An early Christian legend states that after receiving the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, the apostles eventually went off to different countries in which to preach the Gospel. St. Thomas ended up in India. Upon arriving there, Thomas met the local king, who was interested in building a magnificent palace for himself. Thomas explained that he was a disciple of the greatest Carpenter of all time, and for this reason the king became convinced that Thomas could build him his palace. He gave the apostle a large sum of money and then went on a trip. Instead of working on the palace, however, Thomas, in the name of the king, gave all the money to the poor and spent his time preaching the Gospel. When the king sent a messenger to ask how the project was going, Thomas replied that things were going well, but he needed more money to finish it—and he gave away this money too to the poor. When the king returned and discovered there was no palace even though all the money was gone, he was furious; he had Thomas arrested and imprisoned, and planned to have him executed in a painful manner.
About this time the king’s brother, a very wise and holy man, died and went to heaven. An angel showed him many beautiful mansions, telling him to choose one for himself. He saw an exceptionally beautiful one on a lovely estate, but when he selected it, the angel told him, “No, that’s the one the apostle Thomas has been building for your brother, using the good works done in the king’s name; this will be his eternal dwelling— if he chooses to become a Christian.” The royal brother begged to be allowed to return to earth for a short time and relay this vitally important message to the king, and this request was granted—thereby saving the apostle’s life and converting the king into a fervent Christian (Fr. Joe Robinson, Guiding Light: The Soul Who Could, pp. 84-85). St. Thomas, who eventually died as a martyr, is today considered the Apostle of India. This legend about him makes an important point: the more we live out our faith in Jesus, the more we are preparing for ourselves a true and lasting home in Heaven.
Our Lord makes a wonderful and amazing promise in the Gospel of John (14:1-12): He Himself is preparing a place for us in His Father’s Kingdom. Moreover, if we love Him and do our best to serve Him, we will certainly find the way to heaven. St. Peter (1 Pt 2:4-9) calls us living stones, and urges us to let ourselves be built into a spiritual house—and we do this most especially by obeying Christ’s commandments, by imitating His example of love, and by serving others in His Name. The Acts of the Apostles (6:1-7) shows us that we can please God not only by prayer and spiritual devotions, as performed by the apostles, but also by routine, everyday acts of service—as demonstrated by those men chosen as deacons for the purpose of distributing food to the needy. Prayer and worship are, of course, vitally important if we are to grow in holiness—but our good deeds on behalf of others are also essential, for they show that our faith is genuine.
There are many persons who claim to have had near-death-experiences; after being clinically dead for a short time, they returned to life and reported what they saw and underwent. Some of them evidently witnessed or even experienced hell; others, purgatory; still others, heaven. Those who had been good persons claimed they would never again be afraid of dying; those who had lived in a worldly way were determined to change their priorities. Almost all of them were utterly convinced of the need to center the rest of their lives around loving and serving God and their neighbor. Many persons who seem to have witnessed heaven describe it as being somewhat similar to what we know on earth, but in a far more wonderful and glorious way: beautiful meadows and forests, crystal-clear rivers and lakes, flowers of exquisite beauty producing wonderful aromas, and majestic trees and delightful vegetation. There are also gorgeous cities and charming villages, and each citizen of heaven has his or her own personal home: wonderful, amazing, and unique in size and appearance and character—though blending in perfectly with all the others. It’s allegedly revealed that these homes, carefully designed based on the owners’ personality and life history, are constructed out of the good deeds we perform while here on earth—the exact point made by the legend about St. Thomas in India.
Everything you and I do this day, and every other day of our lives, is helping determine and build our eternal destiny. Jesus once promised that those who, out of love for Him, do something as simple as giving a cup of cold water to a thirsty person will not go unrewarded (Mt. 10:42), and this promise means all our good deeds—if done with a humble and loving heart—have a great value in God’s eyes. We can confirm our identity as God’s children by such everyday things as a friendly and welcoming smile, an encouraging word, and a helping hand; we can express our desire to be part of God’s Kingdom by doing a favor for someone in need, visiting a lonely person, or contributing to charity; we can help prepare ourselves for a glorious heavenly home by showing compassion to a suffering person, volunteering in our parish or community, and bearing witness to the Gospel by our words and example. We will have some false starts and setbacks; after all, when Jesus spoke of heaven in today’s Gospel, St. Thomas didn’t understand Him at first, and later the apostle even doubted the Lord’s Resurrection. God’s mercy is always available to us, however, and His grace is able to make up whatever is lacking in our simple, limited, human efforts to serve others in His Name.
We probably don’t fully realize just how potentially important today is, for it holds opportunities to live out our faith—usually in routine, unexceptionable ways—that can truly make a lasting difference. The Lord gives us each day as a chance to prepare ourselves for eternity. Heavenly riches and rewards await us—if we’re willing to put Jesus at the center of our lives and make following Him our highest priority. Every worldly item we now possess will one day pass away, and when we depart from this world, we will leave behind all that we’ve accumulated and owned, and take with us only our faith in Jesus, and the loving deeds that prove our faith is real. Let us therefore strive to store up “treasure in heaven” (Mt. 6:19-21)—for accumulating this sort of wealth is the wisest, safest, and most important investment we can ever make.
REVEREND JOSEPH M. ESPER is a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit and pastor of Immaculate Conception parish in Anchorville, Michigan. He received his Master of Divinity degree from St. John’s Provincial Seminary in Plymouth, Michigan. Through the years, Father Joe has lectured at Marian conferences, appeared on EWTN, spoken on Catholic radio, and written more than a dozen articles for This Rock, The Priest, Homiletic and Pastoral Review, and other publications. He is also the author of numerous books, including Saintly Solutions, More Saintly Solutions, After the Darkness, Lessons from the Lives of the Saints, and Why Is God Punishing Me? In addition to Amazon, many of his most recent books are available through Queenship Publishing.