teach the Truth about sin and consequences. Can’t do that without mentioning what constitutes grave matter.

  7. Anzlyne is correct. The prophets of old – Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, etc. – were exact and precise. St. Paul was specific in 1st Corinthians 5 about that sex pervert living with his father’s wife, and about Hymenaeus and Alexander in 1st Timothy 1. And St. John was specific in Revelation 3 about Jezebel at the Church in Laodicea.

    Those women at Don the Kiwi’s parish want to get all bothered about preaching on abortion? Then maybe their conscience is bothering them. It should. Jeremiah condemned the children of Israel for making their children walk through the fires of Molech, and warned them Nebuchadnezzar was coming to bring God’s judgment on their heads for what they were doing. I suspect Don the Kiwi was much more gentle than Jeremiah.

  8. exNOAAman.

    I can’t link my homily here, but in context, it was in the latter part of my homily that I was referring to the baggage that will stop us from “entering the narrow door.” I had referred to politicians who take the soft option and introduce laws that are intrinsically evil, and that legality does not equate morality – e.g. Prostitution, abortion and same sex marriage, and that anyone who hold the view in full or in part that these things are okay should not present themselves for Holy Communion, conform their mind to the Church’s teaching, and attend reconciliation to be able to receive Eucharist. I’m here to promote the Truth of God’s teaching and not pussy-foot around it with nice words. Sometimes the Truth is not easy or pleasant – particularly in our distorted western society,.

  9. Thanks for the replies friends.
    Now that we have a chance to read DTK’s homily (other post), I don’t think I’d change anything.
    I guess I didn’t think it would be easy to make separate points, but Don pulled it off very well.
    As to the complainers he mentioned….it means folks were listening.

    God Bless…

  10. The whole concept of sin is looked upon by many as an embarrassing relic unless it can be deployed in current political battles: the sins of racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.

    At my parish, Hell certainly exists and is the final destination for those who who will not do all in their power to redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor, and so end poverty, and so end abortion. In that order. In other words, they behave very much like they believe in Hell, for you and for me, if we will not consent to fix poverty first.

    Hell is very real for them. Anything less than material equality is sin. Falling short of equality of outcome is mortal.

    It’s rather a toxic environment in which everyone who doesn’t vote for Democrats is damned.

  11. “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Jesus asks His Father in heaven to forgive us, and Jesus will do what the Father will do. How do I or anybody know that their sins are forgiven, that they are forgiven?

  12. Don the Kiwi (September 6):
    Bravo. Keep it up. EWTN Foundress Mother Angelic—one of the best Catholic speakers I have ever heard—says that if you’re not a thorn in somebody else’s side you’re not doing your job as a Christian.

    Her Network and the host of devout and eloquent people on it, including GK Chesterton, Fr. George Rutler (my current Pastor, thanks God), Fr. Mitch Pacwa, Scripture Scholar Frances Hogan, and Peoria’s own golden-tongued Archbishop Fulton Sheen converted me 6 years ago—the greatest day of my life. None of them pulled any punches or minced any words or worried about hurt feelings when speaking the Eternal Words of Truth.

  13. Excellent article. Sounds like they really preach the Gospel out in Peoria. I’m an Indiana boy myself and I now live in what I joking call the Catholic Diaspora of NY. I only say this because it seems that the Church has not only been placed on the back burner in recent decades but it’s almost off the stove. There is not much of a Catholic footprint on the culture. But in truth there are many devout Catholics here and many fine preachers—Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Fr. Jonathon Morris, and of course my own Pastor Fr. George Rutler who I consider the finest living writer and speaker I have ever read or heard. He certainly rivals your fine Bishop Daniel Jenky. His eloquent new TV Show “Parables of Christ” can be seen on EWTN. His new book “Principles and Principalities” on World War II depicts the courage of the Church and particularly Pope Pious XII in sheltering and saving countless thousands of Jews. It also tells the story of the cowardice and complicity of some Church members and politicians in that Armageddon-like conflict. And it also chillingly portrays many things going on then that are precursors of what is happening today: the atheism, barbarism, secularism, paganism, abortions, and anti-religious fervor and persecutions. Just one small point out of many: the company that made the Zyklon B gas for the concentration camps is now owned by the company that makes the morning-after pill—there’s still money to be made in the death business.
    And on the subject of Hell, Fr. Rutler’s sublime and almost mystical book on St. John Vianney “The Cure D’Ars Today” quotes a homily by the Patron Saint of Parish Priests, “Christ wept over Jerusalem…I weep over you. How can I help weeping, my brethren? Hell exists. It is not my invention. God has told us. And you pay no heed…”
    But today is no different. I have heard it said that people live by the philosophy of the Group Insurance Plan: If we’re all doing wrong, He’s surely not going to send everyone to Hell is He?–Don’t be so sure.
    But most are content to be Nietzsche’s Happy Man—all we care about is what’s for dinner and what’s on TV. But I think GK Chesterton said it right, “The pursuit of pleasure is merely the pursuit of fashion. The pursuit of fashion is merely the pursuit of convention, only that it happens to be new convention. But the enjoyment of convention is not really the same thing as the enjoyment of liberty.”

