Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Invitation and Rejection

Father John J. Lombardi

Q.: What is one of the worst things in life?

A.: Rejection.

Remember getting rejected at that job interview? That pink-slip refusal from a proposed date? Do you recall the childhood memory of a "lock-out" from playing with other kids?

Some rejections help (we can turn them for good-the virtues of detachment and humility can be built thru these tribulations); while other rejections hurt too painfully and some people never get over them. (There's a new book out, called "Lincoln's Melancholy," -by Joshua Wolf Shenk--which details the president's dark personal history and depressions-and how these actually shaped and helped him Thru It All. So: use your personal rejections and darkness to overcome!)

Q.: What is the worst rejection?

A.: Hell. See the Gospel...

This Sunday's Reading (Mt 22:1-14) could be called "The Gospel of Three Rejections". Huh? First: As symbolized in Part I of the Reading-the Invitation to The Wedding Feast. Some of the Jews (Scribes and Pharisees)-who were allegedly experts at expecting the Messiah-Jesus Christ-- did not recognize Him or accept Him-they actually rejected Him (hence this Parable of warning). Two: The man who appeared at the Wedding Feast without the right garment (which symbolizes a converted, Christ-centered Life), rejected God's Call. Three: He himself was rejected from the Wedding Feast-Kingdom. Not because of his actual clothes, but because he was trying to sneak in-literally "under cover"-- without true conversion.

Jesus is serious: He is warning us, impelling us-Salvation is "Risky Business," so: Apply soon! The stakes (Eternal Salvation or Damnation) are high, so don't be brought low.

One of The Most Important Things to Remember in Life/Eternal Life is: God offers not only friendship but Spiritual Marriage-Union with Him. Who doesn't like to go to a wedding? They're joyful, and celebrate the Union of Two-into-Oneness. But, analogously, on another level, if one refuses this supernatural kind of Union, then God respects that-forever.

Q.: What are the Two most Important Things about Hell? A.: "The affirmations of Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church on the subject of Hell are a call to responsibility incumbent upon man to make use of his freedom (and) an urgent call to conversion" (The Catechism of the Catholic Church: # 1035). That's Number 1. Now, Number 2: "The chief punishment of Hell is eternal separation from God" (Ibid). So: convert now and avoid everlasting separation from Total Happiness, Union with God. Don't be Left Behind.

Question: If God believes in Hell, shouldn't we? The answer is in the question. Jesus Himself taught this Doctrine voluminously-in the Sermon on the Mount --the Greatest Homily Ever Preached: flowery and fiery at the same time, remember?! Jesus speaks of "Gehenna" and "the unquenchable fire" for those who refuse to believe (cf. Mt. 5: 22, 29; also: 10::28; 13:42, 50 Mk. 9:43-48). Jesus says often: "But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will perish…" (Lk. 13:3, 5).

Now, all humans quest for fulfillment, endless happiness, and unending joy. Believe it nor not, we seek this in and thru everything we do and think: some thru drugs and sports, others thru personal relationships, and still others by academic-scholarly pursuits and hobbies. We humans are always seeking satisfaction and union. Now, Heaven is the Ultimate Place for the fruition of this Questing Desire-Bliss In the Trinity and Mystical Communion. Oppositely, Hell is the negative-state of all this: drudgery and joylessness. Therefore, a scientist may understand Hell as like a "spiritual black hole"-where all being and love is imploded and suffused into darkness and cold loneliness. Morally we may understand Heaven as the "reward" of knowing and loving Jesus Christ as Savior. Immorally, Hell is the opposite, and so, to wit: Know Jesus, Know Peace. No Jesus, No Peace. We may understand Hell in marital imagery as like a "Great Divorce"-Unending. And, if Heaven is Ultimate Union with God in experiencing His ceaselessly revealing Love and Infinite Beauty, then Hell is non-being, the everlasting experience of ugliness and separation from God. Hell is an option: In two ways-by conscious rejection of God and His ways. Secondly, unconsciously, lukewarmly choosing other ways and things over Him.

In the Mass's First Eucharistic Prayer the priest prays-"Save us from final damnation"-this is a queue to remind us of the possibility of Hell, and that God can save us from It! "The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of Hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into Hell…" (Catechism of the Catholic Church: # 1035).

