Friday, May 25, 2012

Why Talk About Heaven And Hell?

I was listening to some excerpts from the Light of the World from Pope Benedict. He talked a bit about being concerned that there was much less eschatological preaching than there used to be. That is preaching about heaven and hell. We preach about how Jesus is important for our personal lives, for our families, for our society, etc. Somehow the importance of Jesus for our eternal salvation is much less emphasized.

The same came across when I was reading The Fulfillment of All Desire. Ralph Martin goes through some of the wisdom from important mystical saints on how to have a close relationship with God. The first point he made was the foundation of what he called a biblical worldview. Just really internalizing the central truths of the faith. Heaven and hell were right at the top of the list. All these doctors of the church thought this was an essential foundation that needed to be in place before we could build any kind of intimacy with God.

Think about Peter's reaction in John 6. They are having trouble with Jesus' teaching on the Eucharist. Many have already left. Jesus asks if they will leave too. What does Peter say? "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life(Jn 6:68)." He does not say you are my key to self improvement. He does not say you are going to teach us how to build a better society.   Jesus is those things for sure but you might imagine other answers to those questions. When talking about temporal matters the Christian answer is always going to be one answer among many. When it comes to the question of eternal life things are different. Where else do we go?

When we focus on temporal matters we have a danger of thinking we have learned all we can learn from the faith. We move on to thinkers that seem to have fresher ideas. After a while mass seems boring as the teaching gets repetitive. Often people raised with this kind of teaching end up thinking like a Catholic in many respects but not regularly celebrating Eucharist and Confession. 

This struck me when listening to a Matthew Kelly CD. He is a great speaker. His favorite line is "becoming the best version of yourself." Very much a self-help spirituality. He makes great claims about the genius of Catholicism. They are true. But he says we have to find ways to make more people realize how brilliant Catholicism is. You will always struggle with that. You make the church one more self-help plan among many. It is the best one but it is also the worst one. Why? That pesky cross. When somebody is thinking self-help they are not going to embrace the idea of taking up your cross and following Jesus. Sure there is resurrection and victory on the other side. You just have to have faith. 

When you are talking about finite benefits it is hard to sell the fact that you can't put any limits on what it might cost you. When you talk about eternity in heaven versus eternity in hell then it makes sense to make your commitment to Jesus and His church absolute and unconditional. That is what we have to get to. Sure you can sweet talk people into taking one small step towards God and it can lead to more steps. There are stories like that. But if Catholicism is true then the only response that makes sense is a total and unconditional Yes. So why not preach that truth and ask for that Yes? 

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