Do you think you’re going to heaven? Because maybe you aren’t.
Today we celebrate All Saints today. Since the times of the early church, particularly the martyrs always had a special day assigned to their veneration. But in special cases, like the persecution of Diocletion for example, the number of martyrs became so great that a special day could not be assigned to each. Thus, parts of the church in the Greek and Roman empires began to celebrate groups of martyrs on a single day. As early at the year 610, Pope Boniface IV consecrated a temple to the Blessed Mother and all the martyrs, ordering a special feast day to celebrate them all, and by about the year 840, Pope Gregory IV extended this feast to the entire church and assigned it to the present date, which is November 1st. This makes the feast day that we celebrate approximate 1,172 year old.
The men and women we celebrate are the estimated 10,000 or so canonized saints who have entered Heaven’s gates victoriously as well as all those glorious and simple ones whose names are unknown or unsung.
I asked a simple question at the beginning of my homily: Do you think that you’re going to heaven? And if so, why? I read a recent poll from ABC news that said that about 85% (of people who believed in heaven at all) believed that they were going there. As a matter of fact, I polled the 8th graders this morning and asked them how many of them thought they were going to heaven. All of them did. But again, I wonder what the basis of that hope is.
Scripture says that Heaven is for those who have conquered. There are multiple images, particularly in the Book of Revelation, about gaining heaven as gaining ground in some kind of mortal combat. St. Paul compares the Christian life to boxing, to training for the Olympic games and to a race. Jesus clearly says that at the end of time, the human race will be divided into the sheep and the goats and the ones who failed to show heroic kindness to their brothers and sisters will be thrown into the lake of fire. Many other such references could be given. They all point to one truth: Heaven is like a winner’s circle. It is a place for those who have won the race and kept the faith. But somehow, I think that we have cheapened it into a place that were are simply entitled to go because we’re such nice people. Heck, we don’t even have to be nice anymore.
When I have gone to funerals, we seem to immediate canonize the person who died. I went to one funeral of a gentleman who had not gone to church in years, denied the sacraments, and was pretty well known to have a been a fairly nasty character, and one lady said to me, “Well, now he’s in a better place.” I got so annoyed that I felt obligated to respond, “I don’t really think so, m’aam. Neither did I consign him to hell. People seem to think that all that is necessary to go to heaven is that you have some tiny glimmer of goodness in you. For all we know, that description fits Satan himself, but as far as we know, he is not enjoying his heavenly reward for it.
Since when do we presume so much on God’s kindness and mercy and simply think that just by being vaguely nice people who generally did as we pleased, that we will go to the place where Scripture says that only the heroes go? Y’all, it doesn’t really take much energy to be nice to people. Atheists can be nice to people, and very often are. Heaven means much more than being nice, it means being holy. Today is a day we celebrate holy men and women, not men and women who just won PTA awards or were good at patting their children on the cheek when they did something cute.
Our culture is becoming one where we like to give everybody ribbons and trophies so that no one is left out. It is a silly, damaging lesson that this teaches us. It is set in place by misguided people who do not understand the real meaning of self-esteem. Lessons like this can convince us that when the final bell tolls, that there will be no losers — only victory, only smiles, only pearly gates. But that is not the story that Scripture tells.
As I mentioned, today we celebrate those who have WON–those who have gone before us victorious. They have washed their robes white in the blood of the lamb. Do you know what that means? It means that they are covered in the suffering that it takes to be real Christian. It is a happy day, but it is a day that we should ask ourselves a very important question: how does my faith make me act differently than I would if I did not have it? How am I striving to win the race? Am I testifying to the life of the savior who suffered for me by suffering myself for the sake of love?
I would like to end with a quotation by Coach Vince Lombardi, who knew a great deal about struggling to meet a goal:
I firmly believe that any man’s finest hours, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is the moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle–victorious.
This is how we will enter Heaven. And there is no other way.
Spiritual Principle: A heaven attained without combat, suffering, and massive effort isn’t really worth heaven.