How We Know There’s A Heaven and Hell

Anyone who gives you a cup of cold water to drink will not lose his reward. (Mark 9:41) The reward for humble divine love: Heaven. [Spanish]

Better for you to enter into the Kingdom of God than to be thrown into Gehenna. Where the worm of conscience never dies and the fire never goes out. (Mark 9:43) That would be… H. E. double hockey sticks.

Who taught the human race about heaven and hell? Were we born knowing about heaven and hell?

First, this question: How do we know that bodily death doesn’t just mean: The End. How do we know that our souls have an eternal destiny, be it good or evil? How do we know that our souls are immortal?

TitanicWe know for a fact that our souls are immortal for a very simple reason. There’s nothing, other than God, that can destroy a human soul.

Yes, an iceberg can sink a huge ship, like the Titanic. Yes, a flash flood can turn a four-lane highway into a moonscape of potholes the size of pickup trucks. Yes, a teething puppy can turn a new pair of gym shoes into some very expensive dog bones.

But no known force can destroy the spiritual reality of knowledge and free will that animates the human body. We are obviously more than just a delicate chemical balance of elements. We do things like: Shout out the answers during Jeopardy! And propose marriage. And pray for our beloved dead, memorializing them with stones and monuments.

None of this would make any sense at all, if we were just over-grown orangutans. No: the spiritual dimension of our lives gives definitive evidence that we have a higher calling. To live eternally in communion with everything true and good. In other words, we certainly have immortal souls.

So: Were we born knowing that an immortal soul can suffer punishment forever in hell?

I would say: We kind of were born knowing that. We naturally fear the prospect of offending the all-powerful Creator. And we naturally fear death. Not because we fear “nothingness;” nothingness is nothing to fear. What we fear is: an unknown somethingness that involves just punishment.

But our natural fear of sin and death is vague. Most of the precise stuff we know about hell comes from the great teacher and preacher of hell in the Bible. The biblical figure who talked about hell the most.

The prophet Ezekiel? Elijah? Job? Certainly someone from the Old Testament? No. Line for line, verse for verse, the #1 Hell Preacher in the Holy Bible is… Jesus of Nazareth.

heavenstair“Enter through the narrow gate. Because the way is wide that leads to destruction.” “Just as weeds are gathered up and burned, so will it be at the end of the world.” “Do not be afraid of the one who can kill the body, but not the soul. Rather, fear the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell.” There’s a lot more, in the four holy gospels.

But before we get freaked-out: The Lord Jesus’ teaching about hell is so stark and precise because hell is hell compared to heaven. Jesus fundamentally came to the earth for one reason: To offer us heaven.

Jesus is Himself heaven. He is the eternal Light, the eternal Beauty. He united the Undying Glory to the human race, in Himself. In the holy… Incarnation.

Some non-Christians object to our doctrines of heaven and hell on the grounds that we unfairly teach that only Christians go to heaven. In point of fact, we don’t teach that. We believe that God offers heaven to everybody.

But we do teach: Only Jesus Christ offers heaven, because only Jesus Christ is heaven. Heaven is something so unimaginably wonderful that only the Incarnation could have given the human race the idea.

The eternal Father has prepared this kingdom–Jesus’ Heart. Where every tear will be wiped away. And, as we read in the Sunday-Mass gospel passage, it comes as a “reward.”

Now, without the saving sacrifice of Christ, we could never hope to receive such a reward. But since He offered Himself for us as a living Lamb that constantly gives forth life, we can not only hope for the reward of heaven, we can actually do things that harmonize with Christ’s love and thereby draw us closer to heaven.

Things like giving a cup of cold water to an honest thirsty pilgrim. As we talked about last week: God, in His humility, reconciled us to Himself as one of us. So when we see someone thirsty, we know it’s Him, giving us a chance to love. When we see someone suffering, someone struggling, someone spiritually at sea: we know it’s Him, beckoning us to love.

We have immortal souls. We fear eternal damnation. We hope for everlasting happiness. We love our way there.

