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Who Will Go to Heaven?

By Fr. Jerry Pokorsky ( bio - articles - email ) | Oct 02, 2023

God created us for happiness in this life and the life to come. He wants us to know Him, love Him, and serve Him. At Baptism, our parents typically profess the Creed on our behalf. At every Mass, our profession of the Creed renews our Baptismal promises. The Ten Commandments, fulfilled in Jesus, is the roadmap to glory. Prayer and the Sacraments provide the spiritual nourishment for the journey. God provides all the necessary armor. But will we go to heaven?

God is not unlike the father in the Parable of the Two Sons (cf. Mt. 21:28-32). The first son said he wouldn’t go but went to work anyway. He is like the unbeliever who nevertheless obeys the dictates of his conscience. The second son promises to work the vineyard as Dad instructed but doesn’t. He is like a Christian who professes the Creed and then ignores God’s words. Jesus them: “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.” (Mt. 21:31)

God created us in His image. The soul includes the faculties of the intellect and free will. We delight in truth, detest lies, and choose the good – real or illusory. (The bank robber Willie Sutton explained, “I rob banks because that’s where the money is.”) A good memory helps our thinking. A healthy imagination enables us to preview the consequences of our choices. Conscience is the voice of God and informs our thinking and choices. Emotions have bodily and spiritual effects. As embodied spirits, our bodies manifest our souls. The Resurrection of the Dead on the Last Day confirms the natural unity of body and soul.

Before the Fall, we (Adam and Eve on our behalf) didn’t "know good and evil." We were perfectly free and virtuous. The First Parents did not heed their consciences and disobeyed God. Original Sin brought shame and suffering into the world. Sin confuses us. We have difficulty thinking clearly and making the right choices. Sin distorts our conscience and garbles the authentic voice of God. God removed the Tree of Life from the Garden as an act of mercy. Death (but only on God’s terms) limits the horror of suffering.

Exercising the virtue etched into our hearts became arduous. We now need prudence to choose good and avoid evil. We need the justice of the Ten Commandments to render unto God and neighbor their due and to break patterns of sinful selfishness. We need temperance to control our erratic emotional inclinations. We need courage to harness emotional volatilities. Tradition and the Scriptures are the bedrock sources of Revelation. The Church is the guardian of the faith. We form our conscience by accepting the authentic teachings of the Church. Essential Church teaching allows us to hear the voice of God with greater clarity. God grants believing Catholics the entire gift package.

The Creed affirms our belief in God and the origin and destiny of man. God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Human generosity reflects the boundless love of the Trinity. The Ten Commandments – refined by Jesus and presented to us by the Church—provide the roadmap. The Holy Spirit sustains us with the sacramental graces for our journey home.

After Original Sin and our personal sins, our practice of the Catholic faith always falls short. We remain free to respond to God’s graces—and serve Him or reject Him. How do we handle the arsenal of God’s graces we receive as baptized Catholics? Do we respond to our baptismal promises and continue life with a firm Christian resolve? Are we oblivious to the teachings of Christ? Are we lukewarm Catholics, lapsed Catholics, or angry anti-Catholic Catholics?

God equips Catholics with spiritual battle gear for salvation. Those born into good Catholic families receive formation in Christian virtue, supernaturalized by God’s sacramental graces. The primary goal of good habits is peace with God. But as we grow older, we may narrow the purpose of a good life to material success. An upright and honest quest for a comfortable living is not misguided. But when presented with a choice between God and comfort, a Catholic on the way to heaven always chooses the way of the Cross.

Many do not have the Catholic roadmap or the sacramental graces for salvation, so Jesus directs us to proclaim the Gospel to all nations (cf. Mt. 28:19). Non-Catholics retain the fundamental “package” of image-of-God humanity: intellect, will, conscience, memory, imagination, emotions, and a body that expresses their soul. God engraved His law on every human heart. Original Sin wounds every conscience. A non-Catholic conscience is unaided by faith and not reinforced by the authentic teachings of the Church.

Non-Catholics are not fully incorporated into the Mystical Body of Christ. But the obscure voice of conscience prompts unbelievers to seek the natural virtues of prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude. Those who faithfully follow their conscience in truth are like the first son. They may not profess the Creed but nevertheless comply with the Father’s commands. God’s actual graces may enlighten a non-Catholic conscience and keep him on the road to salvation. (See Saint Augustine’s “City of God.”)

Will non-Catholics go to heaven? Only God knows, and we must avoid the errors of indifferentism and the myth of universal salvation and must not neglect our duty to evangelize. But some respond to the Father’s will more than Catholics who thoughtlessly profess the Creed. With all the gifts God lavishes on us, the more urgent question for each of us is: “Will I go to heaven?”

Fr. Jerry Pokorsky is a priest of the Diocese of Arlington who has also served as a financial administrator in the Diocese of Lincoln. Trained in business and accounting, he also holds a Master of Divinity and a Master’s in moral theology. Father Pokorsky co-founded both CREDO and Adoremus, two organizations deeply engaged in authentic liturgical renewal. He writes regularly for a number of Catholic websites and magazines. See full bio.

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