Monthly Archives: May 2015

“Will few be saved?”

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Illustration to Dante’s Divine Comedy, Purgatory by William Blake

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.

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Mosaics and Motherhood

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When you step into the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre Church built in Jerusalem, over the crucifixion and burial site of Jesus, the first thing you see is the Stone of Unction. It is here our Lord was taken down from the Cross and covered in a linen cloth for burial. It is here His mother held her Son in her arms for the last time. It is here, she made her last earthly act as mother.
On the wall directly behind the Stone of Unction is a mosaic showing all of this.

When you look at the mosaic from a distance, it looks like a painting, strokes upon strokes. It is not until you get up close you can see that the image is created instead by small individual tiles, placed one by one next to each other. It is remarkable how someone can see the big picture in their mind and know just when to change the color of the tile: gold to red, red to black and so on. Looking at this particular mosaic, you have to believe it was God who guided the artist.

Living the vocation of motherhood can be described similarly. Each day raising a child can be like one of the tiles of the mosaic. Some days are gold (birthdays, learning to ride a two-wheeler, discovering your best friend,) some days are red (first day of school, first time driving a car, first time stepping on a field or an auditorium stage,) and some days are black (an illness or injury, being rejected by a friend, a death of a loved one, tackling Algebra homework.)

With her maternal perspective, a mother guides her child. She celebrates the gold days, counsels through the red days and consoles in the black days.

My oldest son is looking for an apartment with his college buddy. He is eighteen years old and ready to venture out from under my wings. I was folding his clothes yesterday and remembering how the huge T-shirt with the Nike swoosh I am currently folding used to be so small, emblazoned on the front with two funny-looking fish saying, “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.”

How many days have passed since then? How many tiles have been placed on his mosaic? How many days were gold? Were red? Were black?

I realize they cannot all be gold, for then what would the image be? There has to be a variety of colors: days of celebration, days of risk, and days of suffering, for a beautiful image to be created.

As I quickly approach one of my last earthly acts as my son’s mother, before he leaves me to continue the mosaic of his life, I offer a prayer of thanks to God. I thank Him for trusting me with so precious a life to guide and for giving me His Mother who understands and who helps me celebrate the good, counsels me through what comes next and consoles me as I let go.

The Holy Land Where You Are!

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Bishop of Cheyenne, WY, Paul Etienne, saying Mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Tomb of Christ)

Bishop of Cheyenne, WY, Paul Etienne, saying Mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Tomb of Christ)

My husband I have traveled to the Holy Land over forty-five times, on our own and leading groups of pilgrims. In the early 90’s, we heard the call from Jesus as we walked along the shores of Galilee, to lead people to the Holy Land: the Land of the Bible, the ‘Fifth Gospel’, the land sanctified by Jesus’ life!

It is so incredible to stand at the very sites where Jesus taught and healed! Catholic Churches are now built over the majority of these sites with sacred art describing what took place at each location. As a pilgrim in the Holy Land, walking into these Church buildings is like walking into the Scripture story of that site. The experience can be very enlightening, breath-taking and spiritual.

Light shines through stained glass windows and sets the tone for the Scripture story related to that site. Ahh… but there is something else we need to add to this picture: a burning Sanctuary Lamp candle by the main altar. It is a sign that Jesus is still present in the Eucharist kept in the Tabernacle.

For 2,000 years Catholic Christians have believed in the True Presence – the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ present in the consecrated Host (Eucharist).

As we visit the holy sites like Capernaum, Bethlehem, Nazareth and Jerusalem, each with their own Catholic churches, we continue to find Jesus in His Eucharistic presence!

In our own towns and cities, we can find a Catholic Church and search for the Sanctuary Lamp burning near the Tabernacle. Bl. Charles de Foucauld was a lay person who, after experiencing an encounter with Christ through prayer, decided to leave his military career to serve Christ in the simple way of living a life of prayer in Nazareth. He said, “Wherever the sacred Host is, there is the living God. There is your Savior as truly as when he lived and spoke in Judea, and Galilee, and as truly as he is now in paradise.”

St. Francis of Assisi said about the Eucharist:

“Looking at Him with the eyes of their flesh, they saw only His Flesh, but regarding Him with the eyes with of the spirit, they believed that He was God. In like manner, as we see bread and wine with our bodily eyes, let us see and believe firmly that it is His Most Holy Body and Blood, True and Living. For in this way our Lord is ever present among those who believe in him, according to what He said, “Behold, I am with you all days even to the consummation of the world.” (Matthew 28:20)

Visit a Catholic church, read a portion from one of the four Gospels as you sit before the Tabernacle, where Jesus is present in the Eucharist. There is your Savior as truly as when he lived and spoke in Judea and Galilee, and as truly as he is now in paradise – looking at you!