Seek the Above

Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. (Colossians 3:2)

From time immemorial, man has conceived of three levels. 1) Here—the observable cosmos. 2) Up. 3) Down.

Here: the earth, the universe…day-by-day life with baseball games and back-to-school sales and train wrecks and summer movies. This level involves constant change, time passing, uncertainty, potential (that can be fulfilled or not), injustice lurking in every corner, fleeting pleasures, the possibility of a steak being good or bad, etc.

In the Name of the Father...
In the Name of the Father…
In other words, nothing on this level is sure, nothing absolutely permanent. Twinkies may or not be available in the future. It might rain tomorrow; it might not. This level has excitement. But Fate is fickle. It would be nice if the Redskins went to the playoffs this year. But they might not.

On the other hand, the other two levels—the upper and the lower—they are more stable. Their realities endure.

Continue reading “Seek the Above”

Coming at the IoM Like Ray Rice

Our laser weapon of religious-freedom clarification, Cathleen Kaveny, has made some more awesome distinctions and points. This time she considers a judge hearing the potential Religious-Freedom-Restoration-Act case that we would hypothetically mount. Click through the link to savor her insights.

scales_of_justiceTwo things that strike me:

1. Seems to me that the judge could reasonably ask of us plaintiffs: “Okay, now: about this burden on you. Taking for granted that using artificial contraception is evil…Under the disputed law, when the evil deed is done, who exactly will be doing it? Will you have to do something evil?”

To which question we do not have a compelling answer. If we say we would formally co-operate by paying into a healthcare plan with bad provisions, a sympathetic interlocutor could respond: But couldn’t you put your conscience at ease? By your own teaching regarding just compensation, you assert that everyone deserves the provision of healthcare. The healthcare delivery system will simply be following the law. You publicly disagree with the law. You clearly teach that artificial contraception and abortion are immoral. Therefore, your conscience can be clear. If others act immorally, they will answer for it. Not you.

(And I, for one, firmly believe that any judge has a right to question any religious-freedom claimant in this manner. True religion is not irrational. The Free-Exercise Clause should be understood to protect only that religious practice that can be defended on reasonable grounds.)

2. Regarding the government making its case:

The fact of the matter is that, while there may be plenty of big-time problems with the Obama administration, doing due diligence in drafting the Affordable-Care-Act regulations is not one of them.

Ray RiceIn coming up with the regulations, the administration did what any reasonable governing body would do. They consulted experts and accepted the assertions of the spokespeople of mainstream medicine. The “medical community” of the U.S. does in fact say that artificial contraception is good medicine and important medicine.

Here, my friends, is where I believe we meet the heart of the problem. The nearly universal presumption of medical practice holds that artificial contraception counts as medicine.

Now, in fact, artificial contraception does not count as medicine. But to make this point, we have to build from the ground up, starting with:

to facilitate sexual libertinism ≠ to heal

To the contrary:

to facilitate sexual libertinism = to wound

This is the point-of-view of a (now middle-aged) man who was born at the hour of history when the bad bell tolled. I grew up with condoms being shoved in my face.

To me, the whole business looks like a racket for getting people to do things that are truly bad for us. I am pretty sure that a special furnace in hell burns for everyone who peddles condoms and birth-control pills. Its fires are fed by the pain of every young heart broken by someone’s unchaste act.

hellTrue health means a mature spiritual life and the self-control that goes with it. It means chastity, love, and hope for the future, with trust in God. Health means church on Sunday and a lot of people who love you and will help you through any difficulty.

The whole rationale for Roe v. Wade, namely that abortion has to be legal because otherwise it will happen dangerously in the shadows–this rationale fails for one reason. There is a safety net for every pregnant woman, and it is the love of Christ, Who does not condemn but rather rejoices in all life. And the love of His Church. If every woman who thought she needed an abortion walked into a Catholic parish church and started asking for help, there would be no abortions.

Hence, my position on the HHS-mandate business is:

We do not belong on the sidelines whining to the referees about our poor, little religious freedom.

