Monday, April 1, 2019

Monday of the Fourth Week of Lent

(Isaiah 65:17-21; John 4:43-54)

Yesterday, the fourth Sunday of Lent, Church sometimes calls “Laetare Sunday.”  Most Catholics know that this term means rejoicing Sunday.  Mass celebrants, usually wearing pink or rose-colored vestments, explain that the Church rejoices because the time of penance is half-completed.  Pink, rather than the solemn purple, symbolizes the lighter spirit.

What is often overlooked, however, is the changed tone of the weekday mass readings after the fourth Sunday of Lent.  They no longer call for repentance and prayer; rather, they anticipate the fulfilment of God’s promises.  The spirit of coming fulfilment is readily seen in today’s first reading.  God tells the people that He is “about to create new heavens and a new earth.” The gospel actually tells a story of fulfilment.  Jesus saves the son of a Jewish royal official from imminent death.

We may look for signs of fulfilment in our own lives.  Hopefully our fasting has slimmed down our waistlines a bit.  However, if this were all the fulfilment we achieved, we have missed Lent’s purpose.  By now we should have developed a closer familiarity with the Lord.  Our conversation with him should be less tentative and more insightful.  We should feel and communicate to him our readiness to suffer with him.   If this is true, we will likely see positive developments in those around us.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Friday of the Third Week of Lent

(Hosea 14:2-10; Mark 12:28-34)

The First Letter of John seems to hint that we can only love God by loving our neighbor.  Jesus, however, in today’s gospel does not compress love of God into love of neighbor.  Quite the contrary, he prescribes a robust regimen for loving God.  He says that we are to love Him with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength.  How are we to accomplish all these practices?

In loving God with our whole heart we do not give attention to anything that will lead us away from Him.  We do not look at pornography or engage in gossip, for example. Loving God with our whole soul means to love Him fully emotionally.  We desire to be with Him and express our joy in His presence.  Practically it means to carry on continual conversation with God in prayer.  When we study Scripture and theology, we love God with all our mind.  Finally, in making significant sacrifices for God’s sake we love God with all our strength.  Perhaps in today’s contraceptive culture, the young couple who practices Natural Family Planning if they cannot afford to have more children well exemplifies a strong love for God.

Jesus tells the scribe who endorses his principal commandments that he is “not far from the Kingdom of God.”  He is not in the Kingdom yet because he has to act on what he acknowledges to be true.  Nevertheless, knowing what must be done is an important step to doing it.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Thursday of the Third Week of Lent

(Jeremiah 7:23-28; Luke 11:14-23)

The elderly woman said that her grandchildren believe in God.  She went on that they try to help others.  But, she concluded, they see no reason to go to church.  There is a parallel here with the challenge the people pose to Jesus in today’s gospel.

Jesus has just driven out a demon.  The exorcism invites the people’s following him.  Will they let go of their prejudices against the poor and strangers? Will they repent of their sins and grant forgiveness to others? To follow him means living in these ways.  But the people refuse to change.  Rather they try to refute Jesus.  As the elderly woman’s grandchildren refuse to go to church, they say that Jesus can cast out demons because he is in league them.  Then they demand a sign if he expects them to believe in him. 

Jesus patiently responds with a three-fold argument.  First, he says that in fact Satan is being defeated. This is something as beneficial as it is evident with the formerly mute man now speaking. Second, he bids his critics to compare him with other exorcists who work in God’s name.  He is implying that his power to cast out demons comes from the same source as theirs.  Finally, he proposes that they open their eyes to see what following him means.  They will find through him all the blessings of the Kingdom of God.

It is incumbent upon us followers of Jesus to show people today that belief in God makes best sense when done with the Church.  Further, we have to give evidence that their aspirations of goodness are best fulfilled under Church auspices. We accomplish the first task by contemplating the Word of God proclaimed in the liturgy and talking about it with others.  We complete the second by living simply and sharing our bounty with the needy.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Wednesday of the Third Week of Lent

(Deuteronomy 4:1.5-9; Matthew 5:17-19)

John Adams, the second president of the United States, taught that governments are better guided by laws than by “men.”  He meant that a nation fares better when it follows prudent laws rather than charismatic men and women.  Moses delivers a similar message to the Israelites in today’s first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy.

