It’s a real joy for me to be with you today for the first of many visits to Holy Family Parish here in Davidsonville, and I look forward to meeting as many of you as I can in Unity Hall after Mass today. I’m so grateful to Father Andy Aaron and Deacon Tom Beales for their warm welcome, as well as to all of you as together we come before the Altar of the Lord for the celebration of Mass on the Lord’s Day.
II. Are You Saved?
The Gospel we just heard focuses us on the most important topic of all, our salvation. Every thinking person ponders this question, whether they realize it or not. When we stop and think and ask ourselves questions like, “Who am I?” “Whose am I?” “Why am I here?” “What must I do? – we are ultimately asking questions about the very foundations of all reality. After all, as Socrates famously said, “the unexamined life is not worth living.” In the same Gospel we just heard, a person in the crowd, identified only as “someone” – in other words, any one of us – asked Jesus, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?”
Let me tell you a story. Some years ago, a priest I know found himself sitting on an airplane. And the person next to him, someone who was Christian but not Catholic, saw his Roman collar, understood that he was a Catholic priest, and so asked him, “Are you saved?” Not exactly the usual small-talk people exchange while they’re settling in for a long flight. Let me first raise a question and then recount the answer my priest friend gave
My question is this: what do we mean by “saved?” Well, as many of us learned long ago, the very purpose of our lives, the specific reason for which God created us, and the goal toward which each of our lives tends, can be neatly and accurately summarized in the formula ‘to know God, to love Him, and to serve Him in this life, and to be happy with Him forever in the next.’
None of us will ever be completely happy in this world, because we weren’t created for this world. This is not our ultimate home; here we have no lasting city. The deepest desires of our heart can only be filled by the unending love of the Holy Trinity in the perfect peace and happiness of Heaven. As Saint Augustine said so famously, “You have created us for yourself, O Lord, and our hears are restless until they rest in You.” It really is as simple, and as wonderful, and as demanding, as that. But getting from here to there has been the subject of an enormous amount of discussion, and debate, and confusion over many centuries.
III. Without God, I Can’t; Without Me, God Won’t
So back to the question put to my priest friend by his interlocutor on the airplane: “Are you saved?” The priest paused for a moment but then quickly sensed that the person in the next seat really was concerned about his soul, so he responded: “Yes, I was saved at my Baptism, I am being saved through a sacramental system which demands my participation, &, I hope to be saved when my life is over, & I stand before Christ, who will be my judge.” Let me repeat his words and reflect on them with you …
The process of “being saved” is not just a matter of doing enough good things to get to Heaven. Nor is it merely one big decision we make during the course of our lives. Rather, being saved is first of all God’s work, God’s initiative. God acts first. So when you and I were baptized, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit acted in our soul such that we were freed from the guilt of original sin, became adopted children of God, and were grafted onto or inserted into the mystical Body of Christ, i.e., the Church. In Baptism, we were so closely identified with Christ that the Father could see and love in us what he sees and loves in Christ. So I was saved at my Baptism.
And yet, as St. Augustine also said, “Without God, I can’t; without me, God won’t.” Ever since the Ascension of Christ into Heaven and the pouring forth of the Holy Spirit upon the Church at Pentecost…we can say that “the visible presence of our Redeemer has passed into the Sacraments,” as Pope St. Leo the Great put it long ago.
So God doesn’t save me against my will. Indeed, part of our human dignity consists in that, with God’s grace, not only are we moved toward God, but indeed we can choose to move ourselves toward God, and toward the salvation he desires for us. As Christ makes clear in today’s Gospel, the way to salvation is narrow and difficult, and many will attempt to enter, but will not be strong enough. But to this end, God comes to our rescue, and offers us the sacraments. It is precisely in the sacraments of the Church that we are able to touch and to receive the very power flowing from Christ’s cross and resurrection. … the effect of which is gradually to bring us from the old life of sin into the new life of grace – and to eternal salvation. Thus, with my priest friend, you and I can say that [we are] being saved by the sacraments which demand [our] participation.
And finally, I hope to be saved when my life is over, and I stand before Christ, who will be my judge. It is part of our faith that when this earthly life is over, each of us will stand before the Lord Jesus, who alone is the knower of all hearts, who will judge what we have done and what we have failed to do: whether we have allowed his grace to transform us so as to have become capable of loving and receiving his love for all eternity. Indeed, as St Paul wrote to the Corinthians, our eyes have not seen, our ears have not heard, nor has it so much as entered upon our minds what God has ready for those who love him.
IV. Three Surprises
Dear friends, these are weighty questions, the most consequential we will ever ask. Yet we know that only in Christ can we find authentic answers to these questions, answers that will truly satisfy the longing of our hearts. As St Peter famously said to Christ, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life.”
So as we prepare to receive the Lord Jesus Himself in the Holy Eucharist, let me leave you with these words of Archbishop Fulton Sheen and see if these words don’t resonate within your heart this morning…he wrote: “How God will judge my life I know not, but I trust he will see me with mercy and compassion. I am only certain there will be three surprises in Heaven. First of all, I think I will see some people whom I never expected to see. Second, I think there will be a number whom I expect who will not be there. And – ever relying on God’s mercy – the biggest surprise of all may be that I may even be there myself.”
May God bless us and keep us always in His love!