My last blog post called How Many Will Be Saved? had a lot of shares but also a lot of critique. This makes for good Catholic dialogue. I want to respond in a short blog post to a few objections.
St. Augustine wrote: “There are two things that kill the soul: Despair and false hope.”—St. Augustine, Sermo 87.8. Another word for “false hope” is presumption. The reason I included in my blog post all the saints’ quotes on hell was not to judge Hugh Hefner but to show how many American Catholics live in presumption of last-minute imperfect contrition. So, if someone were to read those saints’ quotes about hell and subsequently scamper from false hope to despair, it’s is proof that the third way has not been tried, namely, a realistic but supernatural hope in salvation. Roughly summarized from St. Thomas Aquinas, supernatural hope is the reliance on God to attain the rigorous good of heaven. Rigorous does not mean heaven is painful, but that it is a big deal for a human to be plugged into an infinite power pack of love forever, that is, the Blessed Trinity. Such is heaven, a supernatural good beyond even the best human abilities.
Comments about my article that spanned much farther on the internet than just my Facebook page have tried to make me feel guilty or judgmental for my blog post. I’m not going to feel guilty, for their response actually reveals to me how many American Catholics have put a false-hope in family members dying in imperfect contrition without the sacraments. It’s important to teach your children that the Council of Trent teaches that death-bed imperfect contrition (accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior with sorrow for sins but without perfect love of God or sacramental confession) is actually not enough for salvation. It is the teaching of the Church we need the sacraments, so don’t kill the messenger who loves you enough to tell you.
But now I will say a word about my thoughts on Hugh Hefner. First, I can’t judge him and I don’t know where he is now, but please realize that I am a priest, and I go to many death beds of Catholics who are dying without any contrition, perfect or otherwise. How do I know this? Because most death-bed events I have gone to has a patient who has not been to confession for 20 years…and they refuse it with me too. (Not to toot the horn of Latin Mass Catholics, because they know I can be a harsh preacher against the sins of traditionalists, but almost all traditional Latin Mass Catholics go to confession on their death beds. This says something about the lost catechesis of the past 50 years.)
So, why do most normal baby-booming Catholics refuse confession? Is it because they don’t actually believe in sin. Let that sink in: Most dying baby boomers I have been to as a priest really believe they are dying without any sin on their soul, for they don’t believe that sin is an actual reality. 1
To be saved from mortal sin on your death bed, you would need to believe that sin actually exists in order to accept either the gift of imperfect contrition with the sacraments or perfect contrition without the sacraments (the latter being much more rigorous to attain, not easier.) To attain heaven, we should be using the means of the Catholic Church, not Protestantism that believes that a single mental act at the end of life is enough for salvation. No, I don’t know for sure that Hugh Hefner was not the recipient of perfect contrition, but if I see people his age constantly refuse the simple gift of imperfection contrition, this is proof to me how few of my critics really have any wisdom about how rare and astronomically soul-changing the gift of perfect contrition is upon the soul. Christ coming to Hugh Hefner by means of perfect contrition is the only thing that could have saved him, and there is no evidence of it. 2
So, the reason so many people got up in arms against me reveals to me how many people needed to hear this truth about what to do before your deathbed begins: Go to baptism or confession. That way, Jesus can forgive you ten times the life of sin of the orgy-throwing, abortion-promoting pornographer Hugh Hefner. If you think I’m going to feel guilty about warning Catholic Americans against presumption for helping people to interpret sacramental imperfect contrition (not to mention perfect contrition!) you are wrong. I would be the first priest in the world to go to the bedside of a Hugh Heffner and hear his confession.
And I would even hope in his salvation.
So, if you have a relationship with Christ and you are going to the sacraments, please stop whining about my saints’ quotes.
