Those of us who were brought up Catholic had to abide by myriad rules related to almost every event in our lives. Keeping track of sins and their categorization–original, venial and mortal–was daunting; however, I’ve noticed that things have changed. Now, some sins that were mortal, aren’t; original sin has a different interpretation, and I wonder, are there still venial sins? I don’t hear much about those anymore. And I think Purgatory, Limbo and Hell have closed shop. Where did all those folks who were doomed to live on the edge of the underworld go, those doomed to an afterlife spent waiting for redemption that might or might not come or worse, a life of abject misery with no chance of parole? Did everyone get a free “Get Out of Jail” card and proceed directly to heaven? I used to think about this a lot when I was a boy.
HOW TO GET INTO HEAVEN
By Charles R. Hale
When I was a young I worried about who was going to heaven, who might be facing a stint in purgatory, and who’d be going south for the duration. As for my own fate, I’d traipse down to Our Lady of the Snows on Saturday for my weekly spiritual ablution and say a pile of prayers after admitting that I lusted for a friend’s eleven-year old sister. Even if I was incapable of consummating those lustful thoughts it didn’t matter: wicked thoughts counted as sins.
On Sundays I’d go to the 9:00 Mass. I actually loved Father Stuart’s “Go out and convert someone” sermon–it was my first power rush–but one day I became quite concerned when he said, “The Lord wants you to renew your Covenant with him every week. It’s a mortal sin if you don’t.” I felt faint. I immediately thought about my mother. My mother wasn’t concerned with missing Mass. What if something happened to her, I thought. Would my mother be going to…. The thought of it was too much to bear.
I started to envision scenarios in which I’d negotiate with St. Peter. I imagined myself kneeling in front of him with my Little Prayer Book, mother-of-pearl rosary beads, and my mother’s First Holy Communion picture. I’d plea bargain her way into heaven if it was the last thing I did.
“St. Peter, I know that missing Mass is a mortal sin, however, I also know that a mortal sin must be premeditated; there must be a willful violation, and there must be intent. None of these legal terms characterizes my mother’s actions. Thus in my mind, her indiscretion could be classified as venial sin, a “religious misdemeanor.”
St. Peter stared straight at me with the first WTF look I can ever remember. Finally he spoke, “My Son, I believe your mother has committed prior indiscretions, which preclude her entrance into heaven.”
“That can’t be St. Peter. No way. Not ‘my’ mother.”
“Have you seen the inscription in her high school yearbook, ‘Cute and clever, naughty never, well hardly ever.’ You do understand what “hardly ever” means, Son?” St. Peter said with a knowing wink.
“St. Peter, please, forgive her, her indiscretions.”
“You can console yourself with the reflection that it is God’s holy will,” St. Peter said.
“But this is my mother, St. Peter. I’ll do anything. I’ll say a thousand Hail Mary’s , I’ll convert someone, everyone I meet. It’ll be a Crusade.”
St. Peter kept shaking his head, he made the sign of the cross and bowed his head.
“I’ll do the Stations of the Cross on my knees, St. Peter. I’ll honor God’s word and I’ll throw in two seats, front row, the Yankees/Sox game.”
“Up front? Okay, four up front, she gets ten years in purgatory, no limbo, straight to heaven, deal?”
“Deal! (Hmm, I wonder if I can make a career out of this?) Thanks, St. Peter. Maybe we can do this again. There’s more where those came from. (I think I’m onto something here.)”