On this day, Holy Mother Church sets aside her usual sentiments of joy and dons the garments of penitence. This morning at Matins we were reminded of creation and the fall, and finally were treated to the Gospel of the workers in the vineyard, the gist of which is that in every age, the Lord never ceases to call souls to His service and His kingdom. He never abandons the world He created, even when men are so ungrateful as to hardly ever think of Him. The richness of this Sunday in the Roman liturgy is so vast that it would take several homilies to draw out all its lessons. What’s more, you may recall that last Sunday I promised to start a series of considerations on the reasons for which we find ourselves in our present predicament. Let’s concentrate then on one point, which is the most fundamental.
The central theme, common to both the epistle and gospel of this Mass, is this: even though God has deigned to reach out to man throughout the centuries to draw him back from the path of perdition along which he obstinately marches, even though God’s offer of salvation is addressed to all, and that everyone without exception has the opportunity to avail themselves of the possibility of eternal salvation, the revealed fact is that there are fewer who do so than there are who neglect to do so. In other words, there are more souls who lose salvation, who lose God, who are damned, than there are who die in God’s grace and are saved. It is what we call the small number of the elect or the saved.
The doctrine is firmly established in tradition. So firmly actually that one would be hard put to find a single Father or Doctor of the Church who, having expressed himself on the subject, does not concur in the clearest possible terms. Even among the canonised saints taken as a whole, it would be very difficult to find one, even among the recent ones, who held anything different. And with reason: the words of our Lord in the Holy Gospel are clear, and we heard them again this morning: Many are called, but few are chosen. It’s one of those rare instances in which the Greek word for many actually does mean all (which by the way is not the case for the pro multis in the consecration of the Chalice). All human beings are called to eternal life, but few actually make it there. The Lord had already affirmed this truth in the Sermon on the Mount, when He admonished His disciples: Enter ye in at the narrow gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there are who go in thereat. How narrow is the gate, and strait is the way that leadeth to life: and few there are that find it! (Mt 7:13-14) Or again, when a certain man said to Him: Lord, are they few that are saved? He answered: Strive to enter by the narrow gate: for many, I say to you, shall seek to enter and shall not be able. (Lk 13:24).
We must admit, that at first sight such words are rather disconcerting. We have a hard time coming to terms with the reality of souls being eternally separated from God, but when we learn that this is actually what happens in most cases, we can be filled with dismay, we can be frightened. Then it is that we need to recall the verse of the Psalm: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Psalm 110). If God reveals to us that so many are lost, it is not to terrify us, but to wake us up, to jolt us out of our lethargy before it’s too like, very much like a father who would not hesitate to break his son’s arm to prevent him from falling into a precipice. Grave situations demand grave measures, and these sometimes hurt.
Coming back now to our stated initial intent, it is not difficult to see why the Church and the world find themselves in such dire straits. Please forgive me for once again bringing up these unpleasant subjects, but it is necessary not to get used to them lest we too succumb to the virus of evil. Let us think for a moment of the grave evils that affect our world as a whole: the hundreds of millions of babies slaughtered in the womb, the almost total breakdown of family life, the corruption of the youth through pornography, and in our schools through education in vice, gender ideology and the promotion of a gay culture. And then turn your mind to the Church, the Bride of Christ, to whom the message of repentance and salvation has been entrusted, and what do we see? Hardy anything different. Catholic families break down like others; Catholic women use contraceptives and have abortions like others: Catholic doctors practice abortions and euthanasia. Catholic politicians with blood on their hands dare to receive Holy Communion. Catholic priests and bishops in trouble with the law for violation of a most sacred trust. In a word, a devastated landscape in which the claws of the Evil one are all too evident. And before that marred battle scene in which countless souls have already been lost, what do we hear from the pulpits in most churches? How often do we hear the clergy reproach the faithful for their vices? How often to we hear bishops stand up to the proliferation of evil and condemn the culture of death and vice? The answers to those questions you already know: almost never. But now you also know why this is so. It is so because the truth of the Church concerning salvation has been swept under the rug, relegated to dusty libraries when it is not the object of ignoble caricatures.
