There’s an old expression I just made up: “Everybody wants to go to Heaven, but nobody wants to go next Tuesday.”
As Catholics, we have a firm belief in life after death. After all, it’s right there at the very end of the Creed we recite at Mass each week: “…I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.”
If we did not believe in life after death, then we would be, as St. Paul wrote in 1st Corinthians, “The most pitiable of all people.” Imagine living our lives as if God and Heaven were real, but then it turned out that neither was true. That would indeed be pitiful. On the other hand, there are many Catholics who claim to believe God and Heaven are real, but live their everyday lives as if neither existed. This, too, is rather pitiful. And risky.
But if we really believe that Heaven is real and that eternal life with God is possible, then surely we must understand that getting to Heaven is infinitely more important than anything that happens to us during our time here on earth. And surely we understand that eternity in Heaven is better than even 90 or 100 wonderful years of natural life.
I did the math, and I discovered that when you compare 90 or 100 years to eternity, eternity is a wee bit longer—in the same way a billion-trillion miles is a wee bit longer than one inch.
So we all should be thrilled at the prospects of going to Heaven—even if it happens next Tuesday.
Ooh, how many of you instinctively cringed at the idea of going to Heaven next Tuesday? I admit I did. And the reason is simple: no one can go to Heaven unless they first die. Just the very thought of dying, whether next Tuesday or some other day, is, well, disconcerting to say the least.
As Catholics we really should not fear death. Does this mean we should encourage death and hasten its arrival? Obviously not. Even though we look forward to Heaven, we must cherish life—from conception to natural death.
That reminds me of when I was a youngster and made my First Confession and First Communion in the 2nd grade. The nuns taught us that Confession cleanses us of all our sins, and so if, for example, we got hit by lightning and killed the moment we walked out of the confessional, we would definitely go straight to Heaven. (On further reflection, I’m not sure that’s the best scenario to present to 2nd graders. But theologically speaking it’s correct.)
So here’s the conundrum (I like that word): the ultimate goal of life is to get to Heaven. But at the same time, the ultimate goal of secular, natural life is not to die. We have a bit of a conflict here. We fear “next Tuesday,” but unless we experience it we can’t go to Heaven.
This is what we need to do: first, don’t obsess about this topic nearly as much as I have over the past 500 words. Next, don’t fear death, even though it’s the great unknown and kind of scary. Every one of us will experience it, and it is not the end but instead a transition to something potentially much better. (Or much worse, which is why Confession is so important.)
Finally, we must make sure that when our personal “next Tuesday” arrives we will in fact go to Heaven. We must put our faith in Jesus, partake of the Sacraments often—especially Confession—and love our neighbors as ourselves.
OK then, there’s nothing to fear, right? Plus today is only Wednesday, so we’ve got at least another six days!