Gretchen Erlichman is entering Monastery of Our Lady of Grace in Connecticut this week. Her parting words are a reflection on the point of the Passion.
“Who then can be saved?”
Over the past months, we have been forced to confront the reality of our mortality. We have all looked into countless masked faces that reflect back our own anxiety. We suffered a loss of comfort and a personal sense of invincibility. We proceeded to fill the void with the consumption of Netflix and the stockpiling of toilet paper. Yet, beneath the crisis of inconvenience was a deeper concern — the fear of death. While we scrambled to abide by the latest CDC guidelines to preserve our physical well-being, did we ever take sufficient time to consider the spiritual health of our souls?
Sadly, it took a global pandemic for us to begin, even if only momentarily, to consider our end — the inevitable encounter with death and judgment, heaven or hell. More tragic still, as things progress toward normalcy, we find ourselves reverting back to a life distracted by the lures of comfort and conspicuous consumption. Yet, whether we choose to address it or not, our earthly existence has always been tinged with the reality of death: “You are dust and the dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:19). Rather than submit ourselves to distraction, we must reckon with the temporality of our bodies, the eternity of our souls, and the inevitable question of salvation.
Death is always before us. Its urgent approach obliges us to prepare ourselves to meet our Maker. Faced with a nihilistic culture of blind acceptance and indifference, we find it much easier to swallow the optimism of blanket salvation, in which no human frailty or shortcoming excludes one from the enjoyment of paradise. It is indeed far more difficult to heed Christ’s words of warning: “Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matt. 25:13). Although the former position is more tolerant of our fallen nature, what then would this mean for Christianity? If all are saved, no questions asked, then what is the purpose of living the Christian life? What is the point? If there is no consequence of sin, then what did Christ merit by his death on the Cross? You might as well give up now, embrace your narcissism, and adopt a “you do you” mentality. Lucky for us, this is not the case.
We may then beg the question: “Who then can be saved?” (Matt. 19:25). The answer lies in our cooperation with God’s sovereign act of salvation. Just as camels are big and the eyes of needles are small, Christian participation in the salvific act of Christ is not easy, but Christ simultaneously humbles us and assures us that “For human beings this is impossible, but for God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:16-30). Christ became incarnate precisely for our salvation; God loved us so much that he offered his Son as sacrifice to merit our justification (CCC 2020). “For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). Sin is paired with consequence, and our life was lost as a result of sin. Yet, through his Passion, Death, and Resurrection, Christ offers a remedy for our fear of death.
We are all invited
By participation in the life of grace, we are all invited into the glory of salvation. Through our baptism, we are given a hint of the life to come and a salve for our anxiety over death. It is by embracing death in union with Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross that we live, and baptism begins this transformation: “We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). To live out our baptismal call is to die to ourselves, our distractions, and our dissipations — by this we may live in union with Christ now, in this moment, mindful that it may be our last.
To be Christian is to keep the reality of salvation ever before us. We can subscribe to the societal norm and ignore the harsh teachings of the Gospels, or we can embrace the duties of our baptismal promises and personally partake in the act of salvation merited by Christ, for the sake of ourselves and others. We can and should offer prayers and sacrifices for our own growth in holiness, for the conversion of others, and for the purification of the holy souls in purgatory. Along the way, we should not hesitate to beg for God’s mercy and make frequent use of the sacraments, especially the sacrament of confession. Uniting ourselves with Christ takes effort on our part, despite the events of the last year having challenged our resolve to fight for the salvation of souls. However, if the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we should be watchful and alert, for we do not know when our time will come (c.f. Mark 13:33).
My own call …
In the coming days, I will respond to my own particular call to participate in God’s sovereign act of salvation. I will be entering formation with the Dominican Monastery of Our Lady of Grace, and there I will adopt the life of intercession and penance lived out by cloistered Dominican nuns. The hidden labors of consecrated religious, and for that matter of every Christian who offers prayer and penance, change the course of history, making it possible for many souls to come into contact with the saving graces of Christ.
Hell is real. So is heaven. And, after we die, we will all face judgment. So, we can stand alongside the doubting disciples and mutter, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” (John 6:60), or we can respond to our baptismal call and engage in the battle for souls. Whether we choose to recognize it or not, our end is always before us. Who then can be saved?. . . We can be saved.