    While we pursue happiness in Chesterton’s words, “With a frenzy that proves that our pleasures don’t make us happy,” we could be pursuing joy. As Fr. Rutler says in a weekly column in the parish bulletin:

    “The joy of Easter is more than happiness, since happiness is a feeling while joy is a fact. Happiness comes from impressions, while joy comes from comprehension. Happiness with what is bad quickly turns to sadness. Joy is being happy with what is good. As only God is good (Luke 18:19), endless joy comes from encounter with Him who is eternal: “So also you now indeed have sorrow; but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice; and your joy no man shall take from you” (John 16:22).”

    This is why I am so joyful on Sunday and it carries over through the week—well for the most part: to have a Priest that preaches about Hell and sin, Pro-Life and defense of marriage. He’s also a hero of 9/11 having jogged the 3 ½ miles to the World Trade Center disaster to administer The Sacraments of the Sick to the wounded and Last Rites to the dead.

    Would that he give Last Rites to the Culture of Death.

  14. Very interesting Jamey. My husband and do both enjoy his teaching on EWTN. He has a way of saying hard sayings that is easy to swallow. Thinking of his teaching in relationship to Pope Francis’ recent comments, I would say he teaches “hard sayings” without condemnation, respecting the intelligence and interest of his listeners. Bishop Jenky also respects his flock (enough to speak on important issues) and does a wonderful concise job..
    We love our home parishes or dioceses. In my case our bishop is very good but he has his work cut out for him with the liberal tone and tenor here that he inherited. I wonder what it was like in Pope Francis’s diocese and what effect the Jesuit and South American outlook will have on his pontificate.

  15. Thank you Anzlyne, I am glad you have a parish and diocese that you like. It took me 6 years to go and hear Fr. Rutler preach—it’s a one hour commute–but once I heard, I staid. Probably the same for some of the disciples in regards to our good Lord. -–No I am not in any way equating my Priest with my Saviour—But Fr. Rutler is such a jaw dropping speaker—much like Bishop Sheen & Chesterton (whom I’ve only seen via actor’s portrayals). But he says these profound things in such an eloquent way, and then follows with another elegant sentence, and then another, layer upon layer. It is just mesmerizing.
    Your Bishop Jenky’s homily was very fine. And yes we have a few million secularists in NY to deal with too. Fr. Rutler who is 67 was recently rewarded by Cardinal Dolan with a new parish in a tough neighborhood and a second church to be in charge of. I heard Fr. Rutler quip to a middle aged fellow, “You should try this retirement stuff.”
    Concerning respecting people, I like what Fr. Robert Barron said: that we should try to “like” those we encounter. That the word “love” has been used so much that in many ways it has lost its meaning. As Paul said in one of his Epistles, that we should eat with people and befriend them and then give them the message of Christ’s Gospel. It was St. John Vianney who first said that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.
    Pope Francis is a very sweet and personable man, but I read somewhere that his honeymoon with the media will be over as soon as the veil of their illusions is removed and they discover that Pope Francis is strict Catholic Doctrine. When he says, “Who am I to judge?” he means not to condemn others. Paul said, “I don’t even judge myself.” We can judge behavior or ideas as right or wrong, but we can’t judge the other person. We shouldn’t even judge ourselves.
    But I think his activist approach to peace in Syria and elsewhere –united with worldwide prayer–is what the world needs now. God speed, Pope Francis.

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