Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 24, 2003
A Travel Guide to Heaven allays fear
By MSGR. JIM LISANTE
Every week or so I have a shopping ritual with my nieces and nephews. Wanting them to appreciate the wonder of reading, we go to the local bookstore. I buy each of them one book. All they have to promise is that they'll read what they select.
I encourage them to try new kinds of books. For instance, my nephews are inclined toward books on sports. Nothing wrong with that. But there's a whole world I want them to know.
One of my least favourite areas of the bookstore has always been the "how to" section, filled with self-improvement titles. I don't have problems with the concept of self-improvement. I'm just not sure that it's as easy as following someone else's list of do's and don'ts.
In particular, I get steamed about all those books on self-assertion and self-confidence, along with books on exercise and dieting. Somewhere in our hearts we know that they probably won't work for us. But hope does spring eternal, so we buy.
I recently found a different kind of "how to" book that was unlike any other I'd ever seen. It was a guidebook on how to get to heaven, and more to the point, on what we'll find when we get there. The book is called A Travel Guide to Heaven and it's written by a new author named Anthony DeStefano. I was so touched by it that I contacted him and asked him to be a guest on our Christopher Closeup television program.
My first question was one I grapple with all the time as a priest. How does anyone know what heaven is like?
"Look in the Bible," DeStefano answered. If that book means something to you, then take its words about heaven seriously. By DeStefano's reckoning, heaven's an amazing place, beyond our wildest hopes. Scripture talks of it as both a spiritual and a physical reality, not limited to billowy white clouds, but of beautiful colours.
DeStefano also claims that this place of total goodness is anything but boring because it's illuminated by the glorious sight, feel and experience of being with all the folks we've loved and lost. And believing it to be, as the Good Book promises, a place of boundless joy, Anthony suspects we'll see our old pets there again too! Why, he ponders, would God deny us this pleasure?
Anthony's Scripture-based vision also sees heaven as a place where God's mercy reigns. And that means that it's challenging to get in, but by no means an impossibility. God wants us to succeed, to know the joy of eternal life in heaven.
Anthony DeStefano is also aware of the recent interest in angels. But he says that as good and as numerous as they are, angels are no more special to God than we are. And along with the angels we have a similar goal and purpose: to give God glory by living life fully, generously and for others.
In survey after survey of what we most fear here on earth is death. A Travel Guide to Heaven tries to allay this fear. The author tells us our destination after death is a place of unlimited glory. There is no death and loss, only loving abundance and the fullness of life.
So what does all this have to do with our lives here and now? DeStefano wants us to see that since our final home is so good, so glorious, it should change us. Shouldn't we live more fully now? Shouldn't the greatness of God's mercy and the bright promise of eternal life inspire us to use this life well? To let our unique talents and gifts transform the world? To be an instrument of God's goodness?
If you're not ready to leave for heaven this minute, don't worry. We shouldn't want to. Heaven is a place of awesome promise, but we have wonderful, beautiful, blessed lives to live here until God calls us home.
(For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, Being a Good Neighbour, write: The Christophers, 12 East 48 St., New York, NY, 10017; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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