Over the past few weeks Our Lord has been speaking about the Kingdom of Heaven in the Gospel. We have been listening to a number of what are called the “Parables of the Kingdom” – the Parable of the Wheat and the Darnel, the Parable of the Mustard Seed, the Parable of the Yeast and then today we have the Parable of the Hidden Treasure, the Parable of the Pearl and the finally the Parable of the Dragnet.
Heaven is one of the Four Last Things and the Church and the saints tell us we should consider all of them frequently. The Four Last Things are Death Judgement, Heaven and Hell. Heaven is obviously the most joyous and it’s the one I would like to briefly consider today.
Heaven is our true homeland
It is a divinely revealed truth that God desires that all people be saved and get to Heaven, but at the same time Heaven is not automatic because we have free will. We have to choose God and go on choosing Him until the day we die. The Church teaches that only those who die in a state of grace will go to Heaven. It is simply not true that everyone goes there. If we die separated from God (ie. in mortal sin), that separation is fixed for eternity. If we are not in a state of grace, the way to fix it is by making a good sacramental Confession of our sins having made a good examination of conscience before. We can only do that in this life. Also Anointing of the Sick and the Last Rites will help ensure we are in a state of grace when we die, so it is important always to call the priest to anoint someone who is near death. So Heaven is something we have to strive for and pray about. We have to strive for holiness and virtue in this life so as we attain the end for which God created us.
To be anointed when one is dying is a great grace which helps ensure our safe passage to the next life
Heaven is our true goal, our ultimate destination – the other things we tend to chase after are not. They are passing and of this world. We all have a feeling of constant longing. Whether we know it or not, this longing is for Heaven because ultimately only God can satisfy us. As St Augustine said, “Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in Thee.”
Things in this life often become boring because they fulfil only a part of us. Once we get what we want we want something else, and then something else and so on. But the Beatific Vision (seeing God face to face) which is how it will be in Heaven, will fulfil every aspect of our being. “But surely it will be so boring?” many say. “After all there will be no food or drink, no TV or internet, no computer games, no sport, no marriage etc so what are we going to be doing all the time?” Well it’s true that there won’t be the pleasures of this life in Heaven, but we should know that every good thing in this life is only but the tiniest reflection of the wonder and glory of Heaven. It just cannot be that God who created everything that is good is going to make Heaven less good than the good things we have here on earth now.
St Paul quoting Isaiah says, “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9). So it’s impossible for us to comprehend the happiness of Heaven, because the only thing we have experienced is earthly joy. St Bernard (1090-1153) says, “there is nothing in Heaven which gives displeasure, but everything delights.” Imagine that. Many of the people we meet in life don’t give us pleasure – but in Heaven they will! St Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) writes, “The pleasant companionship of all the blessed in Heaven will be a companionship replete with delight. For each one will possess all good things together with the blessed, because they will love one another as themselves, and therefore will rejoice in the happiness of the other’s goods as well as their own.”
I have already mentioned the Beatific Vision or seeing God face to face. St John says in his first Epistle, “we shall be like to Him: because we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). But we won’t see Him with our bodily eyes because God is a spirit, although God the Son (JESUS), since the Incarnation has a body. So we will see God through the intellect. When we enter Heaven God joins Himself to our intellect. This is why those in Heaven are said to know all things. And we will see God in His infinite love, His infinite justice and His infinite mercy and in all His perfection, and we will also see ourselves as God sees us and we shall know everyone else as they truly are. Our thirst for knowledge will be perfectly satisfied and so this will be perfect happiness for us. There will be no faith in Heaven because we will simply know, and neither will there be any hope because we will have fulfilled our destiny which is Heaven.
The degree of glory each soul will have in Heaven will correspond exactly to how much sanctifying grace they have in their souls. This is why we aim for holiness. The more virtuous you are (virtue has to be practised), the more sanctifying grace you have, and therefore the higher degree of glory you will have in Heaven. And you obtain virtue by prayer, sacrifice and good works.
People will often ask if Heaven is either a place or a state? The answer is it depends on whether you mean now or in the future. For now Heaven is a state, but at the General Resurrection and Final Judgement at the end of time when we all get our bodies back it will be a place. When JESUS rose from the dead He wasn’t a ghost or a spirit, but His body was different to what it was before. He had a new kind of body which was glorified, and that is the kind of body that is promised to us, and these glorified bodies will never die. Our bodies will be of the same nature they were in this life and they will still be identifiably our body, and they will be whole and complete. Any deformities or imperfections will not be there in Heaven. If anyone lost a limb in life or their body was destroyed by fire, in Heaven it will be restored. Neither will there be any suffering, illness or anxiety. Our bodies will shine with the glory reflecting our virtues. Even if we were no oil painting in this life, we will be so beautiful that we would appear to be like an angel.
Our Lady appearing to St Bernadette in Lourdes in 1858
Now remember Our Lady is already glorified in Heaven. And when St Bernadette (1844-1879) was called to look at a statue an artist had made of Our Lady of Lourdes, she said, “No, that’s horrible. She was far more beautiful than that.” So we just cannot imagine how beautiful Our Lady is. The children of Fatima said the same. It’s Our Lady’s glory, and she has the highest glory of all creatures. Now if that’s Our Lady, just imagine what it must be like to see JESUS. The saints who have seen Our Lord can never describe it.
Remember Heaven is also the communion of saints. Imagine being able to speak with Our Lady, St Joseph or your favourite saint – St Mary Magdalene, St Francis of Assisi, St Anthony of Padua, St Ignatius, St Thérèse of Lisieux, St Padre Pio or St Teresa of Calcutta. You would even be able to ask the Archangel Gabriel about the details of the Annunciation!
There are many other considerations about Heaven but this is sufficient for now. But as I mentioned at the beginning we have to strive for Heaven and this will involve many hardships. Remember Our Lord said, “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” (Matthew 7:13). All the saints had their eyes fixed on Heaven. Heaven was their entire motivation. It is why they went to far and distant lands to preach the Gospel, willingly endured so many hardships and why they went to extremes to help the poor and the needy. It is what caused them to praise God even as they were put to death. Pray to have this desire for God and for Heaven above everything else.
In conclusion, listen to these beautiful verses from the last book in the Bible, the Apocalypse:
“They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads. And night shall be no more; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they shall reign for ever and ever” (22:4-5).
May God bless you all.