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Do you feel especially lost or confused in these turbulent times? Think of Heaven so as not to lose hope! Remember that our Lord is very much in charge and evil doesn’t get the last word, no matter what! And what’s more, there is great hope for Eternal happiness in Heaven when we pass on from this life if we stay close to Jesus.
Saint Paul once spoke of Heaven in these famously glowing tones: “Eye has not seen nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man, what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Cor 2:9). It is a strong tenet of Catholic teaching that this world is not the place to find paradise.
It is rather to be found in Eternal Life with our Lord, the Saints, and each other, in Heaven. Jesus Himself said to His apostles at the Last Supper that in His Father’s house [Heaven] there were many mansions and that he would go prepare a place for them there (John 14:2).
And what did our Lord say to St. Dismas when the repentant Good Thief asked him at Calvary to “Remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42)? “Amen, I say to you, this day you shall be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).
Clearly Christ’s Kingdom as He said when being interrogated by Pontius Pilate earlier that day, is not of this world (John 18:36). Yet this hasn’t stopped mankind from trying to create utopia here, often with tragic results. Think of Pol Pot’s Cambodia, Stalin’s Russia, or Mao’s China, for examples. Or North Korea today!
While God, in His goodness, doesn’t wish us harm, He by no means guarantees us only happiness in our earthly existence, which is more like a spiritual pilgrimage. Because of our sinful nature, this world is far from being paradise for most of its inhabitants. Yet, by following God in being “citizens in training” for Heaven we can nonetheless make our time here on earth more loving, peaceful, and pleasant than it might be otherwise.
St. Paul well understood how our earthly journey was meant to be a marathon not a sprint towards salvation. He wrote towards the end of his life in his letter to Timothy in these terms of having competed well and finishing the race. (2 Tim 4:7).
We ourselves are called to strive for Heaven, which St. Thomas Aquinas once called our homeland. This often involves sacrificing our selfish and self-serving natures so that we can put God’s desires for us ahead of our own. Hence several scripture passages about the Kingdom of Heaven involve wanting it above all else, and being willing to do whatever is necessary to reside there with God forever.
For example, we read in Matthew’s Gospel of the parable of the man who sells all he has to buy a field for its buried treasure (Matt 13:44) and of the merchant who does the same to buy a single pearl of great price (Matt 13:45).
Moreover, traditional Catholic teaching, following our Lord’s advice to enter the narrow gate (Matt 7:13, Luke 13:24), holds that in striving for Heaven that we should never take our salvation for granted; and that living a life solely devoted to our own selfish pursuit of worldly pleasures, prestige and luxury can imperil our souls. Jesus noted that most people follow a road (such as this) to perdition (Matt 7:13). Don’t be one of them!
Jesus also advises us that the road to Heaven often goes through rough terrain. Hence our Lord’s famous admonition for us to take up our crosses in following Him (Matt 16:24). When you try to live a Godly life, you may well face hardship, ridicule and even outright ostracism, especially in this fallen world where money and power often reign supreme over right and wrong, especially nowadays!
And yet, as Dr. Peter Kwasniewski points out in this excellent essay, our God, being a God of immense Goodness and Love, wishes us to have a foretaste of Heaven in this world in striving for sanctity! The Ten Commandments are not rules for killjoys. They are rather laws of love. Think about it!
As long as you are not being smug and self-righteous about it, when you stay close to God you’re like the tree mentioned in Psalm 1 planted by streams of water whose leaves do not wither (Ps 1:3).
In living a life of grace, or at least trying to do so, you are giving up grudges, anger, envy, guilt over sins, and other such emotionally toxic behavior and ways of thinking that otherwise keep you from being the loving, thoughtful, fully human being God intended you to be.
Always remember that your life has great value, no matter what your circumstances are in this crazy world because you were created in the image and likeness of God and have a soul that He wishes to see dwell with Him and all the saints in the majesty of Heaven for all eternity!
So, with that in mind, let’s take a glance at the “crown of righteousness” (2 Tim 4:7), the Heavenly reward that St. Paul spoke of, mentioned earlier!
First of all, disabuse yourself of any notion of heaven as being someplace boring where people just sit around in some endless church service looking at angels and listening to harps! St. Augustine once wrote that our hearts are restless until they find rest in God. And heaven is where that rest extends into Eternity.
And far from being boring, it stimulates the senses and the mind with sounds, colors, and love like you could never imagine here on earth! Harry Winston and Cartier are selling pebbles compared to the radiant jewels of heaven. All earthly splendors and love have been said to pale by comparison.
