Heaven is a Choice We Need to Make
Reading I (Isaiah 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7)
Reading II (1 Corinthians 1:3-9)
Gospel (St. Mark 13:33-37)
Today we begin a new Church year, and this time of Advent is a time that people find sometimes rather confusing; it seems to be a time of contradictions. We look, for instance, at the readings we have in this time and it is a time of preparation as we prepare to celebrate Christmas. Yet, at the same time, the readings prepare us for the Second Coming of Christ. So we look backwards to the First Coming and we look forward to the Second Coming. It is a time of penance, so we wear purple. But it is not a time of penance in the sense that Lent is a time of penance: That is a time of reparation; this is a time of preparation. And so, it is to do penance as we prepare. Not to do penance so much because of what has happened, but rather preparing the soul for what is to happen. It is sometimes confusing for people when they look at all these different things.
And in the readings today, it would appear, once again, that there is another set of contradictions. For instance, we hear from Saint Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians that [we] have been endowed with all grace necessary to do all things and to be able to be faithful to the very end. Then we look at the first reading from the prophet Isaiah and the prophet asks the Lord, “Why have you allowed us to wander from the path?” We look at that and say, “But if we have all the grace to be able to remain faithful to the end and that God will keep [us] faithful to the end, how can we now turn around and ask, ‘Why have You allowed us to stray?’ Why have we become unfaithful if we have all the grace to be able to remain faithful?’” It does not seem to make a whole lot of sense to us. But, in fact, both are correct.
The fact of the matter is that God has indeed given to each one of us every single grace necessary to be able to be faithful. He has endowed us with all the grace we need to be able to do His Will, to know the movement of the Holy Spirit and to co-operate. The difficulty is not on God’s side; He has endowed us with all the grace. The difficulty is on our side because the other thing that God has given to us is free will. And because He has given to us a free will, He will not force us to do anything. God will not force you to stay on the right path. He will not force you to do good things. He will not force you to go to Heaven. God will not force us to do anything – we have to choose it.
The grace is there so that we know what we should do, and the grace is there to keep us on the right path. But that is our choice. And so when the prophet asks God why He has allowed us to wander from the path, it is the simple question of “Why have You given us free will? Why have You given us the ability to be able to choose what is wrong?” The reason is because Heaven would be useless for somebody who is forced to go there. If you are a puppet on God’s string and you have no choice but to do what He wants you to do and go to Heaven, it would mean nothing to you. But if you choose Heaven, if you choose to love God, if you choose what is right in the face of what is wrong, then the reward is going to mean everything to you. That is what the Lord wants. He wants people who choose to love Him, who choose to do what is right, and who choose to reject what is wrong. And that He leaves up to us. The grace is all there for us to do it. There is nothing lacking on God’s side. The only difficulty is for us.
Now we might try to put up the complaint that we do not know the path, but that is wrong. Jesus Christ is the way, and there is only one way. He told Thomas two thousand years ago, “You know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said, “We don’t know the way.” He said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” It is all there and we, above all people throughout history, have no excuse because the saints have all walked the path. Our Blessed Lady is the one who has given us the path. We have no excuse. We are members of Jesus Christ. We are children of Our Lady. We are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God. None of us can suggest that we did not know the path. The path is brightly illuminated: it has been blazed by many that have gone before us. It is straight; it is narrow; and it is clear. The problem is not the path. The problem is not whether the path is clearly laid out. The problem is not whether the path is illuminated. The problem is that we like to get off the path and we like to do other things rather than walk on the path. There is no problem, again, on God’s side. The problem is on our side.
Now, the prophet goes on and prays to the Lord saying, “Would that You would rend the Heavens and come down, that You would show Yourself in mighty works!” That is going to happen, and we would like to sit back and say, “Well, when that occurs then I’ll change.” It will be too late when that occurs. Our Lord told us that we need to watch for the various signs, and there is one that stands out above all others, He said, “Watch for the signs in the sky.” Then He told us, regarding the coming of the Son of Man, that it is going to be like lightning flashing across the sky: You cannot anticipate it and it is going to be instantaneous. When the heavens are rended, it will be too late to turn around. We need to make a choice now. The Lord, in the Gospel reading today, told us simply to watch. He told us it is the gatekeeper who needs to watch for the coming of the master. Each and every one of us has been assigned by the Lord to be the gatekeeper of our own soul, to keep the gate of our heart so that it opens for the Master but it keeps closed for everything else. Are we watching? Are we staying on the path? Are we keeping ourselves in the state of grace?
The world is just about to enter into the worst phase that it has ever known. Things are going to get very ugly very quickly. Each one of us needs to make a radical choice and we need to make it now. We cannot say, “When the day comes then I’ll make the choice.” The day is here. You need to make a choice, and you need to make a radical choice. It is not enough to say, “I believe in Jesus,” and then live a pagan life. It is not enough to say, “Well, I go to Mass on Sunday, but on Monday morning nobody can tell the difference between me and my heathen neighbors because I live my life the same way they do – it’s just that I go to church.” That is not going to be enough. If we are going to profess to be Christians and particularly if we are going to profess to be Catholic, we had better live it. The Lord told us very clearly that from those to whom more has been given more will be expected. God has given us every grace – every grace – and He is going to expect that we are co-operating with Him. That means we have to be living a life of daily prayer. It means we have to be getting rid of sin in our lives. It means we need to break from the relationships that are leading us into sin. It means we have to make some changes in our lives to get on the path, to stay on the path, and to quit veering from it because there are all these other things that look rather enticing. We need to rid ourselves of evil and the sources of evil in our lives because the things that are coming are going to be such that anyone who is playing “footsie” with both sides is going to be cut off.
On the Day of the Lord, which is going to be coming within the next couple of years upon this world, those who are not on the right path, those who are not living according to the way of Jesus Christ, those who are not striving to be saints will be ruthlessly cut off. They will be no longer. So we need to make a choice. Choose Jesus Christ. Be watchful. The Second Vatican Council told us to watch for the signs of the times. It does not take a genius to be able to see what is going on in the world. And if we want to wallow in the world, we are saying “no” to God. Do not look at God and say, “Why do You allow me to stray from the path?” It is our choice to stray from the path, not God’s. We know what we are supposed to be about. We have a choice to make and it must be a radical choice to live the life that we profess, to live a life of holiness, to get rid of everything that does not lead us toward Jesus Christ. That is what we must be about.
Again, let me make very clear when I talk about this: The end of the world is not at hand. The world is going to go on for a long time but there are many in the world who will not, because when the Day of the Lord comes it will be decisive. It will be like the two-edged sword, cutting cleanly and surely. So we need to make sure we are ready because it will be like lightning flashing across the sky. Even though we can watch for the signs, we do not know the time. Look around and you can see the signs. Get your house in order and live according to the way of Christ.
Give yourself entirely to Jesus through His mother. Put yourself in her Immaculate Heart and you will be shielded and protected. That is the surest way. It is the way the Lord has given us and that is the choice we need to make. Jesus made that same choice and gave Himself to His mother. Now He offers the same choice to us. If we want to choose Him and we want to choose Him completely and perfectly, choose Our Lady. Let her protect you, let her bring you to the Lord. And from that protective place in her Immaculate Heart, you will be able to watch, you will be keeping guard at the door of your heart to keep out anything that is evil but to open only to the Master of the garden so that He can come in. That is what Our Lord wants from us. We are going to see extraordinary things in our day. The heavens will be rended and God will be working mighty deeds, but we need to make the choice long before that day comes. Be watchful and choose Jesus Christ.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.