Every Mass is first of all an act of supreme worship, the unbloody offering of Christ’s infinite sacrifice to His Father. But every Mass also teaches at least one lesson necessary for salvation. That doctrine is often given in the opening prayer, as in today’s teaching about heaven and hell: “O God, who unite the minds of the faithful in a single purpose, grant … that, amid the uncertainties of this world, our hearts may be fixed on that place.” All the time, money, and energy the Catholic Church as spent since her founding 2000 years ago should be focused on a single purpose: saving souls. There is a heaven and there is a hell, and we must get to heaven. In Noah’s time, Jesus warned his disciples, the people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, right up to the day the flood. In other words, obsessed by food, drinks, and sex, they didn’t see the tsunami coming until it was too late. They were dumb animals, lemmings running off a cliff in one big herd. A meaningless death in this life is bad enough, but far worse is that it leads to eternal death. We will live in the next world as we have chosen to live in this world.
Hell does exist, and so does Satan. Scandalously, the superior of the Jesuit order, Fr. Arturo Sosa, said last week the devil is merely a symbol. The International Associations of Exorcists—whose members have daily and incontrovertible evidence to the contrary—corrected him: “The Church, founded on Sacred Scripture and on Apostolic Tradition, officially teaches that the devil is a creature and a personal being, and she cautions those who, like Father Sosa, consider him only a symbol.” Why does the Church correct priests who teach that hell and Satan do not exist? Because if I don’t tell you there is a big black hole in front of you, you will fall into it. Hell is a big black hole, as Our Lady of Fatima showed to the three shepherd children in 1917. “We saw as it were a sea of fire. Plunged in this fire were demons and souls in human form, … floating about in the conflagration … amid shrieks and groans of pain and despair, which horrified us and made us tremble with fear.” Our Lady looked tenderly at the children and said “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. Many souls go to hell because no one prays for them.” Jesus says, repeatedly, that the road to hell is broad and easy, and that many go that way. “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will try to enter and not be strong enough.”
If there is a hell, there is also a heaven, but it’s not easy to get there. “Certainly,” writes St. Jose Maria Escriva, “only those who make a serious effort can reach the goal of salvation… our passions will always pull us downwards; we will have to defend ourselves against self-defeating urges.” We must know what we are up against: the world, the flesh, and the devil. We cannot get to heaven without God’s grace, but neither can we get to heaven without “striving” for it. Someone asked St. John Vianney once, “how do I get to heaven,” and replied “straight as a canon ball.” We must fix our hearts on “that place where true gladness is found,” in the words of today’s opening prayer. We are developing a classical school here at Star of the Sea in which all learning will be oriented to one goal: getting your kids to heaven. “We educate for heaven, not for Harvard.” Our school will get your kids into Harvard, but surely if they get to Harvard and not to heaven all is lost. What will you do, Jesus asks, when you see others in the Kingdom and “you yourselves cast out”?
“Whom he loves He disciplines”
Like a good father, God helps us get there, giving us faith and hope and love, “infused” virtues which push us inch by inch toward heaven. But God’s graces are not always pleasant. We sometimes need strong medicine to overcome our damnable frailty. “Do not disdain the disciplines of God,” we are instructed in the second reading. Discipline is not punishment but a necessary means of human development. “At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” True enough. The US Marines say “pain is weakness leaving the body.”
So “strengthen your weak knees” the Bible tells us. “Steady your drooping hands.” When someone or something knocks you down, get up. Crawl, if you must, to the holy strength radiating from the tabernacle. Go to Mass; come to adoration; pray the rosary; read the bible. Facebook cannot deliver true gladness. Google cannot save your soul. Twitter cannot give real love. Cast yourself not on the paltry consolations this world offers, but into the arms of God’s mercy. Depending entirely on God, and holding tightly to His Holy Mother’s hand, you can sustain any blow, and grow stronger for it, strong enough, when your time comes, to enter the narrow gate, and to recline at table with God and his angels.