21st Per Annum 2019 GSC
Do you want to go to Heaven?
I never knew there were so different considerations when it comes to parenting methods. The new parent is, of course, so enamoured of his or her child that there is the great impetus to please. Added to that, the fact that the baby can’t communicate sufficiently so as to really say what he or she wants and so there’s a certain nervousness about the adult concerned. Do you give the child what they want when they want it? How can you be really sure what they want. Does the child really want food or is he really just overly tired? And even if you know they know what they want, is it right to give it them or does that make them spoilt?
“Do I want to go to Heaven?” is the question to have before us as we strive to work out what we ought to do each day. Do you want to go to Heaven? No other consideration is to be so important as to forming our choices. This surely is at the heart of what Jesus is saying in our Gospel today when He says, “Enter by the narrow door.” The temptation in our spiritual lives like so many others bits of our life is that we want to know what the bare minimum is and do that. ‘If I do one hour of revision for my exam, that’ll be enough … As long as I do the correct speed limit when there’s a camera that’ll be fine … As long as I make the bed the whole room will feel tidy.’ We end up looking for a recipe for salvation and try to do that.
To be in Heaven is to have united ourselves perfectly to the will of God. One of the great enemies to this happening is a mindset, born of despair, which says “God doesn’t mind.” God doesn’t mind if I do this or if I don’t do this. Perhaps even worse, we don’t even ask ourselves what God wants when we work how we will spend our time or dispense with our emotions or our energy. The mindset “God doesn’t mind” assumes there is a wide gate and is therefore in direct contradiction to what our Lord says: “Enter by the narrow door.”
The questioner asks, “Will there only be a few saved.” We don’t know the answer to the question, of course, only God knows the answer. It’s one of those questions that shows an inclination to fuss or interfere with other people’s business. And Jesus doesn’t put up with it; He undermines the entire premise by encouraging the person simply to focus on himself: “Will you go to Heaven?” We mustn’t set ourselves up as judge and jury on these occasions, though many a TV programme will encourage us to and we rather like the power when we are presented with it. It’s not for us to know whether that person or that group of people or those people doing those things will go to Heaven. The question is do we really want to go to Heaven and if so, we’ll strive to do so by the narrow door.
People occasionally ask me whether hell exists. To which the answer has to be yes. In the Apostles Creed, which is said at Baptisms, we affirm that we believe that Jesus “descended into hell,” which the Church commemorates on Holy Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday. Hell is a place of separation from God and is the logical consequence of free will: we can choose to be close to God or we choose not to be. We often choose things which are bad for us, sometimes through ignorance, sometimes from vanity, sometimes through recklessness. Some people choose not to know or love God. Hell is described by our Lord as a place of “weeping and grinding of teeth,” a slightly curious description. The saints have pondered whether the eyes in hell weep because they have gazed upon things in lustful or envious ways; whether the teeth grind because they have been used to eating greedily and selfishly, chatting destructively. St Bede also wondered whether those in Hell grind their teeth “because of the feeling of indignation that he who repents too late, is too late angry with himself.” The frustration evident in the grinding of teeth might be especially true of those who for many years had been faithful to Christ but with the passing of years had dropped off on their commitment, they being the first who will now be last, of whom our Lord spoke. Make sure it’s not you.
The Church, seeking to radiate the compassion of God, has never condemned particular individuals to hell, though she has throughout her history pointed out that certain beliefs and certain behaviours are incompatible with the life of the elect. We know hell exists and the only beings we know now will be there are the devil and his angels because Jesus describes them as being there in Matthew 25:41. The only other people there will be those who have chosen perdition. After all, God wants everyone to be saved, as we are encouraged by Paul’s words to Timothy (I Timothy 2:4).
With this question before us, ‘Do you want to go to Heaven?’ we will be able to face bravely and steadfastly the trials in this life. Think what inconveniences and trials you’re facing at the moment, little things that are disturbing your routines, whatever it may be. Well, see them as opportunities to be faithful in the midst of trials. The author of the letter to the Hebrews put is quite starkly and clearly for us this evening: “Suffering is part of your training.” That inconvenience is like a hurdle you see the horses jumping over at the races, or the athletes running over with legs that seem barely connected to their bodies that move at such angles. If we want to go to Heaven we need to jump over that hurdle and not let it throw us off course. “Of course, any punishment is most painful at the time, and far from pleasant; but later, in those on whom it has been used, it bears fruit in peace and goodness.”
If something’s difficult it might be that it’s helping us get a little closer to God. Consider the sufferings Jesus went through for you as He carried His Cross and was spat at and jeered at. Even today, people up and down the country will insult the Lord by dropping the host at Holy Communion or they won’t really believe Jesus is there and will behave irreverently towards the Lord or won’t prepare properly their soul to receive Him in their heart or won’t even go to Mass. Don’t let that be us today. But do realise that Jesus continues to go through difficulties and insults resulting from His desire to be among His people and nourishing us through the gift of this Mass.
Our life on earth will undoubtedly be a roller coaster ride of knowing God and being close to Him and being far from Him through our own neglect and self-satisfaction. After death there can be no such swinging in and out of union with God. We will either be Heaven, to which we will need to journey, or we will not be in Heaven. Do you want to go to Heaven? That will affect how we spend this evening and tomorrow and the next day and the rest of our lives as we seek to go through the narrow gate. Amen.