To Jackie, Stephanie, and Edward who have taught me how to live and love.
Chapter 1: Your Life – The Macro View
Chapter 2: Your Life – The Micro View
Chapter 3: Conclusion
Appendix A: Spiritual Game Plan
Appendix B: Examples of Aspirations
The idea of this booklet came to me when a friend asked me to give a talk at one of his Bible study meetings on the cardinal virtues (prudence, justice, fortitude, temperance). I felt confident about discussing these virtues and was excited about the prospect of explaining why living these virtues are so important. A few days before my presentation, I was flying back home from a business trip, sitting in the last row of the airplane. I took out a piece of paper and outlined what you are about to read. I then presented this material at the Bible study meeting where it was well received. I suspected that this was the first time they had been given a birds-eye view or road map of life from the creation of the soul and body to eternal life. Since then I have drawn this road map for many of my family, friends, and colleagues, typically over a meal on the back of a napkin. Many have actually kept the napkin as a helpful picture to show where God is leading them to him.
I imagine that much of what I say here the reader will have picked up over the course of their life; and yet for some this will the first time they have seen a pictorial synthesis of these ideas. I am an engineer by trade, specifically a Systems Engineer. Systems Engineers are typically trained to draw pictures of the system they are attempting to design. And studies show that most people (66% on average) are visual learners. Whether or not you are among them, I hope you find this information helpful, and I welcome and look forward your thoughts on it.
Your Life – The Macro View
Have you ever thought of doing a rewind to consider how your life began? Take a look at Figure 1.
Figure 1. The body and soul created nine months before birth
The figure above depicts that approximately nine months before your birth, God created your body and soul. You didn’t have anything to do with your coming into the world. The body you now have was given to you as a complete gift from God and through a generative act of love by your parents. Your soul was created by God and integrated to your body to be the unifying principle of your body. The soul enables us to love the Creator (God) and everyone else by the upright use of the body. But of course you do not begin to realize that love as an embryo. To put it numerically, the love that you were created to give starts at 0% (at conception), and is intended to increase to 100% by the end of your life.
During your nine months in the womb, God fashioned every part of you beautifully and intricately (see http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002398.htm on the development of the fetus).
Life after Birth
Then we were born, grew and lived. During our first several years, we engage in family bonding, observing and interacting with people, which includes eating, sleeping, crying, and so forth. We begin our formal education with grade school (see Figure 2).
Figure 2. Examples of stages of life in this world
Then comes middle school and high school. High school typically prepares us for college or trade school, which prepares us for professional life to contribute to social life through our work. Then we either marry and start a family or we discern a different calling. There are of course many other significant events that occur over our lifetime that are not depicted in Figure 2, which is intended only to portray a sample life timeline.
Is this world all there is?
In his biographical exhortation “Confessions”, St. Augustine tells God “You have created us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” God created us with the capacity to desire things. We also come up with all sorts of goals to pursue in life. If we achieve these goals, we then typically come up with new ones and begin to seek them. The cycle continues: some goals we reach, others we don’t. The key question we need to ask ourselves, though, is: “is our ultimate goal to get to heaven, to be with God?” because all the other goals we seek and accomplish are all temporary goals, which leads us to our ultimate goal: heaven. The goal of heaven should move us to want to be holy all the days of our lives, as St. Paul tells us “This is the will of God, your sanctification.” (1 Thess 4:3). Sanctification is another word for holiness. And holiness (Love of God in us) is what Jesus wants of us starting now by telling us “The Kingdom of God is within you” (Lk 17:21) and confirming this in the “Our Father” prayer to us: “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt 6:10) where we essentially tell him “I too want your Kingdom in me on earth and after this life”, “I too want to love you now as the souls in heaven are loving you now”.
Time Ends For Each Person
As we reach our goals in this life, we can reach a point that we are never really satisfied in life. There is always “the next thing.” When does that ever cease? The answer is when we die. And then one might ask: “now what?” Hmmm, good question. You see, God our Creator is the only one who can provide full satisfaction since he created us for himself. You didn’t have anything to do with your coming into the world. You are a complete gift of God! Eventually, time runs out for us in this life, as illustrated in Figure 3.
