No room in Heaven for Bitterness: we ascend to Heaven on Earth as we help others find peace and love and reconcile
Today’s Readings challenge us to consider the important role each of us has to get others into Heaven; we cannot enter Heaven alone: God is asking: “where is your brother/ sister?” Think of it like helping another student with a mathematics problem: as we help them, we also reinforce in ourselves the very same teaching.
The whole basis of the Christian life – that is: what helps us find God (find true love and peace) – is precisely our care and concern for others in ‘difficulty’. Existentially, we worry about “will I get into Heaven when we die?” but God wants us to enter Heaven before our death.
So, let me ask you: “have you found Heaven yet?” We cannot find Heaven on earth through pleasure: pleasant though they are at the time (sex, drugs and rock’n’roll), we never find meaning in them, precisely because it’s all about “my pleasure”.
The evidence is in: so many young people in wealthy countries have the sex, drugs and rock’n’roll PLUS an iPhone (ha, ha), but this same age group have the highest rate of suicide in the world. Without loyalty to others, and making sacrifices for their well-being, we will never enter Heaven this side of death, and struggle to choose Heaven on the other side of death.
I remember a great 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: the sign said ‘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: the sign said ‘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.” In the time of St Paul, there was a strong cultural demand that meant you should return a favour if one was granted to you.
Here Paul is encouraging us to only become obligated in actions of love to help others, and not become trapped in obligations of corruption and material excess. In this way we become slaves only to those things to help others and strengthen our community.
This is significantly different from the many situations we see in Kenya where Politicians are forever paying back those who supported them to get into power, to the extent they become limited in what they can do for the community and become involved in corruption.
Even for ordinary people, it is not uncommon to hear of people getting a job and having to pay the person above them an amount every month, or else they will lose their job: equals slavery.
So, let us be on guard and know the trap we enter when we become partners in selfish things to enrich ourselves in money or short term pleasures. Many of us know the way drug pushers recruit new users: they give the boy or girl free ‘samples’ so they become addicted.
While still young, and especially when we don’t have much, the times we help our friends are like seeds planted in a field that create a future harvest of love from our family/ friends.
As we reflect on the mutual obligations we create in our lives, Jesus Christ reminds us strongly today about the necessary obligation God has created with each of us: as God has forgiven me for my mistakes, so I need to reciprocate by forgiving my brothers and sisters.
And we are given a challenging but constructive way of reconciling with them: first approach by yourself (if it is not safe, skip step 1). Second, approach with two or three others. Thirdly, approach with the whole community.
Finally, we try a period of expulsion. But, here, we must be careful not to be simplistic: how did Jesus treat tax collectors and pagans? So, always be ready to welcome them back when they are willing to admit the hurt they caused and is willing to make amends.
For some who are reading this, it may be difficult because your wounds are still hurting. 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. So, let us take courage from the path shown by our Lord Jesus Christ: after the Cross comes the Resurrection.
By Gerard Conlan, OMI