We belong in the game. We need to run down the throat of the defense like Ray Rice.

The idea that sex on-demand is a key to health is simply false. Chastity is a key to health. This can be demonstrated by careful argument, including the all-important citation of many statistics.

We can attack the Obama administration, if we want to. But, in this particular case, we need to attack the false medical consensus.

Abortion sucks. Contraception sucks. Doctors who give out artificial contraceptives suck twice. Doctors who perform abortions…well, God help us. I’m sorry I brought that one up.

The HHS controversy is not a religious-freedom problem for American Catholics. It is an evangelical mandate for American Catholics.

What are you and I going to do about the real problem? All the people who crush human life, anywhere from the zygote stage on–they’re all going to hell. Unless we do something to help them.

Saul & David, Lucifer & Christ

In the very beginning, the great light-bearer of heaven beheld the Son of God and refused to serve Him, refused to co-operate with Him. Lucifer instead imagined a universe in which he sat alone on the highest throne.

In the end, only two paths lay open to us, brothers and sisters. On the one hand, humble submission to God Who is greater than we are. On the other, jealousy.

Saul had been made king by a higher authority. Young David sought nothing but to protect the reign. God gave David prodigious gifts, which he put to the service of the people. Saul, who never knew how to submit to the true divine king, saw in David only a threat. Just like Lucifer had seen in Christ only a threat.

David had no regal designs. He loved to play the lyre. Saul’s jealousy was ill-founded and led only to his own destruction.

Christ, of course, had no choice but to have regal designs—but what designs! He reigns from a cross, His Heart pierced, His Body mortally wounded.

So Lucifer’s jealousy, too, was ill-founded. His own dreams of a kingdom were fulfilled—but what a kingdom! The realm of darkness, ignorance, and senseless pain where no one serves the good God.

Let’s choose humble submission, brothers and sisters. Let’s give God glory for the great gifts he has chosen to give others. May God be praised for all the people who are smarter, better-looking, and more talented than we are!

Our job is humbly to serve the Master of all, to do the best with what we’ve got.

Let’s choose this, because the alternative is nothing but a ceaseless competition that we can’t win. When we give God the glory, we find ourselves on the winning team. Better to be a bench-warmer on a winning team than a superstar in hell.

The Church of the Apostles

If you believe that Jesus is the Christ, then you want to be in the Church Christ founded, the Church of the Apostles.

hell tormentsThe question is: How can I be sure that I am in the Church of the Apostles?

The man who answered this question with the greatest skill died 388 years ago today.

The short answer: Be with the Pope.

If you are with the Pope, you can be sure you are in the Church founded by Christ.

Regrettably, very few of St. Robert Bellarmine’s many writings have been translated into English.

Hopefully, all of the saint’s answers to Luther, et al., will be available on the internet in English soon.

Certainty for the “Neurologically Disordered”

Here is a somewhat interesting discussion between Bill Maher (maker of the documentary movie “Religulous”) and Governor Mike Huckabee.

I like Mike Huckabee, but I think his engagement of Maher’s points is weak. He let Maher keep the conversation on the historical, human level. The conversation never became genuinely theological–that is, it never became a reasoned argument about God. Huckabee never brought up the fact that the existence of God is evident from the order of the world and the depth of human personality.

At one point, Maher said: “I don’t know. And you don’t know either. You don’t know what happens when you die, and I don’t know either. I am sure you don’t know, because I don’t know, and you don’t have power I don’t possess.”

He is right that Mike Huckabee does not possess superpowers. But the basic idea is wrong in two ways. What Maher said is a fundamental thesis of agnosticism, and it is false. We have some certain knowledge about what happens after we die.

vitruvian-manFirst, we can say for sure that bodily death does NOT mean the end of existence. The body is obviously animated by an immaterial soul. There is no physical force that can destroy or corrupt an immaterial thing. The soul certainly continues to exist after bodily death. The soul is not mortal like the body is.

