Monday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time
(Sirach 17:20-24; Mark 10:17-27)
The old funeral director said that he had heard many sermons on death. He concluded that there was a change in the Church’s thinking since Vatican II. Before 1965 he had listened to preachers emphasizing the fires of hell and the need to avoid them. Since then, he has had the idea that everyone winds up in heaven. Does this optimistic account of everyone’s fate square with today’s readings?
The passage from the Book of Sirach holds that sinners must repent before death if they are to live with God. Even the greatest sins, the author implies, God will forgive if sinners acknowledge their faults and ask mercy. In the gospel Jesus also demonstrates the need to change one’s ways. He says that to be a beneficiary of eternal life the rich must trust in God, not in their wealth. God, he says, makes everything possible.
Vatican II did not really change the Church’s teaching regarding heaven and hell. Always a life of grace is necessary for salvation. What has changed with the council has been the Church’s readiness to judge. No longer should it be presumed that people ostensibly living in serious sin are necessarily guilty of it. Because the human condition is limited in many trying ways, people may not be fully responsible for the errors they make.