Thank you for your most important questions about the little number of the saved. I agree with you that it is something that makes us wonder if it could be true. Probably everybody who has considered this matter would hope that 100% of humanity was saved for the Holy Ghost tells us that 'God wants all men to be saved'. Yet it would appear that it is not the case that the greater number is saved.
But let us first say that, with God's grace, it is not extremely difficult to be saved. Everyone who dies in a state of grace is saved. To die in a state of grace it is necessary that we be truly sorry for all our mortal sins, with a sorrow that is either perfect, or made perfect in Confession by the sacramental absolution.
Remember the young man who asked Our Lord what was necessary to enter into life. Our Lord simply replied to keep the commandments.
Many of the canonised Doctors of the Church, considering all the aspects of the matter tell us that a true devotion to Mary is an assurance of salvation.
St Alphonsus summed them up by saying that 'a child of Mary can never be lost'. A child of Mary is one who has a true devotion to Her.
To have a true devotion to Mary, he teaches, two things are necessary:
1 either that he be in a state of grace or that he truly desires to abandon sin
2 that he is constant in his practise of devotion to the Mother of God.
Then the Holy Doctor teaches that any devotion no matter how small would be sufficient provided that it is constant.
- So far it seems pretty easy for someone who wants to save his soul:
- If he is in sin he has to (seriously) want to get out of it;
- and he has to be constant in his practise of devotion to Our Lady;
- and he will make it into heaven.
Saint Alphonsus even gives you his well considered minimum requirement for what he means by devotion.
He says that he would consider that you had a constant devotion to Our Lady if every morning and every evening you knelt down and said the following prayer three times:
Hail Mary full of grace the Lord is with Thee,blessed art Thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of Thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
By Thy Immaculate Conception, O Mary, make my body pure and my soul holy. My Mother, free me this day/night from mortal sin.
And Greg, that's it.
- Saving your soul is not massive amounts of aceticism,
- nor is it knowing abstruce knowledge
- nor being in a state of de facto canonisation
- nor being among the top 1-2 % of humanity.
- Even if you are trapped in mortal sins and
- really want to get out of them,
- and if in this terrible state you want to be a child of Mary and get to heaven,
- and if you will get on your knees every morning and every evening
- and say that prayer to Our Lady....
- She will take you as Her child,
- She will intercede for you with Our Lord,
- you will get the opportunity of making a good confession,
- you will return to friendship with God,
- you will get to heaven.
That's not difficult. And it is theologically certain that a child of Mary can never be lost.
will people take the means? Here is the fork of the river. This is where the people vote by their behaviour and where, even though it is so easy, the greater number of people seem to choose not to bother, or not to care. So the saints throughout the ages, watching the way people live, have constantly taught that the greater part (or percentage) of adult souls are lost. They don't teach this as good news; it is noted that many taught it with tears and in fear.
And these authorities are the greatest Doctors and Fathers of the Church, here are a few of them:
- St Basil the Great,
- St John Chrysostom,
- St Augustine,
- St Gregory the Great (the Popes' Pope!)
- Thomas Aquinas, (the Angel of the Schools)
- St Bonaventure,
- St Anselm,
- St Ephrem,
- St Alphonsus
These people are all the big 'heavyweights' of the Church:
- They are canonised saints because of their heroic virtues and holiness
- They are the Doctors, the great luminaries of the Church-
- it represents eminent holiness and theological depths all talking in unison.
Then there are the lists of canonised saints who are not doctors but who also taught the same doctrine, whether by
the silent witness of St Simon Stylites in the desert
or the booming voice of St Vincent Ferrier of the Middle Ages
or the gentle voice of the Cure of Ars in the 1800's; they taught that the greater number of souls are lost and the lesser number are saved
as did a host of saints in between them.
And what does it say when there is not a canonised saint who contradicts this opinion of the Doctors or even ventures to say that it is possibly a bit exaggerated?
I have not found a saint who contradicts this opinion of the Doctors. I've been looking. If you find one such Saint please send me their quotes.
But is it just the Doctors and Saints of the East and West who agree on this terrible point?
Let us go to Truth Himself and we find in the Holy Gospel a man asking Our Lord:
'Lord are they few that are saved?'
And how does Our Lord take it? Does he take the man aside? Does He whisper in his ear? Does he give some private answer so as not to frighten anyone? Does the Gospel say: "But he said to him..." ? Not so! The Holy Ghost says that he addressed everyone present using the plural: "But he said to them:
Strive to enter by the narrow gate:
for many, I say to you, shall seek to enter and shall not be able...." (St Luke Ch XIII:23-24)
In St Matthew's Gospel it is the same and more, Our Lord says that they are "many" who are lost and they are "few" who are saved:
"Enter ye at the narrow gate: for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction: and many there are who go in thereat. How narrow is the gate and strait the way that leadeth to life: and few there are who find it. ..." (St Matthew VII: 13-14)
It is easy in our time to give way to discouragement but if we will follow St Alphonsus by practising the Three Hail Marys there is no need for this discouragement.
I agree with you, Greg, that making sense of it all is another step. God's Victory is that everything of His Creation will glorify Him from their own free choice. With the angels we know that by their free choice one third of them chose to become devils for eternity. It is a cause of tears that many of our fellow men will choose to join them for eternity and that few in comparison to the many will be citizens of heaven.
However this few of the saved is to be understood as being in comparison with the many of the lost; but that is still a great number. "I heard as it were the voice of much people in heaven, saying: Alleluia." (Apocalypse XIX:1)
We are taught by the Holy Ghost that in heaven there is "a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues..." (Apocalypse VII:9). So there will be so many people in heaven that it will be impossible to count them all; that is how many the 'few' will be; we are talking billions and there is no reason why you and I should not firmly hope to be among their holy number. They will be glorifying God's attribute of mercy; let us also do it.
In hell there will also be a great number and, by the free choices they have made in their lives, they will have chosen rather to glorify God's attribute of Justice. Let us keep away from this by being truly sorry for our sins, by going to frequent Confession and Holy Communion and by our constant practise of the Three Hail Marys asking the protection of Our Blessed Mother to keep us from mortal sin (which is the great evil).
Finally, may I comment on your point that there is another opinion on this matter in the same Catholic Church. Yes, there is. But it is an opinion that is not certified by the Saints and Doctors of the Church nor by the weight of 2,000 years of tradition going back to the voice of Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. The opinion that 'many are saved and few are lost' also makes people careless about so many issues that are mortally sinful. Let me simply say, as others have said, it is better to believe Our Lord's words and the teaching of the Doctors and Saints. Their doctrine is life-giving. By following it one is attentive to do everything possible to grow in holiness. But the chances are that if you follow the opinion that 'nearly everyone is saved' you will probably do very little to save your soul; and you run the risk of not doing enough. It is dangerous thinking. It is the thinking that leads so many to the eternity of hell where they will be glorifying God's Justice. For we will all glorify either God's mercy or His justice for eternity.
I hope this helps in some way, and if you would like to discuss the matter further you could send a comment with your email address and the request that the comment be not posted on the blog. We could make contact that way.
Your devoted servant,
Fr Michael Mary, C.SS.R.