I want to pick up the thread of something I said last Sunday.
All during Lent we were on a pilgrimage to the Cross.
But now we are past the Cross; we are at the empty tomb.
Now, our pilgrimage takes us to the next step: and that is heaven.
This is what our Faith is about: heaven.
Resurrection is about heaven. Easter is about heaven.
The seven sacraments are about heaven.
Christ went through all that he went through,
because he wants us with him in heaven.
So: let’s talk about this. What is heaven?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church
says a number of things about heaven.
If we die in God’s grace and friendship,
and after any needed purification – that is, Purgatory –
then we “live forever with Christ,” and are “like God for ever,
for [we] ‘see him as he is,’ face to face” (1023).
Heaven is “paradise with Christ”;
it is the “perfect life with the Most Blessed Trinity,”
with Mary, the angels and all the saints.
Again, quoting the Catechism,
“Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment
of the deepest human longings,
the state of supreme, definitive happiness” (1024).
But the key idea is that
“To live in heaven is to be with Christ” (1025).
So if you want to know what heaven is like, look at the Gospels.
Look at the Apostles who spent their time with Jesus,
And ask yourself: is that what you want?
Do you want to be with him?
This is a classic good news/bad news situation.
First the Good News: Jesus Christ really wants you with him in heaven.
The Cross is the proof of that. Look what God went through.
If you ever wonder if God loves you, and more than that,
if he wants you to forgive you, look at the Cross.
So what is the bad news? God still puts part of it on you.
You and I have to choose this.
And that choice we make today – and every day.
You see, heaven is not some place we just end up at.
Heaven is a choice.
What is more, heaven is not something only after death.
Heaven starts here.
This is what the first reading describes:
God’s people living changed lives. Heavenly lives.
Now, it’s true that our lives on earth are often marked by the Cross.
But remember the good thief on the Cross.
Jesus told him: “This day you will be with me in Paradise.”
Don’t you think Paradise began for that man
Just as soon as he heard those words?
Whatever else, he was with Jesus. And that is heaven.
If it is true that you and I begin to experience heaven in this life,
then surely the opposite is true:
that we can begin to experience hell on earth, too.
We might think of Judas, who betrayed Jesus.
He knew he done wrong; he even expressed sorrow.
But what he did not do, that we know of, was ask for mercy.
I don’t know if Judas went to hell,
but if he did, his hell began before he died.
And let me tell you, that is where a lot of people are.
People who have decided they cannot change,
they cannot leave habits of drink or anger, hatred or lust behind them.
There’s a secret about sin that no one ever tells you.
It starts out so nice. The being drunk feels good. The lust feels good.
The self-righteous wrath feels so good. And it will, for a while.
But over time, it doesn’t make you feel as good as it did.
And you get to the point
where it doesn’t even make you happy;
it’s just that you don’t know how to live without it.
Some of the most damnable words are: “I can’t change.”
That is a lie. The true statement would be, “I won’t try.”
Thank God Thomas did not rule out changing his mind.
Christ came back, just for him, and said, “put your hands in my side.”
Our Lord Jesus will go to amazing lengths to rescue us.
The most beautiful sign of this is so simple, we miss it.
That is the sacrament of confession.
When you and I are in the confessional, we are that thief on the cross.
Absolution from a priest is to be in paradise.
To be forgiven is our ticket to heaven.
Now, if I have a ticket to the Reds, and I lose it?
Too bad for me! I have to buy another.
But if I have received absolution,
but I lose that grace through mortal sin, what do I do?
I go back to Jesus, in the confessional, and I ask again;
and I get another ticket! No charge to me, but it is not free:
It was paid for by the Precious Blood of the Lamb!
I wonder if we shouldn’t put a sign on the confessional door:
“Doorway to heaven.” It’s true!
You might say, but even after I come from confession, I still struggle.
Indeed. That’s purgatory. No one escapes the way of the Cross.
But if we are willing, you and I can have our purgatory here.
It is not easy. It can be excruciatingly hard.
If you want become holy,
Whatever else you do, keep coming to confession.
Some people avoid it,
precisely because they keep tripping over the same sins.
Here’s what I’m going to tell you. It is hard;
and I don’t know how to explain it, but it is true:
you will change. It will happen.
It will happen on God’s timetable and in his way, not yours.
He will make you a saint!
But not on the strength of you wanting it, which is puny;
But on the strength of His wanting it: which is everything.