Notre Dame Basilica Montreal

Are You Going to Heaven?

by Father Brian J. Soliven on Sunday June 9, 2024

Imagine this scenario: a stranger walks up to you on the street and asks, “If you were to die today, how do you know if you will go to Heaven?” It’s a thought provoking question. Oftentimes, if you’ve gone through our parish baptism classes for parents and godparents of the child, I immediately begin with that question. It’s meant to peak one's curiosity and wonder about the bigger picture of the meaning of life. If I were to die today, how do I know I would go to Heaven? It’s another way of asking, how am I saved? The most common answer I get after over a decade of ministry as a priest, in all the parishes I’ve had the honor of serving, is this: I am going to Heaven because I am a good person. 

This answer is a fantastic start; it provides an opportunity to take a deeper step into another fascinating question, how do we know what is good? Who determines what is right or what is wrong? Who defines the terms? In 2005, then Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, on the eve of the election that would eventually elect him pope, gave a famous homily to the other cardinals gathered from all over the world dealing with this foundational question. He said, We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires.” In other words, we live in a culture that has lost a sense of any objective truth. In fact, to speak of truth, is to be labeled a fanatic or a fundamentalist. This modern ethos can be summed up with the famous quip, “What is true for you, is not true for me.” Who defines what is the meaning of “good?” I do. 

This tendency of ours to be the definers of truth is actually biblically ancient. The first reading we heard at Mass today points to where all of this mess happens, God scolds Adam, “You have eaten, then, from the tree of which I had forbidden you to eat!”(Cf. Genesis 3:11). This tree is described in the previous verses of the same chapter, “For God knows that on the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will become like God, knowing good and evil.” After this Original Sin, man removes God as the standard of objective and moral truth and replaces it with himself. Human history has been limping on ever since. 

Cardinal Josef Ratzinger would remind us in the same homily of the Christian response to humanity’s death spiral: “We, however, have a different goal: the Son of God, the true man. He is the measure of true humanism. An "adult" faith is not a faith that follows the trends of fashion and the latest novelty; a mature adult faith is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ. It is this friendship that opens us up to all that is good and gives us a criterion by which to distinguish the true from the false, and deception from truth.” Now let us return to the initial question I began our reflection, “If you were to die today, how do you know if you will go to Heaven?” The only correct answer is Jesus Christ. His blood has paid the price for my sins. Now my life must be lived in humble obedience to his definition of what it means to be good.