Human beings have always known this. Because we have, we have concocted myths from time immemorial about what happens after death. Some of these myths possess some truth. Maher and all agnostics are right, though, to dismiss the myths of pagan religions as generally false.

This, however, brings us to the second reason why Maher’s statement is wrong. He is right that we do not on our own have the power to investigate what happens to us after we die. But we have been given detailed information by God Himself.

God became man and taught us what happens after bodily death. He did not teach us everything by any means. But He taught us enough to give us certainty on these points:

1) We will be judged.

2) Our ultimate destination will be either heaven or hell.

3) At the end of time, everyone will rise from the grave. We will live forever, body and soul, either in heaven or hell.

To be certain on these points is not “neurologically disordered.” It is clear that the Lord Jesus taught these things. It makes more sense to believe Christ than to disbelieve Him, all things considered.

The Christian faith is indeed a divine gift, but it is not in any way unreasonable.

The Four Last Things

The Resurrection by Signorelli, in the Brizio Chapel in the Duomo in Orvieto
The Resurrection by Signorelli, in the Brizio Chapel in the Duomo in Orvieto
“This is the will of my father, that everyone who sees the Son of Man and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:40)

In the month of November, nature’s life cycle comes to an end. The leaves wither and fall from the trees, and birds fly south for the winter. The night grows longer and longer. The time has come for us to meditate on the Last Things.

There are four Last Things, plus one very important next-to-last thing, namely Purgatory.

The first of the four Last Things is death. Sooner or later, death comes for everyone. Only a fool would refuse to prepare himself for it.

We can thank the good Lord that he has given us our Catholic faith to help us face death with courage and a calm mind. Others are not so fortunate. The inevitability of death hangs over unbelievers like a dark cloud.

We can penetrate the cloud, because the Lord Jesus has taught us what lies beyond death. After death comes the second of the Last Things: Judgment. Jesus Christ, the all-knowing, all-seeing God will judge every human being. He will take everything into account. His judgment will be perfectly just.

When we are judged by Christ at the most supreme of all courts, there are only two possible sentences. The two sentences are the third and fourth Last Things.

If my sins are counted against me and are not remitted by the Precious Blood shed for us on the Cross, then I will be condemned to hell. I will suffer for all eternity. My conscience will accuse me forever, and I will endure the permanent agony of being separated from the only true happiness. At the end of time, my body will rise again from the grave with all the other bodies, and then my torments will only increase.

May it please the Lord, our Lady, the angels and the saints to deliver us all from this!

On the other hand, if we meet death shining with the brightness of Christ, clothed with the grace of His sacraments, outfitted with the virtues that He has lived in us, and provided-for by the merits of His saints, then we will not be condemned for our sins. Our sins will be pardoned.

This means that the sweetest sound we can hear in this life are the words by which our souls are washed clean after a good Confession: “I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” May we all go to God in a state of grace.

Facade of the Duomo
Facade of the Duomo
If we do go to Him in grace, then everlasting happiness awaits us. We will rest in the infinite truth of God forever, contemplating His beauty with bottomless awe, united with all the saints. Heaven is the fourth Last Thing.

Obviously, heaven is the place of perfect justice, purity, and goodness. Most of us, then, will have to be purified in order to enter heaven.

We do not know the details about the purification of purgatory. We do not know how long it takes or exactly how it happens. What we do know is that 1) it is necessary, and 2) we can help each other get through it.

This is why the month for meditating on the Last Things is also the month for praying for our dead. The least we can do is to try to help those who have gone before us to get to heaven as soon as possible. When we die, and—please God—begin our purification, we will want others to help us get through it.

What can we do to help the souls in Purgatory? Here are four ways to shorten Purgatory for our beloved dead:

1) Have Masses said for them. Every Mass can be offered for a particular intention, including the repose of a particular soul.

Interior of the Orvieto Duomo
Interior of the Orvieto Duomo
2) We shorten purgatory for people by obtaining indulgences. The Church, being a very solid spiritual institution, possesses an enormous spiritual bank account. It is the treasury of the merits of Christ and His saints. This bank has the most precious deposits in the universe, and they are also the most secure.

