The Four Last Things - Part 2 - Heaven
November 12, 2017
I am continuing my four-part series on the “Four Last Things,” the big questions about what happen when we die and after. (See www.olvdelhi.org/lastthings for more). We were taught from little that “I go to Heaven when I die.” But what does that mean and how do we get there? We start by noting that going to Heaven is not automatic. Jesus tells us that directly: “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few “(Mt. 7:13-14, but read the whole chapter).
Clearly, the Christian life is not easy. To get to Heaven, it’s critical to obey the Commandments and live a sacramental life. But if it’s not easy, we also ask why anyone would want to make the sacrifices to get there. The short answer is that Heaven is so beautiful a reality that, once we begin to understand it, we should be motivated to make the sacrifices necessary to get there.
We might have only a vague, sketchy, pop-culture version of what Heaven is: Lots of people strumming harps, walking around on puffy clouds in long flowing robes, and so on. Or, have a vague idea that it’s just like our favorite hobbies on earth, but more so. (“Bill loved to go bowling, so he’s gone to that great big bowling alley in the sky”) That’s really selling God short. If that were all Heaven was, that wouldn’t motivate me to make the sacrifices I need to as a priest to get people to Heaven. And it might not motivate many other people either.
We have to be purified of our sins to get to Heaven (more on that next week.) But what is it? It’s being able to live forever with Jesus Christ, finally being able to see Him face to face. What will that be like? Think about the time you first fell in love with your husband or wife. You wanted nothing more than just to be able to gaze upon their face. Well, imagine being able to gaze on the face of Christ Himself, Who created you, Who loved you infinitely more than your husband or wife ever could. The One Who is Love itself. The One Whose love you have been longing for all your life. The one who loves you completely, totally, and unconditionally. That time-stopping, eternally deep gaze into His eyes is what Heaven is.
But Heaven is about more than just “me and God” – as important as that is. Because God created us not to be alone. (Genesis 2:18 ). Instead, we were created for a “double communion”: the Communion of perfect worship of God and of perfect communion with our fellow man. In this Communion with God, we will be able to love as God loves – without any self-interest, without ‘counting the cost’, without demanding anything in return. We dare to say that we will then become truly like God. We will finally know fully what it means to be a Son or Daughter of God, because we will share in the perfect, mutual love of God the Father for the God the Son (and vice versa), overflowing into the personal reality of the Holy Spirit.
At the same time, we will be able to love each and every one of the saints in a perfect way: with no sense of competition, one-upmanship, jealousy, condescension, contempt, self-centeredness, bitterness or anything else that could mar our pure friendship. In this life, most of us have only a handful of people we can count as true friends, with whom we can share ourselves totally and completely in a way deeper than with a drinking buddy or work colleague or fellow hobby enthusiast. But in the Communion of Saints worshiping Jesus in Heaven, we will have the most important, most joyful thing in common: a pure and complete love of the Holy Trinity.
It is literally beyond our imagination now (because we can’t picture what perfect God-like love is like without sin intermingled). But we know in faith that this spectacular joy is what God holds out to those willing to do the difficult spiritual work of committing our lives to follow Christ and His Catholic Church into Heaven.