Monday, June 02, 2008

What does Gospel mean? What do we need to get to Heaven?

Hello Dear Readers....

It's been 10 months since my last entry... incredible but true... Ah, the life of a busy pastor and hospital chaplain....

A kind visitor sent me a few questions and I am taking the liberty to post them with my response, since both may be of interest to others....

It often happens that people who are doing as Jesus suggested in the Gospel, people who ask, seek, and knock on the door come to pastors when they are not finding what it is they desire to know or understand, or when they want to test their pastor to see what kind of reception or response they'll get.

At such times, a person may ask the kind of question that puts me back in the oral exam mode I experienced during my seminary time of formation which was, as the Rector put it, like being among the 12 apostles following the Lord around and learning from Him for a few years. This is something I don't mind at all but actually enjoy, since in a way it is a pure sort of reflection that is entirely focused on the truth, on goodness, justice, and goodness, which are all attributes of God.

Here are the recent questions I was glad to receive.

"I would like to know what "Gospel" means, and the importance of personally studying the Bible. Would you please comment on what is necessary for a person to go to heaven."

You will find a more precise answer in texts or from a theology professor, but I can tell you that I remember that our English word "Gospel" comes from the German and literally is our derivation of the expression "good news" in the Gospels reported coming from Jesus' own mouth when He said "The time is at hand. Repent and believe the good news."

Of course, the good news is what Jesus proclaims about God his Father and about our relationship with Him, about the salvation Jesus has been sent to offer humanity, and ultimately, the good news is someone, a divine Person, Jesus himself.

Hence the importance of reading, praying with, meditating, and studying the Bible. Without the Word of God there is no good news, no Church, no salvation, and humanity is back where we were before Christ came, for He is himself the living Word of the Father; as John so eloquently reports at the beginning of his Gospel.

When Jesus' work was complete, though the work He entrusted to his newborn Church had barely begun, he ascended and went back to the bosom of his Father, to be glorified again with the glory He enjoyed as the divine and eternal Son of God before He entered the veil that was his human flesh, which concealed as much as it revealed of his divinity and the abundant life the Father sent Him to offer fallen and lost humanity.

Heaven is that glorious place or presence of the Father, which John in his Revelation describes as centered around a glorious throne around which are gathered the multitudes of angels and saints in constant joyful adoration and praise. Every human being in his or her right mind would want to be there, but part of Jesus' mission was to bring us to understand that we can only bring good and love into God's presence. Impure intentions and sin cannot cohabitate with the Blessed Trinity, and even our soul will be embarrassed by any shred of remaining and unrepented sin and evil intentions when at the moment of death we find ourselves suddenly thrust in the glorious presence of God.

Well then, what is necessary for a person to go to heaven? Nothing less than to become like Jesus; so that the Father might recognize in us the reflection of his divine Son. How do we do that and get there? This is the matter about which most pastors bear the burden of preaching every Sunday. Every Christian is drawn to Jesus Christ as the gift of God for the life of the world, which is the theme of the International Eucharistic Congress being held this year in Quebec, Canada from June 15-22 in Quebec City. As each Christian comes to the Lord, then gradually, day by day, with great kindness and mercy but also with firmness and the discipline of true love, Jesus prunes us of all that is not worthy of Him and of Heaven. As John reports in chapter 15 of his Gospel, Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. Not only must we remain connected to Him at all times to have life, but we must also endure his pruning day by day.

I encourage you to continue searching for the truth, for Jesus himself, because the search is itself a grace, a work of the Holy Spirit within us, attracting us to Jesus, that He might have the joy of bringing us to his Father now and for all eternity.

If you haven't read it or it's been a long time, may I suggest Pope John Paul II's first encyclical letter Redemptor Hominis on Jesus, the one Redeemer of Humanity, and many others of his letters and writings, sermons and teachings. There is also the Catechism of the Catholic Church.