Getting into Heaven is not HIM/HER or ME… it’s US or nobody
From today’s Readings, the first thought that jumped into my little brain was: we cannot enter Heaven alone; God will be asking: “where is your brother/ sister?” So, we are being reminded to look out for our brothers/ sisters, and be loyal to their welfare.
I remember a nice story of loyalty: a man and dog died in an accident, and the man found himself on a cloud at a large beautiful and impressive gate with a sign: “HEAVEN”. The guard checked his name and said he is welcome, but the dog can’t enter. The man said he would only enter if his dog could stay with him. They saw something in the distance and walked that way. When they arrived, there was also a beautiful gate with a sign: “HEAVEN.” The man gave his name and asked the guard about the other place. The guard replied that it was really HELL, and a test of loyalty for those who wish to enter Heaven. The guard then welcomed both the man and his dog into Heaven. (This is recalled from memory, but when I searched, it seems it may be adapted from a great Hindu epic Mahabharata: King Yudhisthira and His Dog. https://www.mahabharataonline.com/stories/mahabharata_character.php?id=59)
I love the opening words of St Paul: “Avoid getting into debt, except the debt of mutual love.” This debt of mutual love is a description of our friendship with other people:
sometimes we are giving, sometimes we receive.
When young, and especially when we don’t have much, the times we help our friends/family, are like seeds planted in a field that create a future harvest of love from our family/ friends.
The easiest example to give is that of mums and dads: think of the sacrifices they make for us as children. As we grow older we more deeply appreciate the sacrifices. Healthy people have a desire to “love them back” as they grow into old age.
Tragically, some people do not experience the normal pattern of love and discipline a child has the right to expect. Sadly, for those parents, they subsequently lose the love and care they expect in older age. But all is not lost!
Today’s readings teach us how to attempt reconciliation in our communities and families. It’s often a tough road to walk, but the rewards are so important and joyful when successful: for the immediate people involved AND the whole family/ community.
For that reason, we are encouraged to take the hard road to reconciliation – because it’s also the path to salvation for ourselves. Fr Henri Nouwen, reflecting on God Is Mercy, wrote this:
The older we become, the more we realize how limited we are in our ability to love, how impure our hearts, and how complex our motivations are. And there is a real temptation to want to look inside of ourselves and clean it all out, & become people with a pure heart, unstained intention, & unconditional love. Such an attempt is doomed to failure & leads us to ever greater despair.
Why? Because we find it hard to change and start focusing too much on ourselves. Fr Henri recommends we look at the pure heart of Christ. As we focus on doing actions that imitate Christ we slowly, but naturally, become transformed as we recognise that we also need mercy.
The technique communicated to us through the Good News today reminds us of the need to:
1. Respect the dignity of the “naughty” person, by first talking to them alone;
2. To be gradual in our approach: one, then two or three, and only later the community;
3. The final step is not abandonment for ever (tax collectors),
but using isolation as a way to help them “grow up” and come to their senses;
It’s much easier to walk away at the beginning and forget that person. However, depending on who we are and who the “naughty” person is, it is dangerous to let bad actions go unchallenged. The rest of the community can suffer, and we can suffer, later. This is particularly vital during training/ formation: when issues are not addressed as they happen, the person assumes that their negative behaviour is acceptable.
It then becomes very difficult for them, later on, to believe that they are in the wrong. In that case, they can rightly say that the trainer did them an injustice by failing to correct them. We are all responsible, in our own ways, as a demonstration of love (=tough love), to correct those under our authority, and even those on our own level.
Finally, in the Gospel, Jesus promises that “…if two of you on earth agree to ask anything at all, it will be granted to you…” I encourage us not to take this out of context: it is connected to the preceding dialogue on “correcting our neighbour,” and encourages us to pray together for our brother/ sister to change their ways.
Let that be our prayer, moving us to gentle action.
By Gerard Conlan, OMI