How Many Ways Are There To Get To Heaven?

Since my last blog post (I’m not counting the one about the New York Times article since it was more commentary than anything else), I’ve felt the need to revisit the reason I agreed to write for this blog in the first place.  I wanted to try to help others live their Catholic faith.  Unfortunately, the more I try to think of things to write, the more I realize how very little I know about being Catholic. I mean, let’s be honest, I’ve only been Catholic for 27 years!

I mentioned before that at the heart of being Catholic is a relationship with God.  This is true in my experience, and has been true for almost everyone I have met that actively lives out their faith.  God’s love is the energy, force, and drive that gives us the passion and courage to make the world a better place.  But, when I think about how people cultivate that love and encounter Christ, I am stuck because there is no simple answer to that question.

Pope Francis and Pope Benedict (Guardian.com)
Pope Francis and Pope Benedict (Guardian.com)

Early in his pontificate, Pope Benedict was asked the question, “How many ways are there to get to heaven?”  His response was something like, “There are as many ways to get to heaven as there are people on this earth.”  What an extraordinary statement.  God, in his love, encounters each of us uniquely; he reaches out to us in a way that we can understand.  The Catholic Tradition is a provocative example of this reality.  Prayer styles (like Adoration, Liturgy of the Hours, a labyrinth, etc…), forms of religious life, lay movements, and spiritual encounters are incredibly diverse in the Catholic tradition.  It is remarkable to think that groups like the Cistercians and the Jesuits – with their very different charisms – can believe in and serve the same Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!

The Lord speaks to us each in a different and subtle way.  For me, this relationship grew through a couple of different experiences.  It all started with a freshmen encounter retreat in college.  It grew through finding Christ in the faces of the poor in Jamaica, and meeting Christ face to face in Eucharistic Adoration.  My relationship continues to grow today through Liturgy of the Hours and the Mass. Each experience resonated with where I was in my life and in my spiritual journey, and each encounter made me look at what I was doing with my life, and how I could serve others and make their lives better.

Now, obviously my journey is not as simple as that (if you keep reading in the weeks to come, I’m sure you will find out more).  There were a lot of setbacks and dry spells, but the promise of the Cross always brings me back to God: even if it is after a good long while away.

I wrote all this to make the point that there is no one way to enter into a relationship with God, just as there is no one way to get to heaven.  God reaches out to each of us in a unique and loving way.  The Church, with her 2000 years of trying to hear the Word of God, has a treasure trove of different ways to respond to that love and build a relationship.

How will you know when you have a relationship? Well, you may wake up one morning, and everything will change. But, most likely, little by little you will do the everyday things a little differently, with a little but more love.  Eventually those little moments will bring you to places you never expected, and you and the world will be better because of it.  You may even wake up one morning and find you are working for an institution that trains lay and religious to serve as ministers for the Church and the world, but I may be projecting at this point!

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