Getting to heaven is very easy: just follow this rule:
Last week at our teen club meeting I asked a question of the teenagers, and I was a little surprised at the answers I got. I asked the question, “What is the purpose of the Church?” I got back a variety of comments such as to help people, to show people goodness, to teach the gospel, to show people to follow Jesus, but only eventually did I get the answer I was looking for: to lead people to heaven; to save souls. That is the purpose of the Church, and when I said it of course the kids agreed, but it wasn’t what they first thought, and it occurred to me that maybe that is the cause of many of the problems that we have today with people who either do not embrace the Church, do not follow it as fully as they should, or do not understand why we hold the positions we do. Because they don’t understand what the Church is all about, they don’t understand our insistence on certain teachings. This is not the first time that I’ve come across this.
Recently I had a phone conversation with a man who was rather angry because a layperson I invited to speak after Communion mentioned that gay marriage was wrong. He was furious with me because he thought that the Pope had allowed gay marriage when he said “Who am I to judge?” When I explained to him that that’s not exact at all what the Pope said he started giving me his diatribe of “Well, see this is why people don’t follow the Church any more. The Church insists on holding these unpopular opinions and the Church has to change and say what people want to hear if they want to get people to come. When I asked the man, “What is the purpose of the Church?” he couldn’t answer me. He actually said, “I don’t know!” I said to him, “So you really don’t know what the purpose of the Church is, yet you can be firm in telling me that the Church is wrong in teaching that gay marriage is not permissible.” He then just yelled some more insults at me and hung up. Don’t we need to know what the goal of the Church is before we can assert with force that the Church’s teaching is wrong? Sadly, many people have totally lost track of what we’re all about.
I recall a woman who once called me asking if I could do her wedding even though she needed an annulment. She told me she knew that technically she needed an annulment. I said to her, “No, truly you need an annulment.” “Well, Father,” she asked, “can’t you just marry me anyway without it? The way I look at it God just wants me to be happy and marrying this man will make me happy so, why won’t you do it?” I tried to explain to her that she had it all wrong, that God doesn’t just want us to be happy. Jesus didn’t have to suffer and die on the cross to help us figure out whatever is going to make you happy and then do it; that was Original Sin! In fact he’s called us to quite the opposite: not just to listen to what you think is right and what you feel is right but to listen to and follow what God teaches us. That was the whole temptation from Satan. God had warned Adam and Eve not to try to listen to their own hearts and heads and what they think is right, because they can be wrong, but God can’t. Basically God was saying, “I am God and you are not. I am all-knowing, you are not. If you follow your own heart and mind you can be wrong, but I can never be wrong. So do and follow all I tell you and your life will be perfect.” Of course, they didn’t listen to God, and when they decided to choose for themselves what was right and wrong instead of listening to God they destroyed Paradise. When I told the girl on the phone this she didn’t want to hear it and abruptly hung up the phone on me.
But that’s the problem we’re facing: in so many situations people somehow got the got the idea that the Church is here just to make people happy. No, the Church is here to show people the way through a fallen world to return to what we lost by Original Sin. It was the disobedience of Adam and Eve to the will of God that lost that unity – that Paradise – that we once had. Christ, by his obedience to the Father even unto death, reversed the disobedience of Adam and Eve, and now, when we are obedient to him we allow him to lead us to union with him – which is what “going to heaven” means – to be one with God. Our beliefs are not arbitrary and they are not decided by vote or opinion but by the truth revealed to us by God and preserved through the Church, what we call the Deposit of Faith.” Just because the majority of people don’t agree with it does not make it all of a sudden wrong, or because now a majority of people accept it doesn’t automatically make it in fact a means to union with God.