The word “Deuteronomy” literally means “second law.”  The book re-presents the Law that the Book of Exodus describes God giving the people. Deuteronomy also explains the value of the Law as today’s passage shows.  It says that because it comes from God, abiding by it assures God’s assistance.  In the reading from Matthew’s gospel Jesus upholds the entire Law.  Perhaps some in his day thought that he meant to pick and choose the parts of it that were to be followed.  Perhaps, also, Matthew wants to cite Jesus to refute those who misinterpret St. Paul by saying the Law has been abolished.

Christians, in fact, do not follow the dietary and ritual laws of the Old Testament.  But we should obey its personal and social precepts.  It is true that we have a New Law, but that merely gives an overarching summary of the pertinent precepts.  We are to love God above all and to love our neighbors as ourselves.  To accomplish these daunting tasks we have the Holy Spirit to assist us.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Tuesday of the Third Lent in Lent

(Daniel 3:25.34-43; Matthew 18:21-35)

When former president Gerald Ford died in 2007, commentators remembered him with surprising admiration.  They recognized his pardoning his predecessor Richard Nixon for criminal activity in the Watergate affair as his greatest achievement.  Even Ted Kennedy, a Nixon critic, admitted that the pardon did a distinctive service to the country.  It helped heal a nation badly divided over ideology and shocked over wrongdoing at the highest levels.

Would that public figures be more willing to practice today what they admire in past heroes!  Instead we hear them demand resignation, impeachment, or apology from those who violate their principles.  In the gospel Jesus tells his disciples that it should not be that way with us.  We must be ready to forgive when people repent of their misdeeds.  Rather than clamor for retribution, we should pray that our offenders take note of their wrongdoing, ask forgiveness, and make proper amends.

Mercy becomes us.  Shakespeare writes that an “earthly power doth then show likest God's,
when mercy seasons justice.”
  It even makes us better appreciated in our society as in the case of President Ford.  In forgiving, of course, we must not abandon the norms of justice.  Compensation to the wronged is often due, and the offender should be resolved not to offend again.  But practiced rightly, mercy like “the gentle rain from heaven” – as Shakespeare put it -- benefits everyone.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord

(Isaiah 7:10-14.8:10; Hebrews 10:4-10; Luke 1:26-38)

In the middle of winter yellow crocuses piercing the snow give a sign of spring.  Similarly, now in the middle of Lent the Solemnity of the Annunciation reminds us of Christmas.  Jesus, whose death is anticipated throughout this season, is recalled as a newborn bringing joy to the world. 

The second reading bridges the two periods.  The Letter to the Hebrews announces that Christ, our leader, is born a human.  He is like us in all respects except, of course, sin.  But that is why he comes – to take away our sins.  To conform ourselves to him we fast, pray, and go out of our way to show mercy for forty days.  It is not that Jesus’ sacrifice of himself was insufficient to make us like him.  Rather, sin bent human nature so out of shape that it takes considerable effort to correct its effect.  This is why even Jesus had to fast and pray.

Mary is presented today as our model.  Modesty forbids her from recognizing herself in Gabriel’s complimentary greeting.  She exhibits no anger or regret at being mandated to give service beyond the call of duty.  She only wonders if, perhaps, the angel has come to the wrong door. Then, assured that God wants her and will help her, she generously accepts the request. When we become so humble, patient, and loving, our Lenten journey will have reached its goal.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Friday of the Second Week of Lent

(Genesis 37:3-4.12-13a.17b-28a; Matthew 21:33-43.45-46)

When old Catholics come together, they sometimes tell the story of a parish priest who said mass in twelve minutes.  He did it in pre-Vatican Council days when no one was following the liturgical Latin.  Of course, it was an abuse of the sacrament as were other practices of those days.  The demeaning of Protestants, the transfers of priest sexual abusers, and the downplaying of Scripture are but a few of the traits of those times that called for reform.  In today’s gospel Jesus points to the need of a similar reform in Judaism.

