At 37, Anthony DeStefano has performed a lifetime of works. He is or has been president of Fulton Electronics Corp., a chain of retail stores in New York City; op-ed columnist for the Staten Island Advance; a member of the Royal Institute of Philosophy; a Knight of Malta; winner of the "Defender of Israel" medal from the International Jewish Center for Hope; a pilot in the Air Force's Civil Air Patrol; executive director of Priests for Life; and author of A Travel Guide to Heaven (Doubleday, 2003), now in its ninth printing.
"I stick to traditional orthodox Christian theology," said DeStefano, "but present it in a way that is accessible to the masses. I'm not one of those liberal people who say there's not sin, or evil, or Hell. I acknowledge all those things."
DeStefano said that he tried religious publishers first for the book, but was turned away. Instead, mainstream publisher Doubleday has benefited from the book's strong sales since its release in September. The book follows in the footsteps of C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce, which attempts to describe Heaven. "That was a lot more allegorical," said DeStefano. "I wouldn't try to compare my work to that of C.S. Lewis. I was very influenced by C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton."
A Travel Guide to Heaven tries to combat sentimental and New Age conceptions of the afterlife as an airy place with ghostly shapes drifting about in addled-minded bliss-or worse. "There is no reason why traditional, orthodox Christian theology shouldn't be more compelling than all this New Age nonsense," DeStefano said. "It's more sublime, more intelligent . . . . All those Eastern religions that teach us that we are like a drop of water and when we die, we rejoin the sea; that's not true. As C.S. Lewis said, that would mean that we would cease to exist."
Holy Scripture teaches that at the end of time, men and women will receive physical bodies, and a renewed Earth will be part of Heaven. "We will not have the need for anything but God," DeStefano said. "But our God is such a good God, that He always gives us more than what we need."
"There will be plenty of time for the simple pleasures in life too: hiking through the mountains. . .reading a really good book by the fireside with a hot cup of tea nearby, enjoying a pleasant meal with your friends," says the book. "And there will be so much to learn."
The truth is, said DeStefano, that far from being a place stripped not only of bad things but of good things as well, Heaven will contain even more good things than today's Earth. "Heaven is often portrayed as black and white," he said. "No, there will be colors. There may be colors we have never seen before:"
In Heaven, people will be focused outside themselves - a state which brings the greatest joy to people here in this world. "Have you ever been so deeply involved in your work or in some activity that you lost all track of time? Maybe you were shopping for clothes. Maybe you were playing sports. . ," says the book. "Didn't the time seem to go very fast? Didn't it fly, as the saying goes?"
Heaven is also not a place of equality: "We picture Heaven as being filled with robot-like creatures that go around 'loving' everything and everyone in the same way. But the truth is, there will be differences in affection in the afterlife. Love in Heaven will be universal, not communistic."
DeStefano is also executive director of Priests for Life, a group of Roman Catholic clergy that has thousands of members and has grown to 51 full-time staff. "We're doing a big push with the 2004 elections," he said. "It's a really big election, and we're going to do everything we can to let priests know what they can do from the pulpit. Many are worried about endangering their tax status. We want to let them know, and not just Catholics but every Christian denomination know, that they can speak the [pro-life] position very clearly. You can talk about issues. You can talk about candidates. You can even talk about candidates' positions with no danger of losing tax-exempt status. You cannot endorse candidates."
Priests for Life is also emphasizing the harmful effects of abortion on women through the Silent No More and Rachel's Vineyard "post-abortive ministries," he said.
Says A Travel Guide to Heaven, "True love has only one definition: selfless, self sacrificing giving . . . . Children themselves provide us with the greatest opportunity to practice self-sacrificing love."
DeStefano maybe reached at Priests for Life, PO. Box 141172, Staten Island, N.Y. 10314 (888-PFL3448; fax: 718-980-6515; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; website: wwwpriestsforlife.org).