If you want to have a healthy body, you know that you can’t eat junk food. Well, imagine if people were to say “We like junk food; therefore, we think we should be allowed to eat all the junk food we want!” Nutritionists are simply going to tell you you’re wrong, that junk food doesn’t make you healthy. They tell you you have to severely limit your intake of it, perhaps even avoid it all together. You don’t like it. You want to be able to eat all the junk food you want and still be healthy, but your opinion or desire doesn’t change the fact that junk food is not healthy. Even if nutritionists should decide to appease people and tell them, “Okay. Since you believe there’s nothing wrong with junk food and a majority of you feel that way, then we’ll now declare that junk food is good for you,” does that now make junk food healthy? Your opinion can’t change the truth. In just the same way, when God reveals that something such as gay marriage, contraception, abortion, whatever it may be, is not healthy for your soul and does not lead us into union with him, all the opinion to the contrary doesn’t change the truth that these activities do not make us healthy but are harmful to that union with God, which is the definition of a sin.
Moral teachings tell us what leads us to union with God (salvation) and what harms that union (sin). If we were to say that something that was once revealed as a moral absolute has now changed, that what was once sinful is now holy, that would imply that God had changed, and that’s a metaphysical impossibility! We know that drinking rat poison would kill us. For rat poison to now be good for us there would have to be a complete metabolic change in the very structure and essence of the human body. If 96% of people now believe rat poison is okay and we should now be allowed to drink it, that doesn’t change the fact. Opinions don’t change truth.
And so, my brothers and sisters, if you feel concerned or confused about what the Church teaches and don’t understand one thing or another, remember that the purpose of the Church is not to be a social club. Our purpose is not to try to win in as many people as we can by promising anything that will make people join us. Our purpose is to save souls, and the only way we do that is by teaching the truth, by pointing out what is sinful and calling people to avoid sin and embrace what is holy. No opinion, no changes in popular acceptance of an idea can ever change that. To do the work of the Church means simply to preach the Gospel of Jesus, the good news that calls us away from sin and to union with him, and nothing else. Lies destroy and kill. Jesus came that we might have life and have it abundantly. That life is only found in obedience to the truth, the truth that will set us free.
A comment we all frequently hear from people is that lots of people don’t accept the Church’s teaching on certain issues, therefore the Church should change them so that people will come to church again. They will claim, “This is 2014! The Church has to get with the times and change its teachings or more people will continue to leave!” We don’t at all like the idea that people are leaving, but what would it profit us to change the teachings just to keep people in church on Sunday? Recall what happened when Jesus revealed his teaching on the Eucharist and many people found it too hard to accept and no longer followed him (cf John 6). What didJesus do? Did he call out after them and say, “Wait a minute! Come back! You don’t like that teaching? Okay, I’ll change it. What do you want me to teach? Just tell me and I’ll teach that, as long as you stay with me!” No. Instead, with a heavy heart, he let them go. He was not happy that they would no longer follow him, but he could not change his message and the call to unity with himself and the truth he had come to reveal simply because people didn’t like it. Neither can the Church change a teaching just because it is not popular.
“But,” they may object, “if the message were more appealing, more people would come, and you’re never going to get certain people to come back as long as the Church holds that teaching!” In other words, “give the people what they want and they will come!” I like to use this analogy:
I could fill our church every Sunday night with teenagers, young adults, and others who would never otherwise come to Mass. It’s very simple: give away free beer and show porn. First of all, I’d be arrested. But even if I weren’t, would that be doing anyone any good? Are we merely trying to count how many people are sitting in church on Sunday, or are we trying to bring them the call of salvation by fidelity to the teachings of Christ? I realize this is a drastic example, but it makes the point: anyone who would have us change the teachings just to get more bodies in the pews does not understand the call to salvation by avoiding sin and being formed in the image and likeness of Christ.
Yes, we should do everything in ourpower to be welcoming and acknowledge that even people who are sinners – as we all are – are welcome in church on Sunday and can have positive gifts to offer, which is what Pope Francis has been saying. But under no circumstances can we pretend that sin is not a sin just to make them happy. Our job is not to craft a popular message but to be consistent to the message of salvation by fidelity to the call of Christ. Only that can save people.
