By Fr Martin Graham
Last weekend a new Government was elected in Greece replacing a Government that tried to push through Parliament austerity package after austerity package in a bid to stop the country defaulting on its loans and going bankrupt. All the good things that the Greek people enjoyed are gone and pensions and savings put past for a secure and comfortable retirement have evaporated.
The same is also true of the traditionally strong countries like the United States and Britain. Things have definitely improved but there is still such uncertainty and in almost all countries in the West the Trade Unions have been stirring for a confrontation with Governments over taxes and the loss of jobs. If the landowner in today’s Gospel did what he did then in our day, the unions would have a field day.
Yes, of course it is not a true story; it is one of Our Lord’s many parables, given to help the people understand that the grace of God is given to us as a pure unconditional gift. Whoever is called to follow Christ as a youth does not gain any extra grace or benefit over those who are called in adulthood or even when they are in the final moments of their life. Jesus makes it clear that it is never too late to follow Him; even for those near death it is not too late. After the 12.15pm Mass in Lagmore today, very unusually, I baptised only one baby, but I have also been honoured to baptise a 23 year old builder from East London, a 26 year old student at Queen’s and over the next couple of months I will receive two more adults into the Catholic Faith. Most of us are cradle Catholics but there are many who convert, like John Wayne, Bob Hope and Buffalo Bill, on their deathbeds!
One of the most remarkable things about the Catholic faith is that the Church can gladly and triumphantly declare that some of her children are saints. Every year on the 1st November we celebrate all those who have gone before us and who now live in the eternal light and joy of Paradise. Some of them are great models for us and so they receive some greater recognition by being formally canonised. What is remarkable is that the Church has never made a solemn declaration of someone going the other way – never has the Church pronounced someone as being consigned to Hell, to eternal damnation.
Catholic faith teaches us that Hell is real, that Hell is eternal and Our Lord Himself tells us so throughout the Gospels so we know that souls will find themselves in damnation…but the Church cannot know who. The reason why she cannot know is alluded to in this Gospel; even the worst, the most degenerate sinner may in the very last moments of earthly life repudiate his or her past and turn to God with a contrite heart. The Lord’s mercy is boundless and so that soul will be saved from Hell; the Lord’s justice is also boundless and so just as Hell is real so also is Purgatory.
For those of us who are faithful to God all our lives the Gospel is telling us not to be jealous of God’s mercy to those who come to Him later but to be thankful that we have a great and good God who is full of mercy and compassion – it is that mercy and compassion that we trust will also forgive our sins and failings and bring us into Paradise as well!