Figure 3. Map to Eternal Life
That point is called “Death” – of the body. But what happens to our soul? It was created by God to be with him forever. At the point of death, where our soul “separates” from our body, God lovingly judges us. That is, our conscience sees itself as God does. The Triune God (that is, the family of God: the Father, Son – Jesus, and Holy Spirit) look into our soul to see how much love there is in it and how faithful the soul has been to him. Thus, if our soul has been found to be 100% in love with him and with others at the end, then Jesus’ words will take effect at that moment as we embrace him in heaven: “Well done, good and faithful servant; because you have been faithful over a few things, I will set you over many; enter the joy of your Master” (Mt 25: 21). Our joy is now complete and permanent, where we now eternally adore in love the Blessed Trinity with all the Angels and Saints. And, as Figure 3 shows, this new life is REAL LIFE where as the life on earth is a precursor or pre-life.
If, upon judgment, after all the attempts for God to win our love through his grace, we end our lives completely in love with ourselves (rejecting God definitively), then the words of Jesus will take effect at that moment: “cast him forth into the darkness outside, where there will be weeping, and the gnashing of teeth” (Mt 25: 30). While some people say that God sends people to hell, it is more apt to say that we choose hell by not choosing God throughout our life. God, all-powerful and all loving, offers his grace (love) to us throughout our journey to him. Each of us has the power to say “yes” or “no” to his grace throughout our life thus moving us to choose (or not) to love God and our neighbor (for the sake of God) at any time. Satan’s goal is to draw us into a permanent state of self-love, the end result of saying a definitive “no” to God’s grace – a state of the soul called “hell”, damned forever in eternal loneliness and torment by Satan and the demons (Our Lady showed the state of hell to the three visionaries of Fatima http://aleteia.org/2018/10/25/fatima-visionaries-terrifying-vision-of-hell/). The more we say “yes” to God’s grace, the more we participate in divine love, and continue on our journey to heaven, as shown on the green line in Figure 3. Conversely, the more we say “no”, the more we remain in love with our self, the further we get from heaven and the closer we spiral towards hell, as shown on the red line in Figure 3. Keep in mind that even if we choose to do evil, because of our free will, we can make course corrections anytime in our life, as illustrated in the saw tooth lines in Figure 3.
If, upon death, we are not fully in the state of grace (but not completely devoid of grace), our soul pulls back immediately from the face of God in shame, to allow him to purify us (thus the term purgatory), as we are not ready to see him until we have been completely cleansed by his mercy. A soul in purgatory undergoes intense suffering but with certainty that it will one day see God face to face, once it is completely purified. It is ensured heaven. When God decides that the world/universe has fulfilled its purpose, time will end and thus the state of purgatory will cease to exist. Only heaven and hell will remain.
Those of us on earth can help in relieving the pain of the souls in purgatory by offering the following (for example) for them: the Holy Mass, almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance for them (Catechism of the Church #1032).
The souls in purgatory pray for us. St. Josemaria Escrivà – the founder of Opus Dei – would often refer to the souls in purgatory as my “good friends, the souls in purgatory.”
Having said everything in this chapter, Jesus tells us (as he told Nicodemus in the New Testament, Book of John, Chapter 3) that one cannot enter heaven (Kingdom of God) unless that person is “born anew”, through the Sacrament of Baptism, per Jesus’ words below:
- “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” – John 3:3
- “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” – John 3:5
The Catechism of the Catholic Church points 1213-1284 (http://www.usccb.org/sites/default/files/flipbooks/catechism/314/) explains the details of this Sacrament and how it is administered.
Your Life – The Micro View
We have just looked at our life at the macro level, with loving God as our goal. That is why, every day, it is helpful to have the end (heaven) in mind. To better understand how we can love throughout our life, it is helpful to look at how we can achieve this on a daily basis. Figure 4 illustrates one-day in/for/with love of God.
Figure 4. 1 day done in/for/with Love of God
The first thing we do every day is wake up! Our attitude should be that each day is a gift from God.
