RE WE ALL GOING TO HEAVEN? That’s a bit of a sensitive question. But what’s the answer? Are we all going to heaven? Sometimes it seems like we just assume so. Is seems like, in some people’s minds, the only necessary qualification to be saved is to be “a basically good person.” But, is that what Jesus teaches? Is that what Catholics believe? I don’t think God wants us to live in perpetual fear of whether we’ll be saved or not. But neither do I think God wants us to live comfortably on the assumption that we’re going to be saved no matter what.
What does the Bible have to say about all this? The Book of Daniel deals with it a bit. In chapter 12, it speaks about the end of the world. There we read, “Some shall live forever; others shall be an everlasting horror and disgrace” (Daniel 12:2). That may sound severe, but it is the Word of God.
Everyone, I think, remembers the parable Jesus told about the sheep & the goats. It’s the story in which our Lord says that, at the end of time, folks will be split into two groups. He’s going to put the sheep on His right and the goats on His left. The sheep are welcomed into the joy of the Father in Heaven, and the goats are led to “eternal punishment” (Matthew 25:31-46). So, is it possible to go to hell? If we look just at Jesus’ own words, we see that the possibility is at least there. There is no automatic guarantee of our salvation.
In another part of the Scriptures, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you: unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.” The Church has always taught that Baptism is necessary for salvation. By our human birth, we are children of our parents; it’s only by the rebirth of Baptism that we become children of God. God, of course, is not bound by His own rules, but He has given us the Sacrament of Baptism as the gateway to eternal life. It’s that important.
So, again I ask, are we all going to heaven? What do the prayers of the Mass have to say about this? If you remember, about this time last year we started using the new translation of the Roman Missal. (Sometimes we still slip and say “And also with your Spirit”!) At the consecration of the Precious Blood, the priest used to say, “This is the cup of My Blood, the Blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all, so that sins may be forgiven.” Now what does the priest say? He says, “the Blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many.” So we changed “for all” to “for many.” In Latin, it says pro multis, “for many.”
Does that mean that Jesus didn’t die for all of us? No—the death and Resurrection of Jesus absolutely is meant for us all. What the change does mean is this: although Jesus paid the price for the salvation of all, we are free to reject His gift. It’s the same as if I bought tickets to the new Bond movie for everyone in my congregation. I could buy a few thousand tickets and hand them out, but no one would be obligated to show up. In the same way, through His Blood, Jesus has purchased the salvation of every person who ever lived, but we remain free to leave that Gift sitting on the shelf unused. Every time we hear those words of consecration, they should be a reminder to us that by our lives—what we say and what we do—we choose for ourselves whether we wish to be among the “many.”
In other parts of the Mass, we very often pray for the dead. If we were perfectly sure of our salvation, though, there would be no reason to bother praying for the dead or devoting the month of November to prayer for the Holy Souls in Purgatory. But we do. We have funeral Masses; we arrange to have Masses celebrated for deceased loved ones; and, in every Eucharistic Prayer, we pray for the dead. For example, in the Third Eucharistic Prayer, the priest says, “To our departed brothers and sisters and to all who were pleasing to You at their passing from this life, give kind admittance to Your Kingdom.” God is far more than the “Almighty Ticket-Taker.” He’s a loving, merciful, and faithful God. As we read in Psalm 16, He is our “inheritance.” But it’s nevertheless very clear from Sacred Scripture and from the prayers we pray at Mass that getting to heaven depends on having faith and living it out.
So, are we all going to heaven? I certainly hope so. But we should never dare to take our salvation for granted.