Both of the readings for mass today have to do with hell. This subject is avoided by many Catholics. It’s very difficult to think about. There are some Catholics and non-Catholics as well that do not believe in the reality of hell. They think that if God is a loving God, He would want all people to make it to heaven. He is too loving of a God to punish people for all of eternity. But, God is both just and merciful. There would be no justice for those who have been wronged, if all people went to heaven equally. Justice would not have been served. We do not know if Adolph Hitler repented of his terrible sins of having six million Jews put to death in the gas chambers for an example, but it would not be right to allow him to have the same reward in heaven, as Mother Teresa. Adolph Hitler lived a life of power and worldly pleasures, but six million Jews died because of him.
In the first reading for mass Saint James talks about situations like this. He doesn’t mince his words. “You have lived on earth in luxury and pleasure; you have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter. You have condemned; you have murdered the righteous one.”
The example of Adolph Hitler is an extreme example, but it is one that most people can relate to. The same principle applies to our modern, everyday lives though, and in our own families and communities as well. Saint James uses the example of the rich, who cheated their workers of their wages and God heard their pleas. The rich do not become rich without earning their wealth through the poor, in some capacity. Even if they become wealthy in an honest way, their wealth should be shared with those who are hungry, sick, or otherwise in need of life’s basic necessities, rather than live in luxury themselves, pursuing their own comfort and pleasure while their fellow man suffers and goes without their basic needs being met.
Jesus uses different examples of those who go to hell, like people that cause children to sin. In modern times that would be like the sexual abuse of minors. Jesus said that it is better for the body to die than one’s soul. He warns us to do whatever is necessary to force ourselves to stop committing sin. In other words, avoid hell at all costs. He gave us all fair warning. The problem with our modern culture is that relativism has infiltrated our entire culture and sin no longer seems to be sin in the eyes of so many people in our society. If we are not absolutely vigilant, we face a big danger of allowing this mentality to rub off on us too. It’s so subtle that relativism can slip into our lives in such tiny degrees at a time, that we hardly notice it. The devil has deceived so many into believing that he isn’t real, and that hell isn’t real. Our parents and grandparents had some cliques that still applies to us today, as adults. Some of us may remember our parents saying, “If the whole crowd jumps over a cliff and kill themselves, will you do this too? You need to think for yourself and do what’s right. Don’t go along with something that is wrong just because everyone else is doing it.”
We were born with the natural law written in our hearts. Even secular people understand what their conscience is. Jesus talks about that in Gehenna, “where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” Your conscience will convict you upon your death and will bother you for all of eternity if you have not repented of your sins, and sought God’s forgiveness.
Jesus warned us on more than one occasion to not be lukewarm in our faith. He does so again in today’s gospel. “Everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if salt becomes insipid, with what will you restore its flavor? Keep salt in yourselves and you will have peace with one another.” Therein lies the problem with many of us, allowing our society’s relativism to influence us a little at a time until sin is no longer sin, but considered to be a good thing. The fire we are assaulted with is our own tendencies to sin, or becoming too accepting of sin, afraid to stand up to others and tell them they are sinning. This is when salt becomes insipid. In the long run there is no peace until sin has been addressed and dealt with. A superficial peace is no peace at all.
This is something that many of us need to work on. Maybe we should take an honest look at where we may have compromised our Christian values for the sake of avoiding friction with others. Do we blend in a little too well in the secular environment that we live in?
Daily Mass Readings:
Jas 5: 1-6 / Ps 49: 2-3, 6-7, 8-10 / Mark 9: 41-50