The Way to Heaven

(Homily for Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year B)

Bottom line: Jesus shows us the way to heaven by his teaching and by equipping us through forgiveness, liberation and healing. And as we will see, beginning next week, he offers, here and now, an essential experience of the world to come.

Now that I have been at St. Mary of the Valley for over three years, I can tell you what happened when I first arrived. As I got into town, I was a little disoriented so I ask this boy, "Can you tell me where the Catholic Church is?"

"Sure," he says, "it's right by the baseball field."

"I'll make you a deal," I say. "You show me the way to the baseball field and I will show you the way to heaven."

He looks at me and says, "How are you going to show me the way to heaven? You don't even know where the baseball field is!"* (smile)

Well, in today's Gospel Jesus does want to show the way to heaven. He looked at the crowds and he felt pity or compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. They needed someone to show them the way.

We all desire heaven, but we don't know how to get there. Some people, for example, seek heaven by consuming alcohol. A guy looks forward to that next drink and he hopes it can become two or three or more. Afterwards, he feels the results in his body - and in his soul. He feels nauseous, miserable, disgusted. The devil is right there to tell him what to do: next time, increase the quantity and potency. That will make you feel better. That will give you peace. Happiness. Heaven now.

So it is with all our escapes: drugs, gambling, gluttony, shop till you drop, violent video games, porn, you name it. The devil tells us just a little more and this time you will be happy and it will last. Jesus calls Satan "the father of lies." The devil promises paradise, but he delivers something else: emptiness, self-loathing, bitterness, impotence, alienation from others and from God. And from God. Satan wants to separate you from God. That is the definition of hell.

Satan uses things that are good in themselves, such as, food, drink, sex, adventure, relaxation, self-esteem - and he gets us to pervert them. He takes our desire for heaven and twists it - to bring us to hell.**

Jesus does the opposite. In today's Gospel people come to Jesus hungry and tired. He doesn't offer a quick fix. Instead, he begins to teach. We need to learn the right path to heaven, to open our hearts to Jesus' teaching. A few weeks ago I showed you the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

When people see the Catechism, they sometimes say, "It's such a big book." Two thousand eight hundred and sixty-five paragraphs! "Can't it be more simple?" they ask. It can. You can summarize the Catechism in a few words. We do it each Sunday when we say the Creed. I believe in God the Father. I believe in Jesus his only Son. I believe in the Holy Spirit.

God Himself is ultimately simple, perfectly simple. But his creation is not. In contrast to spirit, it is the nature of matter to be complex. You and I are part of a mysterious, complex universe. God is simple and Jesus' teaching is simple - but it applies to a complex reality.*** Do not be surprised if the Catechism has 2865 paragraphs and the Bible has 73 books. Even so, the Bible doesn't describe all of reality, but along with the Catechism, it does provide a reliable road map to heaven.

Now, Jesus doesn't only teach. He also equips us to live his teachings. He addresses our anxieties and guilt - the profound wound in every heart. We heard last Sunday that when Jesus sent his disciples, they took nothing for the journey, but they did offer great gifts: a fresh start by repentance, release from demons and healing for the sick. Jesus wants to get our lives in order for the journey - the way to heaven.

And there is something more: Jesus loves us so much that he does not want us to wait. He offers us an experience of heaven right now. He does it in a manner so surprising, so shocking that we are going to need five Sundays. We are going to break from St. Mark's Gospel and devote five Sundays to a single chapter of St. John. As we shall see, Jesus not only shows us the way to heaven and equips us for the journey, but he allows us an experience of heaven on earth. That experience is so important, so central to the Christian life, that Jesus makes it a requirement for getting to heaven permanently. We will see all this in the coming weeks. Keep coming back!

For now I want you to take this home: Jesus shows us the way to heaven by his teaching and by equipping us through forgiveness, liberation and healing. And as we will see, beginning next week, he offers, here and now, an essential experience of the world to come. Amen.


*Note to fellow homilists: You might recognize this story as an adaptation of one told by Bishop Sheen. He in turn adapted it from a famous story about St. Vianney. He is supposed to have said to a boy: "You have shown me the way to Ars. I will show you the way to Heaven."

Bishop Sheen recommended that a preacher begin with a humorous story in which you come off second best. The story should of course have something to do with the rest of the homily. You are welcome to adapt this story to your circumstances. Almost everyone understands when someone is telling a tall tale, but you will always have a few humor-impaired who will ask, "Father, did that really happen?"

**Ancient people know about this temptation. They told the story of Ulysses: tempted by the sirens, he had himself tied to the ship's mast. The Church Fathers said that a Christian must hold himself to mast of the cross to avoid shipwreck by the siren song of this world. A man who was recovering from a gambling addiction used pass a casino on his way home from work. He had to look straight ahead and keep in his field of vision the cross on his rear-view mirror rosary. Otherwise, he could not resist turning into the casino.

***You may have heard about the "Higgs boson." They are calling it the "God particle" because of "its role in a fundamental property of elementary particles." But the Higgs boson might be basic to the universe, but it is far from simple. It "decays almost immediately after being created." I have no idea what that means, but is it not suggestive that they use the language of creation? The greatest puzzle, however, is not the Higgs boson, but the human heart.

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From Archives (16th Ordinary Sunday - Year B):

2018: Ephesians Week 2: He is Our Peace
2015: Building on Strength Week 3: Sacrament of Reconciliation
2012: The Way to Heaven
2009: Rest a While
2006: Come Away
2003: I Will Appoint Shepherds
2000: Leisure: A Misunderstood Activity

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