Why Is the Road to Destruction Wide and the Road to Salvation Narrow? A Meditation on a Teaching by Jesus

blog.6.24In the gospel earlier this week, we read a warning from Jesus that too many people just brush aside:

Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few (Matt 6:12-13).

I have commented on this blog at some length in the past on the serious problem of universalism (the notion that nearly everyone goes to Heaven). I will not create another whole post on that just now, but you can read one of those older posts here: Hell is for real and not rare.

But just to summarize, most people today have the teaching exactly backwards. Whereas Jesus says “many” are on the road to destruction and only “a few” travel the narrow road (of the cross) to salvation, most reverse what Jesus says and claim that many go to Heaven and only a few (if any) go to Hell. Don’t do that. Jesus is not playing games with us. No one loves us more than Jesus does, and no one warned us more of judgment and Hell than Jesus. And even though He doesn’t give percentages for each category, do not refute His words by trying to make “many” mean “few” and “few” mean “many.”

The question does surely arise as to why many walk the wide road to destruction and Hell. Is it because God is stingy or despotic? No. God surely wants to save us all (Ez 18:23; 1 Tim 2:4). The real answer is that we are hard to save and we must become more sober about that. We have hard hearts, thick skulls, and innumerable other traits that make us a difficult case.

If even a third of the angels fell, that ought to make us very aware of our own tendency to fall. This should make us more humble about our own situation. The fallen angels had intellects vastly superior to ours and their angelic souls were not weighed down with the many bodily passions that beset us. But still, they fell!

Adam and Eve, possessing preternatural gifts and existing before all the weaknesses we inherited from sin, also fell. Are you and I, in our present unseemly state and vastly less gifted than the angels, really going to claim that we are not in any real danger or are easy to save?

We need to sober up and run to God with greater humility, admitting that we are a hard case and in desperate need of the medicines and graces that God offers. He offers us His Word, the Sacraments, holy fellowship, and lots of prayer! We need not be in a panic, but we do need to be far more urgent than most moderns are about themselves and the people whom they say they love.

Consider some of the following ways we can be a hard case in terms of being saved (Disclaimer, I do not say all these things are true of you personally, just that we, collectively, have these common tendencies):

1. We have hard hearts and stubborn wills – While some of what this includes is specified more below, here is a good place to begin. God, speaking to us through Isaiah the Prophet, says, I know that you are obstinate, and your neck is an iron sinew and your forehead is bronze (Is 48:4). He is talking about us!

2. We are obtuse in our desires – In other words, if something is forbidden we seem to want it all the more. St Paul laconically observes, When the commandment came, sin sprang to life (Rom 7:9). If something is harmful we want it in abundance, but if it is helpful we are often averse to it. We like our sweets and our salty snacks, but vegetables rot in the refrigerator. In the desert the people of Israel longed for melons, leeks, onions, and the fleshpots they enjoyed in Egypt. Never mind that they were slaves then. But when it came to the Bread from Heaven, the Holy Manna, they said, We are disgusted with this wretched manna (Num 21:5). We are obtuse, that is, we are turned outward toward sin instead of inward toward God in a Holy embrace. Jesus sadly remarked that judgment would go poorly for many because The light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed (Jn 3:19).

3. We don’t like to be told what to do – Even if we know we ought to do something, or to stop doing something, the mere fact that someone is telling us often makes us either dig in our heels and refuse, or else comply, but resentfully rather than whole-heartedly.

4. We are not docile – When we were very young we were fascinated with the world around us and kept asking “Why, Mommy?” or “Why, Daddy?” But as we got older our skull thickened; we stopped asking why. We figured we knew better than anyone around us. The problem just worsens with age, unless grace intervenes. St Paul lamented, For the time will come when people will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths (2 Tim 4:3-5).

5. We love distraction and don’t listen – Even when saving knowledge is offered to us, we are too often tuned out, distracted, and resistant. ADHD is nothing new in the human family. God says through Jeremiah, To whom shall I speak and give warning, that they may hear? Behold, their ears are uncircumcised, they cannot listen; behold, the word of the LORD is to them an object of scorn; they take no pleasure in it (Jeremiah 6:10). Jesus invokes Isaiah to explain why He speaks to the crowds only in parables: For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed (Is 6:10).