We sketch a timeline from when we wake up to when we go to sleep at the end of the day. From the start of the day, we have an opportunity to offer God everything that will happen throughout the entire day. This is called the Morning Offering. God knows everything that is going to happen to us during the day. He gives us all the necessary help through his grace to say “yes” to this grace and thus orient our day for love of him. We can simply ignore his grace and live our day without him. It can help to have a daily spiritual game plan (see Appendix A for examples), much like successful business professionals or athletes plan their day or training. John Wooden, UCLA’s most successful basketball coach, once remarked: “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” Having a plan to live with love for God can ensure we are intentional in working for the glory to God throughout the day. We need a good plan to offer our day to him and to communicate with him in the silence of our hearts or even voicing our praises to him.
Where do we typically spend most of our day? We spend it doing some kind of productive work: whether at home, in school, or at some business. God has created us to use our time, talents, and energy to work well with and for love of him and others, and to offer him the best of our work, motivated by love for him and others. Recall how Abel, in the Old Testament, offered the best of his sheep flock to God which God preferred over Cain’s (Abel’s brother) offering from the ground (Genesis 4:3).
A challenge we all face in work is becoming so absorbed in our activities that we forget to offer it to God, without realizing that he is there to help us use our talents well. We should ask God throughout the day to help us virtuously do our work, attend class, play sports, traveling from one place to another with order and focus, personal fortitude/toughness (e.g., doing a difficult assignment first), sense of responsibility (e.g., being on-time, submitting high quality work), and sound decision-making (e.g., making good choices based on reflection). These virtues and their derivatives acts such as expressing gratitude, offering forgiveness, living charity, showing respect, practicing patience and perseverance in difficult tasks are good habits that we can acquire over the course of our lives. We learn them from our parents, friends, and colleagues by imitation. Virtues strengthen the soul and make it easier for us to love God and others with heroism. The opposite of virtue is vice (e.g. pride, anger, lust, hatred), which draws us into a vicious cycle that weakens the soul and love for God. Remember, Satan is always prowling around us seeking to destroy our soul, preventing it from getting to heaven.
God does not cease helping us to be virtuous and loving throughout each moment of the day, although we may forget that he moves us to seek and do the good, which we need to always be aware of. Consequently, it helps to have reminders to activate our awareness of his presence throughout the day. This can be done in the form of short phrases of love, using the Bible, for instance, as a source of pithy phrases (also referred to as Aspirations):
- When your faith is being tested, we can say “Lord, I do belief, help my unbelief” (Mk 9:24). Our journey to God is a journey of faith in believing something we don’t physically see. Jesus was always preaching to everyone to believe in him (and prove that belief in actions) so that we may have eternal life.
- When going down the stairs/escalator/elevator, we can say “Lord, that I may decrease.” When we are going up the stairs/escalator/elevator, we can say “Lord, that You may increase.” This is the prayer of St. John the Baptist: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). This short prayer can help us to do everything in the day with more love of God.
- When turning on the lights, we can say “Lord, that I may see” (Mk 10: 32) like Bartimaeus the blind beggar who used these very words. This prayer can help us when we need light on some problem we are trying to solve either at school, work, or family.
We can even make up our own phrases, such as when moving from one place to another (e.g., playing sports): “Help me to speedily run to you, my God.” The goal of these Aspirations (which more examples are listed in Appendix B) is simply called “prayer”: that is, to communicate with God as you go about your day from morning till night, listening to his inspirations and offering up your work and sufferings to him with faith and love for the salvation of your soul and those around you (even by name). Your day will then have a unity to it: union with God 24/7 (even sleep can be offered to God as we rest in him).
During the day, when encountering some pain (physical, emotional, mental, financial), it can be helpful to consider “naming the pain”. A simple formula, in this regard, could be to “offer X to God for Y”: X being a particular task or something painful that has come your way that you didn’t expect or anticipate or even something you voluntary do/sacrifice for love of God; Y being for someone you interact with (family, friend, colleague) during the day.
