Even if you were to reign over the whole world – having all the money, all the guns and bombs, all the surveillance abilities – you would not be able to buy your soul a spot in heaven. Which is why Our Lord asked the question: “What shall a man give in return for his life?”
Take by comparison, if you lose something tangible like your cell phone, you still have it in your power to obtain another one – it comes at a price, true; but you can, if you chose, get another.
Intangible things like our honour, our sexual purity or our mind are not so easily regained as a cell phone – we can’t “buy” virtues, or purity or sanity back – but, nevertheless, we can renew them. Otherwise, there would be no point to the Church. Saint Augustine called the Church a “hospital for sinners” meaning that we can most certainly heal and renew our souls through God’s superabundant grace by confession, penance, works of mortification and the other Sacraments. And we, if we wish to obtain God’s gift of new life must be willing to forgive to the same degree as “Our Father, which art in heaven” forgives us.
But if we lose our soul, that is, if we die outside of God’s grace, there is nothing intrinsic to ourselves with which we can buy back or ransom our soul. The cost for a soul is too expensive, it is another soul and it is beyond our power to make such an exchange – we only get one very precious and very unique soul. Once we pass from this life to the next, our opportunity for making a change in our soul ceases. When a soul is lost, it is lost forever.
Perhaps the most effective way to destroy God’s Church and rob heaven of the souls that rightfully belong to it is to obliterate a Christian’s own understanding of what it means to be redeemed – purchased again, bought anew – by God.
In the Divine Office, the clergy recite every day these words: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He hath visited and redeemed His people; and hath raised up a mighty salvation for us” (Lk 1:68). These are the prophetic words of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, who was a priest of Israel and who knew the promises and the prophecies; and who most importantly knew that it was imperative that God be praised for His mercy and pity; which two traits, mercy and pity, were referenced of in the Collect (not today, but a couple weeks back) this way: “O God, who declares thy almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity…” (Trinity 11, Pentecost 10). We see that God’s power is most abundant and chiefly demonstrated, when He is showing mercy and pity upon us poor sinners. Surely, it takes supernatural restraint not to annihilate us for our sins, but God goes one step further than sparing us (showing infinite power) in that He is also willing to forgive us our trespasses and debts and bring us into a personal and intimate relationship with Him.
Taking for example the account of the 10 lepers in Luke’s Gospel who desired healing from The Lord. Of the 10 who were healed only one returned in ecstasy to show gratitude for the gift that had been given him. The other nine simply vanished. Yet the one who came back was filled to overflowing with joy in his heart, and was unable to restrain himself glorifying God with shouts of praise. He had experienced God’s power – his body was healed, his heart was healed, his honour was healed, his mind was healed and (most importantly) his soul was healed; and, for his part, he did what was necessary, he showed gratitude for being God’s mercy and pity.
Dietrich von Hildebrand wrote of gratitude that: “The person who is filled with gratitude toward God, whose life is permeated by this primary attitude of gratitude, is also the only person who is truly awake” (from his essay on gratitude).
Gratitude could be said to be a “self-rewarding” virtue, in that it makes those who feel it much more alive than those who do not feel it – in fact, abundant life, happiness and true joy are impossible to experience without gratitude. Gratitude inspires the mind and heals the soul; and when it is practiced habitually, it generates such a contentment and cheerfulness in the person practicing it that those who don’t have it – who refuse to be grateful – only become embittered by those who do. The ungrateful are like the nine healed lepers who refused to show gratitude and wondered off into oblivion causing Our Lord to speak poorly of them.
Those who will not show gratitude are pressed down under the weight of their self-conceited complacency. They are like Atlas, who being burdened by the weight of the heavens on his shoulder stoops under the crushing load and is rendered powerless to even appreciate the wonder of the very burden he carries let alone the liberty to stand tall and take a deep breath of its refreshing air.
So, Our Lord asks the question of us: “What shall a man give in return for his life?”
The only thing we can give to Our Lord is our very selves, our hearts, our souls – our gratitude. “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He hath visited and redeemed His people; and hath raised up a mighty salvation for us” should be our continual hymn of praise. Habitually practicing gratitude will make us people who can forgive others their trespasses as God in his chief powers of pity and mercy forgives us our sins.
The most effective way to build God’s Church and rob hell of the souls that rightfully belong to heaven is to show gratitude to God for the faith that He has, of His goodness, freely given to each of us.