‘Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law they meditate day and night’ ( Psalm 01:01-02).
In fact there are only two ways before us. First is the broad highway going down and second the narrow ladder going up. As we know, the well laid, well maintained, goodlooking highway leads to the bottomless pit. The narrow ladder, much difficult to scale, will take us to eternal bliss. Psalmist is telling about those who select the narrow path to salvation.
Jesus has warned us that the number of people taking the highway to perdition is much more than those who select the ardous journey to heaven. He commanded his disciples to preach precisely this gospel, that salvation was finally at hand and that every human being should select the way he prefers. Jesus sent his disciples with a warning that if somebody rejects the path suggested by the gospel, the disciples should leave that place after shaking the dust off their feet as a testimony against them (Luke 9:5). Such is the importance of preaching the true gospel. And such is the importance God attaches to the freedom of man to make decisions. God never compels us.
Working for the salvation of souls is the most sacred duty entrusted to the Church by our Lord. We can even say that it is the only mission given to the Church. All other things are incidental or collateral to this main goal. It is a bit difficult to digest what I said. I am not blaming you, because we have been groomed in an environment where institution-building was synonymous with Church-building. Thus we have thousands of catholic schools, colleges, universities, hospitals, social service institutions, rehabilitation centres, old age homes, orphanages and the like! Laymen as well as non-christians take them as the signs of a progressive church.
Nothing is far from truth. Reality is that the progress in the core ministry of the Church,ie evangelisation is inversely proportional to the number of institutions the Church build. Everybody appreciates the works of the Church in the social field. Anywhere in the world, the best schools are christian schools, the best hospitals are christian hospitals and the best institutions are christian institutions. Everybody, irrespective of religion prefer the services of the Church.
Is this what the Church was estabished for? I don’t think so. At the cost of repeatation, let me state that the one and only mission of the Church is salvation of souls. All other things the Church is engaged are peripheral, collateral, incidental or non-essential to its core mission of saving the souls from eternal perdition, which we call hell. Church is appointed as the guardian of eternal truth by the Lord to accomplish this mission.
Let us come straight to the point. What do we mean by salvation of souls? I know, asking such an elementary question to readers who are born into christian families, have attended catechism classes, and not missing weekly ( perhaps daily) masses, going to confession frequently and not hesitating to share the gospel message to their unbelieving friends and acquaintances is a bit bizarre. But…
But are we really concerned about the salvation of souls? Are we sure that, if our Lord calls us back this moment, we will be entering the gates of heaven? Are we concerned about the ultimate destiny of our neighbor? Did we ever think of the destiny of our departed ones? What does we mean by soul? Whence it came and where should it go to? Do we really need a saviour or can personal salvation be achieved by one’s own efforts? These and many other questions need to be answered to get a clear picture of what we are going to discuss. It is not easy to explain each and every point in detail, nor am I qualified to deal with such deep theological questions.
Yet, we know this much. We are children of God. He placed the soul in our body. For the soul it is a kind of house arrest in the body. It always wants to be with God from where it originated. At the time of leaving God’s presence to abide in a human body, the soul was pure and holy. It has to be thus only, because God is Holy. God expects the soul to return to Him at the time of death of the person, in an immaculate condition akin to how He placed it in the beginning.
It is like we seeing off our little child to school in the morning in a neat uniform. We expect him to return in the evening with the uniform intact. But it seldom happens. As parents, we know how our children return from school when the immaculate white shirt which we put on him in the morning turns soiled with all the dust and dirt. What would you do then? Telling your child not to enter the house because his dress is dirty? No. You love your child even though he is immersed in dirt. You will cleanse him with a good bath, give him a sweet kiss and then take him in with new clothes.
Children of God, our Father waits at the doors of heaven with a bucket full of water to cleanse us of our sins. This cleansing is a precondition for us to enter heaven. If we are willing to take that bath, well and good. If we are adamant that we don’t need a bath, alas! the doors will be shut before us. Because God is just and He values our freedom to take decisions for us.
Should we say more about the need to be in a state of GRACE at the time of our death? Unless we are in a state of GRACE, we cannot withstand the brightness of God’s presence when we see Him face to face. The Church has provided the sacrament of Confession to cleanse our souls from all sins and fill it with Divine Grace. Make sure that we go to confession as frequent as possible and remain in a state of Grace. Times are such that anything can happen to anybody at anytime, anywhere. Like the wise virgins, we need to have the necessary oil to light our lamps at any time, because we don’t know when the bridegroom comes. He should not see us lacking the oil of Grace at the time of his arrival.
