A few weeks ago, someone commented on a video claiming that most of the world will go to Hell and only a relative few will make it to the pearly gates.
As proof, he cited Matthew 7:13-14:
Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.
Right out of the gate, it ought to be said that proof-texting is a Fundamentalist thing. Catholics should be wary of citing isolated Scripture verses out of context in order to “prove” a proposition.
Now let’s look at the verse. At first glance, it does seem to support the idea that only a piddling minority will be received into Heaven. It says right there: few! But look again and you’ll notice that nowhere in the verse are either Heaven or Hell mentioned.
It’s easy to read “the road to destruction” and “the road to life” as references to our eternal destination, but it’s not necessary. And it makes less sense when we look at the rest of the gospels and our daily experience.
Every waking hour of every day temptation presents itself, and every sin destructive. Telling a lie distorts the soul. It was only the eating of the forbidden fruit that lost paradise for Adam & Eve and all humanity down the line. The wages of sin is death, every time, to some degree: death to integrity, poison injected into relationships, the sapping of spiritual life. And all have sinned.
We all need grace, and lots of it. But is grace “narrow” and do “few” find it? Not really. It’s everywhere. In fact, a good number of saints have left the world with their last words, “Everything is grace.” If you only pay attention to what makes the world terrible, you’ll be less inclined and less able to see grace around you. And in you. But it’s there, and God gives freely and generously even to those who are undeserving (read: all of us).
So what does Christ mean by “few”?
Some have said that Jesus was in fact referring to Heaven in this verse, but that “few” to humans means something different than it does to God. For if any number of people refuse to enter into eternal life with God, how can the Father of Mercies believe that “enough” entered Heaven?
I like this idea, but I think the verse above means something else. I think Jesus wasn’t calling attention to our eternal fate, but to the possibility of sainthood here on earth.
The saints will always be the minority. Those who lived with heroic virtue and extraordinary holiness at the service of God and neighbor while on earth – they not only know the oceanic breadth of God’s grace and mercy, but the harrowing depth of unity with Christ. Think of Mother Teresa, who spent years in “darkness”, no longer feeling God’s intimacy as she once did, but soldiering on in faithfulness to Christ’s call. Think of how difficult it must be to live when you have surpassed the depth of faith of everyone else around you, save Christ. To suffer and still give joy to others – that’s the narrow road, and those who endure it on Earth and into Heaven, indeed, are relatively few.
But for the rest of humanity, the uncanonizable hoi poloi?
God’s mercy is such that it’s possible to sin and cause destruction – even sin greatly, and cause great destruction – and still be saved. Whether this takes place early in life or late, God’s willingness to take us as we are remains. Even if one is a great sinner, God will do His best to reach them. And even though one may not be an extraordinary saint, it doesn’t mean they’re inclined to fully reject God for all eternity.
Most likely, we’ll need some time sorting out the details in purgatory. St. Paul says:
Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble—each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” (1 Corin. 3:11-15)
The saints are the people who “builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble” – and make no mistake, God wants us to try to be saintly, on earth as it is in Heaven. But his mercy is wider than the earth.
Will few be saved?
Ultimately, we don’t know. But a) we don’t have to believe that only a few will be saved; and b) we ought to hope that all will be saved, just as God desires.