A mother and a daughter had a fight about something at the family Christmas gathering one year. Both were deeply hurt by the other and both vowed never to speak to each other again. As the years passed the reason for the fight faded but the hurt caused by it never did. Other family members tried to get the two to reconcile but both were to suborn to relent.
One day, out of the blue, the daughter got a phone call. Through tears her sister delivered the message that their mother had passed. For the moment the daughter felt a twinge of sadness but that was quickly replaced as the flames of hatred flared. The daughter refused to go to the funeral and avoided any contact with her family as they laid their mother to rest.
As the mother approached the gates of heaven she was met by Saint Peter.
“Welcome Martha,” Saint Peter said. “Unfortunately, I cannot let you in at this time.”
“What? Why not?” she asked worriedly.
“Only perfect love can enter into these gates,” he replied.
“But I love Jesus,” she exclaimed.
“You do but there is another that you have spite for in your heart.”
The mother thought for a moment. “You mean my daughter?” she asked with surprise.
“Yes,” he said. “That spite in your heart is a poison and you are not allowed in heaven with poison in your heart.”
“What can I do about that now? I am dead,” she said as she began to sob.
“All you can do is wait.”
“You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. “Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.” – Matthew 5: 21-24
Heaven is a place of perfect, sacrificial love. Nothing short of this perfect love is permitted in heaven. Even the angels who have lost this love were cast out of heaven. When we die the soul is separated from the body and heads to either heaven or hell based upon the particular judgment. If there is love for Jesus in your heart you are destined for heaven and if no love for Jesus can be found a fiery abyss awaits you.
So, you love Jesus. You have made an altar call and have recited the Sinner’s Prayer. Many cradle Catholics have no idea what that sentence means and many converts are shaking their heads in acknowledgement. You are all set. You are in like flint. When you approach the gates of heaven, however, you find them locked. What gives?
Quite simply, heaven is a place of perfect, sacrificial love. We don’t get to enter heaven the person we are on earth. None of us, no matter how good or holy we are, have that perfect love for everyone. This creates a dilemma for the non-Catholic Christian who only believes in heaven and hell. Does God just snap his fingers in a Thanos like fashion and make a person love perfectly? That would certainly go against free will. If he would do that at the moment of our death he certainly could do that during our time on earth. Oh what a beautiful place this could be if he did that for everyone. It would almost be like….heaven.
The problem is that love cannot be forced. It can only be accepted by free choice. So, for love to exist there has to be something other than love to choose from. These are all of the things we choose before we choose God. These are all of the things that separate us from God and each other. These other things are what control our lives. These are the things that become the true gods of our lives.
Catholicism teaches us about another place. This is a place where you go when you are destined for heaven but do not have the perfect love in your heart required to enter through the gates. This place is called purgatory. It is the place where the fire of God’s love purges away all that is not perfect within us. It is the place where we freely let go of the other gods that control our life. It is the place where we are made perfect so we can be in the presence of perfection itself.
One of the things that we have to let go of before entering heaven are our grudges against other people. You cannot have perfect love for someone if you are holding something against them. If grudges keep us out of heaven when we die it is to our own best interest to purge ourselves of them while we are still here on earth. This is why we are told to reconcile with our brother. Forgiveness becomes our greatest tool and strongest liberator. Hate is a poison that shackles us in slavery. Forgiveness is the key that unlocks our fetters.
If grudges are such a bad thing it is better to not let them develop to begin with. We live at a time where everyone seems to be offended by everything everyone else says or does. Taking offence to something is the first step to creating a grudge. If you do not allow yourself to be offended it becomes much harder to hold contempt for someone in your heart. Practice sacrificial love instead. Sacrificial love is willing the best for a person without any expectation of something in return. Think of Christ on the cross praying for those who were pounding the nails through his hands. Think of Saint Stephen praying for those who were hurling stones at his head.
When someone says something untruthfully terrible about you don’t be angered by it. Pray for them instead. When someone back stabs you, throws you under the bus, steals, lies, or does any sort of evil thing against you, forgive them. Pray for them. Love them.
The more we imitate the love of Christ, even imperfectly, in this world the easier he will be able to perfect that in us in the next.
Make 2019 the year where you fill your heart with love and make it impossible for anyone to offend you.