Confession is not a onetime affair. The interval between two confessions is the time to mend our ways and make amends to our life in the light of the commandments. Confession should be approached with utmost care if we want to derive the maximum benefit out of it.
As we know, only a pure soul can see God. Impure souls cannot withstand the glory of God’s eternal light. Best way to purify ourselves is to accept all the sufferings coming our way without any complaint and offer them to God our Father, alongwith the passion of our saviour Jesus Christ. This is the best way to be identified with Christ. All saints have passed this test of enduring sufferings. It may be isolation, accusation, neglect, temptation, poverty, penury, illness, and the like. Without the Cross there cannot be resurrection. When we are forsaken and forlone, when others doubt our integrity and cast aspersions on us, when our superiors call us dumb and idiot, when we are denied our due wages, when our employer tells us that our services are not required anymore, when we are humiliated, when we are persecuted because we proclaim the name of Jesus and when our life becomes a fight with the rest of the world, accept all those sufferings with grace. Bring all your sufferings to Calvari where Jesus awaits us. Look at him and listen to what he has to say. Offer all your sufferings along with the suffering of Jesus on the Cross to our Eternal Father. It is the most valuable gift we can ever give him.
Confession is for those who are alive. What about our departed dear ones? Certainly, we can pray for them. Church recommends praying for the poor souls in purgatory. We are not telling about those who died in mortal sin. Poor souls in the purgatory are those who need to spend time there so that their purification is completed. They have always the hope of uniting with the God one day. We can help them with our prayers. We can also offer Holy Masses for them. Every act of penance and reparation with this intention will be of great worth before God and will help those souls in purgatory to enter the rest promised by the Lord.
Summary of what we have discussed now is the same ‘two ways’ which the Psalmist reminds us. Those who select the path of salvation, will be like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither (Ps. 01:3). Ever heard of such a tree? Turn the pages of Bible and read the last chapter of the last book. ‘Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life, with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations’ ( Rev. 22:1-2).
For us christians, there are no two ways; but only one way. It is to become a tree planted by the streams of the water of life. It is to be sharers in the eternal life where ‘nothing accursed will be found’.
Salvation of the soul simply means this. Make our souls stand firm on the path of God, as revealed in the gospels. Make sure that we don’t deviate from it for not even a moment. It is indeed an arduous task. But entering the kingdom of God has always been like that. It is no cakewalk. We have to strive hard. In our journey , there can be instances of us falling aside, but our God showers unbounded mercy on those who repent.
Nothing in this world is a substitute for eternal life. That is why Jesus tells the parable of the rich fool. This gentleman’s only concern was about finding storage place for the abundant crops which his fields produced. He was not concerned about the eternal storehouse destined for his soul. He was apty called ‘fool’.
In the end, salvation of our soul means constructing everlasting barns in heaven where in the presence of the Lord our souls will rejoice forever.
Catechism is about this. Sacraments are about this. Church is for this. Priesthood is for this. Evangelisation is about this. They are all focussed to the single goal of proclaiming that salvation of every soul is made possible through Jesus Christ, the Word incarnate. Life of every christian finds its meaning in proclaiming this eternal gospel and in that process gaining as many souls as possible for the kingdom of God.
“So you, mortal, I have made a sentinel for the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me”(Eze.33:7). It was the mandate given to Ezekiel. A christian is made the sentinel for his brethren and to the whole world. We are called to warn others of the dangers of this world which would deprive them of the most precious thing, salvation of their souls. Talks on humanism, social justice, liberty, gender equality, environmental concern, love for nature and interreligious dialogues excluding the true gospel cannot guarantee us this salvation. Our enemy disguised as dissipation, drunkenness and worries of this life (Luke 21:34) hides in waiting for us. His aim is just one thing. To deprive us of the inheritance our heavenly Father has reserved for us.
Warn others; It is our duty as christians. More important, be warned ourselves. Let us remember the words of Paul the Apostle; “But I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified”( 1 Cori. 9:27).
This is the time to take hard decisions. Let us pledge to abstain from everything which may jeopardise the eternal salvation of our souls. Let us also remember the poor souls in purgatory, who need our prayers. It is our hope and faith that we will together enter the gates of New Jerusalem.