Josh Raymond began his segment of The Inner Life with a brief story from a little while ago. One day, after he had returned home from work, he was chatting with his wife. They were catching up on what had happened in each other’s days. After only a couple of minutes of conversation, a loud alarm began blaring from both of their phones. They looked down at their screens and saw that there was a weather warning: a tornado had touched down about 30 minutes south of them.
Thankfully, after tuning into the news, Josh learned that the tornado was heading west and would not be causing them any harm. But soon after, Josh realized that even though his phone had been turned to silent, that alarm had gone off anyway. It had ignored that do not disturb barrier to let him know something urgent. A natural disaster is nearby, and you may be in danger! How nice would it be if alarms like that would go off for other things in our lives?
Don’t eat that chicken! It’s spoiled! Don’t buy that car! It’s a lemon! Or how about: Don’t give in to temptation! That sin will condemn you to hell! What if there was an alarm for our spiritual life and moral compass?
Josh welcomed Father Carter Griffin onto the show to talk about the afterlife, modern misconceptions about heaven, and the warning signs if we don’t strive for perfection.
Father Carter began by explaining that these concepts are not easy to understand because of our incomplete knowledge of them, and also because they do not even share the same plane of existence as us. They are outside of time and space. However, from the very warnings referenced by Jesus in scripture, we know that they are “places” in the sense that they are not “here”, and we will experience things not possible on earth.
Unfortunately, we’ve entered (or reentered) this type of era where much of society is failing to grasp two key concepts of the divine: God’s omnipotence and the gravity of sin. When these ideas fall out of favor with the masses, a high standard of morals is impossible to maintain. They don’t respect God as creator, designer, and grand arbiter of this universe, so there is less of an incentive to obey Him. And that leads to a lack of responsibility for one’s actions. Apathy and laziness usurp our desire for perfection, and we think, “As long as I’m a pretty good person, I’ll get into heaven.” And that’s if a person believes in the afterlife at all!
“Jesus is very clear about the fact that there will be an actual judgment and it’s not just a discussion,” laughed Father Carter. “You know, the sheep and the goats. He says it over and over again in different ways, that there will be a reckoning when we die.” While we should take that judgment seriously, we can’t let the pendulum swing too far to the other side either. We shouldn’t view God as an executioner, deciding our fate with an iron fist. God does not let anyone into heaven reluctantly. While He is omnipotent, He is also eternally loving and merciful.
Father Carter compared the requirements to enter heaven to the requirements to play on a professional sports team. It wouldn’t be fair to you if they simply let you onto the team because you wanted it and you weren’t capable of playing the game exceptionally well. In a similar sense, “Is this a soul who is capable of heaven?” John Henry Newman once said, “To the irreligious person heaven would be hell.” On earth, we can condition ourselves not only to enter heaven but to fully realize what it is we are striving for. If anyone impure were to enter heaven, it would feel like torture for them.
So, to ensure that we are ready, God has given us options to purify our imperfect selves. Besides the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we are also asked to cleanse our souls of residual sin through mortification and sacrifice. But in case we have not completely been cleansed by the time we die, we are subject to temporal punishment in purgatory. That way, we may enter heaven and experience the unimaginable joy that it has to offer.
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