Grace to you!
I was at a funeral. The church was packed and overflowing. The music was nothing short of the beautiful chords and chants that could edify any soul. Amidst the tears and sorrows of the family and friends of the deceased, the support system displayed by the consoling crowd was refreshing.
Then came the time for the homily. The priest preached like an orator. Erudite and engaging. He was passionate and seemed to have a lot of credibility regarding his personal knowledge of the family of the deceased and the challenges associated with the moment of death.
I noticed that throughout the 8-minute homily, he crowned the dead person a saint. He spoke with assurance that he is in heaven. He used such emphatic certainty to console the family and friends gathered in the beautiful church.
After the homily, which by the way was received with a standing ovation, I noticed something else. I found that the rest of the prayers regarding the dead person at the Eucharistic Celebration were all a petition to God for the forgiveness of his sins and his justification. They were also for the living regarding the need to live righteously, a reminder that someday we all will die also.
One of the most emotional times during the funeral Mass was toward the end, when the priest invited the people to join him as he commended the dead to the Lord, what in our Catholic tradition we call final commendation. It was not a prayer of thanksgiving because of the death of the “claimed saint” as the preacher had made him to be. It was an intercession in hope for God to justify him and give him the grace of heaven.
From the background of communication—which I teach in the university—this is complete opposite of what the homilist preached. The preacher had given double, conflicting signals. In fact, his main thesis was a big fallacy. One cannot say that someone is already in heaven and at the same time be praying that he goes to heaven. Fallacious. Self-contradiction. Isn’t it?
The issue for our prayerful reflection today as we meditate on the blessings of Advent is: Does everybody go to heaven, as many claim? Does ‘reasonable hope that all be saved’ (cf. 1 Tim 2:4), mean that all are saved? How do I receive the gift of heaven? Though this is a complex theological question, I would like to highlight one key idea drawn from our church reading of today. My thought here is shaped by our Catholic magisterial position.
Let’s see what the Gospel of Mathew (today’s gospel reading in our Catholic liturgy) writes regarding the Lord’s teaching on this matter. Jesus said to the disciples:“Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,'will enter the Kingdom of heaven,but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Mt 7: 21).
The Lord is direct about his teaching as to heaven’s candidates. They are those who profess him as Lord, as well as do the will of God. That is what the Church calls faith working through charity (see Gal 5:6). St. James speaks of it like this: “Show me your faith and I will show you mine through my works” (Jas 2:18).
Heaven is God’s gift. God offers it to those willing to accept the offer and walk with the Lord. God will not do such a thing as to force anyone, even those who do not believe that heaven is for real, into heaven. That doesn’t sound like true mercy, not to talk of justice.
Do you want to go to heaven—and I tell you heaven is for real and hell is for real? Believe in the Christ, profess him as Lord and Savior, and do God’s will. That is, have faith in God and obey the Lord. Heaven is a gift. We receive this gift through faith lived in charity.
Praying for the grace of a happy death. Amen.
God love you. God bless you
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Thursday Advent Week 1: 2015: Is 26:1-6; Matt. 7:21, 24-27]