Sunday, November 2, 2014

Heaven Is A Place

We must rise again with Christ, we must seek the world which is above and set our mind on the things of heaven. Let us long for those who are longing for us, hasten to those who are waiting for us, and ask those who look for our coming to intercede for us.

We should not only want to be with the saints, we should also hope to possess their happiness. While we desire to be in their company, we must also earnestly seek to share in their glory. Do not imagine that there is anything harmful in such an ambition as this; there is no danger in setting our hearts on such glory.

When we commemorate the saints we are inflamed with another yearning: that Christ our life may also appear to us as he appeared to them and that we may one day share in his glory. Until then we see him, not as he is, but as he became for our sake.

He is our head, crowned, not with glory, but with the thorns of our sins. As members of that head, crowned with thorns, we should be ashamed to live in luxury; his purple robes are a mockery rather than an honor.

When Christ comes again, his death shall no longer be proclaimed, and we shall know that we also have died, and that our life is hidden with him. The glorious head of the Church will appear and his glorified members will shine in splendor with him, when he forms this lowly body anew into such glory as belongs to himself, its head.

Therefore, we should aim at attaining this glory with a wholehearted and prudent desire. That we may rightly hope and strive for such blessedness, we must above all seek the prayers of the saints. Thus, what is beyond our own powers to obtain will be granted through their intercession.
St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Office of Readings, All Saints

Reflection – It is the season in the Church when there is an invitation given us to look to our final end and direct our minds and hearts there more attentively, more ardently. Yesterday, All Saints; today, All Souls. Bottom line: we are all going to die some day, and the final point of our lives is found (we hope, by grace) not here, not now, not the way things are right now, but in this mysterious reality we call ‘heaven’ in which all is turned into glory.

I have long been concerned that our world, and even our Church, have almost entirely turned its gaze from heaven to have a near-exclusive focus on the things of earth. The world accuses the Church of having been indifferent to human suffering because of its faith in ‘pie-in-the-sky’—this in spite of the fact that there is no single organization in the history of the world that has done more to combat human suffering and misery in a thousand practical ways than the Catholic Church.

Meanwhile, the focus in the Church has moved to either social justice or to therapeutic pastoral practice to such a degree that we seem to have nearly forgotten that our lives are not supposed to be about either building a perfectly just society or resolving all our personal problems and difficulties. All our energies seem to have gone into fighting unjust social and economic structures or into psychiatric quests for wellness.

Don’t get me wrong—neither of these are bad things, and in fact both of these are necessary things in their own way and to their proper degree. But neither of them is the point of life, either. The point of life is to receive God’s love and give God’s love. Receive and give, receive and give in a personal communion of love and grace.

This is the glory of the saints, the glory of heaven. The images we use for heaven, many of them derived from Scripture—cities and clouds, harps and thrones—are just that—images—and while we need to use images to think of something we have never seen, we also need to be intellectually adult in our faith and know what these images connote.

Fundamentally, heaven is Jesus: finally seeing Him as He is, finally entering into a perfection of communion with Him, finally being conformed to Him in full, finally knowing as much as a human being can know just what God has done to divinize our humanity, to suffuse the human being with divine light and glory and life. It ssems to me that, as this becomes something we actually, you know, care about, something that strikes us as being more or less important, a goal for which we wish to strive, two things result.

First, our primary concern here and now is our relationship with Jesus. If the whole point of heaven is our final glorious communion with Christ and our transformation through, with, and in Him into the divine glory of God, then our main concern here and now is to be in a living and dynamic relationship with Him. Jesus is not ‘some guy up there’, someone we know from a distance or some abstract figure on a crucifix. He is everything, and to know and love Him should be the sole concern of our days, that which drives our concern for justice and healing and anything else.

Second, desire for heaven should give us a great resilience when life on earth doesn’t go so hot. When things don’t work out. When we are thwarted, disappointed, hurt. Because our life is not here, but there; not now, but then; not ours, but His. And so when what is here, now, and ours kind of blows up, while this is painful, we should never despair, because it was never where we planned to find our fulfillment anyhow. And that is the profound relevance of faith in heaven—Jesus is everything, and the things of this earth are, not nothing, but not of ultimate importance.

Happy All Souls Day – and let’s pray for all those holy souls who are on the way, but not there yet.

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