Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J.
When was the last time you heard a homily on heaven? When was the last time you even thought of heaven, not as a dogma of the Church, but as your home, the place from which you came and to which you are slowly but eagerly wending your way?
It is unfortunate that we hardly, if ever, think of heaven because heaven is the fulfillment of our innate, insatiable desire for happiness. It fills the basic need of everyone to have a meaning and purpose in life. “He who has a why to live for can endure any how.” The thought of heaven puts things in perspective making us realize that this life is not the ultimate value. It conquers the fear of death by revealing that death is the door to eternal life, and it gives us comfort at the loss of a loved one. It gives us the peace that the world cannot give and no one can take from us.
Perhaps we do not think of heaven because we think that it is wrong to work for a reward; we think that we should serve God out of disinterested love. Jesus didn’t think so. Jesus is the greatest motivational speaker ever to walk the face of this earth. He knew how to use the carrot as well as the stick. He often used the hope of reward as a powerful motivating force. He begins his Sermon on the Mount with the Beatitudes, each of which promises a reward. He continues:
Simon Peter didn’t think it was wrong to work for a reward. The day the rich young man went away sad because he had many possessions, Peter stepped forward and said, “We have given up everything (a leaking boat and some torn nets) and followed you. What will there be for us?” Jesus promised, “Everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more, and will inherit eternal life.”
St. Ignatius did not think that it was wrong to work for a reward. He states very clearly in the Principle and Foundation of the Spiritual Exercises, “Man was created to praise, reverence, and serve God, our Lord, and by this means to save his soul.” At the climax of the Spiritual Exercises he states in the Suscipe, “Take, Lord, and receive…Give me Thy love and Thy grace, for this is sufficient for me.”
Our own experience teaches us that everyone works for a reward. And the greater the reward the harder we work. The farmer works for the harvest, the athlete plays to win, the student works for a degree, the investor invests for profit, the politician works to gets elected and the suicide bomber blows himself up for his idea of heaven.
“Whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” This amazing paradox of Christianity is one of the few texts found in all four Gospels. (Matt. 10:39; Mark 8:35; Luke 9:24; John 12:25) This is the kenosis of the Incarnation (Phil. 2: 5-11) and the Paschal Mystery. (Mark 8: 31) Love is always fulfilling itself by emptying itself. This is the gist of the prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, “Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace…grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; for it is in giving that we receive; and it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”
Perhaps we do not think often of heaven because we have some strange ideas of what heaven will be like. We pray, “Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord.” Who wants to sleep all the time? And how can we rest under all those bright lights? “Let perpetual light shine upon them.” Who can get excited about riding around on a damp cloud all day playing a harp, or perhaps today it is a guitar. “Green Pastures” and an “Everlasting Fish Fry” are not very attractive either. “Will there be sex in heaven?” If you answer no people lose interest. If sex is what you want in heaven that is what you will have, because in heaven all of our desires will be perfectly satiated. But you won’t want that in heaven. You don’t want a creature when you have the Creator. If such insignificant creatures as a marijuana weed, a poppy seed, a cocoa leaf can give such pleasure, what do you think the Creator can give? Don’t worry you won’t be disappointed.
Well, if heaven is not like any of these things, what is it like? Scripture tells us that we cannot even imagine what it will be like. “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard what God has prepared for those who love him.” But we can get some idea from what we have here because this world will participate also in the victory of Christ. Take away from this world all physical evil: all sickness, suffering, old age and death, and then take away all the moral evil: all sin, temptation, envy, jealousy and hatred. Now add to this the positive joys of all the faculties of body mind and spirit. Multiply that by infinity and stretch it out through all of eternity and you have some small idea of heaven. Then there is the reunion with our loved ones, our family and friends; the understanding of all the mysteries of science and theology that baffled us during life.
These are just some of what are called the secondary joys of heaven. You could have all of these and many more and not have heaven. What makes heaven is God, the knowledge, love and union with God, by whom we were created, for whom we were created and without whom we could not be truly happy. Just as in this life the consummation of love is in union, so too in heaven, the consummation of love is in union not just with a creature but with the Creator. You can let your imagination run wild and you will never come close to the reality. What a shame that we hardly, if ever, think about it.
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