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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Robert Barron » Robert Barron - How Many Will Be Saved?

Robert Barron - How Many Will Be Saved?

Robert Barron - How Many Will Be Saved?
TOPICS: Salvation

Peace be with you. Friends, I'm going to admit something to you. I'm a little bit reluctant to talk about the topic of our Gospel for today, because it's this famously controversial matter of how many will be saved. So someone asks Jesus that question, and he responds, "strive to enter by the narrow gate". Now I say I'm reluctant to address it because I've talked a lot and written a lot about this issue. And boy, the people have strong feelings about it. If you doubt me, go anywhere on the internet, just put in "Catholic Church how many will be saved". You're going to get a lot of really strong opinions. Everybody will be saved, nobody will be saved, only a handful will be saved, most people will be saved, and everything in between. And everyone's able to draw upon saints and Scripture to justify their point of view.

There's a lot of energy around this question. So I'm not going to rehearse for you everything I've said about it; you can go and look at sermons and writings of mine. Let me just say a couple simple things, but then I want to get at something, I think, a little new and a little fresh, because that's, I believe, what the Gospel today really is about. So first of all, does hell exist? Well, yes, obviously. The doctrine of hell is a corollary of two more fundamental doctrines, namely, that God is love and that we're free. God is love, right? True, that's all God is; that's all God knows how to do is love. He wills the good of the other. In our freedom, we can respond to that love or we can resist it. When we resist it, we experience suffering. And now the tradition uses all kinds of metaphors for this, fire being a key one. It just means the fiery pain that comes from resisting God's love.

Dante uses the opposite metaphor, ice that freezes us and isolates us, makes us miserable. Look at the image of Satan buried in the ice in the "Divine Comedy". Does hell exist? Well, yeah, I've been there, and most people I know have been there. The suffering that comes from resisting God's love, it begins here. Now is anyone in that eschatological hell? What I mean is that absolutely definitive place where God's love has been resisted from the very ground and root of one's own being forever and ever always. Well, the honest answer is, I don't know. The Church has canonized certain people, that means it recognizes that person is in heaven, but there isn't an opposite move, there isn't a kind of canonization for those who are in hell, that we know for sure so and so is in hell.

And you say, well, what about Stalin and Hitler and Mao, and well yeah, I mean even Stalin, Hitler, and Mao, do we have a godlike grasp of what's going on at the depth of their minds and wills and consciences? Can we say absolutely for sure there wasn't even a little ounce of regret or contrition in those people? I mean, I can't know that, which is why the Church doesn't pronounce definitively that people are in hell. Therefore, I've staked out the position that we may hope that all people be saved. Now, again, go online if you doubt me, the people have come out against me because I've taken that position, most of them making a fundamental error, namely conflating hope with something like knowledge or expectation.

Do I know all people are saved? Well, of course not. In fact, that's the heresy of apocatastasis. Nor do I expect all people to be saved. So hope is not the same as expectation. So many of my critics on this score I think just make that mistake. If I say we may hope that all be saved, oh, he clearly expects all people to be saved. I've never argued that. The Church never argues that. Rather, the "Catechism of the Catholic Church" says, and this really is my position, "in hope the Church prays for the salvation of all". Check it out in the Catechism. Let me say it again, that's my position: "In hope the Church prays for the salvation of all".

Thomas Aquinas said, by the way, that we only hope for difficult things. So people that say, oh, well, Bishop Barron's just easy peasy, everyone's going to be saved, don't worry about it. Absolutely not. One hopes only for difficult things. Is it likely that all people are saved? Obviously not. Look around at the world. Hitler and Stalin, extreme examples, sure. But I mean, look around the world. Strikes you as likely that all people are entering by this narrow gate? Well, no, it's not reliant upon that. But hope is not based on human accomplishment. The hope is based upon what God has accomplished in Christ. And so we hope for this difficult thing that all people be saved. Okay. I'm not going to go any further into it. You can look at my other sermons and writings to see more detail, but here's the thing I do want to focus on, because I think it's what the reading is really about today.