6. We are opinionated – We tend to think that something is true or right merely because we think it or agree with it. Having opinions, even strong ones, about what is right and true is not wrong per se. But if God’s Word or the Church’s formal teaching challenges your opinion, you’d better consider changing it, or at least making distinctions. The last time I checked, God is just a little smarter than you are. His official teaching in the Scripture and the Doctrine of the Church is inspired and you are not. Scripture says, All we, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way (Is 55:8). Or again, Can the pot say to the potter, “You know nothing”? (Is 29:16) Or yet again, Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker, those who are nothing but potsherds among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, “What are you making?” (Is 45:9) But still many go on with their own opinions and will not abide even the clear correction of God.

7. We have darkened intellects due to unruly and dominating passions – Our strong and unruly passions cloud our mind and seek to compel our will. Too easily, without training and practice in virtue, our baser faculties come to dominate our higher faculties, making unreasonable demands for satisfaction. And thus we love to tell ourselves lots of lies. We suppress the truth and our senseless minds become darkened ( Romans 1:21). The catechism says, The human mind … is hampered in the attaining of … truths, not only by the impact of the senses and the imagination, but also by disordered appetites which are the consequences of original sin. So it happens that men in such matters easily persuade themselves that what they would not like to be true is false or at least doubtful. (Catechism #37). And the Second Vatican Council, in Lumen Gentium 16, says, But very often men, deceived by the Evil One, have become vain in their reasoning and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator.

8. We are lemmings – We are too easily swayed by what is popular. We prefer ephemeral notions to ancient and tested wisdom. Tattoos, tongue bolts, and piercings are in? Quick, run out and get one! Whatever the fad or fashion, no matter how foolish, harmful, or immodest, many clamor for it. Let a Hollywood star get a divorce and soon enough everyone is casting aside true biblical teaching against it. The same goes for many other moral issues. What was once thought disgraceful and the stuff of back allies is now paraded on Main Street and celebrated. And like lemmings, we run to celebrate what was once called sin (and is still sinful from any biblical stance). Instead of following God we follow human beings. We follow them and the “culture” they create, often mindlessly. Yes, lemmings is the right image.

9. We live in a fallen world, governed by a fallen angel, and we have fallen natures. Many seem to abide all of this quite well and make quite a nice little home here.

10. If all this isn’t enough to show that we are a hard case, consider a “few” others. We are so easily, in a moment, obnoxious, dishonest, egotistical, undisciplined, weak, impure, arrogant, self-centered, pompous, insincere, unchaste, grasping, harsh, impatient, shallow, inconsistent, unfaithful, immoral, ungrateful, disobedient, selfish, lukewarm, slothful, unloving, uncommitted, untrusting, indifferent, hateful, lazy, cowardly, angry, greedy, jealous, vengeful, prideful, envious, contemptuous, stingy, petty, spiteful, indulgent, careless, neglectful, prejudiced, and just plain mean.

So if the road to destruction is wide (and Jesus says it is), don’t blame God. The road is wide for reasons like this. We are a hard case. We are hard to save. It is not that God lacks power, it is that we refuse to address much of this. God, who made us free, will not force us to change.

We ought not kid ourselves into thinking that we can go on living resistant to and opposed to the Kingdom of God and its values, but that then magically at death we will suddenly want to enter His Kingdom, which we have resisted our whole life. Jesus said that many prefer the darkness. Is it really likely that their preference will suddenly shift? Will not the glorious light of Heaven seem harsh, blinding, and even repulsive to them? In such a case is not God’s “Depart from me” both a just and merciful response?  Why force a person who hates the light to live in it? I suppose it grieves God to have to abide such a departure, but to force a person to endure Him must be even more difficult to abide. I am sure it is with great sadness that God accepts a person’s final “No.”

Yes, the road is wide that leads to destruction. It is wide because of us. The narrow road is the way of the cross, which is a stumbling block and an absurdity to many (1 Cor 1:23), who simply will not abide its message.

So, we ought to be sober about the Lord’s lament. We ought also to be more urgent in our attempts to secure our own unruly soul and the souls of those we love for the Kingdom. The blasé attitude of most moderns is rooted in the extremely flawed notion that judgment and Hell are not real issues. That is a lie, for it contracts Jesus’ clear word.

Why is the road to destruction wide? Because we are hard cases; we are hard to save. We ought not be unduly fearful, but we ought to run to Jesus in humility and beg Him to save us from our worst enemy—our very self. If you don’t think you’re a hard case, read the list above and think again.


