The Broad & Comfortable Road to Lukewarm Christianity & Destruction
July-August 2004By Frederick W. Marks
Frederick W. Marks, former Professor of History at Purdue and St. Johns Universities, is the author of six books, including, most recently, A Brief for Belief: The Case for Catholicism (Queenship Publishing Company).
In a recent talk, Avery Cardinal Dulles observed that more education is needed to convince people that they ought to fear God.1 Coming from an eminent theologian, such counsel should attract attention. But will it be heeded?
The Catholic pulpit in America has long been short on formation. Funeral Masses have turned into canonization ceremonies while good pastoral advice for the scrupulous is commonly dispensed to the unscrupulous. One is likely to hear that God is nothing but love and mercy or that no one can earn salvation half truths at best. For example, the Bible states clearly that in God there is mercy and anger alike, and Jesus declared that he who loves me keeps my commandments.2
Catholic homilists with both feet on the ground will not imitate pop psychiatry, which specializes in the painless removal of guilt. Lulling assurances are out of touch with the Gospel. Jesus, who inaugurated his public ministry with the word repent (Mt. 4:17), advised the woman caught in adultery to sin no more (Jn. 8:11). Likewise, in the case of the man cured at the Pool of Bethesda, it was advised sin no more lest something worse befall thee (Jn. 5:14).
Queried on the subject of how many would be saved, our Lord replied few because the gate to Heaven is narrow (Mt. 7:13-14). Few may be taken to mean relatively few since no one knows the date of the Last Judgment; indeed the population of Heaven may be numbered in the billions. There is no way to pinpoint the precise meaning of the word few. Nonetheless, it is sobering that Jesus chose the image of a narrow gate. Augustine believed it certain that few are saved, and he was not alone.3 Virtually every saint, pope, father, and doctor of the Church who ever spoke or wrote unequivocally on the subject, took Jesus literally. Saints Polycarp, Irenaeus, Basil, Chrysostom, Gregory the Great, Ambrose, Francis of Assisi, Thomas Aquinas, Thomas More, Robert Bellarmine, Peter Canisius, Alphonsus Liguori, Elizabeth Seton, Peter Eymard, Josemaría Escrivá, and Faustina Kowalska, to name but a few, all subscribed, either implicitly or explicitly, to the principle of the narrow gate.4 And to the saints may be added such luminaries as Innocent III, Thomas à Kempis, Cardinal Newman, and Sister Lucia of Fatima.5
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