Jesus said to his disciples: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Mt 7:21).
I have often paraphrased one of my favorite quotes from St. Irenaeus, that Jesus came to be one with us so that we can be one with him. In his becoming one with us in our humanity, he invites everyone, no one is excluded, to participate in his divinity. Yet if everyone is invited, how can Jesus say that not everyone will enter the Kingdom of heaven?”
The answer to that question is in the line that follows. The one who will enter heaven is, “the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” If this verse does not help, then it might be helpful to understand a little about heaven, as best as we can, as the mere mortal, finite beings that we are.
Heaven is not so much a place but a state of being in relation to God. Heaven is the state of being in which we are privileged to share communion and a deeper intimacy with God for all eternity. We will still not know everything about God because God is infinite and we will still be finite even in heaven. God is without limit, we are limited. We will never exhaust our relationship, never get bored with God.
Maybe a more three dimensional, an earthly example may be of help. If we were invited to play a sport, an instrument, or to act in a play, with the end goal being that we would play in the upcoming game, concert, or performance, we might feel pretty excited about the offer. We tell the coach, conductor, or director “That’s great news!” Yet, in the days that follow, we do not attend any of the practices, we do not practice the skills required to play the position, instrument, or role and we don’t return any of the follow-up invitations by phone, email, or text. The day of the big game, concert, or performance comes, we gather our self together and head on over to the arena or hall. We arrive to see the coach, conductor, or director but are denied entrance. We might say, “I don’t understand, you invited us to play!” The reply is, “Not everyone who says to me coach, coach (conductor, conductor, or director, director) is ready and prepared.”
Jesus indeed invites us to play a part in, as the theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar termed it, God’s theodrama, everyone. Some say yes and some say no. The no comes from wanting to produce, write, direct, and star in their own ego drama. Some say yes, and then don’t do anything, some say yes and do some things, some say yes and dive in. Most of us take a few steps forward and a step or two back. Just like preparing to play in the big game or perform in the big concert, or play, we need to be committed, disciplined, and persistent with our faith life. Unlike a missed opportunity to participate in a game or performance, that we can correct and make another attempt down the road, we don’t want to miss the opportunity to spend eternity with Jesus in heaven.
The above analogy does not imply in any way that we earn our way into heaven, or we can do so on our own effort and will power. The bottom line is that Jesus gave his life for all of us and through his grace, we have been saved. This is a free gift. Yet, we have to be willing to receive and open the gift. Our time here on earth is the time we are given to work out our salvation, to put into practice his teachings, and be about building a relationship with Jesus, being conformed to him, so that we can come to know his Father as he does and help others to open their gift as well and invite them to play their part.
If we want to know God’s will, we need to come to know God. Advent is a time of preparation, to open to spend more time with God so we can come to know him and his will. Jesus helps us to recognize when we are off the target in our attempt to do so. He also invites us to reorient ourselves such that we allow our minds and hearts to be expanded by his love.
This happens when we are quiet and still, through prayer, spending time meditating upon his word, spending time in worship and fellowship. In doing so, we will be more open and willing to be led by the Holy Spirit and step out of our comfort zones and reach out to others in an act of service for another’s sake and not just for our own. We are here not only to actualize the grace we have been given for our salvation, but we are also here to help others to do the same.
Photo: Tapestry hanging in the sanctuary of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Los Angeles, CA. Some of the saints who practiced their part in God’s theodrama and are now with God in heaven.