33rd Sunday of ordinary time 2013
Just when people are saying, “Peace and security, “
then sudden disaster comes upon them,
As the Church’s liturgical year draws to a close, the liturgy directs out attention to the world to come, to the so-called last things, death, judgment, the reward of Heaven or the punishment of Hell. Today most people in the formerly Christian west don’t pay much attention to these Gospel accounts of the last things. In many cases their faith is dead, and they no longer believe there is another world or a final judgment. Many others today claim they have some kind of faith, but their “faith” does not cause them any concern regarding their own divine judgment, since they no longer believe that anyone goes to Hell. This belief in universal salvation has long been condemned as heretical, but it has been revived in the past half century by many Catholic theologians, some of whom would claim to be perfectly orthodox in spite of their universalism. This dangerous theological speculation has caused great damage today not only to individual souls, who now substitute presumption for genuine hope, but also to the missionary vocations and efforts of the Church. Why give up home and family and country not to help save souls but just to help people have a better life in this world? You can do that in giving time to agencies like the Peace Corps without sacrificing all the rest.
Of course, this assumption of universal salvation, ungrounded in either Scripture or Tradition, makes life more comfortable perhaps, since it leads people to think they will never have to render a meaningful and demanding account of their lives, that no matter how they live in this world, God will not demand a strict accounting in justice from anyone, and simply give everyone a free pass into heaven.
All of this, of course, is wishful thinking of the worst sort. Whether one believes in God or does not cannot really objectively settle the question of God’s existence; and whether or not one believes that following death he or she will have to render a strict account of his or her life does not really affect the truth of the final judgment. However, it does certainly affect the way we will look at maters of justice in this world, and it really will inevitably affect the way we approach temptations to personally wreak vengeance for injustices.
For instance, if I become convinced that it is, in the words of one of these theologians, “infinitely unlikely” that God condemns anyone to eternal punishment in hell, it becomes extremely difficult to overcome temptations of any sort, including temptations against justice. Why should the poor not steal if God’s justice, in regards to us at least – leaving aside the issue of the redemption – is not even as serious as human justice? Why should the man who works harder and gets less than his bosses, not embezzle to strike a balance? Why not lie if it beings about a greater good, why not kill if that makes my life easier? God is a forgiving God after all. God will not punish me forever even if I never repent, so why not be a Mafiosi and take care of my family better?
Likewise, if I really don’t believe that there is any justice beyond this world, and not much justice in this world, then when I suffer a great injustice, and I see my enemy escaping any significant punishment in this world, is not the desire for vengeance much more likely to arise in my heart? People who don’t believe in any justice beyond this world must feel extreme anger and pain that someone like Adolf Hitler escaped any real justice in this world, and that many of his barbaric henchmen, to this day, continue to escape justice. Does this not cause an unbearable temptation to take justice into one’s own hands, especially for the families of the victims, who may well feel cheated that these murders and torturers have somehow escaped the punishment they deserved.
But for those who believe in a final judgment and in a strict divine justice, who believe that every single act of evil and injustice in this world will be paid for, if not in this world, in the world to come, this temptation can more easily be overcome and genuine peace of heart be restored. The Scriptures, when read without ideological lenses distorting the text, teach clearly that nobody ultimately gets away with anything when it comes to temporal justice. Every loose word, says Jesus, will demand an accounting, let alone every crime: “But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken.” (Matt. 12:36)
Indeed, according to Sacred Tradition based upon Scripture, even those who repent of their sins in this life, and who have been spared the eternal punishment due to their sins by the merits of Jesus Christ, must still make atonement for their sins. They must do so through undergoing the temporal punishment demanded by justice and they will do so either in this life through their suffering voluntarily accepted or through penance voluntarily undertaken, or they will satisfy the demands of justice in the world to come by suffering the temporal punishment due to their sins in Purgatory. This is the Catholic faith regarding justice to be rendered for sins. So again, no pact of evil or injustice escapes the judgment of God and the demands of his justice. No one gets away with anything forever.
It’s truly amazing how Christians can ignore the clear teaching of Jesus and of the whole New Testament regarding the truth of judgment and justice, and the reality of heaven or hell. Belief in these realities gives us a realistic vision against which to set the course of our lives. If we believe that justice is truly required for all of our evil acts, that our life is short and the challenge is great to find the narrow way that leads to heaven and avoid the broad way that leads to hell, that belief will change the way we live. If we also believe that the mercy of God, merited by Jesus Christ, does not contradict or deny divine justice but rather satisfies for us the demands of that justice for eternal punishment for our sins, that changes our hearts in relation to Our Savior. That is why sin after Baptism is so serious, and why it demands real temporal satisfaction of divine justice, the eternal demands having been satisfied by Christ.
Believing these truths allows us to leave vengeance for crimes to the state, and unpunished crimes and the punishment due to them to the Lord in the next world. Our focus must be on our own sins and not on our neighbor’s sins. Our whole value system becomes different from that of the world.
The Church does a great service by each year by recalling to our attention this realistic vision of life, the big picture, and its termination in judgment. As Paul says “Therefore, let us not sleep as the rest do, but let us stay alert and sober.” You bet. We are warned that at the end of time, just as in the time of Noah, most people will not be prepared for the coming and judgment of Christ. “When people are saying, ‘Peace and security,’ then sudden disaster comes upon them.” Surely this false sense of peace and security is being promoted by the purveyors of universal salvation today, a false security based not on biblical or Church teaching but simply on wishful, self-serving thinking. They too will stand before the Judge who will demand an accounting of every single act in their lives, and if they have not repented, they certainly will hear those awful words of Jesus: I never knew you, depart from me you evildoers.
But if we take the Gospels seriously and without making them say what we want them to say – as Jesus said in today’s Gospel “See that you not be deceived” – and if we submit our faith to the Church’s faith, then surely we have a well grounded hope to hear at that final judgment the glorious words of Jesus spoken in those same Scriptures, “Well done good and faithful servant … come, share your master’s joy.” We will surely hear those happy words if we but remain alert, and if we live our lives by that hope and by the grace and the light of Jesus Christ.” Amen.