Jesus is speaking to the elders and chief priests of the people.  He knows that they resist his call to a less severe interpretation of the Law.  Some of his issues which they reject are healing on the Sabbath and moral judgment based on one’s intention as well as the concrete action.  Jesus further realizes that the established religious leaders have made up their minds.  He knows that they will do away with him when they have the opportunity.  His parable serves as a prophecy for what is soon to take place on Calvary.

We must not be closed to reform.  Vatican II expressed this principle as the need for the Church to constantly purify itself.  We as members of the Church community must strive for greater understanding of self, greater love for others, and greater sacrifice for God.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Thursday of the Second Week in Lent

(Jeremiah 17:5-10; Luke 16:19-31)

“The line between good and evil,” the Russian novelist and humanitarian Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn remarked, “is not drawn between nations or parties, but through every human heart.”  We can understand this truth as saying that every one of us has a heart partly corrupted so that it awaits renewal.  Executing that renewal is our Lenten project.  Similarly, every one has in part a heart palpitating with generosity.  Experiencing the growth of that vibrant sector is a source of Easter rejoicing.  In the first reading the prophet Jeremiah laments a heart so rotten that it is beyond remedy.  In the gospel Jesus gives an example – the rich man who ignores the beggar at his door.

Certainly the rich man is not punished just for having wealth.  That would be like criticizing a healthy person for not taking sick leave.  But wealth as well as health has attendant obligations.  As Pope St. Paul VI once wrote, wealth entails a “social mortgage.”  The rich must share some of their resources so that the needy not forfeit their human dignity.  Jesus in this Gospel of Luke never tires reminding his disciples of this responsibility.

Donating to the poor carries some risks.  A beggar may squander the beneficence received.  Even highly regarded charities have sometimes misused contributions.  But we must not allow these concerns to trump God’s call to generosity.  Prudence indicates to whom and how much to give.  Failure to comply with its dictates may place our heart more on the side of corruption.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Wednesday of the Second Week of Lent

(Jeremiah 18-20; Matthew 20:17-28)

When politicians and prelates go to Rome, they often have one objective in mind.  They want to be photographed with the pope.  They may have only ten minutes with the Holy Father, not enough time to exchange more than niceties.  But that is all right with them.  A picture with the pope in the newspapers back home raises their status in the eyes of the people.  Perhaps the mother of James and John harbors a similar motive when she approaches Jesus.  She asks him to place her sons on either side of him in glory.  She wants her sons to be seen as people of importance.

Interestingly Jesus does not reject the sons because of the ambition of their mother.  Rather he questions their willingness to sacrifice themselves for him.  When they seem genuinely ready to suffer on his behalf, Jesus affirms their courage.  He knows that they need his help to fulfill their commitment to him as disciples.

All of us do but especially those who face terminal illness.  The pain, the loneliness, and the anger that many experience facing death makes them want to do something outrageous.  Some want to show themselves as masters of their life by taking it.  Others try to imitate the super-wealthy by taking a lavish trip.  Others desire to curse their enemies.  We are wise to reject these temptations by becoming a servant as Jesus recommends.  We do this by seeking reconciliation with adversaries and by exemplifying submission to God’s will.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Solemnity of Saint Joseph, spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary

(II Samuel 7:4-5a.12-14a.16; Romans 4:13.16-18.22; Matthew 1:16.18-21.24a)

According to the New Catholic Encyclopedia why St. Joseph is celebrated on March 19 in unknown.  The custom of designating a day for St. Joseph goes back to early medieval times.  A Benedictine monastery in France lists March 19 as the day on which he died but evidently gives no explanation.  It is interesting, however, that the March date coincides with the Solemnity of the Annunciation.  In the space of a week the two great annunciation stories of the gospel are thus proclaimed.

Christians do not regularly refer to Matthew’s account of the revelation to Joseph as an annunciation.  However, it resembles very much the story of Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she will be the mother of the savior. Joseph also is visited by an angel although in his case in a dream.  As to Mary, the angel tells Joseph not to be afraid.  In both cases reference is made to the Holy Spirit conceiving the child, whose name is Jesus.  Most of all, like Mary, Joseph is seen as submissive in faith to the will of God.

