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The way I see it, there are two ways you need to die before you can spend eternity in Heaven with our abundantly merciful Lord.
#1: Die To Yourself
#2: Physically Die
First, let’s talk about dying to yourself (after all, without step #1, step #2 will send you somewhere you probably don’t want to end up.)
To Get To Heaven, You Have To Sacrifice Everything
And I mean absolutely everything. That grudge you’re holding against that friend from high school? Forgive them. Your attachment to material possessions? “The desire for possessions is . . . from the world” (1 John 2:16-17). The need to have everything go your own way? My good friend, Elsa, said it best:
Looking around at my own life and worldly attachments, it’s clear that this letting go and dying-to-self thing is clearly not as simple as Elsa would have us believe. I’m attached to my favorite flowy dresses and my soft couch. I spend more time thinking about myself and what I want to get done instead of what Our Lord is calling me to do. I hold Caleb to impossible standards and fuss at him when my lofty expectations are not met.
And then I ask myself: ‘Grace!’ I say, ‘Are you willing to die to get to heaven?’
That’s a fantastic question, Grace.
Oh, why thank you.
Based on my aforementioned earthly attachments, it sure doesn’t seem like I’m ready to even sneeze in Saint Peter’s general direction (let alone ask him to unlock those pearly gates!)
But that’s just it, I suppose.
God doesn’t call the equipped. He equips the called.
As a confirmed Catholic, the Holy Spirit resides in me. He is ready to equip me to persevere in any hardship that comes my way (He definitely did for the saints and they had to start the same as me—not a saint!)
A personal example of this dying-to-self thing in my daily life was getting pregnant last year! For about a year and a half as a married couple, Caleb and I practiced NFP. We had some legitimate reasons for doing so, but looking back, I believe many of our reasons would not classify as serious enough to be avoiding:
- Not having thousands of dollars saved
- Living in an apartment
- General, unspecific worry about whether or not we were ‘ready’ to have a baby.
Frankly, these were all excuses–we would be able to live comfortably with our baby, not scrounging for food / living paycheck to paycheck, we were physically and mentally safe to welcome a baby into our lives, etc.
Instead of continuing to make excuses and wait for the ‘perfect’ time to have a baby, we died to ourselves and our fear. We acknowledged that God’s timing and will is the only thing that matters and went for it!
Aaaaaaand apparently we were paying attention in our NFP classes because it only took one TTA dance and I was pregnant!
So though I’m not a naturally patient wife or virtuous enough (yet) who volunteers to cook dinner AND do the dishes, I am making a conscious effort to be selfless. I’m making an effort to purge those items from my home that are not useful or that I am unduly attached to. Instead of asking Caleb why he doesn’t simply get on my agenda, I am calmly explaining my thoughts in a discussion and listening to the entirety of what he has to say in response.
I wouldn’t be able to even *consider* doing any of these things without God’s graces and Lots of Prayer.
My favorite book (ever) about purging yourself of selfishness in order to reach heaven (aka what purgatory is for if you don’t achieve perfect sanctity in this life!) is “The Great Divorce” by C.S. Lewis.
The choice to avoid sin (and the near occasions of it) is a daily battle we, the Church Militant, must fight. It is, indeed, your choice at the end of the day whether you go to heaven or hell:
“‘There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it.”
Step #2, then, seems all the simpler when compared to the complexities and decisions that must be made in step #1. The 100% human Jesus character from “Jesus Christ Superstar” puts it succinctly, “to conquer death, you only have to die.”
If you’ve put in the work in this life to stay in a state of grace detached from temptation—you’re a saint. You’ll go straight to heaven! But if you shoot for the stars (heaven) and land on the moon (purgatory), rest assured in your blessed assurance! If you genuinely desire God (which will be evidenced in your belief and obedience to Him), you’ll die to yourself. So when you physically die, you’ll be ready to meet Our Lord.
May the souls of the faithfully departed, through the mercy of God, Rest In Peace. And may light perpetual shine upon them. Amen.