23 Replies to “Why Is the Road to Destruction Wide and the Road to Salvation Narrow? A Meditation on a Teaching by Jesus”

  1. Adam, Eve, Satan, highly blessed but they wanted more, that’s a relationship buster.

    1. Yes, it seems whatever is offered, more is so easily demanded.

  2. Ever have, let’s say, a family member who you loved dearly but always put you way down on the list. They were “there” but not really so much because whatever you did together, wherever you went, you were an afterthought to them, even a bit of a bother, but you put up with it because you loved them and wanted to be with them. Now you may say, I would not put up with that for long or from anyone but in reality many of us do put up with that from others for different reasons, maybe not even for love, but we do put up with it. And that person may even be hurtful to us in little ways but we keep forgiving them because we have hope, we hope they will love us, we hope they will show us some love in return and on occasions they do show us some consideration, so we keep hoping. This I am sure sounds familiar to many and this the Lord showed me is the relationship many have with Him. But we are the ones who put Him last, we are the ones who treat Him as an afterthought while occasionally showing Him some consideration. Yes, and He keeps hoping and calling and prompting us to really Love Him. This is what the Lord has helped me to see in my own life.

  3. This post explains why St. Thomas Aquinas said, and I think I am paraphrasing him accurately, that penance should be habitual though not always actual.

    1. Yes, a good steady practice with confession is a proper response.

  4. My youngest child and only boy died in an accident at home when he was 2 years, 7 months and 1 day old. The agony of his death overwhelmed me and my daughters. There are no words to describe the suffering. It was physically painful. It was soul shattering. I lived in a black fog of pain. I would think “How can I still be living?”. I couldn’t imagine how someone could feel so bad and have their heart still beat.

    Then, one day, I read St Faustina’s diary about the “wide path” covered with flowers and the people who travelled it- singing and so joyful. And at the end of the road was a terrible drop into hell. And the people went towards that drop without thought about what was coming. The moment of death caught them completely unaware. Like Jesus said, you never know the time or place.

    The other path was narrow and strewn with rocks and thorns. The people cried. But when they reached the end, there was a beautiful garden and they immediately forgot all their pain.

    I was always close to God. Even when I was really little, I would play with my guardian angel. I talked to Jesus. He was real friend. I am sure the teaching of my nuns in Catholic school had something to do with this. When I was a teenager, I started going to daily Mass. I had an awesome relationship with Christ. I loved Him so much. I had several really miraculous events. As I got older and became a parent, life sometimes got in the way but I still prayed throughout the day. I went to Mass. I went to Confessions. I prayed every night before going to bed. I was truly sorrowful for my sins.

    The day Angel died was a hot sunny Sunday. We had just been to Mass. I put him down for a nap. The last thing he ever said to me was “I not tired”. And the last thing I ever said to him was “If you don’t take a nap, I’m not taking you to the park”. I found him dead 20 minutes later. He had gotten tangled in a window blind cord that I had tied out of reach. My younger daughter, who was 4, was able to climb up on to the windowsill and pull the cord down. They pretended it was a zip line like the cartoon character Go, Diego, Go uses. Hanna had the cord around her own neck but told the cops investigating that she was “too shy” to jump down. When I put Angel down for a nap, I never even looked at the window.

    I know for sure I’m on the narrow path. I try not to ask “Why me?”. I mean, why NOT me? It hurts to think that, after being so close to Christ, that He would allow me to hurt so badly. For a while, I did stray away. I never lost my faith in God but I took a break from religion for about a year at one point.

    When I posted St Faustina’s quote to my Facebook, every person that responded said the same thing “I’d rather sing and walk on flowers”. One of my brothers said “I’m going to take the flower road and at the last minute, I’ll cut across to the narrow path”. I think that’s probably what most people think.

    Unfortunately, death doesn’t always come with a warning. No one knows that better than me.

    1. Kat,
      I cannot imagine the pain -you belong to a very small club that no one wants to join. I’ve just prayed for you and thanked God for all of my own blessings.
      Peace be with you.
      M >

    2. Kat,
      Your little Angel is waiting for you in Heaven. He wants you to take the narrow road. God Bless.

    3. Wow, I am sorry for your terrible loss. But thank you for the wisdom shared here. The reaction to the sister Faustina quote shows the depths of the problem and why we are hard to save.

    4. God loves you and he knows you love him. This is going to sound completely lame but I do believe (not that I’ve experienced firsthand but it is my belief) that no amount of human suffering can compare to the joy of Heaven. Much love to you and may the peace of Christ always remain in your heart.

  5. Wanted to add, this quote is from someone who had a near death experience. It kind of answers the question of those who would say “How could God send someone to hell?”. He doesn’t. We do it to ourselves.

