“The Third Rail and the Kingdom of Heaven”
are many “hard sayings”
in Holy Scripture.
In other words, there are many parables and other verses
that are uncomfortable to listen to … they are
likely to make us fidget in our seats because we know
that they well may apply to us.
You will recognize them at once:
They do not assure us of our salvation
They do not canonize us before we are dead.
“Third Rail verses” in Holy Scripture are verses to
be avoided at all costs: they are fatal to the one touching
upon them much as the third rail in an American subway
system exceeds 1000 volts and will electrocute you instantly.
Such verses, of course, precede Third-Rail Homilies
— to be avoided for the same reasons..
A “third-rail” homily would begin with, let us say,
Saint Paul’s address to the Philippians:
“With fear and trembling work out your salvation”
— to mention nothing of the numerous
admonitions from our Blessed Lord that do not merely
“suggest”, but clearly warn us in no uncertain terms
of eschatological realities that we may find both
appalling and unacceptable — while being undeniably
They, too, are in the category of the “third rail”:
touch upon them and you are dead. Speak of them and
you may receive a call from your bishop to “tone down
the rhetoric” and subsequently restore the cash flow.
of the Four Last Things
Death, Judgment, and Hell
( … but not Heaven). Few wish to hear of the first three.
Your pastor knows this. To preach about or to dwell
upon such verses is likely to cause “discomfort” — perhaps
even “outrage” — and consequently diminish the congregation.
They will go elsewhere, and find another parish
and another priest who will assure
them of their salvation (despite what Christ
says), their invincible goodness, and their being “The
lights of the world” and “The salt of the earth”. Such
parishes and priests abound.
Any hint that Heaven may be closed to some,
if not many, is mocked as “pre-Vatican
II nonsense” — in spite of Christ’s telling us so:
(Saint Matthew 7.13)
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the
gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction,
and those who enter by it are many.”
Likewise, the notion that,
(Saint Matthew 7.14)
“the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to
life, and those who find it are few”
These are but two of many, many, third-rail verses found
in all four Gospels and many of the Epistles (Letters).
“Surely”, we console ourselves, “a good, merciful, and
forgiving God would not allow such things to happen!”
To which we reply:
Why, then, did He say them?
We do not seek God,
but a heaven with a god to our liking and made in
our image. This is another way of saying “We ourselves
will be our own gods — for we are more
merciful, more loving, more forgiving,
more just, than the God we find in Sacred Scripture.
We will not bend our knee before that
God, but our own god. Ourselves! We will find
or make priests and churches that “affirm us”, comfort
us, and tells us that our illusions are realities or
that reality is just an illusion.
This is further to say that we will continue to maintain
the illusions and fabrications that comfort us,
but cannot possibly save us — rather than defer
to “hard sayings” which are enunciated to the end of
saving us and bringing us to
genuine happiness (Heaven).
Other factors enter into this obstinate refusal to
accept the “hard sayings”, and we point to them with
the deepest sorrow: these “hard sayings” do not
simply involve us — they involve those we
have loved — who have died.
Some of them, perhaps most of them did not accept these
“hard sayings” either. Some of them led extraordinarily
sinful lives, heedless of God and man. Some were little
more than evil. Many simply did not believe, or would
not relinquish what they perceived to be their freedom
to do as they wish, or simply scorned religion altogether.
But we loved them — and love always invests us in the
being of another. Hence our pain.
All or None
Nevertheless a choice was placed before them, as it
is placed before us now: to accept the “hard sayings”
as earnestly as we accept the more comforting ones.
We cannot choose which teachings of Christ we will accept
any more than we can choose what we wish to be real
or true. We must accept all of them or none of them.
God does not tamper with our freedom, nor interfere
with our choices. We are free to accept or reject, but
in either case our choice is total. We cannot accept
or reject the part without accepting or rejecting the
whole, for the parts are integral constituents of the
Much more to the point, the terms are not of our own
making — they have been divinely instituted.
Salvation is not a referendum any more than Heaven is
a democracy. The means of attaining it have been clearly
defined by Christ — as well as the means of losing it.
The choice is yours alone.
they also come into this place of torments”
To return to the discussion of those we love and who
have died, here we encounter
the most painful legacy imaginable: our realization
that the road they chose was the one that was
… To imagine them in torment everlasting is beyond our
ability to comprehend without verging on despair.
“How wicked of you”, you tell me, “to compound the grief
of those in bereavement! Have they not suffered enough
by the loss of one loved?”
No. It is not wicked. It is painful beyond words.
is sorrowful beyond description. None of us may presume
salvation, for to do so is to presume upon God’s
mercy, itself a mortal sin! Indeed, I identify more
with the departed than the surviving. I have no assurance
of salvation for I refuse to presume on God’s
mercy and may yet myself be accounted among the lost
— even as Saint Paul himself feared. (1 Corinthians
9.26) Should I fear less?
are indeed those who go to Hell — and
likely many (or Christ is a liar). We must allow
this realization to motivate us with all the more urgency
to bring those still with us to Christ,
lest they, too, choose
that is broad and easy”
and add to our sorrow greater sorrow still.
This was the whole point of the Parable of Lazarus
and the Rich Man: the rich man in Hell implores
him [Lazarus] to my father’s house, for I have five
brethren, that he may warn them, lest they also come
into this place of torments.”
(Saint Luke 16. 27-28)
Can we do less?
We call our children out
of a burning house — suffer burns and torment to save
them — but when they verge on a
lake of fire that is
the second death
1 from which there is no
return ...we say nothing.
We do not call
them back. We do not rush in horror to bring
them back! Our love for them slumbers before the
frowning face of society ... that no longer has any
room for our God ... or His children.
Pay attention to the third rail! Ignore it to
This applies equally to priest and pew alike.
And when you chose your “comfort zone”, you would do
well to consider its
Boston Catholic Journal
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