Suppose someone, tired of paying over $4 per gallon for gasoline, observing that water from the garden hose is far cheaper, decides he wants his car to run on water. He even gets 96% of car owners to agree with him, and petitions the car manufacturer to allow them to put water and not gas in the gas tank. All the opinion of those people doesn’t change the fact that the car doesn’t run on water. If the people complain that the car manufacturer lacks compassion and understanding of the people’s difficulties and keeps petitioning every new CEO who comes along to change the “law” and allow the car to run on water, does the manufacturer give in and allow it because the people want it? Of course not! Put water in your gas tank and your car will be destroyed! Similarly, when the Church clearly teaches that any given action (such as any sexual act outside of the covenant of marriage, abortion, etc.) does not lead to union with Christ but instead damages that union, no one’s personal opinion changes that. So anyone who advises us to ignore what the Church teaches and “follow their own hearts” is like telling people it’s okay to put water in the gas tank.
“Okay, but how about issues that do notseem to have moral relevance, such as women priests?” Some people are clamoring for the Church to readdress this issue. Well, Pope Paul VI did precisely that. He looked carefully at Tradition, at Scripture, and at previous magisterial teachings, and after extensive prayerful study, he defined in the encyclical Inter Insigniores that the Church does not possess the authority to admit women to the priesthood, and that this is a teaching that is part of the Deposit of Faith which must be adhered to by all. Pope John Paul II further defended and upheld this position in his encyclical Dignitatis Mulieris. Both Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis have upheld this, Pope Francis most emphatically so when in one interview he would not even address the question. He simply said, “No. That has been settled definitively.” The question is therefore settled; end of discussion. So those who are still clamoring for women priests are, quite frankly, throwing an ecclesiastical temper tantrum. Like a child who continues to cry and nag when a parent says no, trying to wear them down until they give in and give the child what he wants, so these people continue to cry and carry on, kicking and screaming in their tantrum. This is hardly mature behavior, and hardly what a disciple of Jesus is expected to do. While some issues are within the Church’s power to change (such as married clergy), others are not, such as women priests, gay “marriage”, abortion, contraception, etc. These have been definitively settled by the Church. So let’s end the temper tantrums, but in a spirit of love for the Lord and maturity of action, accept it and move on.
Remember that the Church’s purpose is not to be popular. We’re not battling other religions to see who has the most people in our pews on Sunday. Our commission by Jesus is to preserve what he has revealed to us and to faithfully teach everything he has commanded us and call people to salvation. Our job is to teach the truth whether people accept it or not. Yes, we will do everything we can to help people understandand accept Christ’s call to holiness, but we cannot change Christ’s teaching. That would betray our very reason for existence.
I was having dinner with a friend the other night who is not Christian but who was asking me a lot of questions concerning what our Catholic faith is all about. When I explained it to him, he said I pretty much captured it in a nutshell. Since he found it helpful, I thought it might help someone else by posting it on my blog, so here goes!
With Original Sin, Heaven was lost to mankind. Satan had his entry into our world, and with him came his greatest weapon: death. No matter how good any one of us tries to be, because of Original sin, when we die, we would enter into Hell and condemnation for all eternity, and there was nothing we could do about it. A good image would be of us being thrown into a prison and shackled to the wall with the door slammed shut behind us. With Satan, all our pleading and begging for mercy to let us out falls on deaf ears. The only one who can help us is God. We need his help; without him we’re doomed. God did come to our help by becoming a man. He took on our human nature precisely so that now he could enter the realm of death, something he couldn’t do as God alone. He took on flesh in the person of Jesus, who is both truly God and truly man. When he died on the cross – which was his plan from the beginning – he was able to enter into Hell and free us. You can imagine it as Satan letting the one person in who had the key to our shackles and the gate to Hell. When he rose from the dead, he destroyed death’s hold over us. It’s as if Jesus paved a highway that goes right through Hell and up to Heaven. So Jesus totally reversed the power of death by taking Satan’s prime weapon and turning it against him. What Satan intended as the means to enslave us in his kingdom – death – is now the way we leave his power and enter into heaven. We will still die, but death now leads to our salvation and not our condemnation. But in order for us to follow the path, we have to be one with Jesus. God took on our nature, and now we must take on his. This is accomplished through the Sacraments. In Baptism, we die with Christ and are buried with him, but we also rise with him. We inherit heaven and become heirs with Christ to everything he won by his death. In the Eucharist, Jesus gives us his body and blood as our food so that our flesh is now made up of his flesh, and every time we celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and receive Jesus in Holy Communion, we are on the cross with him in an unbloody and painless manner, are buried with him and risen in him over and over again. It’s as if Jesus created a power line that transverses eternity for us to plug into his death and resurrection and receive the salvation he won for us once and for all. He made the sacrifice he offered on Calvary forever present to us in the Holy Mass. He also gave his teachings to the Apostles with the authority to continue these Sacraments for all of time, and told them to “teach them to carry out everything I have commanded you.” (Matt. 28:20) We still have to walk the path to heaven – there is no moving sidewalk that automatically takes us there – and sometimes, because while Baptism washes away Original Sin, concupiscence (the inclination to sin) still remains – we stray from the path. Christ calls us back to the right path constantly through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and teaches us through the Church, especially the successor to St. Peter (the Pope) to whom Jesus gave the ultimate authority to speak in his name (cf. Matt. 16:13-20), to help us know when we’re not sure if certain activities or beliefs lead us to heaven or not. So, in order to reverse the effects of Original Sin, we must accept Jesus as God-made-man, be baptized, receive him in Holy Communion every Sunday for the forgiveness of our sins, and allow him to keep us on the path to heaven by following the way he shows us through the teachings of the Church. Do that and you’ll get to Heaven. It’s as simple as that!
