be so strict? Were only human, and we all make mistakes. God is love,
so God will forgive everything in the end anyway.
es, through the ages God has promised
us salvation through forgiveness. And, in the fullness of time, He fulfilled
this promise by redeeming us from our guilt through the life, death, and
resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. But redemption is one thing, and salvation
is something else entirely.
called justification) is Gods gift to us. Its a gift,
unmerited on our part, that pays the mystical penalty for our
Original Sin. This penalty, which no man can ever
pay, and which even obedience to the sacred Jewish Law cannot erase, was
paid through the sacrifice of Christ. As Saint Paul said, Christ died
for our sins in accordance with the scriptures (1 Corinthians
suffering, my servant shall justify many,
and their guilt he shall bear.
Therefore I will give him his portion among the great,
and he shall divide the spoils with the mighty,
Because he surrendered himself to death
and was counted among the wicked;
And he shall take away the sins of many,
and win pardon for their offenses.
Christs sacrifice of Himself
bought pardon for the sins of the whole world; redemption, therefore, is
given to everyone.
But unless we accept that
gift of our own free willthrough
repentance of our sins, through
baptism, and through continued repentance and
confession of sins committed after baptismand
put that gift into action through a holy
lifestyle, we will suffer the consequence of eternal separation from
Our salvation from eternal
separation from God, therefore, depends on our willingly accepting the gift
of our redemption; as Saint Paul admonished us, work out your salvation
with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12b). Thus to achieve salvation
we must change our lives accordingly, turning away from our old ways of sin
and faithfully keeping the commands Christ gave us, through His own example,
so as to live as God created us to live: in pure
love and holiness.
Come now, let
us set things right,
says the LORD;
Though your sins be as scarlet,
they may become white as snow . . .
Let the scoundrel forsake his way,
and the wicked man his thoughts;
Let him turn to the LORD for mercy;
to our God, who is generous in forgiving.
Isaiah 1:18, 55:7
Now, in the early Church, baptism
fully affirmed this radical change in life.
Or are you unaware
that we who were baptized into Christ were baptized into His death? We were
indeed buried with Him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ
was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in
newness of life.
But in todays world, just
about everybody has forgotten the real meaning of
baptism: our death and burial to a life
of sin, and our rising into a life of
holiness. Most of us, however, are baptized as
infants, and then we proceed on a lifetime of
indoctrination into the unholy ways of the
world around us. We live in the world, blind to its
corruption; we live not as exiles in this vale of
tears but as eager competitors for all the material salvation
the world has to offer.
And Christ knew it would come
to this. Time and time again, throughout the Gospels, He warned us about
the weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth that will occur
on the last day, that terrible day of judgment. Those who, like a fearful
servant, bury the graces God gives theminstead
of burying their lives of sinand have not increased the value of what
is entrusted to them, will lose everything when the master returns and demands
an accounting (Matthew 25:14-30).
One day, on account of some
fault which I had committed, my Divine Master gave me the following lesson.
Learn, He said, that I am a Holy Master and One that teaches
holiness; I am pure and cannot endure the slightest stain. Therefore, thou
must act with simplicity of heart and with an upright and pure intention
in my presence. Know that I cannot endure the least want of straightforwardness,
and I shall make thee understand that, if the excess of My love has led Me
to constitute Myself thy Master, in order to teach and fashion thee after
My manner and according to My designs, nevertheless I cannot bear tepid and
cowardly souls, and, if I am gentle in bearing with thy weakness, I shall
not be less severe and exact in correcting and punishing thy
Saint Margaret Mary,
So, in the end, just as the fearful
servant of the parable held his destruction in his own hands, your salvation
is in your own hands. You have all the
resources of the Church to assist you, but
if you fail to use them, or misuse them, you have only yourself to blame.
If you fail at your salvation because you arent willing to
sacrifice everything for it, out of
pure love and
joy, as in the parables of the treasure
buried in a field and the pearl of great price (Matthew 13:4446), then,
sadly, you probably dont desire it that
much to begin with. Thus it can be said that sending yourself to hell is
the ultimate form of self-punishment.
God is love, and God welcomes
us all into His presence. He loves us as we are, despite our
wretchednessbut those persons who do not
repent their sins
reject Gods love for them, and those persons
who reject love have no place in His presence. Those who separate themselves
from God in this life by persisting in sin and refusing
to repent it will have no choice but to hide themselves from God in the
afterlifeand that place of eternal separation from God,
to which the souls own sins condemn it, is called hell. All
souls who end up in hell have no one to blame but themselves. Their only
place is hell, because hell, with all its selfishness and hatred, is the
place of those who reject love.
Saint Teresa of Avila once
had a terrifying vision in which she saw the horrible place the devils had
already prepared for her in hell (The Book of Her Life, ch. 32, nos.
1-7). As she herself says, she hadnt committed any egregious sins;
until that time in her life, she had simply filled herself with vain gossip
and friendships. What was missing from her life, then? Only love.
In fact, she spent 20 years in religious life before she even began to understand
the real love that is a necessity for
This tells us two important things
about heaven and hell.
Only pure love can
gain us entrance into heaven.
us from heaven.
Consequently, a legalistic
life that focuses only on rules and regulations is not sufficient to gain
entrance to heaven; only a person with a humble,
loving heart, free from pride and
hatred, can be admitted to heaven. Conversely,
a nice person who does great, loving
deeds for others can still be excluded from heaven by unrepentant personal
Or, said in a
different way, Christ is our ticket to the wedding banquet. He freely gives
Himself to everyone, and, at the door to the banquet, we are admitted when
we present that ticket with love and faith. No other ticket will be honored,
nor can we earn a ticket through our own efforts. But, even if we have a
ticket, if we have not kept His commandmentsif we have not put on the
wedding garments provided by Himwe will be thrown out of the banquet
into the darkness (see Matthew 22:1-14).
then, the fires of Gods love consume all deception, all lies, all
untruthin short, all that has rejected love and its commandmentsand
leave you, for all eternity, with the dead reality of your own emptiness.
When God says, Be holy, for I am holy, this is not just a call
out of sin and a plea for our acceptance of redemption; it is also a warning:
all that is not holy will be left to hell to suffer the pain of eternal
separation from God.
I tell you, to
everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even
what he has will be taken away.
That is, to those who have grown
in love because they have opened their hearts to God, more love will be given
them. But to those who lack love because out of fear of
love itself they have buried itpushed
it out of their hearts with narcissismso that
it can never increase, everything they have will be lost. A million dollars,
a million soldiers, a million orgasmsall
pride and self will
be found to be worse than useless on that day of judgment before Christ the
I felt myself burning and
crumbling, she said, and . . . the worst was that interior
fire and despair. Thus Saint Teresa describes an experience in which
the soul tears itself in pieces. And lacking any real love for
God to save it, the soul is left to its own eternal emptiness.
Is it any wonder,
then, that Christ chose the breaking of the bread to demonstrate to
us the brokenness of human reality?
And so we, in the Fraction Rite of the Mass, continually join ourselves to
His sacrifice, as we acknowledge that He alone, through His holy love on
the cross, can bring redemption and peace to our fragmentation.
Now, you can experience this
process psychologically by giving up the worldly
identifications which glue your sense of self together
in the illusions of
identity; as these bonds crumble, you will crumble
into your real
despair. And then you will be able to accept Gods
love, for in emptying yourself of your petty
desires you make room for real
love, and in being filled with love is your
forgiveness and salvation.
God does not
overlook our sinsin fact, quite
the contrary: He knows that our sins will condemn us to everlasting separation
from Him if we do not repent them. But
if only we do repent our sins then God will receive us as deeply as if we
had never sinned at all.
Of course, you can believe in
Zorba the Greeks Flap! Swap! theory of forgiveness if you
want, and just sit back in smug satisfaction and wait for God to forgive
everything anyway. But I prefer to listen to a saint who, at least
eventually, knew what she was talking about.