We are not perfect and so we will tend to mess things up a bit. From time to time, we will fail to love God in some big or small way, thereby falling into sin (giving into Satan’s temptations) and thus needing to be reconciled with God. Fortunately, God realized this and through his Son Jesus Christ, he has provided us with a cure for sin by instituting the sacrament of penance, commonly referred to as Confession. It is recommended that we go to Confession (e.g., at least once a month in this author’s opinion). In this sacrament, God forgives our sins and gives us the strength to fight against our defects. We have to fight to get to heaven. Remember the words of Jesus: “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and men of violence take it by force” (Matthew 11:12). Even if we don’t have a chance to get to Confession, speak with someone who you can confide in, sharing your thoughts and struggles, like a good friend or older person who is wise and has a lot of life experiences (e.g., coaches, teachers).
Have you ever stopped to realize that your next day may not happen? Our next day is a maybe; it is not guaranteed. Not knowing whether today will be our last day in this life, it is helpful at the end of the day, before going to bed, to examine our conscience to see in what ways we loved or did not love God and others. We can ask ourselves how we corresponded to the gift of grace he has given us throughout the day. For those graces we corresponded to, we can tell him “Thank You.” For the times we turned away from those graces, we can tell him “I am sorry” for having offended you. We then should renew our commitment to love him and others better the next day. It can be helpful to make an act of contrition (which we normally make during Confession). Here are a few examples:
- “Oh my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended thee and I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell, but most of all because they have offended Thee my God who art all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve with the help of Thy grace to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life. Amen.”
- “Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”
At the end of the day, we go to sleep and then (God-willing) we wake-up the next day and the cycle repeats itself.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us: “The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for: The dignity of man rests above all on the fact that he is called to communion with God. This invitation to converse with God is addressed to man as soon as he comes into being. For if man exists it is because God has created him through love, and through love continues to hold him in existence. He cannot live fully according to truth unless he freely acknowledges that love and entrusts himself to his creator” (CCC 27).
As I conclude this booklet, we are reminded that we are created by God and drawn by him to be with him forever in heaven. We start out at 0% love of God and our goal is to be 100% grace-filled: that is 100% in love with God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and everyone he has placed around us throughout our life. Only he knows the true state of our soul. Thus, it is important to check daily to see what our conscience tells us regarding how full our “love-tank” is for the day. Did we love God more today than yesterday? Did we love others more today than yesterday? Or did the day revolve around us?
The best analogy I can give for the map to eternal life outlined here is from football. We start at the 0 yard line in our life with the goal of getting to the end zone to score a touchdown. Each day is like a hash mark on the football field. We are the ball and God is the quarterback who, if we allow him, will help us get to heaven’s end zone. The defenders are the forces of hell – Satan and his demons – which daily try to prevent us from getting to the end zone tempting us to think of only this world “through the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 Jn 2:16). In fact, Satan prevents us from even thinking there is such a thing as God’s end zone. Rather, Satan’s #1 goal is to get us into his end zone: hell.
I would like to end with a quote from Vince Lombardi: “Winning is not the most important thing; it is the only thing.” Similar to these words, for every human being that God creates, getting to heaven is the most important thing and the only thing that should occupy our daily thoughts and desires. Time is short; it is slipping away. Let us never forget that we are not alone in this journey and that God has placed many good people around us to help us get to him, most especially the Blessed Virgin Mary, our Mother, whom Jesus gave to us. Recall the wedding at Cana where the wine ran out. Mary interceded with Jesus, on behalf of the wedding couple. She got what she wanted: Jesus turned the water into wine. So too, Mary never stops interceding for us before God the Father, God her Son, and God the Holy Spirit until she gets what she wants: that we reach heaven!
Spiritual Game Plan
For anyone serious about getting to heaven, a spiritual game plan is a must. Just like any good team or business always has a plan to win or be successful, you and I need a plan to get to heaven. That plan can come in a variety of ways. Here is just one example that can be tailored based on your time constraints throughout the day.
- Morning Offering – first thing immediately waking up in the morning (don’t hit the snooze button!) is to offer to God absolutely everything that will happen throughout the day: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Thanking him for this day which didn’t have to happen, but God gifted to you. Some examples of Morning Offerings can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morning_offering
- Time of personal 1 on 1 conversation with God (10-15 minutes). This can be in the form of reading a good spiritual book: lives of the Saints or good books written by them or other spiritually oriented people. Read a few paragraphs, then stop and talk with God about them, being open to what he (through the Holy Spirit) communicates back to you. These websites provides a number of good resources: scepterpublishers.org, www.ignatius.com, www.augustineinstitute.org).
