To give thanks with the communion of saints for the new creation in Christ
By BISHOP ROBERT J. BAKER
Not just in the month of November, when we celebrate the Feast of All Saints and the Feast of All Souls, but all through the year, and even daily, we should meditate on our future with the Lord in heaven.
The saints often did.
St. Augustine wrote (Letter to Proba) that “in heaven is the fountain of life, that we now thirst for in prayers as long as we live in hope and do not yet see the object of our hope … when our desire will be satisfied with good things, and there will be nothing to ask for with sighs, but only what we possess with joy.”
St. Thomas wrote that heaven is the union, the “reunion,” of all the Blessed, of all the happy people, with Jesus in eternal joy.
St. Ambrose wrote that “Life is life after death, a life that is a blessing,” a blessing that “comes after victory, when the contest is over, when the law of our fallen nature no longer rebels against the law of reason, when we no longer need to struggle against the body that leads to death, for the body already shares in victory.”
From the human perspective, time is brief; eternity is forever.
Weighing one against the other, one would be wise to cast one’s lot with eternity.
Father Paul Turks, in his masterful biography of St. Philip Neri, founder of the Oratory, suggests that St. Philip had a way of taking people with him, “so to speak, on a journey to the ultimate reality behind everyday things.”
As a result, one young man managed to tell Philip of his dreams for his career in the future. “He was now studying and hoped soon to be finished. ‘And then?’ asked Philip. ‘Then I will be a lawyer.’ ‘And then?’ asked Philip. ‘Then I will make lots of money and make a name for myself.’ And then?’ ‘Then I will marry and have a family.’ ‘And then?’ Then the answers came more slowly and haltingly, for all that was left was the end. And Philip drew the young man close to himself and asked almost inaudibly, ‘And then?'”
St. Philip had a way of reminding his friends and followers of that ultimate reality behind everyday things, the answer to the final “and then?,” what the Italians refer to as the “al di la delle cose,” that which is beyond what we now see and hear and feel.
We followers of Christ see that ultimate reality as heaven.
In her uniquely practical way of looking at life, Mother Angelica has this to say about heaven:
“… let’s erase all the fine robes and harps and jewels out of your imagination and give you, instead, a picture you can comprehend. Push aside those fluffy clouds, and imagine how you might think and feel in a state of utter bliss for that is what heaven is all about.
— “We will learn why God permitted the trials and illnesses and heartaches of this life.
— We will see the Justice and Mercy of God, as the disadvantages of this life are rewarded by high stations in heaven.
— We will see all our faults and weaknesses fall away from our souls like scales from a fish.
— We will understand the mysteries of nature and the universe.
— We will be able to comprehend great truths with ease. Nothing will be difficult.
— We will see the mysteries of God as they continue to unfold.
— We will love and be loved by everyone, and never have any aversion or antipathy toward anyone.
— We will always have something new to do and learn in Heaven, something different to be joyful about.
— We will never feel worthless, lonely, slighted, discouraged, depressed, or stupid.
— We will never feel anger, resentment, hatred, jealousy, or ambition.
— We will never experience hunger, thirst, or poverty.
— We will never again be afraid.
“How could you ever think of giving all this up in exchange for a life of sin? It would be like trading a chest full of diamonds for a tray of coal.
“In heaven we will, for the first time, encounter full knowledge of ourselves and of our lives, and we will not be afraid of the truth we discover. Pope John XXIII had a little sign on his desk that simply read: ‘Know yourself.’ Self knowledge is critical to the spiritual life, but so often we run from the hard truths about our sinfulness and our weaknesses. In heaven, we will get the whole picture, but we won’t run and hide in shame. We will see all those gifts and talents that are ours and ours alone, and we will direct them to the praise and glory of God’s name. We will have so much light that we will be free to love ourselves and every other person in God’s creation ~ not because we are so good, but because God is so good” (from a chapter entitled “What will Heaven Be Like?” in the book Answers, Not Promises, Harper and Row, 1987).
I like this portrayal of heaven.
We owe it to ourselves to reflect on our own image of heaven as well, realizing that how we live in time is a preparation for how we will live in eternity.
Even now we experience a foretaste of heaven. We share a communion with our brothers and sisters in heaven as members of the communion of saints, that “unity and cooperation of the members of the church on earth with those in heaven and in purgatory,” (John A. Hardon, S. J., Modern Catholic Dictionary).
In the communion of saints we are “united as being one Mystical Body of Christ.” We are in communion with the saints in heaven “by honoring them as glorified members of the church, invoking their prayers and aid, and striving to imitate their virtues.”
We are in communion with the souls in purgatory by helping them with our “prayers and good works.”
St. Paul, in his Letter to the Ephesians (2:19-22), reminds us that we are strangers and aliens no longer. Right now we are “fellow citizens of the saints and members of the household of God.” We form “a building which rises on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone. Through him the whole structure is fitted together and takes shape as a holy temple in the Lord.”
It is in Christ, St. Paul says, that we are “being built into this temple, to become a dwelling place for God in the Spirit.”
Heaven begins on earth for those wedded to Christ and his community of saints, for those who live lives committed to him in easy times and hard times, in sickness and in health, for those who live for an eternity with God and his holy people rather than for the limited vistas of the here and now, for those who live as “fellow citizens of the saints and members of the household of God.”
In this month of November, in our Jubilee Year of Prayer, we recall that Christ calls us to take a further step in our vocation as committed Christians by giving thanks with all in the communion of saints for our new creation in Christ.