But because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold, nor hot, I will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth.Revelation, 3:16
Lukewarmness is the greatest defect plaguing the Church and the laity today, and honestly, it has since the time of Christ. Lukewarmness in practice is common, which begets presumption and sloth toward the Four Last Things (Death, Judgment, Hell, and Heaven). I’ve often heard the remarks of those who, out of some sort of faux-humility, claim that they would just be satisfied if they make it to Purgatory, or with just the lowest rank in Heaven. This is not humility, but self-love and pride. It stems from love of the world and the self more than the requirements of their last end. Those with this presumption and laxity are not willing to put in the work for a greater place in Heaven.
I am profoundly guilty of this, so often falling into periods of sloth in the spiritual life and laxity in practice of virtue. Oftentimes I will think of myself as some great predestined Saint who will get a high place in Heaven, without thinking that this mere thought already tarnishes any sort of merit I may have gained by my acts. Other times I fall into the state of mind where I will just presume that saying my prayers and going to confession will save me, or at least get me into Purgatory, so there’s no need to try harder.
The problem with this spiritual sloth and presumption is that we are completely missing the aim of the Catholic life. Both St Teresa of Avila and St Francis Borgia were willing to burn in the fires of Purgatory until Judgment Day just to attain one rank higher in the celestial choirs. All Catholics should have this attitude. The will to forget self and forget created things, to overcome them as obstacles on the path to glory in Heaven. This is not pride but a will to do what the Lord calls us to do. This is conformity to the Divine Will out of love and devotion rather than indifference and presumption.
The lukewarm soul presumes his salvation, either be it Purgatory or just to barely slip through the gates of St Peter. And it is this presumption and lukewarmness to the spiritual life and virtue which Our Lord will vomit out of His Mouth, as recorded by St John. We need to strive to live in holy fear of God’s Judgment, but direct ourselves to seek greater glory in Heaven. And the latter only comes through the former. The goal should be union with God, and this kind of union can only be obtained by being as close to God as possible. To do everything that we can in this life to be ‘perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect.’
Given that Heaven is hierarchically structured through grace, as evidenced by pseudo-Dionysius’s writing on the celestial choirs of angels, the higher the honors which we attain, the closer we will be to the Throne of God. Our Blessed Mother is the most revered and honored of all God’s creatures, and she is seated at the Right Hand of her Son, above even the highest Saints and Seraphim. We too should aim for these heights. And while we will never surpass the perfect creature that is the Virgin Mother, we still need to practice such heroic virtue so that we can be as close to the Godhead as possible. If God intends a high place for our soul, and if we conform ourselves to His Will, then a high place we will achieve.
To do otherwise is to sour our soul and reduce its flames of charity to mere embers. Then God will reject us due to our sloth and presumption, and we may find ourselves in a high place in Hell rather than simply a low place in Heaven. My soul agonizes for a high place in Heaven, my intellect craves it, but my will just isn’t yet up for the job. Yes, God has worked through me to overcome my great vices, but there still await many more which must be overcome on my way to the grave. Even if we fail to overcome all of our vices completely, we still need to keep getting up when we fall and tackle them headlong with faith and heroic virtue.
It is only through the struggle of the spirit that the ranks of Heaven can be ascended. Given the hellish state of our culture and the world today, there is fertile ground to make some truly brilliant Saints. We just need to pray that we are among their ranks, and persevere in doing God’s Will.