HOMILY ADVENT WEEK 3 Extended Version
[Opening of Mass Comment on Heaven and Hell]. Is Heaven real? Is Hell real? Are these choices for people to make? Or does everyone just get a nice afterlife? Let’s put some definitions and clarifications down on the subject.
Heaven is the fulfilled experience of A/ to become alive into a reconciled friendship with God and then B/ been called Home to the Father Who Loves us. It is so much the Home and Peace of the Prodigal Son story in the Bible (Luke 15). Heaven is the Gift of having forever to enjoy the company of God intimately, and to share of His kingdom and creation and people. Hell, on the other hand, is to be denied all of that, by a recognizable choice one made to oppose God, and thus, by one’s own choice, to stand convicted and sent forth forever to this oblivion, to a separated place from God, because the chooser would not respect God but longed to stay in that distant state. Heaven and Hell are divided experiences. They ARE real. They are chosen by us.
In the Four Last Things, the final two on the list are Heaven and Hell. We’ll look at them today.
3rd Sunday of Advent Scripture Excerpts
“The desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom. They will bloom with abundant flowers, and rejoice..”
(cf. Is 35:4) Lord, come and save us. (Response)
The LORD God keeps faith forever, secures justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry.
The LORD sets captives free. The LORD raises up those who were bowed down.
The LORD loves the just; but the way of the wicked he thwarts. The LORD shall reign forever.
Matthew 11, of John the Baptist.
Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way.
Our Advent Third Sunday Gospel and Opening Word says: Rejoice, there is a Way to Heaven, and it can be found. The Rose colors about us today are of the joyful happiness of salvation over God’s Amazing Grace to save the sinner. Let us rejoice in it, for The Lord is faithful and reliable, and, as He loves the just, He has plans to raises them up to Himself—to Heaven. The lead-off Isaiah passage compares Heaven to a desert oasis or of a blooming desert. We go from a desert experience of this life on earth to a paradise, that is, if we can embrace God and His kingdom in us. Heaven starts within the heart and our acceptance and seeking of conformity to what is a God-centeredness of living. God is the oasis found on the journey.
The Bible and the Church’s teaching from Our Lord tells us a lot about heaven and hell. Some people have alright understandings of Heaven, yet some have their very off –ideas about it.
What isn’t true about heaven? Heaven isn’t here on earth. We have many reminders about us of how this world is subject to sin and death, and presently suffering much of its brokenness with God. And yet, Heaven IS in the hidden life, as God comes in a secret kingdom of the heart, established by Christ Jesus, to live in us, and by Christ and His Spirit to lead us to become children of God. We are called to a repaired, new relationship with God. One can say that Heaven IS seeded in us. Jesus said: “The Kingdom of God is with in you.” Yet there is a Glory beyond awaiting, and Saints and Angels call us to hear their singing from that Beyond. There is a Highway to the Beyond with Good News signs pointing the way.
Heaven isn’t for everyone. Some people won’t be there ahead. It may sound harsh and exclusive, but it’s the truth. We’ll get to this point later. Heaven isn’t just some cute and ethereal place. Those Precious Moments angel figurines are cute, and Michelangelo’s cherubs on the Sistine Chapel ceiling are cute, too, as I saw last October for myself, but Heaven will not look as simply cute. Nor will heaven look like what we see in cartoons or movies, where we float on clouds and God is Morgan Freeman. Heaven isn’t a state of mind or a mindless state. In some forms of Eastern thought, people aspire to be liberated from cravings, anger, and afflictive states to some state where there is nothing and where nothingness is bliss. However, Heaven is not a nirvana. Heaven is really, really something. Heaven is centered on the very personal and fulfilling Holy Trinity. The nothing to rejoice about in Heaven is that there’s no sin, no sickness, nor pain, nor loneliness, nor death. Just a lot of fulfillment and Something!
