The Destination Must Direct the Way

Many people say that they don’t hear too many sermons about Hell anymore. I believe this is true in general, but I will say that I preach about it a good bit. However, I would like to point out that the same could be said about sermons on Heaven. Try to remember the last time you heard a sermon that dealt with the topic let alone inspired a longing for Heaven. Too many sermons focus on this world: how to live in it, how to deal with moral and ethical problems, and how to be happier in it. It is not wrong to preach about such things as long as it does not divert focus from our ultimate destination: Heaven or Hell. To be vague, uninspiring, or silent about our goal and desired destination is spiritually disastrous.

To illustrate, consider a man who sets out in his car for New York City from Washington, D.C. His destination guides every turn he takes, every navigational decision he makes. If he sees a sign that says, “South to Richmond” he knows not to take that exit. He doesn’t have to deliberate; the answer is clear because his destination is clear. Consider, though, what might happen if he were uncertain about where he was going or forgot: The road signs might cause stress and confusion. He might think, “Perhaps this is the way I should go … or maybe not. How do I know? Maybe there will be fun things to see and do along that route.” Soon enough he might be driving all over the map, lost in diversions, distractions, and—ultimately—dead ends. He might in fact see some pleasant sights along the way, but deep down he would begin to sense that none of this driving around was adding up to anything.

Without a destination we are lost, confused, and worried. To live without a clear goal is stressful because we have little basis on which to make good decisions; every choice seems difficult. With little ability to determine what is truly good for us, we focus on temporary pleasure, becoming easy prey for the hucksters of this world. So, our credit cards are maxed out, our hearts are divided, and we feel unmoored.

Where are we going? When was the last time we really thought about it? Too many of us are living unreflective, directionless lives. We don’t really know where we are going, but we’re sure in a big hurry to get there!

Have a goal: Heaven! Focus on it. Dream about it. Long for it. Make it direct your modus vivendi. We should want to die loving God and our neighbor so that we can go home to Heaven and be with God forever. Let every decision you make be in service of this one, clear goal. Carefully review your life and ask yourself, “Am I moving closer to my goal? How? What things have hindered me or diverted me from it?”

I have written more on this topic previously (When Was the Last Time You Meditated on Heaven? That Long? Try This.”)

Consider this beautiful meditation from Pope St. Gregory the Great, which is in the Office of Readings this week:

If anyone enters the sheepfold through me, he shall be saved; he shall go freely in and out and shall find good pasture. He will enter into a life of faith; from faith he will go out to vision, from belief to contemplation, and will graze in the good pastures of everlasting life.

So our Lord’s sheep will finally reach their grazing ground where all who follow him in simplicity of heart will feed on the green pastures of eternity. These pastures are the spiritual joys of heaven. There the elect look upon the face of God with unclouded vision and feast at the banquet of life for ever more.

Beloved brothers, let us set out for these pastures where we shall keep joyful festival with so many of our fellow citizens. May the thought of their happiness urge us on! Let us stir up our hearts, rekindle our faith, and long eagerly for what heaven has in store for us.

To love thus is to be already on our way. No matter what obstacles we encounter, we must not allow them to turn us aside from the joy of that heavenly feast.

Anyone who is determined to reach his destination is not deterred by the roughness of the road that leads to it. Nor must we allow the charm of success to seduce us, or we shall be like a foolish traveler who is so distracted by the pleasant meadows through which he is passing that he forgets where he is going (From a homily on the Gospels by Pope St. Gregory the Great, Hom. 14, 3-6: PL 76, 1129-1130).

In his Letter to the Philippians, St. Paul wrote,

This one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize of God’s heavenly calling in Christ Jesus. Whatever was an asset to me I count as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things as loss compared to the surpassing excellence of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him …. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been perfected, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me … (Phil 3: 7-9; 12-14).

Onward, upward, to the goal!

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: The Destination Must Direct the Way

5 Replies to “The Destination Must Direct the Way”

  1. A colleague once posted this quote on her door: If you don’t know where you’re going, when you get there you’ll be lost.

  2. Thank you Msgr. Pope. I feel compelled to comment on the vast numbers of Mass attendees on our most sacred holy days who are absent almost every Sunday.

    The perfect opportunity to educate or reeducate Catholics about the Eucharist is squandered at every Christmas and Easter Mass. I’m not saying there aren’t any exceptions, but I’ve never witnessed one. You good and courageous priests know who you are. Think of the many thousands of Mass attendees in every diocese who sacrilegiously receive the Eucharist on those days. Have they committed a worse sin then if they hadn’t attended Mass at all? Are those who haven’t informed them complicit in that sin? Including their accompanying loved ones? I think there should be a laminated sheet of explanations placed in all of the pews, enough for the full capacity of each pew. And that especially on such Holy Days an announcement should be made prior to the beginning of Mass for all to read the information sheet. There are very non-harsh ways the information could be expressed, but at the very least the point should made “if you haven’t been to confession since the last time you unavoidably missed attending Sunday Mass, please do not receive the Eucharist”. Think of the many thousands of conversions that might be sparked by that one instruction and all of the sacrileges that won’t be committed. Maybe the offering will be less than normal, but the greater that loss, the greater the investment.

  3. “Many people say that they don’t hear too many sermons about Hell anymore.”
    I can’t speak for the ‘many’ but it is certainly the case that in the last 10 years (since I reverted to the Church) I don’t think that I have heard the word’ hell’ on all but a few occasions and all of those were from one very traditional, very orthodox priest who celebrates the TLM.

  4. I’m a student. Religion is harder than anything else in the world because first of all, you have to live it. You don’t have to live math or science or English. If you could just study religion it would be fine. The second difficult thought about religion is that there is God involved, and you can’t see God. So you have to have faith that there is God and religion is important. With math you have to have some faith too, that there is something to linear functions and matrices, but you don’t have to worry about heaven, hell, or loving your neighbor. If I could, I’d worry about religion the way I worry about math – never – but St. James says you have to be a doer of the word not just a hearer. I guess it’s not that hard.

  5. Forget about protestants who say it is ethics. Even the neanderthalers buried their deaths with flowers, because they longed for heaven. That is what human life was always about, and Christians should take pride in their religion.

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