    “As the review of my life came to an end I was in agony. I saw everything I had ever done in vivid, immediate detail – the bad things, haunting and terrifying in their finality, and the good things, ringing with greater reward and happiness than I had ever imagined. But in the end I was found wanting. I found myself wanting. Nobody was there to judge me. Nobody had to be. I wanted to melt in the agony of self-indictment. The fires of remorse began to consume me, but there was nothing I could do.” -RaNelle Wallace

    1. Yes. As I’ve been taught, and as Msgr. writes, we choose hell. It makes sense and it’s also perplexing. My former Pastor said that the gates of hell are locked from the inside.

      That quote from Wallace sounds like a descriptive entry into Purgatory, perhaps.

      Kat, I am deeply sorry for your loss. Your powerful witness is reaching many souls. May the Lord be with you and your family.

  6. This Gospel is one of my favorites just because it is so explicit and easy to understand. It is clear. And it is so true. Whenever I am keeping to the Commandments and the moral law while I see my family and friends on that wide easy path, I remember this metaphor and imagine my path through life as one of those narrow footpaths you sometimes see on hiking trails – rough, winding, sometimes muddy, rutted, with thorny bushes alongside that scratch if you brush up against them, and at times goes through dark woods. At the same time I remember if you look at a map, and Route 1 takes you east, and Route 2 takes you west, and you want to go east, only Route 1 will get you to your destination. Route 2 leads the wrong way.
    Jesus’ missive is a road map. If you want to get to heaven, you have to take the right road.

  7. You write beautifully and I really enjoy reading your articles because of the truth in what you write. One thing, though, you didn’t talk about mercy. I believe Jesus was sometimes very tough in his teachings because he really wants us to understand, believe in, and respond to the breadth and depth of God’s great love for us. But when we fail, God is merciful. I don’t believe our ending up in Heaven or in Hell is as cut and dried as the Church makes it out to be. Correct me, Msgr, if I’m wrong, but can anyone, even the Pope, say that they know where a soul will end up? God is merciful and God will do as God will do. Is that not right? I’m not saying our lives will not be judged, but there are many good people who due to their human weaknesses simply cannot get past all of the “rules” of the Church. They sometimes see the faith as posed by the Church as following a rulebook rather than establishing a loving relationship with God the Father. And when the Church is involved in scandal, it is difficult to believe that the Church is always right. Respectfully yours.

    1. Just saying what Jesus said. The church does not declare who is in hell like she canonizes saints. But as to the rest of your remarks, again, just saying what Jesus says. All your remarks about the Church are not really the point. It is about what Jesus himself said on many, many occasions. No one loves you more than Jesus and no one warned about hell and judgment more than Jesus. Therefore, do not create false dichotomies between mercy and judgment, or love and judgment or the Church and Jesus. Just read what he said, He spoke of mercy but warned of hell. These are not opposed. But mercy is accessed by repentance.

  8. I heard someone once say that the new atheism is that a person sits in the pew thinking ‘there’s a God and by golly, He thinks just like me!’

    I think that so many people are sure they are right in their beliefs that the possibility that they are not living God’s Will is utterly foreign to them.

    1. Yes, designer religion is a huge problem. Most people think they have a perfect right to imagine their own God (who just happens to agree with them on practically everything) and worship that God. We used to call this idolatry

      1. Oh my. That sounds like the “New Agers.” There are alot of them around me. I pray for them because I have no idea what to say to them. Any suggestions?

  9. The road just got wider with the swelling of souls dancing to the Sodom and Gomorrah theme song, eat, drink and be merry, we fear no one on our playground. Playgrounds have gotten flooded and burnt up, a cycle that finally ends with a members only playground. We need passes to get into many things , when this park closes and reopens we don’t want to be on the outside.

      1. Logical conclusions, as my Mother’s response
        when I seen her this evening and she gave me a
        hug. I asked her if she was dying and she said
        no but we don’t have alot of time left in the world.

  10. I know I’m late for the discussion. I am writing an article on the topic of the narrow gate and the wide gate.

    (Matthew 7:13-14 ESV) “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

    I have a different take on these verses. As I see it, the Wide Gate is 45,000 Protestant denominations wide and with so many false and invented doctrines which are not revealed in sacred scripture, leads to destruction.

    While the Narrow Gate is the one and only Church that Jesus Christ established on the foundation of the faith of His Apostles with Himself as the cornerstone, is the hard way to salvation and eternal Life.

    I say the hard why because in comparison to the Protestant “cheap grace” way, we Catholics must cooperate with Gods grace whereas the Protestant “once saved, always saved” can and does in many cases, leads to antinomianism.


    R. Zell

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