So how did it happen? How did we go from a strong Catholic Church in the mid-20th century – so strong in fact that in America, Hollywood sought Catholic approval for films in order to make sure that Catholics would come to the cinema? What happened between then and now? One very grave evil, namely the clergy for the most part abandoned the teaching of the Church on eternity. Giving in to the fallacious arguments of a couple very well-known modernist theologians, priests began to believe that in the end all will be saved, in spite of how they live. Now, it doesn’t take too long to figure out that if everyone will be saved anyway, it really is not necessary to give ourselves the trouble of keeping the commandments. And so the gate is open to the most shameful moral collapse our world has seen or ever will see. The denial of the word of the Lord leads to the disintegration of the moral order, for Christians are the salt of the earth, and you know what happens if the salt loses its savour. The Church sadly has its responsibility. It has failed over the last few decades to preach the fulness of the Gospel truth, and has gotten bogged down in politics, in ecology, in the peaceful coexistence of peoples. At the same time she has ceased to be the inspirer of peoples. Why? Quite simply because if you no longer have the horizon of eternity to propose to souls (because everyone is going to Heaven anyway), then you can only preach insipid banalities about being nice to each other.
For most Catholics today, belief in God has hardly any bearing whatsoever on the way they look at the world. Just consider how in such a short time we went from innate horror in the hearts of almost all Catholics for abortion and sodomy to a nearly universal acceptance of these vices which cry to heaven for vengeance, and how the clergy rarely if ever condemns them. It’s no wonder either that in such a context the push for a universal religious brotherhood that would not have the true God and His Son Jesus Christ at its centre is gaining ground. Over a century ago, Pope St Pius X prophesied in the encyclical Pascendi that modernism was just a step to something much more radical. Modernist Catholicism leads straight to atheism, that practical atheism we see all around us.
Such are some of the sentiments of Holy Church inspired by the liturgy of Septuagesima Sunday. But alongside these sobering thoughts, there are also many others that ought to encourage and stimulate us. If the Lord is telling us: Go into my vineyard as He does in today’s Gospel, it is so that we may be filled with zeal, first for our own salvation but also for that of others. Time is short; we have today; we do not know if we will have a tomorrow; if today we do not want the salvation God is offering, it it certain that we are on the broad way to perdition. If today we are not able to make some small effort to get ourselves on the narrow path and stay there, we know for sure that we are heading towards the precipice. And so here we see that the Lord’s words manifest an exceedingly great mercy to our soul. The true Christian who has understood this, will also be moved to become a missionary for others. There are so many souls out there who are so far from God and whose salvation may very well depend on a word or a good example from us; today we can help them; tomorrow we know not if we shall still be around. A Christian who has never done anything for the salvation of others cannot be saved himself.
Such is the truth, my dear Friends. The diagnosis is grave. The Church, and with it civilisation, is dying. But contrary to some physical diseases for which there is no cure, we know that as long as we are alive we can still turn to God and beg His mercy. We know that if we but turn to the Mother of Mercy, she can make a big difference in our souls and in those we love.
Let’s not be afraid. But let us heed the solemn words of today’s Gospel: Many are called but few are chosen. Few because few accept the salvation that is offered. Let us not make our plight worse still by wasting our time inventing theories to justify that Jesus did not really mean what He said. Jesus knows exactly what He is saying, and the two thousand year tradition of the Church knows exactly what He meant.
Let’s go today into the vineyard, that vineyard planted by God Himself in which we will have to roll up our sleeves and make effort, but one in which we are fortified by the sweet wine of divine consolation. In the service of God, it’s only the first step that counts. The devil is a slave-driver. God is Father. Today His arms are open to receive all those who turn to Him. If it is true, as one author said, that Hell is truth seen too late, let’s make sure we see the truth now, while it is not too late.