On these two solemnities we are not to fast.  How could we recalling the good news of the coming of our Savior?  The celebrations testify to Catholicism being a religion of joy.  Even during the season of penitence the Church bids us to rejoice.  God is coming to save us.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Monday of the Second Week of Lent

(Daniel 9:4b-10; Luke 6:36-38)

Last week Pope Francis held his annual Reconciliation Service with the priests of Rome.  He told the priests something of which they were already aware but perhaps needed to hear again.  Actually it is something of which all Catholics need to be reminded of continually.  Francis said that priests must be continually “on guard against the temptation self-sufficiency and self-satisfaction.”  This is the purpose of confession.  We declare ourselves as sinners, which is to say we are not satisfied with our behavior.  We likewise asks God’s mercy, which is to say we cannot live without forgiveness.

In today’s first reading Daniel makes similar claims for the Jewish population exiled in Babylon.  He recognizes that the people have sinned terribly in varied ways.  He also asks God’s forgiveness on their behalf.  In the gospel Jesus says that people can count on forgiveness as long as they are willing to forgive. 

We do not like to admit our faults.  For this reason some people avoid confession, and others make excuses when they have done something wrong.  These strategies take us from our final goal.  It is wise to own our sins and ask God’s mercy.  When we do so, we should find ourselves understanding of others and ready to forgive.  Then we will be, as Jesus commands, “’merciful, just as (our) Father is merciful.’”

Friday, March 15, 2019

Friday of the First Week of Lent

(Ezekiel 18:21-28; Matthew 5:20-26)

Ten years ago a prominent priest in Florida had a dramatic fall from grace.  Internationally known on radio and television, the priest was photographed on a beach necking.  In short order he was chastised and sidelined for violating his vow of celibacy.  The priest exemplified what the prophet Ezekiel proclaims in today’s first reading.

Ezekiel passes the judgment that when a good man commits a wicked deed, he will die.  The prophet recognizes that this judgment will sound harsh.  He tells his audience: “’You say, “The LORD’s way is not fair!”’”  It is important to remember that Ezekiel does not exclude the possibility of repentance.  He only emphasizes that evil perpetrated by a good person is just as intolerable as evil done by a known sinner.  Actually, it is worse because it causes scandal leading others to sin.

Religious celibacy is more critical today than ever.  It serves as a sign of contradiction in a world that is closing itself to the presence of God.  Celibacy allows its adherents to make a radical search for God.  It short-circuits the pitfall of stagnating in the gratification of sexual desire.  It also encourages those who do not take the vow to seek God in their lives.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Thursday of the First Week in Lent

(Esther C:12.14-16; 23-25; Matthew 7:7-12)

You will not find today’s passage from the Book of Esther in most so-called Protestant Bibles.  Its composition in the Greek language has put it outside the Canons of Jews and Protestants.  The Catholic patriarchs, however, decided that many Jewish scriptures written in the Greek or Aramaic languages deserve consideration as the inspired word of God.  Today’s passage certainly indicates a custom that Jews and Christians have practiced since their origins.  In times of trouble, pious people always turn to God for deliverance. 

Although God certainly has no need of human attention, He has been revealed as a father who cares for all His children.  This is certainly Jesus’ intention in today’s gospel passage. He tells his disciples that even more than their fathers on earth, God will assist them.  He exhorts them to ask Him to ask in prayer for what they need

Just about all of us have had a positive experience when we turned to God in our need.  Perhaps we misplaced a book or are looking for a parking place.  Rather than fretting over the matter, we humbly asked God for help.  Then, quite remarkably, we found what we were searching for.  It seems to happen more often than randomness can explain.  Yet it also seems that if we ever tried to test the probability, we would come out frustrated.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Wednesday of the First Week in Lent

(Jonah 3:1-10; Luke 11:29-32)

The Lenten fast sixty years ago required adults to not eat between meals and to not eat meat more than once a day.  Many Catholics either could not or would not make these sacrifices.  For the sake of unity and perhaps to curtail people from judging one another these rules were relaxed.  Since the Second Vatican Council the Lenten fast in the United States has been simplified.  Catholics are not to eat meat on Fridays and to not eat between meals on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.  Still some people have difficulty meeting this reduced command.

