Do All Catholics Go Straight to Heaven? | Mary Beth Bonacci | IgnatiusInsight.com
Do All Catholics Go Straight to Heaven? | Mary Beth Bonacci | IgnatiusInsight.com
Maybe it's not such a great idea to ignore the doctrine
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
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
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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