Do All Catholics Go Straight to Heaven? | Mary Beth Bonacci | IgnatiusInsight.com
Maybe it's not such a great idea to ignore the doctrine of Purgatory.
I have really good news.
There is a certain parish in my community that held 80 funerals last year. And every single one of those people went straight to heaven. Every single one.
I know it must be true, because the deacon announced it during his All Souls Day homily. And he didn't just say it once. No, he repeated it several times, in several different ways. He said that every one of them was a saint. He said that their loved ones could take comfort from knowing that they are all presently in heaven. What's more, apparently they will all see their loved ones again upon their own deaths, when they too will undoubtedly enter Heaven. He went on and on about it. It was the entire point of his homily.
One of my biggest pet peeves is funerals where the mourners are all assured that the deceased has arrived in heaven. Listening to a homily where 80 of our dearly departed were instantly canonized was nearly enough to make my head explode.
I'm not mentioning this guy's name because I really have no interest in embarrassing him. I really do think that he meant well. The families of those 80 people were present at this Mass. They're obviously still dealing with the various stages of grief, and he wanted to comfort them. I admire his intention.
I just don't think that, for a Catholic deacon, standing up in front of an entire church and announcing with certainty that 80 specific people have passed their Final Judgment and are present in Heaven is the best way to go about it.
"What's the harm?" you ask. "He was just trying to make those people feel better. And maybe their loved ones did go to heaven."
Maybe they did. I certainly hope they did. But nevertheless, what he did does harm on several levels. First, it is highly unlikely that this deacon knew all – or even most – of these 80 people. In announcing that they all went to Heaven, and that everybody in the church that morning would undoubtedly be joining them some day, what he essentially said is that everybody goes to Heaven. Or that everybody who attends All Souls Day Mass goes to Heaven. Or everybody who is buried from a Catholic Church goes to Heaven. Any way you slice it, it doesn't exactly jibe with the message of Christ or the teachings of His Church.
Look, I want more than anything in the world for everybody on earth to save their souls. I've devoted the majority of my adult life to doing what I can to facilitate that. And more importantly, God wants every soul to be saved. He loves us each madly, passionately and individually. It is His overwhelming desire to spent eternity with us in the Heavenly feast.
But He leaves the choice up to us. He doesn't force His love – or His eternal happiness – upon us. Christ was clear that eternal salvation is tied to our actions in this life. We choose whether we are going to follow Him or not. We choose whether or not we will live lives of love. Salvation is not automatic. Christ Himself told us that the road to salvation is narrow. It isn't easy.
We know that God gave us the Church as His instrument of salvation in the world. We also know that God is perfect justice and perfect mercy. But we don't see through His eyes. We aren't equipped to say who's going to heaven and who isn't. Even the Church herself, when canonizing a very holy person, goes through a long exhaustive process of examining that person's life, and actually awaiting miracles as a sign from God that this very holy person is actually in His presence.
Deacons giving homilies aren't authorized to shortcut that process.
My other objection to the instant canonization of the deceased is that it completely ignores the reality we know as Purgatory. We as Catholics believe that nothing unclean enters Heaven. And, as diligently as we tried to cooperate with the grace of Christ in this life, most of us get that we are human, that we didn't love as perfectly as we could or should have, and that we retain flaws and selfish clingings that have no place in the perfection of the Heavenly Kingdom. Purgatory, we believe, is a state of purification that prepares us for Heaven.
Quite frankly, I'm pretty sure that, at the very least, I'll be due for quite a bit of purgatorial time myself. Not because I live any kind of secret, sinful life (I don't), but because I'm subject to the same petty sinful tendencies that have dogged humanity since the fall of Adam and Eve.
We also believe that our prayers can assist the souls in purgatory and hasten their journey to Heaven. The book of Maccabees says "it is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from their sins." (2 Maccabees 12:46) What would be the point of praying for the dead if there were no purgatory, no temporal state that can be influenced by our prayers? The souls in Heaven could have no need of our prayers, and any soul condemned to Hell would have no use for our prayers. Our prayers are for those who are still on the journey.
It used to be a common practice among Catholics to pray for the souls in Purgatory. But, thanks largely to well-meaning clergy who instantly canonize the deceased at their funerals, that practice has all but disappeared. Why bother praying for a loved one when a man in a collar has already assured you that he or she is in Heaven? I find it very, very sad that so few people pray for the souls of the departed any more. And I think that those of us fortunate enough to reach Purgatory ourselves will be very disappointed to find that we are forgotten by the "comforted" on earth who have already been assured that we have no need of their prayers.
I wrote a column for Envoy magazine years ago, laying out the instructions for my own funeral. Well, really just one instruction. If anyone, at any time during the proceedings, stands up and announces that I have reached my heavenly destination, I want that person immediately removed from the premises.
The point of All Souls Day is supposed to be to remind us to pray for the dead, not to reassure us that they have no need of our prayers.
This article originally appeared, in a slightly different form, on RealLove.net on December 10, 2007.
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Mary Beth Bonacci is internationally known for her talks and writings about love, chastity, and sexuality. Since 1986 she has spoken to tens of thousands of young people, including 75,000 people in 1993 at World Youth Day in Denver, Colorado. She appears frequently on radio and television programs, including several appearances on MTV.
Mary Beth has written two books, We're on a Mission from God and Real Love, and also writes a regular, syndicated column for various publications. She has developed numerous videos, including her brand-newest video series, also entitled Real Love. Her video Sex and Love: What's a Teenager to Do? was awarded the 1996 Crown Award for Best Youth Curriculum.
Mary Beth holds a bachelor's degree in Organizational Communication from the University of San Francisco, and a master's degree in Theology of Marriage and Family from the John Paul II Institute at Lateran University. She was also awarded an honorary doctorate in Communications from the Franciscan University of Steubenville, and is listed in Outstanding Young Women of America for 1997. Her apostolate, Real Love Incorporated is dedicated to presenting the truth about the Church's teaching about sexuality, chastity, and marriage.
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