I sometimes wonder about getting to heaven. I guess I would like a checkbox list of things I have to accomplish to get there. How “holy” does one have to be to get in?
Some people think that the gates of heaven are closed to us and we have to accomplish much to get them to open. There are several things incorrect about that approach. First, God wants all of us to be saved, to be in glory forever. Jesus died so that we could live eternally. So the gates of heaven are open to us by God’s design.
One might ask, “Then, don’t I have to earn heaven?” The answer is no, we do not earn heaven by our deeds in the human sense of winning a prize. Heaven is a gift of God’s grace freely given. Some people believe we can reach heaven solely by our human efforts. They somehow feel that they can bypass the need for God’s grace. That line of thought has been described as Pelagianism, which the Church has defined as incorrect—a heresy.
Then that raises the question of why be good? The good that we are clearly expected to do is our response to the covenant of the Commandments. That is the baseline of what is expected because of our relationship with God. In addition, because God’s grace has opened the gates of heaven to us, our lives should demonstrate our gratitude for what God’s grace has provided and what Jesus came to give us.
Entrance into heaven is related to that well-lived life of gratitude. If we are self-centered, ungrateful, and live as if God did not exist, how could we expect to be welcomed at the gate of heaven? But God is also both merciful and just. Only He can judge us.
“How holy do we have to be to get into heaven?” Some believe that “holy” means being perfect. But only God is perfect holiness. We need to understand that God rewards efforts, not just results. How often we work so hard for a goal yet do not attain it. God sees our efforts. He reads our hearts, is pleased and encourages us to continue to try.
I think the greatest part of the journey to heaven is having that constant goal in front of us. When I went into a parish church to celebrate my first Mass, I saw a small plaque that read, “Oh priest of God, celebrate this Mass as if it were your last.” It was a bit jarring to me because I was preparing to celebrate my first Mass! But the point hit home—what if this really was my last Mass? That is not what I had envisioned, but there are no guarantees.
We need to be prepared for heaven at every moment. We cannot live our lives as if we have all the time in the world to get it together. If heaven really is our goal, then we have to live lives of faithfulness and gratitude each day.
Photo credit: Dena Koenig Photography