In the first "Sunday sermon" ever to be preached in the Catholic Church, Saint Peter admonished his hearers: "Save yourselves from this perverse generation" (Acts 2:40b). After the sin of Adam and Eve we were a condemned race with no hope of salvation. We were a "perverse generation," striving to cope with the loss of Sanctifying Grace and the preternatural gifts, while the gates of Paradise were closed: "The Lord God put him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden He placed the Cherubim, and the flaming sword, which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life" (Genesis 3:23,24).
But God promised to send a Redeemer, a promise which was fulfilled when the Blessed Virgin Mary consented to be the Mother of the Word, Jesus Christ, God's only-begotten Son. Those who believe in Him and obey His commands are rescued from the "perverse generation" and become heirs of Heaven.
People in every age need "re-generation" through Baptism, which separates them from the worldly generation which is headed for perdition. "Now this I say, brethren," says St. Paul, "that flesh and blood can obtain no part in the kingdom of God, neither shall corruption have any part in incorruption" (1 Corinthians 15:50). St. Paul explains it as a mystical death in today's Epistle: "All who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death. For we were buried with Him by means of Baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ has arisen from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also may walk in newness of life" (Romans 6:4).
Yet while we live in this world we are in constant spiritual warfare in an effort to save our souls. We must work out our salvation "in fear and trembling," as St. Paul said. There is no vacation from the spiritual combat, for the devil is at work day and night "seeking someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8b). "Resist him, steadfast in the faith," says St. Peter, "knowing that the same suffering befalls your brethren all over the world" (1Peter 5:9).
One of the greatest spiritual dangers we face today is the widespread belief that everyone is destined for Heaven. In the words of Father Robert D. Smith: "All heresy, from Gnosticism in the first century to Arianism in the fourth; from Islam in the seventh to Lutheranism in the sixteenth, boils down to the notion that at least some people are so loved by God that they do not have to repent of sins against the Commandments to be saved. Some people do not have to repent at all. And this notion is all too likely to lead to the logical conclusion that, after all, everyone who has ever lived must be saved. This is the final state of heresy… belief in universal salvation. Universalism. Today, this belief in universal salvation seems to be itself universal" ("A Heaven Which Makes No Sense," from The Other Side of Christ, Issue 25).
The prophet of Universal Salvation within the Catholic Church in our time was the theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar (d. 1988), and his best known disciples were Karol Wojtyla and Josef Ratzinger, better known as John Paul II and Benedict XVI, both of whom had the highest esteem for von Balthasar, favoring his speculations that all men would eventually be saved. Theologians debate the matter on the grounds that the Church has never declared anyone to be in Hell, not even Judas.
The existence of Hell is taught with absolute clarity in Holy Scripture, so there is no need for the Church to declare that any one person is damned. The doctrine of Universal Salvation is a cruel doctrine because it disarms those who should be working out their salvation "in fear and trembling," causing them to lose their souls. Concerning Judas, Our Lord makes it clear that he was not saved: "The Son of Man indeed goes His way, as it is written of Him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It were better for that man if he had not been born" (St. Matthew 26:24). Not one of His chosen disciples perished, said Our Lord, "except the son of perdition, in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled" (St. John 17:12).
Christ teaches the doctrine of Hell in words that are strong and images that burn themselves into the memory, making it clear that the torments of Hell are eternal: "Enter by the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many there are who enter that way. How narrow the gate and close the way that leads to life! And few there are who find it" (St. Matthew 7:13,14). "If thy hand is an occasion of sin to thee," He says, "cut it off! It is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than, having two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire, 'Where their worm dies not, and the fire is not quenched'" (St. Mark 9:42,43). On Judgment Day He will say to those on His left: "Depart from me, accursed ones, into the everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels" (St. Matthew 25:41b).
There is no mistaking St. Paul's thoughts on the subject: "Do you not know that the unjust will not possess the kingdom of God? Do not err; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor the effeminate, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor the evil-tongued, nor the greedy will possess the kingdom of God" (1 Corinthians 6:9,10).
St. Jude is in full agreement: "But these men deride whatever they do not know; and the things they know by instinct like the dumb beasts, become for them a source of destruction. Woe to them!… for whom the storm of darkness has been reserved forever" (St. Jude 10;13b).
St. John's words in his Apocalypse leave no room for doubt: "And the sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and hell gave up the dead that were in them; and they were judged each one, according to their works. And hell and death were cast into the pool of fire. This is the second death, the pool of fire. And if anyone was not found written in the book of life, he was cast into the pool of fire" (Apocalypse 20:9b,10,14,15).
Hell exists, and the many go there. Let us choose once again to die with Christ by renewing our Baptismal vows: "For the death He died, He died to sin once for all, but the life that He lives, He lives unto God. Thus do you consider yourselves also as dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:10,11).