Traveling last weekend I was caught in the snowstorm and took refuge at our friary in Middletown, Connecticut. It was good to see the friars, and to enjoy the peace of the empty, found time. One of the things I did while I was there was read some of a book on the lives of the North American martyrs.
One scene struck me especially. In the midst of torture, one of the priests wrung a few drops of water from his wet clothes in order to baptize another victim who was ready to accept Christianity. That's just one of many moments that illustrate how driven these missionaries were, how convinced they were that the eternal salvation of souls was at stake in their ministry.
How far we have come from such zeal! Yes, of course it's a good thing that we have removed superstition and magical thinking from the practice of the sacraments. But on the other hand, do we really believe them necessary? I once heard a homily at an infant baptism in which the priest said that the baptism was simply an outward celebration of the divine adoption that the child had already received. Is this what the Church teaches?
One of the friars I live with suggests that we should examine our consciences on whether or not we have a 'passion for salvation.' Perhaps that's something like what used to be called a 'zeal for souls.' Do we really believe, as ministers of the gospel and priests of Jesus Christ, that the eternal salvation God desires for every person has some dependence on our faithfulness to our own call, to our finding the energy and motivation to become the holy religious and priests we have promised to be?
Or have we accepted, either consciously or in subtle, uncritical ways, the creeping universalism of our time, in all of its power to absolve everyone from responsibility? How many funerals have you been to in which the immediate, beatific destiny of the deceased is beyond question, and there is no sense in which the Mass is an offering for his or her continuing salvation? If everyone (and their dogs and cats) automatically 'go to heaven,' then what zeal could there be for the baptism with which the Risen Lord sends forth his disciples to all nations?
Or how much have we accepted the comfortable, civil theology of 'many paths to one divine something-or-other' as we stick our 'Coexist' bumper stickers on our cars and congratulate ourselves on our enlightenment? Never mind the fact that this 'theology' implies that God is an incompetent self-revealer; many of us have let it into our heads so that we don't have to say that anybody else might be wrong, the cardinal sin of our relativistic world.
Let us cast off these glittering errors of the world and allow grace to cultivate within us the direct imitation of God which is a zeal for souls and a passion for salvation.