October 28, 2003
Friar Jack's Catechism Quiz:
The Where, Who and How of Heaven

by Julie Zimmerman

All Saints Day (November 1) and All Souls Day (November 2) are upon us. Although they are usually overshadowed by Halloween, All Saints and All Souls are important opportunities for Catholics to remember our beloved dead and to celebrate the communion of saints. Today Friar Jack's Catechism Quiz looks at heaven, where we believe the saints are now and hope that we may be some day. We'll examine Catholic beliefs about heaven: where it is, how we get there, and why we pray for those dead who may not yet be there. We hope you'll reflect on these answers this week as you commemorate those who have gone before us.

Also today, we are happy to share responses to Friar Jack's musing on "A Salute to Pope John Paul II." Read Friar Jack's inbox.


This Month's Quiz: (peeking encouraged!)

Where is heaven?
How do I get to heaven?
Can non-Christians go to heaven?
Why do Catholics believe in purgatory and praying for the dead?

Friar Jack's Inbox:

Readers reflect on Friar Jack's musings


Where is heaven? Since God, the angels and the souls of the faithful departed are spirits, are they “located” somewhere? Where is Jesus’ risen body and Mary’s?

It is tempting to say that heaven must be a place so that the bodies of Jesus and Mary can be there.

According to the New Testament, glorified bodies are both like and unlike normal, human bodies. The post-resurrection appearances assure the apostles that this truly is Jesus.

St. Paul says that glorified bodies are not exactly like human bodies. “It [the body] is sown corruptible; it is raised incorruptible....It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual one” (1 Corinthians 15:42,44).

Considering all that the Gospels say about glorified bodies, it's not clear that they must occupy space right now. That would remove the pressure for heaven to be a physical place now—though heaven is still very real.

Adapted from Ask a Franciscan.

How do I get to heaven?

We don’t get to heaven just by living a full life on earth, though this is a popular opinion today. If we are to listen to Jesus Christ, his Church and its Bible as our authorities on how to get to heaven instead of popular fashionable opinion, the way to heaven is not natural birth but spiritual rebirth. It is not being born but being "born again of water (Baptism) and the Spirit" (John 3).

Our entrance ticket to heaven is not the natural immortality of our soul but the death and resurrection of Christ. It is not our natural connection with Adam, who gives us our earthly ancestry, but our faith-connection with Christ, who gives us our heavenly ancestry by making us children of God. Shocking as this sounds to modern nonbelievers, without Christ there is no hope of heaven. This does not mean that non-Christians do not go to heaven, but that Christ is in fact the only way there. Read John 14:6.

According to Christ, St. Paul, the New Testament and the dogmas of Christ’s Church, the way to heaven is not just being nice enough or good enough. (How good do you have to be? What’s the cutoff point?) The way is Christ ("I am the way"). The way is the death and resurrection of Christ. Christ came to earth not just to take away our ignorance by preaching, but to take away our sin by dying and to take away our death by rising.

Adapted from Millennium Monthly.

Can non-Christians go to heaven?

In the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, paragraph 16, the Vatican II Council Fathers wrote: "Those who have not yet received the gospel are related to the People of God in various ways. There is, first, that people to which the covenants and promises were made, and from which Christ was born according to the flesh (cf. Romans 9:4-5): In view of the divine choice, they are a people most dear for the sake of the fathers, for the gifts of God are without repentance (cf. Romans 11:28-29).

"But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Moslems: These profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind's judge on the last day.

"Nor is God remote from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, since he gives to all men life and breath and all things (cf. Acts 17:25-28), and since the Savior wills all men to be saved (cf. 1 Timothy 2:4). Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through dictates of their conscience—those too, may achieve eternal salvation.

"Nor shall divine providence deny the assistance necessary for salvation to those who, without any fault of theirs, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God, and who, not without grace, strive to lead a good life."

So the Fathers of the Council do not exclude anyone acting in good faith from the possibility of salvation. They do go on, however, to speak of the Church's mission from Christ to bring the gospel to all people, for Christ is the source of salvation for the whole world.

Adapted from Ask a Franciscan.

Why do Catholics believe in purgatory and praying for the dead?

The New Testament and early Christian writings offer some evidence for purgatory. In 2 Timothy 1:18, St. Paul prays for Onesiphorus, who has died. The earliest mention of prayers for the dead in public Christian worship is by the writer Tertullian in 211 A.D.

The question of purgatory and praying for the dead was a major issue between Catholics and Protestants in the 16th century. The Council of Trent’s 1563 decree about purgatory reaffirmed its existence and the usefulness of prayers for the deceased, yet it cautioned against “a certain kind of curiosity or superstition...” about it.

The Roman Catholic teaching on purgatory reflects its understanding of the communion of saints. We are connected to the saints in heaven, the saints-in-waiting in purgatory and other believers here on earth. Prayers for the deceased are not a means of buying their way out of purgatory.

The Catholic Church’s teaching about purgatory (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1030-32) says that all sin, unfortunately, has a life of its own and may have bad effects even after the sinner repents. Sincere repentance includes a desire to repair the damage done by one’s sins. That may or may not be complete before the person dies.

When the world ends at the Final Judgment, there will be only two possibilities: heaven and hell. We who celebrate Jesus’ Resurrection over sin and death look forward to sharing in that victory, and we pray that our beloved dead may do the same.

Adapted from Ask a Franciscan.

Friar Jack's Inbox

Readers respond to Friar Jack's reflections on "A Salute to Pope John Paul II."

Dear Friar Jack: I am 44 years old and my husband of 20 years, Jeff, is 46 years old. We were blessed with six children ranging in age from 19 down to five. Our four oldest daughters were at World Youth Day in Toronto. They had such a spiritual experience that it touched all our lives hearing about it. I have always been brought to tears upon spending time reflecting on how our Holy Father has enriched my own walk personally with Christ. I love what you wrote and I have no doubt that John Paul II will also one day be canonized. I also know there are different types of tears from the emotions we experience, and the tears from my reflections of John Paul II are the REAL PRESENCE of the HOLY SPIRIT IN MY SOUL.—Lorraine

Dear Lorraine: Thanks for your description of how Pope John Paul II inspired your four daughters in Toronto and how they, in turn, carried that spirit back to you and the rest of the family as if they had become co-evangelizers with the Pope. And I believe with you that the tears from your reflections of John Paul II were putting you in touch with the Holy Spirit who truly dwells in your soul as in a temple! God bless your family—and all our families.—Friar Jack

Dear Friar Jack: Thank you for your E-spiration on Pope John Paul II. He is one of the few that I consider my hero and mentor in my personal relationship with Jesus. To me he represents Jesus and the gospel by his endless example in reaching out touching the lives of the people all over the world. His incredible faith and strength as our Father touches the very core of my being beyond all explanation—E.B.W.

Dear E.B.W.: Like the previous writer, you seem to also be experiencing God's Spirit. When you speak of being touched at "the very core of your being beyond explanation," that "beyond-explanation" is no doubt the Holy Spirit. It's wonderful to savor and revere those experiences!—Friar Jack

Send your feedback to friarjack@franciscanmedia.org.

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