Jesus himself is ‘heaven’ in the deepest and truest sense of the word—he in whom and through whom God’s will is wholly done. Looking at him, we realize that left to ourselves we can never be completely just: the gravitational pull of our own will constantly draws us away from God’s will and turns us into mere ‘earth’.
But he accepts us, he draws us up to himself, into himself, and in communion with him we too learn God’s will. Thus, what we are actually praying for in the third petition of the Our Father is that we come closer and closer to him, so that God’s will can conquer the downward pull of our selfishness and make us capable of the lofty height to which we are called.
Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth Vol. 1, p. 150
Reflection – Nice to have a little of the ol’ German Shepherd blogging from time to time. I still have hundreds of quotes from Pope Benedict stored away on my laptop. This one is from his commentary on the Our Father and the petition ‘thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’
It’s the end of the liturgical year, and if you’re one who gets to church during the week, you know that the readings are all focussing on the apocalyptic dimension of our faith, the whole awareness that the here and now and the ‘what is’ is temporary, transient. We are moving, slow or fast, in God’s own time, to ‘what will be’ – something very different, and the process of getting there—based on the Scriptures we have been given—will not be without its difficulties and turmoil.
There is always, and quite properly, an apocalyptic thread in the Christian tapestry. Simply, we are not trying to create some perfect life here on earth, simply fixing up the ‘here and now’ so that by our own efforts a nice little cozy world gets set up. Yes, we strive for justice and peace, but that’s simply out of love for our brothers and sisters and a desire to reduce the suffering injustice and war cause.
To be a Christian is to be well aware that the final resolution of all the world’s woes lies outside of the world and in this mysterious other reality. Call it heaven—we have to call it something—but truly we know little about it. Except that it is where Jesus is, and it is Jesus who will bring us and ultimately all the earth to the heavenly state.
And this heavenly state is not just ‘an end to suffering and want’. It is to do the Father’s will perfectly. And it is Jesus who achieves this in us, both showing us what it looks like (cough ‘the crucifix’ cough), and communicating his life and heart to us so we can walk that path of obediential love.
The question that faces all of us, of course, is whether or not this is really the life we want. Is it genuinely ‘heaven’ to wholly abandon one’s own self-will and give oneself over entirely to the will of God? This is a huge spiritual question that fundamentally shapes each human life. ‘Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven’, Milton’s Satan says. We can say that, too.
Ultimately the question is whether or not we believe in the absolute goodness, justice, and mercy of God. God is not just some ‘OK’ guy, some sort of nice person vaguely up there. God is Goodness itself, perfect justice, absolute mercy. Only that sort of God can both ask our total and absolute obedience, ask us to dwell in His will utterly and unreservedly, and make of His will for us a genuine heaven—a place of absolute light, joy, peace, gladness, goodness.
It all comes down to our concept of God. And Jesus comes in there, too, to show us something of who this God is, who the Father is, as much as our rather feeble minds can absorb, and enough to at least get us to trust Him enough to let Him in. His grace then can come in, and carry us the rest of the way there.
Happy Thanksgiving, my American readers – as you all gather around the sacred turkey today, do remember to give thanks to God above all for Jesus who makes it all possible, who truly does open heaven to us and who bears us there on the wings of his love and mercy. Amen.