Most of the world religions have some concept of heaven and hell. Why? Because human freedom matters. We have to be given the freedom to say no to love and life, and one word for that is hell.
Pope John Paul II, who certainly was not a liberal, reminded listeners that heaven and hell are not physical places at all; they’re states of being in a living relationship with God or choosing separation from the source of all life and joy.  And, if that’s true, there are plenty of people on earth who are in hell now. They often choose to be miserable, hateful, negative, and oppositional. They love to exclude people who are different from them.
St. Catherine of Siena (1347–1380), whose feast we will celebrate tomorrow, received a vision of Jesus Christ as a bridge reaching from heaven to earth, forever joining “humanity with the greatness of the Godhead.”  Catholic Worker founder Dorothy Day (1897–1980) was fond of citing Catherine’s inspiration in her own reflections, often writing “All the way to heaven is heaven.”  I’d also add “It’s hell all the way to hell.” You’re choosing your destiny right now. You are responsible, not God. Do you want to live in love and communion? Or do you want to live in constant opposition to others and life itself?
As we observe our politics, antagonism appears to be the primary style of communication today—how to fight and win, how to be suspicious, how to be hateful, how to tell lies. Who can we exclude now? Which race, religion, or group is unworthy? (All in the name of God, remember!) That’s simply hell right now. And an awful lot of people, even those who call themselves Christian, appear to be living in a hell of their own construction. That’s why Jesus can say, “I do not know you” even to those who “ate and drank in his company” (see Luke 13:25–27)!
Heaven is not about belonging to the right group; it’s not about following the correct rituals. It’s about having the right attitude. There are just as many Muslims, Hindus, and Jews who are in love—serving their neighbor and the poor—as there are Christians. Jesus says there will be deep regret—“wailing and grinding of teeth” (Luke 13:28)—when we realize how wrong we were, how thoroughly we missed the point. Be prepared to be surprised about who is living a life of love and service and who isn’t. This should keep us all humble and searching and recognizing it’s not even any of our business who’s going to heaven and who’s going to hell. What makes us think that our little minds and hearts could discern the mind and heart of anyone else?
 Pope John Paul II, General Audiences on the topics of heaven (July 21, 1999) and hell (July 28, 1999). Full texts of these addresses can be found at https://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/audiences/1999.index.html.
 Catherine of Siena, The Dialogue, trans. Suzanne Noffke (Paulist Press: 1980), 59.
 Dorothy Day, The Catholic Worker (May 1970). This article (and many others that include this phrase) can be found by browsing online archives at https://www.catholicworker.org/dorothyday/browse/.
Adapted from Richard Rohr: Essential Teachings on Love, eds. Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Orbis Books: 2018), 250-251.
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”