Look, Hell is like this: If a person willingly or subtly rejects God, with, say, arms clenched over chest-an "I refuse" posture-and such a person dies in this manner (the soul enfolded in bitter rejection of God)-then God respects that choice-forever.

Q.: Are there actions-or states of being-which can merit us to Hell? A.: Yes, of course. The Bible says so. St Paul gives a list in Gal. 5:17ff and God Himself delineates the. Parable of The Rich Man and Lazarus (Lk. 16:19)-wherein the hardened sinner chooses a state or attitude which rejects others-in-need- the poor. We must remember-and never forget-we are supernatural beings, spiritual creatures. When we do an act or choose a state of being or an attitude that is seriously against God, then that action or state "sticks" supernaturally to our souls-entwining with it, more than we know. Such as when Jesus says: "Everyone who sins is a slave to sin" (Jn.8:34), and, oppositely, a state of Grace implies Supernatural Love: "Blessed are the pure of heart, they shall see God" (Mt. 5:8). Because the soul is either a God-friendly-transparent substance or a toxified rebel of God, the soul becomes (often unconsciously) what it does and thinks. And that state of being, at death, is what we choose-good or evil existence-forever. Put another way: "He who does not have love remains in death" (I Jn 3:14). So, Hell is merited not only by immoralism, but also by materialism.

By believing in Hell though, a disciple might get caught up in the illusory bind of always fearing their Eternal Salvation. This is scrupulosity. Yes, believe it nor not, we should fear Hell, but we should not fixate on it. Healthy fear, though, like, say of fire, can help us-to avoid pain and hurt, and also to propel us into good. Fear Hell, yes, but focus on God and goodness.

The Virgin of Fatima (1917) in Portugal showed to the Three Young Children a vision of fiery Hell. Why? Because she wanted to warn them about how serious life is and the threats to Salvation are-that it can be lost-esp. by those-like the Scribes and Pharisees-who are favored, "in the know," even like us privileged Catholics.

Jesus' Parable also shows us the detrimental state of laxity: Such as: We assume we will be saved; we presume Salvation is ours because we go to Church; or we suppose that just because we are Catholic or are baptized, Heaven is ours. This is dangerous-like wearing a wedding garment on the outside while our (spiritual) insides are unconverted. Jesus' Parable is a wake-up-shake-down call to renewal and constant zeal for the Lord.

We Christians will be judged on Two Things-our Faith and our works. So, ask: Do you really believe in, and accept Jesus as Savior? Do you follow Him and extend His Mercy and Grace to others-esp. to those in need? St John asks: "For whoever does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen" (I Jn. 4:20). And St James reminds us: "Faith…without works is dead" (2:17). Both of these Ways of Love of God and Judgment are summed up by Jesus, as in: "Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength…and your neighbor as well" (Mk. 12:29-31). So simple, isn't it-yet so difficult.

Three great illustration-example-witnesses of Saving Grace are Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul and Dorothy Day. All three loved God and His people. They had Faith and lived it-heroically-and also performed good works, voluminously. Now, do you?

Illusory Barriers to Believing in Hell:

1. Exclusion-Preclsuion: I.e., God is all Good and Loving, so He wouldn't send anyone to Hell. E.g., God's exclusion of souls from His Heaven is precluded by His being all Love. But Love is founded upon Justice which means the "proper ordering of parts," including souls in rebellion against, or rejection of, God. Put another way: My friend's daughter, believe it or not, was conversing with a friend about Hell. The friend did not believe-intimating, basically, If God is all Good then He would not consign anyone to Hell. The mom later replied, to me: God does not send anyone there, the individual person does-it's their choice--refusing God's friendship. This shows you (and me!): You may (supposedly) learn a lot of theology in seminary but you may still learn more "in the trenches" from faith-filled folk! So, remember: "God predestines no one to Hell, for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end…the Church implores the Mercy of God, Who does not 'want any to perish, but all to come to repentance'". (Catechism: # 1037).

God's Mercy is offered-if not taken up by individuals and Mercy does not override a persons' personal freedom, of rejection. Remember: an All-Loving God does not force.

