Be Sober and Serious in Securing Salvation

User’s Guide to Sunday, Aug. 21

The Church celebrates the Queen of Heaven with the memorial of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Aug. 22.
The Church celebrates the Queen of Heaven with the memorial of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Aug. 22. (photo: Unsplash)

Sunday, Aug. 21, is the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time. Mass readings: Isaiah 66:18-21; Psalm 117:1, 2; Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13 and Luke 13:22-30.

In the readings today, the Lord describes a danger: our tendency to make light of judgment and not be sober that one day we must account for our actions. The Lord has a desire to save us, but we must understand that our will, our “Yes,” is essential to our salvation. 

The Gospel opens with a question, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” He answered them, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough” (Luke 13:22-30). Many people today hold a kind of universalism that presumes that most people — indeed, the vast majority — will go to heaven. But that is not what the Lord says. And while no percentages are given here by the Lord, no exact numbers, we ought not to interpret the words “many” and “few” to mean nothing, or the opposite of what he says. 

Jesus is teaching us a sober truth: Given the tendency of the human heart toward hardness, stubbornness and obtuseness, many are on a path that rejects his offer of a saving relationship, rejects his offer of the Kingdom and its values. We need to accept that the Lord teaches that salvation is not attained by everyone, that some are not “strong enough,” that many are on a road that does not lead to glory. Jesus is not simply engaging in hyperbole. He is urging us to be awake, sober and serious in securing salvation for ourselves and everyone we meet.

Many today think of hell as a place only for the extremely wicked (murderers, genocidal maniacs, serial rapists, etc.). But there are many other paths that also lead away from heaven (and toward hell): lack of forgiveness, preoccupation with cares of the world, and unrepented sexual sins, such as fornication, homosexual acts and adultery. Wealth also creates difficulties that make it hard to enter the Kingdom. Still others cannot and will not endure persecutions, trials or setbacks related to the faith and instead choose to conform to the world’s demands and even to deny Christ before others.

God does not want anyone to be lost: “‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?’” (Ezekiel 33:11). Hell exists because of the reverence God has for our freedom. He will not force us to love who he loves or what he loves. 

Heaven is not our personal designer paradise. 

It is the kingdom of God in all its fullness with all of its values, such as forgiveness, chastity, generosity, love of the truth and love of one’s enemy — and with God at the center. 

But many do not want to forgive, or love their enemy; others do not esteem chastity; still others prefer to be stingy rather generous. Many do not want God at the center; they prefer that spot for themselves. And to those who hate the truth, the truth seems hateful. Jesus says elsewhere that many “prefer the darkness” (John 3:19). And God is not going to force them to want what he is offering. The saddest thing about the souls in hell is that they would be more miserable in heaven. 

So we have a sober warning here from the Lord that many of our desires are wrong. We must allow him to convert our desires so that we earnestly want what he is actually offering: the real heaven.