A TRAVEL GUIDE TO HEAVEN by Anthony DeStefano Doubleday, 2003 193 pages, $18.95 Available in bookstores
After attending a number of funerals in which the homilies did not seem to resonate with the mourners, Anthony DeStefano decided it was time for some down-to-earth exploration of the place we hope to go after death.
Figuring that “if heaven is anything at all, it's fun,” he wrote this book in the style of a vacation guide. It's got an itinerary, pre-flight instructions (leave “gloominess, cynicism, pessimism, intellectual snobbery … and prejudice against God behind”) and tour guides (guardian angels). Life is a journey (or pilgrimage), he says, and heaven is the ultimate destination — a great and desirable resort where every good hope and dream will be fulfilled.
As executive director of Priests for Life, based in Staten Island, N.Y., DeStefano is solidly Catholic and pro-life, yet neither specifically Catholic teachings nor decidedly pro-life themes play prominently in the book. He writes for a mainstream, moderately Christian readership in an attempt to reach as wide an audience as possible with an important message: Heaven is not a dreamlike state; it is a place where God's friends will live for eternity in his presence as full-bodied persons, possessing powers and capacities beyond imagining that will make for perfect happiness and fulfillment.
The hearts and minds of men and women are made for something greater than the pleasures of earth, wonderful as they may be, he writes. Setting our I sights on heaven is/not some pie-in-
Just as he seeks to bridge the gap between earth and heaven, DeStefano also writes to reach all corners of our culture. The book comes with jacket blurbs from a cross-section of secular and religious figures. Regis Philbin says, “This will be the best trip you ever took!” Father John Catoir, former president of the Christophers, known for his own interfaith inspirational writings, says the “exquisite” book is filled with “simplicity and wit.”
In capturing and recasting Christianity's traditional teaching on heaven, as found in St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas (who are cited a number of times), this book is Catholic in spirit. Yet the author deliberately does not advert to the Catholic underpinnings of what he writes. DeStefano does not mention that Mary, by her assumption, is the only human person who is already both body and soul in heaven, and that she provides the perfect example of response to God's grace.
Still, there is much here that is right on target and casts a shot across the bow of our culture's strangely wedded mix of materialism and misfit mysticism. DeStefano drives home two points continually: Heaven is a place where people will live body and soul, albeit transformed by the presence of God; and God does not throw away anything he has created because, as Genesis states, it is good. From these points, he . draws a picture of heaven that is a feast for the senses and the intellect, the body and the soul.
Yes, there will be dogs and trees in heaven and other things that make life enjoyable. Yet heaven is not a place of bacchanal pleasure, DeStefano cautions. It is one of complete human fulfillment, where God is worshipped as Lord. To get there you need, as the final chapter states, a “Ticket to Heaven.” Here he explains the essential Christian message: Christ has paid the price of the flight by his death and resurrection; we must follow his instructions to the gate and be ready at take-off time.
At this point of the pleasurable journey, the reader may be inclined to say, “I will do anything Jesus wants to get to this great place called heaven.” Inspiring such a “confession” is the goal of this travel guide.
Stephen Vincent writes from Wallingford, Connecticut.