The practice of a communal fast is presented in today’s first reading.  The Book of Jonah tells how non-Jews once responded to the Word of God by fasting.  On order of their king the whole population along with their animals did not eat or drink.  Truthfully, there is no other historical record that this fast took place.  Very probably the book was not written as a tale to change Jewish attitudes towards foreigners as well as to promote devotion among Jews.  Yet the idea of a communal penance is clearly established.

We too much consider ourselves as individuals and not as parts of a community or, better, communities.  We need to recognize that we both reap benefits and do damage according to the groups to which we belong.  When these groups injure others, we should recognize some responsibility.  The most patent example of injury for Catholics, as for many other organizations, has been racial prejudice.  Doing a common penance in reparation for these sins seems both fair and wise.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Tuesday of the First Week of Lent

(Isaiah 55:10-11; Matthew 6:7-15)

A cartoon a couple of years ago showed two drivers after a fender-bender.  One says to the other, “My lawyer will contact you tomorrow.”  This is the way many people think today.  When offended, they first and foremost seek redress.  Today’s readings teach us that getting back at others is not God’s way.

The passage from Isaiah’s is taken from the end of the second of three sections of the book.  The prophet is consoling the exiled captives in Babylon.  He has told them that they have suffered enough for their infidelity.  He has also assured them that God does not hold grudges.  Indeed, Isaiah makes clear that God takes delight in forgiving.  Jesus similarly teaches of his Father’s willingness to forgive.  However, he insists that God will forgive only those who are willing to forgive others.  He is saying that humans have to adopt God’s ways if they are going to receive God’s mercy.

It’s tragic how wars are continually refought because peoples do not want to forgive.  Many Arabs live with resentment for Jews, and many Jews live so with Arabs.  The same is true of Indians and Pakistanis.  In the United States African-Americans are demanding reparations while white-Americans hold on to the prejudices of their ancestors.  These are not God’s ways.  If people want to be truly free, they must let go of these kinds of demands. Then they need to forgive others’ their offenses to receive God’s forgiveness for their own.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Monday of the First Week in Lent

(Leviticus 19:1-2.11-18; Matthew 25:31-46)

A movie shows a ranger who takes a boy in his care.  The ranger recognizes that the boy has been hurt by the death of his father.  Although he does not demand that the lad converse, he expects him to complete his chores.  It does not take long for the ranger to win the boy’s respect and confidence.  In light of today’s readings it might be said that the ranger is holy.

People often think of holiness as one being set apart in a monastery or hermitage to pray all day.  However, in both the reading from Leviticus and Matthew’s gospel holiness has a very dynamic dimension.  To be holy is to act like God.  Holy people judge fairly and love widely.  They also abhor meanness and injustice.  Holiness is the abiding quality of those who practice God’s law.

We sometimes call life a “rat race.” We mean that it is a constant struggle to keep up with others.  It may be said as well that it is like a “rat race” because we tend to act like rats always appropriating as much as possible for ourselves .  During Lent we are urged to leave the rat race behind for holiness.  Rather than keeping up with others, we should concentrate on doing what is good for all. Rather than hoarding for ourselves, we should assist our neighbors in need.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Friday after Ash Wednesday

(Isaiah 58:1-9a; Matthew 9:14-15)

Muslims are apt to ridicule the Catholic way of fasting.  “What is so hard about not eating between meals,” they might ask, “when you can eat three times a day?”  They see their fast of not eating or drinking at all during daylight hours as much more demanding.  But we might query Muslims about the severity of their practice as they often binge throughout the night during their month of fasting.

God calls into question the fasts of both Catholics and Muslims as He chastises Israel in today’s reading from Isaiah.  His criticism is not that fasting has no value but that it must be accompanied by a change of heart.  Indeed, fasting can facilitate conversion by palpably reminding us of those in extreme need.  Not eating sweets should make us think of the millions of refugees whose daily bread is bitterness.  Abstaining from meat should conjure images of poorly educated people in our own country whose lives lack substance. 

