“Everyone gets a prize!” it is a motto that could describe many schools today, where children get trophies for simple participation in sport, rather than for victory.
This notion has permeated Christianity with the slogan “Let’s all go to heaven”, which is called universalism, a tempting temptation that God will deliver to all the trophies in the afterlife.
The problem is that this idea clashes sharply with the teachings of Christ.
There is that passage where he talks about good trees that produce good fruit and bad trees that produce rotten fruit. Since he was not an arborist, it is clear that he is talking about people when he says that bad trees will be “thrown into the fire”.
Another time he mentions the road of destruction, which is evidently quite crowded: “The door is wide and the road leading to destruction is wide and those who enter it are many”.
Imagine crowds of people whose lives revolve around satisfying their appetites and harming others by following this path.
Adulterers, rapists, murderers, seducers, fornicators and wolverines are probably travelers on the dark road, but they also make room for corrupt politicians, wealthy people who ignore the poor and film goddesses who parade in “naked” clothes.
Fortunately, Christ mentions another path, but it is not easy: “How narrow the door is and narrowed the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.”
In the Beatitudes, Jesus describes the people we might meet on this path. “Blessed are the pure in heart” reminds me of the young couple whose wedding I attended last weekend, who had promised God to remain pure until the wedding.
“Blessed are the merciful” evokes a story of Mother Teresa, who saved a man who dies on the streets of India, washed and fed, and gave him a comfortable bed. He said, “I lived as a poor man, now I’m dying like a king.”
Peacemakers are also blessed and exist in families where the arguments explode and intensify, unless someone intercedes gently. Even the meek are so, who do not promote themselves, nor insist on making their way.
Across the world, especially in Africa and the Middle East, Christians are tortured and killed rather than denying their faith, and Christ dedicates two beatitudes to martyrs. “Your reward is great in heaven.”
Christianity involves sacrifices, sometimes of sexual desire, other times of physical comfort, worldly power, consolation – and sometimes of life itself.
True Christianity is a radical path that turns the world upside down. The world praises the rich, the powerful, the aggressive, the sexy and the thrill, but Christ blesses the poor, the meek, the chaste, the humble.
The radical path means giving up on TV programs saturated with sex scenes, refusing to buy things just to keep up with the Joneses and pray for the people we would like to hit.
In many churches, sin is not mentioned and the devil has become a singular symbol because “I am well, you are well” has replaced the true message of the Gospel.
The lines of confession are shorter, because we are constantly reminded that God loves us, even if we are sinners. Nobody wants to remember that the first words of Jesus when he began his ministry were: “Repent and believe in the Gospel”.
Yes, God is a loving father, but wise parenting means establishing boundaries and establishing rules.
The narrow way is not meant to scare us, but to shake us out of complacency and entice us to reflect on our lives. Let’s not assume that everyone else is walking the path to destruction while we are trotting on the right path. Please find the highway to heaven and stick to it.
Lorraine recently wrote a study guide on Flannery O’Connor to accompany Bishop Robert Barron’s video series “Catholicism: Key Players”. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org
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