My former apologetics student, Ray, messaged me. I hovered over the button that would reveal his note. It could be anything from a request for a letter of recommendation to an informal “Hello, how are you?”
It started with, “So, I have a question.” One of his friends said she was scared of dying in a plane crash, but then she said it would be OK because she knew she would go to heaven if she died. My former student responded that one can’t assume that heaven is a sure thing. We hope for heaven. We trust in a merciful God. Then his friend said that Sacred Scripture proved her point of view, not his. My student wondered how to respond. Most of us would wonder.
I assured my former student that we do, indeed, have a merciful God and nobody should judge the ultimate destination of another person. We should not even pre-judge our own personal destination. We trust Jesus. To say that I know where I will go if I die tonight is to presume against the mercy of God. I used to believe a single prayer I said as a child was my ticket to heaven. I now know that this is a journey to holiness, and it may take my whole life (and some purging after that) to get me to the sanctification required to come face-to-face with God in the beatific vision.
I reminded my student that no passage in Sacred Scripture says that we can know beyond a shadow of a doubt where we will be if we die tonight. We trust Jesus. Now, if we are like the good thief, maybe Jesus tells us where we will be, but as far as I know, the good thief is the only one who had that privileged conversation with the Son of God.
On the other hand, we must not despair. We don’t presume, and we don’t despair. We trust.
My favorite response to the question, “Do you know where you will go if you die tonight” is this: I am saved, I am being saved, and God willing I will be saved.
The same day I received this message from a former student, I received a note on another social media platform. I don’t like social media very much, but I like seeing photos of my kids and grandkids and keeping up with most people. Anyway, this guy must have been a guy looking for Catholics to harangue. He aimed the same question at me. I gave the same answer. I was reminded of some things I teach my apologetics students: Respond without emotion. Don’t take things personally.
I never received a response from the man on social media who was trying to stir things up with me. I don’t think the person really wanted to know if I believed I would go to heaven if I died tonight. He just wanted to make me doubt my faith formation. Plant a seed of doubt. Make me want a church that could assure me that I will get into heaven rather easily. Get me to question my Catholic faith.
I don’t recommend engaging that mindset. It will not get you anywhere. But I’m an apologetics instructor. I sometimes bite even when the question isn’t offered with genuine curiosity.
What am I trying to say? First, I hope you now have a solid answer if someone comes at you with this question. Mainly, though, I hope you never doubt your faith when any question, sincere or with malice, is presented to you. Rest in the 2,000-year faith and the Lord Jesus Christ. Be confident in your Church and your Baptism. Focus on becoming holy. That should keep you busy. And when you feel anxious about where you will end up if you die tonight, go to confession or reach out to your go-to person. Evidently, I am Ray’s go-to person. And that’s fine with me.
Oh, and find the beautiful middle. Trust is the middle way. We don’t presume, and we don’t despair. Jesus, we trust in you.