Man oh man, the people that react against the claim that we may even hope that all people be saved, the vehemence of their reaction, almost the glee that so many seem to take in there being many, many people in hell. Or if I can put it this way, the view that somehow, unless there are a lot of people in hell, then it doesn't really matter that much that I get to heaven. So if I've been doing all this striving and all this achieving, and I'm hoping that everyone gets in, it's like saying, well what's the point of being a member of a country club if everybody gets into it? Watch again, the vehemence of the reaction when you even suggest we may hope for the salvation of all.

So with that in mind, look now at this Gospel. So Jesus passing through the towns and villages. Someone asked him, "Lord, will only a few people be saved"? He answers, "Strive to enter through the narrow gate". This is a Jew talking to another Jew in a very Jewish context. So we can indeed distill from this the abstract question of how many will get to heaven, but keep it in the context of this time. It's a Jewish person, asking a Jewish rabbi, a Jewish teacher, in a very Jewish context. So what does he mean? "Lord, will only a few people be saved"? Undoubtedly he's thinking of the few Israelites, chosen people, those privileged to receive the Law and the prophets, those descendants of Abraham, those children of Moses and Aaron, the inheritors of the covenant and the promise.

Yeah, the Israelites will be saved, and Lord, isn't it obvious... see that's, I think, the implication here, Lord, isn't it obvious that those outside of Israel, the teeming masses of a Gentiles, they clearly won't be saved? Isn't it just the few of us insiders who will be saved? Now listen further to what Jesus says beyond the "strive to enter by the narrow gate". Listen to this: "After the master of the house has arisen and locked the door, then will you stand outside knocking and saying, 'Lord, open the door for us.' And he will say to you in reply, 'I do not know where you are from.' And you will say, 'We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.' Then he will say to you, 'I do not know where you are from.'"

What's being described here? But this is an insider, this is an Israelite. Look, Lord, I'm one of your own, I'm one of the chosen people. Of course I'm going to be led into the banquet. "I don't know you". Don't think that your insider status will be enough to save you. Have you striven to enter by the narrow gate, or are you relying on your sense of being an insider that belongs naturally in the country club? Now, you still doubt this interpretation? Go a little further. "There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth," says Jesus, "when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and you yourselves cast out. And people will come from the east, from the west, from the north, and from the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God".

You see what's happening here everybody, is he's chiding somebody who's relying on his insider Israelite status, who's presuming "yeah, only a few of us insiders will be saved, and the rest of them, well, they're just part of the unwashed". No, no. Imagine now that the kingdom has arrived and there's Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, there's the great heroes of Israel. There's all the prophets and patriarchs. And who's sitting with them, well, not you, not one of the insiders, but in fact, all these outsiders from east and west and north and south, that means Gentiles from all over the place. And they're taking their place at the banquet table.

You see what's happening, everybody? It seems to me, the man asks, "are there only a few who will be saved," meaning the few of us insiders, and Jesus is saying, "expand your imagination, expand your sense of what is possible". Yes, it's a natural instinct to say "we few insiders, we're the ones in the country club and everybody else is excluded". In fact, that makes me feel more special, if I see that the mass of people is excluded. But maybe it doesn't work that way. Maybe God's generosity and God's mercy extend way beyond our little cramped sense of what's possible.

I can't help but think, everybody, and look at this online if you doubt me, read a lot of these reactions, that those who are calling for only a tiny handful who are saved, and to be fair that was the view of St. Augustine, that there's a "massa damnata," there's a "damned mass," the vast majority of the human race is damned and only a tiny handful are saved, but I can't help but think that those who are clinging to that view are in the same spiritual space as this man who's interrogating Jesus. And the Lord is saying don't play that game. Rather, let your hope expand to be as great as the mercy of God. Maybe all sorts of people that you consider just hopeless outsiders, they're just beyond the pale, there's no way they could ever be saved, maybe be surprised at how generous God is in his mercy. And perhaps our hope should correspond to the capaciousness of that mercy. I think, everybody, at the end of the day, perhaps that's the spiritual space into which the Lord is inviting us. And God bless you.
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