After experiencing a vision of Heaven, St. Faustina wrote in her Diary about its “inconceivable beauties” and described God as a source of happiness “unchanging in its essence” yet “always new, gushing forth happiness for all creatures” (Entry 777).
St. John wrote similarly in the book of Revelation of the vision he was shown of the Heavenly Jerusalem. Keep in mind that this is a somewhat symbolic description of God’s Heavenly kingdom and probably only hints at what the Apostle actually saw, a city: “having the Glory of God, and its light was like that of a precious stone, even like that of the jasper stone or like crystal… Yet truly, the city itself was of pure gold, similar to pure glass. And the foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of precious stone” (Rev 21:11, 18-19).
And unlike here, the beauty and goodness of God and His Kingdom don’t fade or get boring. Michael Brown, in his books The Other Side and What You Take To Heaven, does a great job in cataloging various public and private revelations about Heaven as well as many near death experiences that corroborate in one way or another just how splendid and special Heaven is!
In Heaven the God fills the void in our hearts that we often try to fill otherwise with drugs, alcohol, sex, possessions, and power over others. Covetousness, jealousy, anger, greed, lust, and other sinful inclinations have no place there!
And you’re not getting into Heaven with these noxious emotions in your soul any more than you could board an airplane with an Uzi or a Machete in your carry-on baggage. It’s just not happening, folks!
Assuming you have not died in a state of Mortal Sin, which would land you in Hell, whatever attachments to sin you might have at death will most likely be removed from you in purgatory as described here. As we read in scripture nothing unclean or defiled can be in God’s presence in Heaven (Rev 21:27).
Sin separates us not only from God but also from each other, Think of the havoc envy alone has wreaked on mankind since Cain slew his brother Abel, How many of us wind up estranged from family members, or worse, at each others’ throats, because of this destructive emotion! We have locks on our doors and our hearts because of it. And there are 6 other deadly sins: Pride, Anger, Lust, Greed, Gluttony, and Sloth that cause much misery and mayhem as well!
And what’s worse, in fact maybe it’s even the tragic component of all this is that love is often seen as a zero-sum game for most of us: The love or attention your wife/parent/sibling/co-worker, etc. shows you is taken away from me. (Isn’t this the essence of sibling rivalry?)
In this all too familiar scenario, the talents that you have that I don’t doesn’t make me want to shout with joy how God is being glorified when you use them. I’m more likely to be angry that you get more attention or love than I do!! Why am I starved for love while you get the all-you-can-eat buffet of affection?
It doesn’t matter that the grass is always greener on the other side in any case. For too many of us our sinful inclinations make this is indeed a dog-eat-dog world in which violations of God’s commandments come all too easily.
In Heaven none of that exists! After all, Heaven wouldn’t be Heaven if it were full of jealous, angry souls now would it? Basking in God’s love and presence, knowing ourselves as He knows us for the good at that point, you’re not going to feel deprived or threatened by another’s happiness.
It’s like feeling hungry at your family’s thanksgiving dinner. You want more food? It’s all right there! (Or at least as it used to be until recently. Food prices are skyrocketing these days and tragically many families in this country are relying on food banks to feed themselves!)
And there’s more than just love all around you stretching into eternity. There is an atmosphere of goodness that is never cloying or suspect, as it can often be here on earth. There’s nothing phony about it. It’s a goodness that has no agenda. It is not coercive or manipulative.
Think of St. Paul’s famous words about love read at so many weddings in this regard. There won’t be anyone you can’t stand or feel threatened by in Heaven. Imagine everyone you come in contact with showing you genuine love and good will. Even those you might have disliked here on earth, or those who might felt that way about you!
Speaking of which, St. Paul touches on another great aspect of heaven here when he says at the end of this chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians that He will know God as he is fully known by Him. This applies to us as well!
Think of how great it will be to truly know God (as much as we can, in any case) and His Truth and to be living it and loving it with everyone around you. With no contentious arguments about Him that we see dividing people and, in the case of ISIS, ripping countries apart!
What are the two hot button topics you’re told never to discuss in polite society, Religion and Politics. In heaven arguing about religion would be like arguing here on earth as to whether or not water is wet!
This brings up another great “perk” of heaven, the Beatific Vision! In heaven we will see God in all his beauty, love, and splendor. One aspect of this I have found to be a little confusing in that there is a theological concept that we will see God in heaven not with our eyes but rather with our senses, and quite fully at that!