An indulgence is a withdrawal from this bank, which we can make on behalf of a deceased loved one. It is like a bailout for the afterlife. All we need to do is to renounce all sin and then do one of the pious acts which the Church recommends. One of those acts is to come to church on All Souls Day to pray for the dead.

The third thing we can do to help the souls in Purgatory is to pray for them at any time in any place. Every prayer helps.

Lastly, we can help the poor souls in Purgatory by making sacrifices for them, offering something up for them.

May it please God that we will all be together in heaven someday, with all the people we love!

Is There a Choice?

I think that everybody knows that I vote pro-life. No issue could be more grave than the protection by law of the innocent, defenseless unborn. I will vote pro-life until Roe v. Wade is overturned, until the day when, as the director of Vitae Caring Foundation Carl Landwehr put it in a speech I heard him give the other night, “abortion becomes unthinkable.”

As someone who shares in the shepherding ministry which the Lord entrusted to the Bishops of the Church, I hold myself responsible for clearly teaching not only that abortion is an evil of enormous gravity, but also that the right to life of the innocent unborn must be a part of the fundamental plan of any truly just society.

Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas, formerly of Washington
Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas, formerly of Washington
Considering all this, you would think that I would applaud the recent letter of our former Auxiliary Bishop Kevin Farrell, now Bishop of Dallas, and his brother Bishop Kevin Vann of Ft. Worth. These bishops spell out the morality of voting with admirable clarity.

They assert something, however, that I am afraid to say I do not think is true.

The Bishops carefully explain that the right to life of the innocent unborn is not a matter of prudential judgement, not something that can be weighed against other considerations. It MUST be decisive. Yes. I applaud the making of this crucial point. Thank God. This takes courage.

Then the Bishops go on to write that: “To vote for a candidate who supports the intrinsic evil of abortion or ‘abortion rights’ when there is a morally acceptable alternative would be to cooperate in the evil—and, therefore, morally impermissible.”

Bishop Kevin Vann of Ft. Worth
Bishop Kevin Vann of Ft. Worth
Now, morally impermissible means what it says it means. We cannot do morally impermissible things. If we do morally impermissible things knowingly and freely, our souls are in danger of damnation.

One can cooperate in evil in one of two ways, either materially or formally. Someone who vacuums the carpets in a medical office building where a doctor performs abortions participates materially in those abortions. But unless he intends to support the work of doing abortions by vacuuming the carpet, he does not formally cooperate. He might just be trying to earn a living, and this is the only job he could find. It is not a good situation, but at the same time it is not ipso facto a sin on his part.

If someone’s material cooperation in evil is “remote,” that is, not closely connected to the evil, then they do not bear moral responsibility for the evil.

Remote participation is permissible provided the person does not intend to be a part of the evil business. I could sin by intending to cooperate with something evil even if had practically nothing to do with it. An absurd example: If I planned to take a trip to a particular city BECAUSE they allowed same-sex “marriage” in that city, that would be a sin. But it is not a sin to go to San Francisco to see the Golden Gate Bridge.

Anyone who votes for a pro-“abortion rights” candidate participates materially in the evil. But if the voter does not vote for the candidate for this reason, but rather votes for the candidate for another reason, he or she does not formally co-operate with abortion. I would think that the material cooperation of a voter in an election for the President of the United States is certainly far enough removed from actual abortions themselves to qualify as “remote.”

Therefore, it is morally impermissible to vote for a pro-abortion candidate BECAUSE he is pro-abortion. Likewise, it is negligent to vote without considering the gravity of the right to life of the innocent, defenseless unborn. But I think that it is incorrect to say that anyone who votes for Obama commits a sin.

It is clearly a sin to vote for him because he supports legal abortion. But there are other reasons why people might choose to vote for him. I do not claim to sympathize with those reasons; I would be delighted to argue them calmly.

I think people ought to vote for the more pro-life candidate.