P.S. Thanks, Joe, for the inspiration!!
“Do you want to go to heaven?” Anyone who believes in God would almost certainly answer that question with a “yes!” No one who believes would desire anything else. So why, then, do we have to worry about going to heaven? Some people mistakenly hold that, “since God is all-loving, what loving God would want us to burn in hell for our sins rather than be with him in his kingdom? He wouldn’t deliberately condemn any of his children; therefore, everyone will go to heaven!” Unfortunately, that’s not a correct read on God, as they leave out one very important element: free will. Yes it is true: God desires the salvation of everyone. His death and resurrection made that possible for all of us. But in order to enter heaven, we must follow him. That is up to us.
Imagine if you will a ship that has come to rescue people who were tossed overboard in a shipwreck. The ship anchors and sends a ladder down into the water for everyone to climb up to safety. Many people do, but others, for whatever their reason, refuse to climb the ladder. Maybe they are enjoying the water and see no reason to get on the ship, or maybe they’re expecting the captain to jump into the water and drag them out personally. They argue, “The captain doesn’t want us to drown, so he’ll jump in and pull each of us out of the water.” And so they stay treading water waiting for the captain to save them. The ladder is still there and the captain is saying, “Come on! Grab onto the ladder and climb up onto the ship!” but the person says, “No, I don’t have to because I know you’ll come down and get me!” Well, what happens? Glug! Glug! Glug! The person drowns. Did the captain deliberately drown the person because he refused to climb the ladder? No, he is very upset by the fact that the person drowned, but it was the person’s own fault. So those who were saved were saved because the captain threw down a ladder to make their rescue possible. As for those who weren’t saved, it was their own fault!
It is the same way with God. By becoming man and suffering, dying, and rising for us, he made our salvation possible. But you and I have to freely avail ourselves of what he offered in order to enter heaven. Remember that, while we often think of heaven as this big banquet going on in heaven, theologically speaking, “to go to heaven” means to be perfected, to be perfectly formed in the image and likeness of Christ, to be totally present to him. What needs to be perfected? Our muscles? No. Our hairdo? No. Obviously, it is our will. Original Sin occurred when Adam and Eve said no to God and yes to sin. Our salvation is when we reverse that, when we say no to sin and give our full assent to God’s will. Now, if God were to force us to follow him, that would not be our free will, our own consent; it would be coercion. So God cannot drag us by the hair into heaven whether we want to enter or not – he can’t force us to be perfected. He will help us, but it has to be our own choice. Hence, anyone who is saved is saved by the grace of God; anyone who is not, it is his own fault! God saves those who are saved; the condemned man, by his own refusal to follow God, condemns himself!
So therefore, no one can sit back and rest on his laurels thinking his salvation is in the bag. We must work on it every day by following God’s law. Yes, he desires our salvation and he helps us in a thousand ways every day to walk the path, to climb the ladder out of the waters of death, but we have to walk, we have to climb. He cannot do it for us.