We must also pray for the needy, give of our sufficiency to assist them, and advocate for changes in public policy to safeguard their human dignity.  These are not Lenten exercises.  They only begin now and should last until our deaths.  Each year we will want to modify and add to them so that God finds all His people living in peace.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Thursday after Ash Wednesday

(Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Luke 9:22-25)

Yuval Noah Harari lectures at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.  He has authored a couple of best-selling books critiquing Western Civilization.  In one he describes the driving forces behind contemporary life.  One force is that there is no morality other than what feels right to the individual.  Basically this position is a development of David Hume’s made during the Enlightenment.  A second force is evolution.  Nature including humanity evolves by chance with no final cause or purpose.  Of course, this idea is based on the work of Charles Darwin.  Finally, for now, Harari sees capitalism as humankind’s mechanism for satisfying human desires.  Capitalism has enabled more and more people to live in comfort while avoiding the scourges of war, famine, and disease.  Harari leaves no room for divine initiative, sustenance, or finality.  God for him is simply beside the point, and traditional religion a dampener to true human interests.  For Harari this is the contemporary human condition.  We buy into it with the air we breathe coming out of our mothers’ womb.

Needless to say, we do not accept Harari’s theses.  We know that there is a moral law which supports our necessary social institutions.  We further believe in God.  He is not just the Creator but the one who helps us through our daily struggles and will be there when all else is gone.  And we know that God wants us to take care of the needy so that everyone experiences His mercy.

Lent is our time of reorientation.  During this stretch of time we take a stand for life as Moses sees it in today’s first reading.  We acknowledge God as our Lord.  We pledge to leave aside our baser instincts of what feels right to obey His laws.  More than that during these forty days we take up our crosses to follow Jesus.  He will lead us beyond self-centered desires to the state of universal love which is eternal life.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Ash Wednesday

(Joel 2:12-18; II Corinthians 5:20-6:2; Matthew 6:1-6.16-18)

World Youth Day events in Panama attracted approximately 500,000 pilgrims from around the world.  Needless to say, there was not enough hotel space for all those people.  But hotels were not necessary as schools, churches, even private homes opened their doors.  They not only provided lodging but in some cases food as well.  Panamanians showed needed solidarity with their guests.

Lent may be thought of as a pilgrimage requiring solidarity.  All Christians support one another in this annual drive to become more Christ-like.  Without mutual support most people would not aspire to fasting, prayer, and good works that characterize their savior.  Many others would falter in the long but necessary course of forty days.

We wear signs of ashes today to indicate the common need to repent of sinfulness.  Thus, we sport them both humbly and proudly.  We say “humbly,” of course, because they indicate that we have been selfish.  We add “proudly” because they indicate our faith in Christ to transform us.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Tuesday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time

(Sirach 35:1-12; Mark 10:28-31)

Americans call the day before the beginning of Lent “Mardi Gras” which means Fat Tuesday.  The name comes from the medieval custom of consuming all the lard and butter in the house before the time of fasting begins.  In those times during Lent the people abstained from fatty foods as a sacrifice to God.  The first reading today aids in appreciating such sacrifices.

Sirach tells his readers how various sacrifices please the Lord.  Most of all God appreciates offerings of obedience.  The people who carry out His law, especially the commandment to love God and neighbor, please Him most.  Physical sacrifices offered in tandem with living righteously are doubly gratifying.  Of course, God does eat the animals brought to the Temple any more than a mother consumes the flowers brought to her on Mother’s Day.  But knowing that His daughters and sons desire to please Him by offering what is satisfying to them brings satisfaction.

We make such sacrifices by refraining from what we enjoy during Lent.  Again, in tandem with love for others such acts of self-denial especially please God.  We would be deeply touched if a child were to all her savings to buy us a gift.  We can also appreciate God’s satisfaction with our sacrifices however small they might be to Him.

Monday, March 4, 2019

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.