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Six things you can do to get yourself to heaven

Published: September 14, 2018   
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily Sept. 5 on the feast of St. Teresa of Kolkata.

Nowhere does Jesus ever say that a correct understanding of doctrine is necessary for salvation. Obviously good information is better than bad information, but you can have a head full of incorrect ideas and still make it to heaven.

And nowhere does Jesus ever say that obeying the 10 Commandments is necessary for salvation, but how do we expect to stand on the Day of Judgment if we disobey what God has commanded us to do or not do? He commands things for our own good — wrongdoing destroys us on the inside and does great harm to others.

Nowhere does Jesus say much about either of these things. He probably just assumes them because after all, most people in his day were pretty devout — at least by our standards — and he spends a lot of time with religious people, preaching in synagogues, for instance. These things were a “given.”

Jesus is not being poetic when he says that what we do for the needy we do to him.

But there is one place where Jesus does list six specific things that are necessary for salvation — and these are the six corporal works of mercy Jesus refers to in today’s Gospel reading, which is very appropriate today on this feast of St. Teresa of Kolkata. The seventh corporal work of mercy is “bury the dead” but not on the list in today’s Gospel. The six we have today are: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick and visit those in prison. In the passage that immediately follows the portion of the parable that you just heard warns us that those who do not do these things “will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

In other words, God will judge us not only about our moral behavior and our religious observance, but also most especially in terms of our reaction to human need. And here is where the witness of St. Teresa of Calcutta is so powerful.

I would like to draw your attention today to three things which Jesus emphasizes in this parable about this help we are to give the needy.

  • These acts of mercy are not big things. They are things that anyone can do. They are not a question of giving away a lot of money, though of course that is a terrific thing. But what Jesus is talking about here is giving simple help to those in need, people we see on the street corners or even just acts of kindness to people we meet every day. Maybe people who are sort of invisible otherwise.

Mother Teresa says: “We can do no great things — only small things with great love.

  • Which leads to the second point: that we give this help with great love, meaning so instinctively that it has just become second nature to us. The people in the parable didn’t know that they were — or were not — helping Jesus when they helped or refused to help those in need. They just did it because they saw a need and had a loving heart. They didn’t stop to consider whether the recipient was worth helping or not, or whether anyone would notice or not.

In the words of Mother Teresa, they considered it to be “no great thing.”

  • And then the third point: Jesus is not being poetic when he says that what we do for the needy we do to him. You parents know that anything good or bad that anyone does to your child, they’ve done to you and you react accordingly. Moreover, if you have a child that is especially vulnerable or otherwise dealing with problems, you become more protective and your concern expands in proportion to the need.

Well, the same is true for God and his children. The needier they are, the greater the Lord’s concern for them, the greater his relief when the most needy of his children receive help and the greater his fury when they don’t. This is true for our own individual behavior in concrete acts of charity and what we do as a nation when people come to us seeking help in their time of need.

The Missionaries of Charity live the corporal works of mercy every single day. This is the charism that so burned in the heart of Mother Teresa. And as Jesus says in today’s Gospel, it is precisely on the care we give or refuse to give the needy that we will one day be judged.


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