Gate of Heaven

June 14 2021 | by

WHEN I was a child, our parents took us for a picnic in the forest behind our house. Dad scouted out the path, we three children scampered behind him, and Mom, carrying a picnic basket, brought up the rear. Suddenly my little sister screamed and ran toward Dad. Mom ran toward her and was engulfed in a swarm of angry bees shooting out of a fallen log over which we had clambered. “Run ahead!” Dad yelled at us kids as he rushed back to Mom. Swatting bees with hat and hand, Dad pulled Mom away from the disturbed nest in a direction opposite to us. He kept swatting until the bees realized that their nest was safe and returned to it. By that time, my sister had been stung once, Mom and Dad multiple times. Dad helped Mom, shaken and feeling ill, home. We followed, my sister wailing and both my parents trembling.


Bees and saints


When I read St. Anthony’s analogy about bees and sin, I understand.

“The saints should do as bees do,” Anthony wrote. “It is said that they sit on guard at the entrance to the hive, and if any stranger dare to enter by those gates, they will not allow him to remain among them. They chase him immediately, until they drive him out of the hive… If by chance any devilish suggestion or carnal pleasure should enter by those doors, then they [the saints] should in no wise let it remain inside because delay brings danger. Someone has said, ‘A thought allowed to linger is a mortal sin. When reason discerns that a thought is tending towards something unlawful, and yet does not restrain it as much as it is able, that is a thought that is allowed to linger.’ Bees should immediately rise up and chase it with the stings of contrition and prayer, and drive it out from their bodies’ hive.” (Sermons for Sundays and Festivals I, p. 167; translated by Paul Spilsbury, Edizioni Messaggero Padova).


Alien element


Thus Anthony, who heard confessions hours each day, told his listeners to act like bees and attack and drive away sin. Yet suppose our clouded minds cannot recognize sin. Anthony gives direction. “Whoever does not think about his inner state turns himself to outward and alien things. ‘Alien’ is whatever you cannot take with you in death” (Sermons III, p. 324). Preoccupation with alien things leads to sin.

Anthony shares an examination of conscience. “What was his age… when first he began to commit mortal sin; and, since then how many and great sins, and how frequently, has he committed? How many, and who, were the persons with whom he committed sin? What were the places, times, privately or publicly, freely or under duress, after being tempted or before temptation – and so much the worse. Whether he has confessed all these things, and if so, how often has he fallen again, for then he has been more and more ungrateful to God. Whether he has despised confession, and how long he has remained in sin without confession; and whether he has received the Lord’s Body while in mortal sin” (Sermons IV, p. 155).

Should such a person die without confession, “external goods go to the children, worms eat the flesh, and the devil gets his soul” (Sermons II, p. 22). Stark words which Anthony used to urge ‘frequent’ confession to audiences who commonly thought that confession was a once in a lifetime sacrament, administered at death’s door.


More than forgiveness


In contrast to popular practice, laity living as voluntary penitents were required by their Rule of life “to make a confession of their sins three times a year” (Section 15).

Why was frequent confession required for the lay penitents who were living the Rule of Life given to them 800 years ago? Why did Saint Anthony advocate so strongly for frequent reception of this sacrament?

Rev. Andrew J. Moss, instructor in Canon Law at Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary and School of Theology in Cincinnati OH, USA, explained to this author, “Penitents were required to confess frequently because confession is more than forgiveness of sins, although that is critical for any of us who are seeking salvation. Confession is also a tool of formation where the penitent receives instruction and guidance from the confessor. In addition, it is a channel of grace from the Holy Spirit for living a more sanctified life.”


Frequent confession


Anthony said the same. “He who sins mortally offends God, injures himself, and scandalizes his neighbor. But when he repents and confesses, intending to persevere to the end, then he pleases God, heals himself, and edifies his neighbor… as he yielded his members to serve iniquity, unto iniquity, so he should yield them to serve justice, unto sanctification [cf. Rom 6.19]” (Sermons III, p. 185).

“True satisfaction comes with these four:” Anthony assures, “the weight of sorrow, the capacity of love (which holds all), the length of final perseverance, and humility in the mind. Where all these come together, mercy is immediate” (Sermons III, p. 129).

Thus, “the sinner should do three things in confession: he should lament what is past, have a firm intention of not falling back, and obey his confessor’s instructions in everything” (Sermons III, pp. 184-85). “We should put our trust only in him who made us, not in what we ourselves do. He who made us is wholly good, the Supreme Good; but the good things we do are like blood-stained rags [cf. Is 64.6]. Decide for yourself what good you should trust in: surely in the good Lord Jesus, to whom the Prophet says, Thou art good [Ps 118.68]” (Sermons III, p. 203).

We, like saintly bees, must be aggressively vigilant in guarding the gates of our souls from sin. Doing so, we fix our gaze on another gate, the gate of heaven. “Confession is also called ‘the gate of heaven’… Truly it is the gate of paradise! Through it, as through a gate, the penitent is led in to kiss the feet of divine mercy, to be raised up to kiss the hands of heavenly grace; and to be accepted with the kiss on the mouth of fatherly reconciliation (Sermons I, p. 90). Hearing words like these, who wouldn’t seek out frequent confession?

Updated on June 03 2021