Our Lord, in the course of his active ministry, repeatedly preached about how hard it was to be a true disciple, how following in his footsteps on the way to salvation was perilous and difficult, which is being proven again in our day by both the hard and soft persecution of Christians. This straightforward concept is one readily dismissed by so many.
Heaven is thought to be easily attainable and filled with just about everyone, even non-believers who never gave the concept a thought during their life. Heaven today in most people's minds is overflowing with occupants, whereas Hell is devoid of any known occupants, except perhaps Adolph Hitler and Judas.
How did this come about — the adoption of a false understanding of the Faith that goes against the biblical narrative and the Church's ancient teachings? Why do people today just jettison all tradition, the Bible, the Church's teaching and scientific facts for the commonly held caprices of this new millennium? "A person can choose their own gender." "It's not a baby until it is born!" "Gay people are born that way." "Our climate has changed because of the burning of fossil fuel!"
There is no simple, single answer to the question of why this generation has jettisoned right reason and natural law. Some speculate that in the post-World War II years, the postwar nihilism — the universal anguish over the millions killed needlessly — contributed to the jettisoning of all prewar pillars of law and civilization.
The post-World War II generation saw many just jettison the wisdom of the Greek philosophers: Cicero, Sacred Scripture, the Fathers of the Church, Dante, Shakespeare, Goethe, and so forth. In the years after the war, these former pillars of truth became more myth than truth — nice stories and thoughts, but unenlightened.
Others speculate that in the postwar years, the combined worldwide economic boom and great advances in medicine and science all contributed to a new society that no longer needed God or religion, both mere relics of the past blown to bits in the war, better left buried in Western Society's past.
For us postwar, new millennial Christians, much good can be gleaned by the readoption of an authentic biblically-based understanding of Heaven and Hell. In the authentic biblical tradition, Heaven was always understood as being extremely difficult to attain, the "narrow gate," whereas its counterpart, Hell, was a very easy place to get a membership.
In 1577, St. Teresa of Ávila's work The Interior Castle was published — the story of a soul struggling on the difficult path to holiness, to perfect union with God. If you analyze the book's premises closely, a foundational one is that Heaven itself is hierarchical; heaven has levels. Specifically, in St. Teresa's work, Heaven has seven levels, the lowermost levels occupied by those saints who, despite living good and holy lives, were not of the highest caliber and able to participate completely in the Beatific Vision, whereas, the uppermost chamber of Heaven in which God resides, in all his splendor and glory unveiled, is reserved for those saints of the highest caliber.
In this uppermost chamber, you will find saints like Our Blessed Mother and St. Joseph who, because of their virtue and holiness, can be fully and completely with God. They can gaze on God in his Holiness and not be destroyed by his beauty. For the ancients and for St. Teresa of Ávila, Heaven was not easily attainable, nor was it cheap. Heaven would be attained by a soul only through an active and bloody fight against the tempter and sin throughout his lifetime. For St. Teresa, even in the afterlife, more virtue and additional holiness could be achieved for an aspiring soul, with Heaven's uppermost level being an attainable goal.
On the opposite end of last things, a parallel can be drawn for Hell. Dante, in his seminal work The Inferno, wrote about Hell, a final end for many, which was hierarchical, had multiple levels and had many occupants. Like St. Teresa's work on Heaven, The Interior Castle, Dante's work, The Inferno, is lost on postmoderns living in this new millennium.
For postmoderns who don't believe much in an afterlife, let alone the differentiation within Heaven or Hell, these conceptualizations are all just old myths, perhaps entertaining to ponder, but nothing to consider when making decisions on how to live day to day. For postmoderns, what is most important is how practical their actions are in fulfilling their life goals — in fulfilling their bucket list — such as living in the home they have always wanted, driving the type of car they like, eating their favorite foods and on and on.
Prior generations had bucket lists, too, but the bucket list was never an end in itself. For earlier generations, the end was to become a virtuous man or woman, orientated at being in a right relationship with one's maker and being someone who has integrity, as compared to a list of self-centered experiences in a malleable world devoid of all true rationality and reason. Reason, natural law, tradition, truth, are all nebulous or outdated concepts for postmoderns today. For those who might still think and talk about their immortal souls, Heaven is open for all because God is Love and Love would never send a person to Hell.
In the book of Genesis, we find the story of Noah and the great flood, a punishment sent by God upon the world to destroy the bulk of humanity because humanity had become exceedingly wicked over time, having rejected God, natural law and rationality. Noah's evil neighbors laughed at his piety and his construction of the Ark. To them Noah's piety and his preparations for the flood were just foolishness, until the flood came and they died. And they were damned to Hell.
Ironically, these men and women who perished in the flood would occupy one of Hell's upper regions, one of those levels just below the surface, not far from the rim of the void. Whereas those who die now, who belligerently reject God, the natural law and right reason, will end up in one of Hell's lowest pits. Because, in addition to rejecting these, they reject divine revelation and God's gift of a Redeemer in his only Son, Jesus Christ. They reject their own redemption!
Images of Our Lady of Fatima, La Salette and Częstochowa all depict a Blessed Mother with a tragically sad face, a face shedding tears, not because her Son did not fulfill his mission, but because he did and then people walk away blithely, indifferent to this greatest of all God's gifts. This is a sad reflection upon this postmodern generation, a sad reflection upon which final destination will be occupied by the most souls. Lent is a season in the Church to re-orientate oneself to God and to what is holy and good. May the faithful take these Lenten goals to heart and keep their eyes firmly fixed upon their Creator and their salvation.