Foremost, at the head of this discussion is God. God is absolute and unwavering love. Despite all we have done or failed to do, He loves us. It sounds corny or cliche when you say it, but it is as a parent loves their kids when they are young. Is love from a good mother or father corny? I would hardly think anyone who had great parents could say so. This is much the same as the Eternal Father, in that God is the parent, with infinite reaches of knowledge concerning our decisions, thoughts, and actions. He sees through all that we do, while we can only link the basic and immediate consequences of those aspects of our lives. But at the time of judgment, I think the veil will be lifted, and we will get a glance at what God sees, all of our lives flashed for a moment in our minds. People really hate this idea. I think it is the main secret argument for atheism today. It isn’t that they think it so improbably God exists, people seek rebellion because they dislike being morally accountable to a being that does nothing tangible for them. But there is no way God can prove to them he exists without ruining the entire purpose of our lives – free will. Their worry is not invalid, because this is why heaven will be difficult for everyone who chooses to enter it. But the acceptance of God’s goodness and authority is key to understanding what heaven is. And despite the atheists’ worry, everyone will be invited to the Banquet. Their R.S.V.P. is the part that they might fail to address correctly…
There is no heaven with a little hell in it-
No plan to retain this or that of the devil in our hearts or our
pockets. Out Satan must go, every hair and feather.”
– George MacDonald
– Sheldon Vanauken, A Severe Mercy
In other words, since we are constantly but inexplicably baffled at the constraints that time puts on our lives, there must be some aspect of us that is not used to being in it – for the reason that we were created to be outside of it altogether. So though we live in time now, perhaps it is such that there is something missing for us while we are subjects of time’s rule…
– Clive Staples Lewis
Touching on this point, Terry Eagleton artfully wrote in one of my favorite quotes:
“…for Christian teaching, God’s love and forgiveness are ruthlessly unforgiving powers which break violently into our protective, self-rationalizing little sphere, smashing our sentimental illusions and turning our world brutally upside down. In Jesus, the law is revealed to be the law of love and mercy, and God not some Blakean Nobodaddy but a helpless, vulnerable animal. It is the flayed and bloody scapegoat of Calvary that is now the true signifier of the law…
Here, then, is your pie in the sky or opium of the people, your soft-eyed consolation and pale-cheeked piety. Here is the fantasy and escapism that the hard-headed secularist pragmatist finds so distasteful. Freud saw religion as the mitigation of the harshness of the human condition; but it would surely be at least as plausible to claim that what we call reality is a mitigation of the Gospel’s ruthless demands, which include such agreeable acts of escapism as being ready to lay down your life for a total stranger. Imitating Jesus means imitating his death as well as his life, since the two are not finally distinguishable. The death is the consummation of the life, the place where the ultimate meaning of Jesus’s self-giving is revealed.
…What is at stake here is not a prudently reformist project of pouring new wine into old bottles, but an avant-gardist epiphany of the absolutely new – of a regime so revolutionary as to surpass all image and utterance, a reign of justice and fellowship which for the Gospel writers is even now striking into this bankrupt, dépassé, washed-up world … The coming of the kingdom involves not a change of government, but a turbulent passage through death, nothingness, madness, loss and futility … signified among other things by Christ’s descent into hell after his death. There is no possiblity of a smooth evolution here. Given the twisted state of the world, self-fulfillment can ultimately come about only through complete self-divestment…”
I don’t know much more that this, and I find it hard to explain to others and reason to myself the importance of selflessness to the end we are meant to reach. But as the famous saying by Tertullian goes:
“How could I praise,
If such as I could understand?… I believe…because it is impossible.“
As I previously touched on, as Catholics we believe the invitation to heaven is extended to all. The heavenly banquet table is open to everyone who is ready to sit down with everyone. Anyone born on this earth is created equally on terms of ability to get to heaven. None have surer footing than others (more in-depth views on exclusivism, inclusivism, pluralism, can be found here, thanks to Daniel Lower).
Though maybe some may have genetic tendencies that lead toward greater goodness, selflessness, or whatever, life is about what we do with the time and life we are given. The line of goodness is not static, but is relative to the qualitative state we possess. It could be that for a murderer, goodness simply entails not killing another person. For another, serving at a homeless shelter 15 times this year would not be enough to constitute goodness. It is all relative and the scale of justice is personal, which is thus another reason that perhaps only we can be the judge to it. If this is the truth and we can simply get to heaven by being minimally good and choosing heaven during our final judgment, then why be more selfless than others? If all can get to heaven, why be a certain religion? Why am I Catholic? As Thomas Aquinas (I think) put it, when we reach heaven we all experience God in a private and individual way. Our time with God will be purely our own, subjective in every way. This rings true even in life, where our perceptions of the world are biased almost completely by our past, present, sensory perception, and mindset. The analogy he used for the personal different heavens is that of a container for God. We all experience God when we go to heaven, but the difference in heavenly experience between myself and Mother Teresa is great. Where I can only hold a teaspoon of God since the goodness I cultivated on earth was limited and I cannot comprehend a vaster amount of God, Mother Teresa can experience five gallons of God. Her life on earth and the goodness she pushed herself toward allows her a more full picture of God that many others would not understand. We can only be receptive to the amount of God or heaven that we have expanded ourselves to hold. Another analogy is that we are all built to experience a certain surface of God’s Heavenly Being. The more virtuous we are during our lives, the bigger of an area we are able to cover. So although many reach heaven, the reason that being a better person might pay off in the end is that there exists different states or levels to heaven. Even so, the experiential nature of heaven is somehow such that there is no jealousy or bitterness at the difference between personal heavens. I will not envy Mother Teresa, because my little bit of God that I have gleaned the ability to hold within myself is more than I could have imagined, in judging myself, that God would have given me. I formerly was not worth the ground of God which I now occupy, and now I feel like the most gifted individual in heaven. Our God is a generous God…
Therefore, I am Catholic because I believe that it is either the fastest way to heaven or the easiest way to expand the amount of God that I can receive when I reach the Kingdom. There are many paths up the mountain, and almost all of them reach the top. I simply believe mine to be the least obstructed.
Confused yet? I guess this sounds fragmented and a bit nuts when I write it out… Hmmm….
As Catholics, we believe that the body and spirit will be reunited on the last day. I have not yet reconciled what that could mean for us, but it is a doctrine worthy of hope and joy I believe. Maybe it means none of the above is correct. But if ‘body’ is not what we believe it to be in this life, perhaps it is a communal body like the one I have outlined…
Here is the basic structure of what I have written above: