“I like to think Hell is empty, I hope it is reality”; said Pope Francis speaking on the Sunday night Italian TV programme, Che Tempo Che Fa. “What I have to say is not a dogma of faith but my own personal thought,” the Pope said.
He did not declare that Hell does not exist, he did not say that it is empty, he did not advocate apocatastasis; yet in those apparently legitimate words is all the drama that the Church has been experiencing for over half a century. In another interview from two thousand years ago, more genuine and less media-driven, as Our Lord was on his way to Jerusalem, “a man asked him, ‘Lord, are there few who are saved?'” (Lk 13:23). The answer to this question highlights all the distance, not of time nor of space, but of meaning, between Jesus Christ and his vicar: “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will try to enter it, but will not succeed”.
The Lord, who is mercy made flesh, does not try to extinguish the concern of salvation from man’s heart, but even seems to confirm it: many will not enter. Therefore, you who listen to me, you who question me, strive to enter.
The continuation of Luke’s Gospel passage, which is considered the Gospel of mercy because of the presence of the three parables of the lost sheep, the lost drachma, and the prodigal son, is even stronger: “When the master of the house rises and closes the door, standing outside, you will begin to knock at the door, saying, Lord, open to us. But he will answer you: I do not know you, I do not know where you are from. Then you will begin to say: We have eaten and drunk in your presence, and you have taught in our squares. But he will declare: I tell you that I do not know where you are from. Depart from me all ye doers of iniquity! There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and you cast out” (Lk 13:25-28). This is by no means an isolated passage. In the Gospel of St Matthew, we find a similar warning: “Enter by the narrow gate, for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it; but how narrow is the gate and narrow the way that leads to life, and how few are those who find it! Once again, the contrast is stark: many are lost, few find the way to life.
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