Similarly, let’s shed some extra baggage on hell: Hell isn’t funny. Comic writers and comedians can get a laugh on depictions about heaven or hell, as in a cartoon on how all bad umpires and referees and the cheating sports figures are on the same field in Hades—yeah, it can get a chuckle, but the real place is not funny. No one will ever laugh in hell. Hell isn’t a bearable annoyance. Often we are led to think that hell is just a bad hair day stretched out for a long time. Or something like this crosses our mind: My life is hell. Life can be difficult, but this life is not what the Bible describes as hell. Hell isn’t just for Hitler and those mass shooters of students and maybe for just a few more really bad folks. The volume of goers to Hell will be so large, that I imagine Hell begins with the worst traffic jam of eternity going in. Jesus said: “For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it” (Matthew 7:13). It will be a multi-lane traffic jam for a million years getting in, with nothing by misery and rage with those roadsters.
Today our readings and prayers and songs rejoice that we believers can be spared that ignominious departure from this life and world. Salvation is ours in Jesus Christ!
Today in the bulletin I give you a page of info about Heaven, and a page about Hell. They both are real and final places. Read what is written there for you. Heaven is for those who revere God and desire union with God, and for peace and concord with all. Selfish ambitions are put aside; unity happens there. God can be trusted. His kingdom will be fair and good. Heavenward people choose His kingdom now by making their living as to be one under such a reign (a kingdom come in Christ Jesus). We are getting started here in following God, and keeping God is our first priority, as we daily pray for Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done of earth, as it is in Heaven. We practice for heaven right now on earth. These people (who seek such a life and live by it) are called the “blessed” in the Scriptures, and there are two particular places in the Bible about that. The first is the Beatitudes and the second place is the Psalm One. Jesus speaks of people exercising or practicing a life in harmony with Heaven’s reign, and He names them as “blessed.” Blessed Poor in Spirit People. Blessed Peacemakers. Blessed Pure Ones of Heart. Blessed Hungry Ones for Righteousness. Etcetera. At our Penance Service last Monday night, our Examination of Conscience was done with a survey of the Eight Beatitudes in mind. We asked ourselves: Are we living by them or in them? As a “blessed?”
Psalm One also speaks of a blessed path taken to God making their sojourners the Blessed ones. It starts all the Psalms off with the vivid description of the two paths to choose to take in life. Life or Death. Good or Bad. Like Jeremiah’s similar image in another book, God speaks to life’s traveler to use the sacred path, the less traveled one, the humble one. God invites each person into decisive steps taken to go towards Him, towards the Light and to Truth. The Psalm begins with this: “Beatus vir…” Blessed is the man…. who delights in God’s ways…night and day…Who is like a tree planted by the water, with leaves ever green who yields life and fruit in due season by God…” The Contact and Communication of God in our lives is the stream. Are we keeping close enough to it? You will know the right path to take by its fruitfulness in leading you to be a servant of God. So, there are two roads to take, one to Heaven, one to Hell.
It would be important here, in this point in the homily, to address the fact how there are liars around, with false teachers and folks of false doctrine abounding, who espouse “universalism.” These are those who say that there is such a thing as everybody going to Heaven, in that, nothing much matters now. One can do whatever they want. Anything goes, since everyone goes to Heaven. Or that it’s all pre-determined anyway. This is the very false doctrine of universalism. Or it is a lost off shoot of Calvinism of the Protestant break from the Mother Church. The universalist believes the heresy that every human being whom God has created or will create will finally come to enjoy the everlasting salvation into which believers enter the here and now.” It is a nasty distortion of the truth. Universalism negates the very reason for the Coming of The Lord God Incarnate in Jesus Christ, and for Christmas, and it denies Jesus as a Savior, with a Cross of Saving Work in this Redeemer, in which a sinner needs to repent and believe upon The Lord and live in Him obediently. We Catholics know, though, that it’s a free choice for the Glory or for the gory. For Heaven or for Hell. So we Catholics do strive forward. St. Josemaria Escriva says that it’s always a striving or pushing onward, or forward in faith—for the true believer, and Heaven’s the destination of that road.
Jesus Christ did not teach that everybody will make it to Heaven. But He did say to “Strive to enter in at the straight gate, for many I say unto you will seek to enter in and shall not be able.” Jesus went on to say in Luke 13, “You shall see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the Kingdom of God and you yourselves thrust out.” This tells us that there will be people who do not make it to Heaven.” And, in John 7 and 8, Jesus is getting ready to depart to Heaven and He’s talking to the Pharisees, stating: “Yet a little while I am with you and then I go unto Him that sent me. You shall seek me and shall not find me and where I am, you cannot come… I go my way and you shall seek me and shall die in your sins. Where I go, you cannot come.” Hebrews 3:11 and 19 says of God’s decisions for Heaven and Hell, for such people displeasing to Him, “So I swear in my wrath they shall not enter into my rest.” They could not enter into heaven because of unbelief. That’s the point: Some people are not going to make it into Heaven. By their own free choice, too.
We don’t like to emphasize Hell in our homilies, but the existence of it, as a good deterrent to our sinning, ought to be preached about now and then. Jesus and His New Testament reads out lists of people who would not inherit the Kingdom of God, or people knocking on His door later that He would “not know nor recognize,” and He taught of people He will see separated away for good (like the rich, haughty man of the Poor Lazarus parable), and of whom will not be given an extra chance. Choices are made in life here. God will allow us our choices to follow for eternity. As John the apostle writes in Revelations, there will be a Book of Names of the elect, and those not on it will go to a “lake of fire” (Rev. 20:15). So, some are not in the Book. Of course, others are. There are Heaven listed people, and Hell listed people. 2 Thessalonians 1:9 says, “Those who obey not the Gospel shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of The Lord.” Is this right? Of course it is. God will not allow rebellion and hate and such to be in His kingdom; it was only permitted to be that of our choice in this separated realm, and one that can be an eternal separation for some.
Social sins seemed to bother Jesus a lot in what His people on earth are doing, or better said, not doing. In Matthew 25’s teaching says that the socially just will get their reward for helping the hungry, the thirsty, the homeless, the outcast, and such, and such loving help or works inspired by faith will lead them to everlasting life. The same Gospel also points out in it that Jesus also had words of rejection to some others, who cared not at all for the same needs, with His saying “depart from me, ye cursed in everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels….into everlasting punishment.”
Heaven or Hell: What do you want? In John 3:36, the passage has Jesus saying, “He that believes in the Son has everlasting life, but he that believes not on the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” Then Jesus said in John 6:40, “And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life.”
In a short conclusion from these two verses: One must believe on the Son of God, or have pleased Him in some way for His favor, to have everlasting life. Do you believe?
The choice for Heaven or Hell is right there in our own path and of what one clear path we’ll take. The bad one is taken in stages. Psalm One says we first falter if we walk along with sin, then we will get worse when we stand upon sin and live defiantly in self as a foundation, and lastly we go to the scoffer stage when we go sitting down in the dredges and muddy filth and stench of sin, sitting down as if friends with the dark, and now even scoffing at those who seek to live justly, innocently, obediently to God. Sitters and squatters in level three of sin dare even scoff at the people seeking the Lord and His Truth, thinking them as idiots, and surely that those idiots are not enjoying life like as much as they think they are doing. They have vile, awful hateful things to say, often in blame and accuse mode. They act high and mighty, like they own the truth, when all along, it is a ruse of their pretend power, because God (and some people quite close to God) does see right through it as evil. Ah, misery loves its company.
But The Blessed Man is the happy man, says the Word of God, and he does delight in the Lord, and does not in darkness nor of sin. The Beatitudes word and the Psalm One word for blessed means “happy.” Happiness is union with God. The full union with God is the Bliss of Heaven. The Beatific Vision, or looking upon God face to face, to come in the Glory, will be so ecstatic, in every moment of forever, that it will be the greatest healing. To be in Love, God’s love, forever. Heaven is to be with God.
To be opposing God, is to remain in darkness, and to have the devil as your father, as Jesus once put it. It sounds like a Star Wars movie moment, and perhaps the film series draws some interesting story lines of the war between Light and Dark, Good and Evil. Yet the movie is just a movie and Darth Vader is made up, but perhaps the character still captures film goers attention because it might remain people that a Reality does exist of God and Good versus evil, and we are always in the battle of it, with the stakes high, in Heaven or Hell in the end.
May the Spirit be with you. May the Lord Jesus be with you. May God Almighty lead you home.
“Beatus vir…” Blessed is the man…. who delights in God’s ways.” with the “guadete” spirit, the rejoicing heart, for God to have His reign in us, freely, forever. :