2. Hell is an outdated "Dinosaur Doctrine". Read-a myth. Basically people may think, regarding Hell: "That was then, this is now." They may believe that it was a "creation" of past, antiquated theologians scaring people to join the Church or do what it inordinately says. Or, in past times, the Church (thru preachers) focused too much on "fire and brimstone" teachings and thereby lost the "goodness" of an all-loving God. People may also believe that all persons go to Heaven-sooner or later, somehow. This is called the false belief of "universalism". All these errors override the overwhelming evidence of the Bible and Sacred Teaching of the Church. Remember: The Bible and Church teach Timeless Truths which are always applicable to today's world. Oh, and by the way, people believe in dinosaurs more than ever today!

3. Ignorance is Bliss: Not! Or: Hell is not taught anymore. Kinda true. Some priests and theologians-because of fear or unbelief-are afraid or unequipped to teach it. Therefore, since we don't much hear about Hell, some may wrongly not believe in it. Like: Outta' sight, outta' mind. Okay-then, let's say: a baseball manager doesn't tell his players about the damaging artillery of the opponent--wouldn't that be wrong-and thereby hurt his players? The opposing teams' weapons and traps (the Devil) should be known and explained to guard against. But just because the manager doesn't teach them about the liberating-though-lacerating lessons, doesn't mean they don't exist. We cannot pick and choose what we believe in-esp. the "difficult doctrines" of our Faith. They are all meant to help-in one way or another: to convert us more into the Life, Death and Resurrection or our Lord. Now, Bliss is this-not rejection-ignorance-but, Kingdom-Belongingness

4. Fundamental Option: this errant (and very seductive) proposal of modern theology means, in a seeming positive mode, that we choose God, in a general way and that this choice and state lasts forever. The negative mode of it rejects that there is any action which can negate our union with God. Simply put, this rejects mortal sin. However, St John says: "There are sins which are deadly" (I Jn. 5:16). Catholics thru choosing the "fundamental option" sometimes falsely believe we are never separable from God; and some Protestants may sometimes believe this thru a "once saved, always saved" attitude. This obviously is counter the Bible (see citations above), Church teaching and the saints' lives. St Phillip Neri-the "Joyful Saint"-once said: "Lord, keep your hand upon Phillipo, for today he may betray you." That's realism.

5. We create our futures-which are sometimes made by humans without God, thru (pick one): technology, materialism, good works, and medical savvy. Look: the Catholic Church has always taught that no one can work their way to Heaven (and therein avoid Real Faith or following the Commandments or a personal encounter with the Lord Jesus). We must actively put our Faith and trust in God as Savior-we need to be saved. A new book illustrates how technology is becoming a near-religion ("The Point of Singularity" by Kurzweil), wherein we seemingly create a utopia of futurism of "blissful technologism". Americans are especially prone to this-loving"cybernet spirituality," if you will. Herein, Hell is not needed because our wired- prowess supposedly overcomes all obstacles. Ditto for materialism (possessions provide security), Pelagian good-works-ism, and "medical mysticism" wherein we identify overly with, and determine our bodily futures minus God. Thru these ways humans do all the work-- the saving and creating-and so we think we don't need God or need fear anything future because we control our destinies.

Key Questions and Points to Ponder:

  1. 1. Do you accept or reject the Wedding Invitation of Jesus to His Kingdom and Banquet?
  2. 2. Do you invite others to the Banquet and Wedding Feast of the Lamb?
  3. 3. Do you support contemporary prophets (represented in the Parable by those who "go into the byroads"), and who give the unpopular "Wake Up Call"?
  4. 4. Do you believe in Hell? Negatively, as a total separation from God forever? Positively-as an opportunity to convert?
  5. 5. Do you memorize and pray an Act of Contrition, frequently (esp. at night: you may not wake up!): O My God, I am heartily sorry for having offended you-please forgive me all my sins. Or pray the "Jesus Prayer": "Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." They say this prayer is the Gospel in miniature.
  6. 6. Divine Mercy: this beautiful (new) Devotion is based upon the life of St Faustina and celebrates the Mercy of God, and how desiringly He wants to forgive and help us. Pray/chant: "For the sake of His sorrowful Passion: Have Mercy on us and on the whole world." Repeat-often.
  7. 7. Mass-attend frequently: it's not just for priests anymore. This is the prayer of God Himself-atoning the world and gracing us. Embrace His Grace at Mass.

RSVP means, from the French, reserve s'il vous plez. Make your reservation Now! Don't delay, accept Him today.

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi