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“Ask a Priest: How Can I Be Sure There Is a Heaven?”
Q: I am in my 50s. My health has taken quite a beating, and death is always on my mind. Most especially, what will happen to me when I die. I am terrified of it. A lot of scary movies of being lost in the netherworld, hell, or demons come to mind. I fear being condemned or winding up in a worse place than the one I am in now. How do I know that there is a heaven and that I will be going there? I know I will one day die, and I don’t want to be afraid. I want to know and have confidence that I will be going to heaven because there is a heaven and that I am deserving. – N.B.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: Even a decline in health can be a great grace of God, since it gives us time to prepare for death.
We can believe in the existence of heaven for many reasons. For openers, Jesus told us as much, in the parable of the sheep and goats (Matthew 25:31-46).
Two other reasons are our deeply rooted desires to live forever and to be perfectly loved.
Experience tells us that desires have a function, a reason, an outlet. For instance, hunger prompts us to eat. Hunger makes sense because there is something to satisfy it: food. Hunger on its own would be absurd if there were nothing to satisfy it.
Similarly, our desire to live forever (joyfully) makes sense because there is something that can satisfy it: heaven.
Or take our desire to be loved. We are made in God’s image. God is a Trinity, a communion of three divine Persons, which explains why we too have a deeply relational dimension in our nature. We are made to be with others. We find our identity through our relationships.
We have hearts made to love and to be loved. And like any desire, we seek a perfect satisfaction of the desire. The only one who can fully satisfy that desire is God. To be with God, to see God, is heaven.
This position might not satisfy someone who is looking for scientific proof about heaven. But it is a position that could resonate with the intuitions we embrace deep in our hearts.
However, we shouldn’t be too quick to presume that we are going to heaven automatically. Yes, we can have hope that we will attain it with the grace of God so long as we try to live an upright life. But we should avoid presumption. We need to do our part.
In your case that would mean maintaining a solid prayer life and frequenting the sacraments.
The best preparation for death is making a good confession, getting the anointing of the sick, and receiving Communion.
In preparation for confession, you want to make a thorough examen of conscience and a good act of contrition (sorrow for sins).
There are plenty of online resources to help you prepare for confession. A few:
For confidence, try to contemplate the crucifix. Realize that Jesus died on a cross precisely to redeem you from your sins and to give you a chance at heaven. His resurrection from the dead is a sign that we, too, can share in that resurrection someday.
With the help of prayer and the sacraments, you will be strengthened for the last leg of your journey on earth.
It would be good to take some time to pray about death, judgment, heaven, and hell. Our Retreat Guide on the Last Things could be helpful for that: Fire of Mercy: A Retreat Guide for All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day.
This world isn’t meant to be our final home. Our real home is meant to be in heaven. The time to prepare for it is now.
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