Emotional Catholics – How to Deal with Your Feelings

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Have you ever been confused by emotions — yours or someone else’s?

(I’m guessing 100% YES.)

You’re not alone; this is a common problem.  I struggle with it daily.  Why are emotions so confusing?  Well, the world is no longer the place God created it to be; originally, everything and everyone was in harmony with God.  As a result of free will, however, division reared its ugly head.  Now, the human condition suffers because of sin.

Our emotions are affected by all this.  Can you relate? — Spiritual director Father John Bartunek, LC, points out:

Our feelings often seem to have a mind of their own, independent of what we know to be true by reason or by faith.  At times, for example, I feel drawn to things that my conscience deems wrong and damaging but my emotions deem desirable (like sleeping in when I have important work to do…). At other times, I feel repulsed by things that my reason or my faith tells me are good and important but my emotions label as undesirable (like taking time out of my busy schedule to simply sit with the Lord and pray, or making a difficult but necessary phone call).
At still other times, the intensity of my emotions seems to have no basis in reality, and my moods swing wildly up and down, making life turbulent and chaotic (as when I take out my internal frustrations on someone I love, someone who has nothing to do with the real cause of those frustrations).

What’s the point of all this chaos??

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that our emotions are a bridge between A.) the world we experience, and B.) our mind (see CCC pp. 1764).  God gave us emotions for a reason: to help us process and express our experiences.

Often, we blame ‘negative’ emotions like fear, anger, and sadness as the source of our problems… “I wish I didn’t feel so _____.”

Widely-known Catholic psychologist Dr. Gregory Popcak explains : “The feeling isn’t the problem. The feeling is the warning light telling you to look for the problem.”  He continues:

Our emotions remind us of the need to strive for the Original Unity in which we were created to live.  Emotions are not the enemy.  In fact, they can serve us well as long as we don’t try to shut them down by rashly cutting people out of our lives, or by drinking, drugging, indulging our passions, or taking foolish risks in a desperate, reactionary attempt to plug our ears to the warning bells and blindfold ourselves so we can’t see the flashing red lights.

This used to be my hidden problem. I would often bury my feelings rather than face them and examine their cause.  When I got married, my husband began to teach me how to healthily deal with my emotions.  However, I came to learn that in our imperfect world, none of us have perfectly-formed emotions.  When my anxiety began to exceed the understanding of both myself and my spouse, my husband urged me to seek professional help.

I did not like that advice at all.  Pride and vanity kept me away; our society tends to see counseling as something ‘desperate people’ or ‘messed up people’ need.  ‘Those people’ were below me, I thought.  On top of that lay the fear of the unknown.  Thankfully, I did muster up the courage to begin sessions with a professional counselor.  I wish I hadn’t waited so long!

—> So, how can a Catholic deal with the chaos of his or her emotions?

  1. Take care of yourself.  As Catholics, we believe that body and soul are integrated. “The unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the ‘form’ of the body” (CCC pp. 365).  So, whatever we do to our bodies will affect our emotions.   Sometimes all you need is a good night’s sleep to regulate those out-of-whack feelings.
  2. Make time to pray and be silent.  Recent psychological research has demonstrated that spiritual meditation, prayer, and feeling close to God helps regulate one’s emotions (see source below).  Think about it: If your emotions are a God-given gift, then spending time with God can help us understand that gift.  Moreover, the ‘information overload’ we experience in today’s world can not only be distracting and disorienting, but researchers have evidence that it actually tires out the brain worse than marijuana use.  Silence and prayer are so important.
  3. Stop and listen to your emotions.  What are they telling you?  Journaling may help.  If your emotions seem overwhelming or somehow disordered, don’t hesitate to ask for expert guidance.  Email Christopher Stravitsch with Rejoice Family Apostolate for a Catholic counselor recommendation in the San Antonio or Houston area.  Live elsewhere? Use CatholicTherapists.com.
  4.  Thank God.  Your emotions are a gift.  Thank God for the time, people, and resources he has provided you to help sort them out.  Have hope!  Though your feelings may be confusing now, remember that through discipline and seeking help, you will draw closer to peace and union with God thanks to more healthy, well-formed emotions.  What an awesome gift!

Research source cited: Carolyn M. Aldwin, Crystal L. Park, Yu-Jin Jeong, Ritwik Nath. Differing pathways between religiousness, spirituality, and health: A self-regulation perspective.. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, 2014; 6 (1): 9 DOI: 10.1037/a0034416