Going to HeavenGRACE MCKINNON
Dear Grace, I come from a large Catholic family and some of us attend Mass every week. There are also those who never go, but they are not bad people. They are prayerful, but never attend church. What I want to know is, if they died in the state in which they are living, would they go to heaven even though they never attended church, yet lived as good people?
not saying they do not sin, but they are not bad people. When I have told them
they will not go to heaven if they don't go to church, they have asked me, 'Well,
what about the people that attend Mass every week, but are not good people? You're
telling me that a person who goes to church and simply tries hard not to do bad,
is going to heaven, but a person who does not go to church and is a much
better person and des good, is not going to heaven?" How should I answer
It is clear that, in trying to get your family to go to church, you are
sincerely attempting to help them. Therefore, let us look more closely at your
questions. You ask if they will go to heaven if they should die in the state in
which they are living (never going to church), even though they are 'good' people.
But what do we really mean by 'good' What is goodness? In the profoundest sense,
goodness is everything that is of God. He is goodness itself. All that is 'good'
originates in Him and comes from Him. Of course, not everyone understands this.
Thus, we tend to think that as long as we are consciously doing nothing wrong
against others, we are 'good' people. But what about wronging, or offending God?
Are we being good people when we do that?
Going to Church on Suday is
something God has asked us to do. It is the third of the Ten Commandments, and
Jesus also asked us at His Last Supper to 'do this as a remembrance of me' (Luke
22:19). The Catholic Church teaches that "Sunday . . . is to be observed as the
foremost holy day of obligation in the universal Church" (CIC, can. 1246 Â§ 1).
"On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate
in the Mass" (CIC, can. 1247).
The faithful who attend Mass on Sundays
are not perfect people. They are people, however, who are trying to follow Christ
by doing what He asks, and hopefully also out of love for Him. You see, in order
to truly begin the journey on the road to eternal life, one must first recognize
his or her own sinfulness and total dependence on God. One must have a desire
to please God in everything. And when we fail, as we often will, to get up and
At the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we get to witness the sacrifice
tat Jesus made when He offered His life for us on the Cross. The word 'mass'
means 'missa' ' to send. We witness the love that it took for Jesus to do what
He did for us, and then we are 'sent' out into the world to transform it, by loving
as He did. He shows us the way to salvation. It is the way of love.
predestines no one to go to hell.' (CCC 1037) For that to happen, a person would
have to willfully turn away from God (a mortal sin) and persist in it until the
end. It is a mortal sin to miss Mass deliberately, and if one refuses to obey
God's law to the very end, then that person does run the risk of losing his or
her eternal salvation (heaven).
Perhaps your relatives do not know that
it is a grave sin against God to miss Mass on Sunday. From your letter, it seems
that you have tried to inform them of this. In asking you about who is and who
is not going to heaven (based on church attendance), it seems that your family
is trying to shift he attention away from themselves. This is what many will
do in order to avoid looking at their own actions. We waste precious time when
we do that, though. One of the devil's most effective tricks is to convince us
that we have all the time in the world. But Jesus said, "Enter by the narrow gate;
for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those
who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads
to life, and those who find it are few" (Matthew 7: 13-14).
Grace MacKinnon. "Going to Heaven." (October, 2003).
with permission of Grace MacKinnon.
MacKinnon is a syndicated columnist and public speaker on Catholic doctrine. She
is the author of Dear
Grace: Answers to Questions About the Faith published by Our Sunday Visitor.
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Copyright © 2003 Grace D.