- Attending Holy Mass (preferably more than once a week). The best spiritual activity we can do during the day is to attend Holy Mass where we can receive Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Because Jesus is God the Son and thus Love himself, we can live in that Love throughout the day by he acting in us so that we can see with his eyes, hear with his ears, speak with his mouth, work with his hands, and love with his heart. The more we attend Holy Mass, the more in love we will be with God and others throughout the week.
- Reading of the Bible (5 minutes) – particularly the New Testament. Because God the Father sent his only begotten Son Jesus into the world to redeem the world, we ought to want to get to know Jesus thoroughly so that we can love him (remember to really love someone, we have to know something about them). And his life and the acts and writings of his Apostles are written in the New Testament. And just don’t read the New Testament but reflect on the words, trying to put ourselves into the scenes, in order to make it come alive for us.
- Praying the Holy Rosary daily. Because Jesus gave his own mother Mary to us at the foot of the Cross on Good Friday to be our spiritual mother, it makes sense to treat her with special reverence. And the Rosary is the best way to do this. In fact, Jesus loves it when we honor his mother and she loves it when we honor her (like any good mother who wants her children to spend time talking with her). Here is a good link on how to pray the Rosary – usccb.org/how-to-pray-the-rosary. Remember to pray it with attention (with great love) and to ask your Guardian Angel (whom God has assigned to us at the start of our life to help us get to heaven) to fight any distractions as we pray the Rosary.
- Examination of Conscience (1-2 minutes nightly). God created us with a conscience: our internal moral rudder as a way to monitor when we do good or evil. On the road to heaven, there will be times when we will have to make a course correction, like a ship does from time to time to get back on course when it veers off its intended trajectory. At the end of the day, we can ask ourselves three simple questions: (1) How did I love God today? (2) Did I offend God in any way today? (3) What do I need to do better tomorrow to love God? And then commit to change the way we think and behave, accordingly, for tomorrow.
- Make a good Confession (at least once a month). There will be times when we offend God by committing some sin (venial or mortal) thereby kicking him out of our soul. We will want to restore that relationship with him by telling him we are sorry immediately once we fall, and then to run to a good holy priest who can hear our Confession and experience God’s mercy. We want our soul to always be full of grace (100% in love with God) because we do not know when our last day will come. When we die, Jesus will be the one to judge us and we want to be prepared for that day, whenever he decides that our time in this world comes to end and stops our heart. Holy Mary will also be present at our death and will speak good things about us to her Son because of the countless Hail Mary’s we had prayed where we reminded her to “pray for us now and the hour of our death”.Here is a good link to learn about how to make a good Confession – catholic.org/prayers/confession.php. Also note: if you examine your conscience daily (as discussed above), this will be a great way to prepare for Confession. And also, try to bring others with you to Confession: because He wants our friends to always be in a state of grace. Remember that Satan, who is always trying to lead us into sin, hates Confession because it leads us away from him and back to God. Because we really love our family and friends, we want them too to be reconciled with God, whenever they fall, to get back on the path to heaven.
- Like any athlete, desiring to be successful, has a coach, so too we should look for a good and holy spiritual coach/mentor (layman or priest) that can guide us and hold us accountable to this spiritual game plan described above. Meet with them regularly to talk with them about our ups and downs so that they can point out ways to be even holier, which will often times require extra sacrifice, which loving always does.
Examples of Aspirations
- Jesus, Jesus always be for me Jesus.
- Lord, keep me always yours.
- Holy Mary, my hope seat of wisdom pray for me.
- Holy Mary, my hope handmaid of the Lord, pray for me.
- Without your grace, I can’t do anything.
- Abba, Pater!
- Sancta Maria, Madre Mia!
- Thank you Lord, Thank You!
- Thank you Lord, forgive me, help me more!
- I want when You want, I want as You want, I want because You want.