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Deacon-structing: Getting to Heaven

Deacon Pedro

Sunday, September 22, 2019

The Apotheosis of St. Ignatius by Baciccio. Source: Wikimedia Commons
Recently, I bumped into someone I know who, without even saying, “Hi, how are you?” said to me: “I have an idea for a show.” People do say this to me occasionally since they know I work for Salt + Light Media. And everyone has a show idea!
He then said, “You know how priests and bishops don’t speak enough about salvation and damnation….” I began thinking, “Not sure how good that show would be….” It is an important topic although I know why people don’t like to talk about it. But I also thought, “Good for you. This is important to you, and you know people don’t want to talk about it, and you’re out there telling people about it. I don’t have to agree with what you’re saying or how you’re saying it, but good for you.” (I also wanted to tell him that, just last week, our pastor preached about exactly that!)
I thought of him when I read today’s Gospel (25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, year C: Luke 16:1-13) in which Jesus praises the dishonest steward.
I have a friend who I’ve known since theatre school. He’s been very successful in films and in television – he’s always working. But he hasn’t been very successful in his personal life. He’s divorced. But it’s not because there are no morals in Hollywood and they have no values. It’s because he was single-minded about his purpose: He knew what was important, and nothing else was more important to him than that. He wanted to be an actor, and that was more important to him than his marriage. In fact, his wife was also an actor, and she was single-minded about her career as well. A good recipe if you want to be successful in your career. Not a good recipe for a successful marriage!
Jesus doesn’t praise the steward because of his dishonesty; we know that.

He praises him for being single-minded in his purpose.

He praises him for being shrewd and smart. For knowing what he wants and going to get it and for planning ahead.
Jesus talks about “the children of this world” – and that was no compliment. “The children of this world” – all those people you don’t like, who are dishonest, who have no morals, who don’t believe in God – they are smarter about what’s important to them than we, the “children of light” are about what should be important to us.
What’s more important than getting to Heaven? Your career? Your health? Your finances? Your education? Your happiness? Your family?
A few years ago I read a book series titled I Am Margaret, by British author Corinna Turner. It’s a dystopian novel which takes place in a future where religion is illegal. Towards the end of the story, one of the priests, Fr. Mark, is dying. Margaret, the protagonist, is the only one there with him, and she doesn’t know what to do to help him, so she pleads, “Fr. Mark, tell me what to do. Tell what I can do to save you.” And Fr. Mark just asks, “Do you forgive me?” Margaret responds in exasperation, “Do I forgive you?! This is about your life! What do I do so you don’t die?!” Fr. Mark responds, “It’s not about my life; it’s about my soul.”

Our life on earth is not more important than our eternal life.

St. Teresa of Avila said that when we get to Heaven, our life on earth – especially the suffering on earth – will seem like an inconvenient night in a cheap motel. This is not forever. This is not our home. We are but pilgrims on our way somewhere else. And we know it’s just temporary; still we try to make this inconvenient night in the cheap motel as comfortable as possible.
How much time do you spend at work? How much time do you spend at the gym? How much time do you spend studying? How much time do you spend watching the news? Reading? Playing sports? Tending your garden? How much time do you dedicate to your personal finances? How much energy do you dedicate to recycling and buying organic vegetables? How much time do you dedicate to working for justice or helping the poor? How much time do you spend in prayer? How many hours a week do you spend in church?
My former pastor, Fr. Boniface Perri, used to say this all the time: “Being good is not enough to get you into Heaven.” It's true. It's worth repeating:

“Being good is not enough to get you into Heaven.”

The book of the prophet Amos tells us that we need to act with justice and be mindful of those who do not have as much as we have (Amos 8:4-7).
That’s important, but it’s not enough.
St. Paul tells Timothy to pray for everyone, even for politicians (1 Timothy 2:1-8). I would say we have to pray about everything in our lives: our finances, our health, our education, our work, our charitable works. St. Paul says to be aware that God wants everyone to be saved. This is important, but I’d say still this isn’t enough. It’s not about how much you pray or how many Rosaries you said today.

It’s not about praying to God; it’s about your relationship with God.

How well do you know God? Not “about God” but do you know God? And do you let God know you? That’s what matters.
I don't want to make it sound like it's up to us to get to Heaven. Let me be clear that we get to Heaven because God wants us to get there and because Jesus Christ has already redeemed us. That's grace. But we have to cooperate with that grace. We have to say “yes” to Christ's redeeming act. We have to say “yes” to his desire to know us and have a relationship with us. We have to seek a relationship with Him.
It doesn’t matter if you sin; because you will. It doesn’t matter if you fail; because you will. Get back up. It doesn’t matter if you make mistakes; because you will. What matters is your relationship with God. Does He know you? That’s what’s important.

And if God is what’s most important, you can’t serve God and everything else at the same time.

One last story: Three years ago we covered a conference about one of the greatest spiritual thinkers of our time, Henri Nouwen (if you’re looking for really good and accessible spiritual reading, look up Henri Nouwen). At the conference I had the chance to speak with David Haas. (He's actually coming to Canada next month. There's a benefit concert for the Henri Nouwen Society on October 27.) You may recognize his name as he is one of the most popular liturgical composers of our time. (He wrote You Are MineBlest Are They, and many, many other hymns.)
At the conference, David was telling me that the big catch phrase after the Second Vatican Council about liturgy was that everyone should have a “full, active, and conscious participation in the liturgy”  (Sacrosanctum Concilium 14). When we go to Mass, we should all be fully, actively, and consciously participating in Mass. David said that people thought that meant they had to sing loud, that they had to say all the Mass responses loud. But that’s not what it’s about. He said that Henri Nouwen taught us that we have to live loud.

Everything we do is about God, and we should be passionate about everything we do.

(Like that guy at the beginning who was passionate about telling people about salvation.)
What are you passionate about? The environment? Healthy eating? Sports? Politics? Social Justice? The refugee crisis? God?
We need to be passionate about our relationship with God: about knowing, loving, and serving God.
God will do everything He can to save us. We need to say “yes” to that.
We need to be shrewd, smart, and single-minded about that!

Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching:

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