But I am NOT telling anyone how to vote. My point is exactly the opposite. We HAVE to avoid committing serious sins. But we do not HAVE TO vote for one candidate or the other. What we have to do is to stand before God and do what we believe is right.

Tremble and Trust

Brothers and sisters: Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

As we recall, our second readings at Sunday Mass for three weeks now have been taken from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians. We will read from this letter once more next week.

Between last Sunday and this Sunday, our readings from Philippians have skipped a chapter. We missed one of St. Paul’s most famous exhortations: “work out your salvation in fear and trembling.” This is what the Apostle told the Philippians to do at the end of chapter two: “work out your salvation in fear and trembling.” Perhaps this sounds strange, since in our reading today, St. Paul began by telling them to “have no anxiety at all.”

“Work out your salvation in fear and trembling.” “Have no anxiety at all.” Did our beloved Apostle Paul contradict himself?

Let us try to understand it this way. In the first sentence, St. Paul was thinking about us, the human race, weak sinners that we are. In the second, he was thinking about our loving and generous Father in heaven. These two sentences were put together perfectly by St. Ignatius Loyola when he said: Work as if everything depends on you. Pray as if everything depends on God.

When our Holy Father Pope Benedict came to visit us here in Washington and New York, his theme was hope. Hope is one of the three virtues which unite us directly with God. We believe in Him—faith. We hope to be in heaven with Him someday. We love Him because He is absolutely wonderful, and we love ourselves and everyone else because God loves us—charity.

We can fail in the virtue of hope in two ways. St. Paul’s words to the Philippians help us to avoid both.

“Work out your salvation in fear and trembling.” The past couple of weeks a lot of people have been nervous and afraid about our economy. When knowledgeable people warn us of possible economic catastrophe, it is perfectly natural for us to be afraid. May it please God to see us through these difficult times.

But when we get right down to it, there is really only one thing to be truly afraid of. God will always provide for us one way or another, so other than this one thing, we really don’t have anything to fear. Even death can’t do us any harm if we die in God’s friendship.

The one genuinely frightening thing is: H—E—double hockey sticks. When we seriously consider the possibility of winding up there, we tremble. Not a good prospect. Not at all. We are right to take every care to avoid the bad place.

Hell is a real possibility. We sin against hope if we presume with God. Hope is hope, not certainty. I cannot assume I am going to heaven. It is not automatic. I have to strive to do good and avoid evil; I have to confess my sins and beg for mercy. Being presumptuous with a friend is rude; being presumptuous with God is a sin.

On the other hand, St. Paul wrote, “Have no anxiety about anything.” Pray, make your requests known to God, and “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Living the virtue of hope means trusting with confidence in God’s generosity. If it really were all up to us, we would be in trouble, serious trouble. But it is not up to us alone. We can trust God.

The good Lord, in fact, has a perfect plan to get us all to heaven. He has a plan to get each of us there, starting right now. No matter what we have done or failed to do, until the moment you and I draw our last breath on this earth, the Lord always has a contingency plan to save us. He will always forgive us our sins, if we ask Him. He will always give us whatever we need to persevere on our pilgrimage, if we ask Him.

It is a sin to presume; it is also a sin to despair. Despair is a sin against hope. God will provide. He will give us the grace to repent of our sins. All we have to do is ask. That is why St. Paul urged the Philippians to pray. And the good Lord has even given us the perfect way to pray.

At the end of today’s reading, St. Paul wrote, “Keep on doing what you have learned and received.” These words call to mind what St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when He had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you…In the same way the chalice…saying, This is the new covenant in my blood.”

If we hope in God, we pray. The best prayer is the Holy Mass. In the Mass, we ask for exactly what we need to get to heaven. And in the Mass, the Lord gives us everything we ask for, and then some: He gives us Himself.

If we want to learn how to pray with hope, if we want to learn how to avoid presumption and despair, let’s ‘tune ourselves in’ to all the prayers of the Mass, and pray them ourselves. To pray the Mass is an act of perfect hope.