(Think in this regard of how you might see the goodness in someone, or the clarity of an idea, something like that. Like the expression “I see what you mean,” which we use as another way of saying “I understand.”)
Nonetheless, I have always thought of the Beatific Vision as something I want in on. And you should too! From what I’ve been able to gather from both accounts from the saints as well as those from various more contemporary near death experiences, it’s like being surrounded in love and light (this comes up in many Near Death Experiences), submerged in a never-ending ocean of love and good will such as you could never imagine in your life.
Think of the happiest moments you’ve had and multiply them by infinity. That’s what we’re talking about here! It’s so good that part of what makes Hell so Hellish is that the damned know it’s there and they’ll never ever experience it! Never! (But more on that in an upcoming blog entry, on Hell.)
Speaking of love with no agendas, as I did earlier, part of what will make this possible is total transparency of thought. As I alluded to earlier how much time do we spend driving ourselves and each other crazy trying to sift through the clutter and mess of each other’s games, lies, pretentions, etc?
How many newscasts do you see “analysts” trying to figure out what someone really meant as opposed to what they’ve said? How much time and energy is spent just trying to figure out who we can trust?? In heaven that problem doesn’t exist! In a place where sin doesn’t exist it won’t be necessary!
And wait…there’s more! The surroundings and vistas are incredible, your senses are razor sharp, in a good way in that you know existence from God’s standpoint infinitely more than you ever could here. You can get answers to whatever questions you’ve had instantaneously and at the same time you can keep learning, sensing and experiencing more and more of God, and his kingdom so again, boredom is out of the question!
Speaking last but not least of instantaneousness: the great joy you will experience in heaven will be augmented from a surprising source: your body! After Christ’s Second Coming our bodies will be resurrected to join our souls in paradise in a manner that we can’t even dream about here on earth.
Imagine having a body that does not suffer illness or pain of any kind, that is perennially youthful (like being in your 30’s) forever. And you can move in and out of any surface, at the speed of thought! This in an environment where you’re surrounded by God’s pure love.
And what’s more, you have Eternity to spend with your loved ones, people you’ve always wanted to get to know, those you never could find the time to see here, whomever! Relatives from centuries ago as well as your parents, grandparents and such. To say nothing of great philosphers, thinkers, etc. that you might have admired here on earth. In heaven you’ll get to know them in a way that would be impossible here.
Imagin spending an hour here on earth conversing with St. Peter, or St. Francis or St. Augustine or St. Thomas Aquinas? How scintillating that would be? No sweat in Heaven! There’s more than enough time for everyone and everything! (Time stretches on to Eternity in a way we can't full comprehend here on earth as we hurry to get to a 2:00 interview or meeting or a 4:00 whatever.) Archbishop Sheen touched on this in one of his talks on heaven when he concluded it with these promising words: “I will see you in Heaven!”
To sum up, we read in the first letter of St. John that God is love (1 John 4:8). He created each of us to share in that love and reflect it to others. The seemingly endless human conflicts as we struggle with our sinful natures too often obscure that fact but they should never blot it out! St. John also said in his gospel that while Christ’s light was often rejected (John 1:10-11) the darkness has not and will not overcome it (John 1:5).
As Jesus told St. Peter, the gates of hell would not prevail against His church, even though it seems at times like all is lost. (Think of how people must have felt with so many perishing around them as Hitler reigned supreme over much of Europe in the early 1940’s for example.) Satan didn’t get the last word at Calvary and he won’t get it now, or ever!
Take comfort and strength in that fact, even when the world economy seems teetering on the edge of a major depression and Christianity seems endangered in too many places from indifferentism, an increasingly pagan culture, and Islamist violence.
Didn’t our Lord say about heaven that He would prepare a place for his disciples there? (John 14:2) That includes us if we prepare a place for Him in our hearts here on earth first! And that involves being attuned to the promptings of His Holy Spirit, educating ourselves and each other about our faith, and being attentive to His plans for us.
The more we follow them as people who love Him and share that love and charity with others, the more we will be fully human in all the best ways and be ready for heaven, that place where God will wipe away every tear (Rev. 21:4) and reward our earthly efforts to glorify Him in love a hundredfold (Matthew 19:29)!
You’ve heard of the expression keep hope alive? The best way to do that is to keep love alive by keeping God alive in each of our hearts! And remember there are no mean streets in the Heavenly Jerusalem!