This article is written for everyone and anyone, even persons who are not really interested in religion. If you would prefer to read a detailed Roman Catholic theological explanation, see my article, Treatise on Mystical Baptism. Otherwise, read on.
How to get to Heaven:
1. Avoid evil.
2. If you have done evil, then repent.
3. Do good.
If you have knowingly chosen to commit an act that is gravely immoral, you must repent and be forgiven by God before you die. If you have never done anything truly substantially selflessly good in your life, you have committed a serious sin of omission.
1. Avoiding Evil.
Some types of acts are always wrong, no matter what the intention, no matter what the circumstances. Other acts may or may not be wrong, depending on the intention and circumstances, especially the consequences. Among those acts that are wrong, some acts are seriously wrong; such acts are called mortal sins. Other acts may be wrong, but not seriously wrong; such acts are called venial sins. Only a mortal sin, chosen with full freedom of will and full knowledge of the grave immorality of the act, can condemn a person to Hell; this type of sin is called an actual mortal sin.
If you commit one or more actual mortal sins, and you never repent through the last moment of your life, then you will certainly go to Hell forever. No matter how much good you have done in your life, if you have deliberately and knowingly done anything that is seriously wrong, without repenting before you die, you will certainly go to Hell.
Do not commit any serious sins. But if you have sinned seriously, repent sincerely. True and full repentance happens not merely out of fear of Hell, but also out of love of God and neighbor. Accept true love for God and neighbor, otherwise, you will not be able to fully and sincerely repent. Catholics (and the Orthodox) ordinarily obtain forgiveness from God in the Confessional. Other persons can obtain forgiveness by a full repentance based on the love of God and neighbor; this is called perfect contrition because it is based on the most perfect reason for repenting, true selfless spiritual love.
Why should you be allowed to enter Heaven, if you have not repented from the evil that you did on earth?
3. Good Deeds
If you have done anything that is seriously wrong, even very many things, but if you also repent fully before you die, then you will go to Heaven, but only if you have also done at least some truly good and genuinely selfless acts in your life. For an actual mortal sin of omission can be committed by refusing to choose selfless acts of goodness for other persons. If you have never loved your neighbor with a true selfless spiritual love, then you will certainly go to Hell. For choosing to spend your whole life without doing good is one of the worst evils that you can choose.
Truly good deeds include sincere prayer for others, genuine worship of God, selflessly helping other human beings in need, and any similar deed that expresses a true love for God and a true love for neighbor. Make certain that you have done at least some acts in your life that are substantially selflessly good. Otherwise, when you are judged by God, who is the source of all that is good, you will have no defense.
If your life has been a waste, your soul will burn in Hell forever, unless you repent and do good before you die.
You must do at least some things that are truly good and genuinely selfless in your life. This good must be substantial, not trivial, and it must not be selfish. To be more certain that you have done good, choose to do many good things. That way, if one attempt to do good fails, you will have other good deeds to show for your life.
Why should you be allowed into Heaven, if you have never done anything truly good on earth?
People who do not believe in God may still go to Heaven, if they are sincere in their lack of belief. An atheist commit an objectively grave sin by refusing to believe in God. But perhaps this sin is not committed with full knowledge of its grave immorality, and so the culpability is thereby reduced to a venial sin. Such a person may enter Heaven if he has repented from any actual mortal sins in life, and if he has loved his neighbor selflessly.
But for some persons, their rejection of God or of religion is a serious sin. They know that they should believe in God or that they should practice a religion, but they refuse to do so, out of selfish or sinful reasons. Or perhaps they do not know that they should believe in God, because they have deliberately chosen to reject even the consideration that God may exist and that religion may offer truth. They know that if they consider, they might accept. And they know that if they accept, they must give up their sins. So they refuse to even consider God and religion. They are guilty in their deliberately chosen ignorance.
People who practice a religion, but who make mistakes in what they believe or do, may still go to Heaven, if they are sincere in their misunderstanding of what to believe and what to do. But for some persons, their refusal to accept certain truths about religion is a serious sin. They know what they should believe or do, but they refuse to do so, out of selfish or sinful reasons.
Babies who die in the womb, or at a very young age, certainly go to Heaven, because they have done nothing evil, and because they have suffered death innocently, just as Christ suffered death innocently. Innocent young children, who die at such a young age, go to Heaven because God loves all the little children in their innocence. The great suffering of death at a young age makes that person like Christ who suffered and died in his innocence. So those who die in the innocence of youth will certainly go to Heaven.
Severely handicapped persons, who grow up beyond childhood, are still expected to avoid evil and to do some good in their lives, according to their ability. Of those to whom less is given, less will be expected. Since severely handicapped persons suffer a great deal, it is easier for them to get into Heaven, and harder for them to end up in Hell. Anyone who suffers a great deal in their life, and who accepts that suffering innocently, becomes like Christ, who suffered and died on the Cross for us all.
If you want to go to Heaven, where you will be very happy forever and ever, then avoid evil, repent from your sins, do good in your life on earth, and be sincere in your search for religious and moral truth. Otherwise, you will abide forever in the eternal death of Hell.
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and Bible translator