But if you are an amateur theologian who thinks God in His love must surely grant perfect contrition to all public pornographers and abortion-promoters, see here:
Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.—Galatians 6:7
Having come from medicine, I believe the sacraments are like medicine, really necessary for our salvation to move us from a life of the flesh to the Spirit. This is real stuff in the soul and body. I don’t have much time for high-minded, Pharisaical loopholes about most of the world fitting into the extremely rare grace of perfect contrition at a legalistic level. For example, as an ex-paramedic, what do you think I would think of a trauma surgeon who would say “Yeah, room one is a gun shot wound to the chest, but there is a chance he will live…yeah, patient in Trauma 2 has a critical closed head injury from a high-speed motor cycle accident, but there is a chance he will live…yeah, patient in room 3 has a disecting aortic aneurysm but there is a chance she will live without surgery.”
You see, we are not Protestants who believe salvation is a chance mental act that happens without the surgery of the sacraments. We are Catholics who know that salvation requires baptism by water or baptism by blood (martyrdom before water baptism could be given) or baptism by desire, in this case, the extremely rare case of perfect contrition like the thief on the cross next to Christ. But because few of our souls have the capability for so much love to be poured into it as the thief on the cross did in perfect contrition, God has given us the means of salvation that I have seen so many people reject: The sacraments.
By baptism or confession, Jesus could have easily forgiven the sins of Hugh Hefner, even though Hefner corrupted literally the whole world with pornography, abortion and abuse of women. Yes, I believe one single confession to a priest would have still forgiven even Hugh Hefner: Such are the depths of God’s untrackable, unspeakable, unfathomable mercy upon even the worst of sinners (like me.) And so, let’s talk about hope not in last-minute, legalistic, Protestant mind games, but let’s be covered with the all powerful blood of Jesus in the sacraments, and get those sacraments to as many people as possible.
St. Alphonsus Liguori, a saint and doctor of the Church, teaches that there is no veniality to the sixth and ninth commandment. Since most Catholics live and die with a tremendous number of unconfessed sexual sins in their past, it is safe to say that most Catholics are dying in grave sin if not mortal sin. ↩
Even Pope John Paul II who apparently entertained (outside an encyclical) the possibility of all being saved, warned in an extremely important encyclical on the moral life (Veritatis Splendor) against the idea that a general choosing of goodness could trump the decisions we make in the body as vital to salvation. He called this error “fundamental option theology”: “Some authors, however, have proposed an even more radical revision of the relationship between person and acts. They speak of a “fundamental freedom”, deeper than and different from freedom of choice, which needs to be considered if human actions are to be correctly understood and evaluated. According to these authors, the key role in the moral life is to be attributed to a “fundamental option”, brought about by that fundamental freedom whereby the person makes an overall self-determination, not through a specific and conscious decision on the level of reflection, but in a “transcendental” and “athematic” way. Particular acts which flow from this option would constitute only partial and never definitive attempts to give it expression; they would only be its “signs” or symptoms. The immediate object of such acts would not be absolute Good (before which the freedom of the person would be expressed on a transcendental level), but particular (also termed “categorical” ) goods. In the opinion of some theologians, none of these goods, which by their nature are partial, could determine the freedom of man as a person in his totality, even though it is only by bringing them about or refusing to do so that man is able to express his own fundamental option. A distinction thus comes to be introduced between the fundamental option and deliberate choices of a concrete kind of behaviour. In some authors this division tends to become a separation, when they expressly limit moral “good” and “evil” to the transcendental dimension proper to the fundamental option, and describe as “right” or “wrong” the choices of particular “innerworldly” kinds of behaviour: those, in other words, concerning man’s relationship with himself, with others and with the material world. There thus appears to be established within human acting a clear disjunction between two levels of morality: on the one hand the order of good and evil, which is dependent on the will, and on the other hand specific kinds of behaviour, which are judged to be morally right or wrong only on the basis of a technical calculation of the proportion between the “premoral” or “physical” goods and evils which actually result from the action. This is pushed to the point where a concrete kind of behaviour, even one freely chosen, comes to be considered as a merely physical process, and not according to the criteria proper to a human act. The conclusion to which this eventually leads is that the properly moral assessment of the person is reserved to his fundamental option, prescinding in whole or in part from his choice of particular actions, of concrete kinds of behaviour.”—Pope John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor #65, 6 August 1993. ↩