I was reflecting about Heaven recently while at a memorial Mass for a friend. Then I saw the front cover of a popular magazine which headlined Heaven and realized that many of us have a fascination with Heaven. I think this is a good thing since our lives should be oriented toward arriving there when this earthly life is over. Indeed that is the message of the Scriptures and it is why Jesus Christ came to this earth, suffered, died, and rose again: we come from God and we are meant to return to Him. There is no Good News better than that.
One thing is sure: we have to remember that all descriptions of Heaven will fall short. This is because we are trying to describe the indescribable. None of us truly knows what Heaven will be like since none of us have dwelt there. Oh, I know. I read the article in the magazine and I have seen the books about people who have had after life experiences. While I like it that they help others who may need the jolt of personal testimony to believe that Heaven exists, none of those people have dwelt there. They have visited maybe, but they have not dwelt there. Furthermore, while I never will knock anything that helps people's faith, many of us do not need such testimonies to know that Heaven truly exists. I believe because our Lord told us so through the revelation of Scripture. That is truly good enough for me.
Nonetheless, it is important to reflect on what Heaven is from the sources which reveal truth, the Scriptures and the Catechism. We know Heaven is life with God forever. We are forever in the fully revealed presence of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are forever in the presence of the Virgin Mary, the angels, the saints, and all those who have gone before us "marked with the sign of faith", that is, the baptized. One of my favorite truths is that we are all united as the Communion of Saints: once we are baptized we are forever united with all of the baptized who are in Heaven or are awaiting Heaven. (The only ones we will not be united with are those who have chosen hell.) Through the sacraments we maintain that union forever, just as we maintain our union with God forever. It is a gift to us, so we are free to accept it or reject it. Rejection of that gift is the only thing that can separate us from God and dwelling with Him forever.
Unless we have done something really egregious for which we have never asked forgiveness, or unless we have picked up habits which have led us away from God little by little and we are so far away from Him that the breach has destroyed our relationship with Him, we have nothing to fear from death. In fact, death is a gift because it reunites us with Him in a stunning and amazing way, beyond our imagining. And if we have done anything to separate ourselves from God, He loves us so much that He offers reconciliation and the ability to atone so that we can renew the relationship. In this life, it is never too late.
In Heaven we will have the beatific vision; that is, we will be able to see God face to face. We will have full consciousness and understand mysteries we could not grasp in this life. The Scriptures tell us that our souls will be in Heaven until the Second Coming of Christ when, after the Last Judgment (those not yet judged) we will enjoy the resurrection of the body. We will have our bodies, now fully perfected and glorified, joined again with our souls. The The Scriptures and Catechism tell us that we will continue to have our will, though perfected and incapable of turning from God, and our bodies will have new properties, such that we can pass through solid objects. We will be able to eat, however, though we will not need it to live. (I cannot imagine Heaven being Heaven if we could not eat!) We will be reunited with all our loved ones who have gone before us. And we will be radiant with the beauty of God, the beauty of Love.
In Heaven there will be no more tears, suffering, pain, or imperfection. We will be in eternal peace, happiness, beauty, and joy in a perpetual celebration of the love of God. I am not sure if many of us have ever had a taste of true joy, but if you have, you will know that for this alone, it is worth everything we have to go through in this life. This joy is a deep reality, which is like knowledge and a deeply incorporated "feeling", deeper than the deepest happiness on earth, all rolled into one and then some. No matter what or who contributes to our happiness on earth, this is not the same as the joy to come. Things that make us happy here are fleeting. We continue to hunger after we have them. The joy of Heaven is eternal. However, sometimes we get a taste of this joy which is given us through a sacrament, or through a grace-filled moment of prayer. It comes briefly in this life because we cannot sustain it. But it is a foretaste of the eternity of joy and communion with the Lord of Life that penetrates the soul until we can get there forever. It can never be forgotten. Many of the saints described this experience, and once they tasted of it, they never lost sight of the desire for union with God again.
St. Bernard of Clairvaux said: "Never has man seen the inaccessible light, never has his ear heard the inexhaustible symphonies, nor his heart tasted that incomprehensible peace." (1) St. Augustine said: "There a light shines that no place can contain; there praises and songs resound that are unlimited in duration. There are fragrances the air does not blow away, savors that never fade, goods and sweet joys unaccompanied by any distaste of surfeit. There, God is contemplated continuously, is known without any error or apprehension, and praised without weariness or diminution." (2) The author of a book I am reading, (which was the single most influential book read by St. Thérèse of Lisieux, by the way) said this: "Heaven is God's ideal, the repose of His intellect. Let us add: it is the repose of His heart." (3) I believe that is true: Heaven is the repose of God's heart and we will forever rest there, within the very life of the Giver of Life and within the very beauty of the Maker of all Beauty. In a word, we will forever dwell in Love.
With all that said, however, there is one reason we should aspire to Heaven above all else and that is to love the Lord with all that we are. If Heaven is a goal simply as an alternative to hell, or because we want to be happy forever, (who doesn't?) then that is really not the highest of intention. Our goal in reaching Heaven is not for the "place" but for love of the God who dwells there! We should desire to be there so that we can love God, Father, Son, and Spirit with no constraints and no inadequacies. Isn't that the goal of growing in holiness? We do not grow in holiness just to get in the Pearly Gates. We grow in holiness to return the love of the One who loves us beyond our imagining. In short, we want to be there to love God back! That is what will give us the greatest joy we can know. Our love for Him can be fully expressed and we can receive the greatness of His love in return. He longs to give that to us!!
May we be filled with the desire to persevere in this life such that we can reach our goal of life with God forever in indescribable light, joy, and love.
May we be a beacon to those around us who may be struggling on the journey, helping them to stay faithful and firm in their resolve to strive for Heaven. May we desire to reach for Heaven not only for the joy it will give us, but so that we can worship, praise, and love the Lord for all eternity and in so doing receive the fullness of His presence, which is Love. Let us continue to pray for each other, that we can remain faithful to our call. Let us meet in the Heart of the One who longs for us more deeply than we can ever long for Him. Peace!
(Photos all mine.)
(1) St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Sermon 4 on Christmas Eve
(2) St. Augustine, De spiritu et anima
Both of the above quotes and the quote in (3) were found in the book I mentioned above, of which St. Thérèse said: "Reading this book was one of the greatest graces of my life." This book is: The End of the Present World and the Mysteries of the Future Life which is a series of retreat conferences given by Fr. Charles Arminjon in the 1880's. It sounds exotic, but the conferences were all based on Scripture and sound doctrine.
To the left: The Holy Spirit, The Lord, the Giver of Life, The Paraclete, Sender of Peace, by Rev. William Hart McNichols
Can be found at http://www.standreirublevicons.com/gallery.php?action=viewPicture&id=189
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Heart Speaks to Heart