Sunday, March 1, 2015

What People Think About Heaven

The other day, my hiking pal and I had just completed a short hike. It was nice to be able to go on a hike at all; the weather’s been so mild this year, we were actually able to up into the mountains a bit. Anyway, I guess because he was so thrilled with being able to be out in the wilderness (as was I, actually!), he said, “I really want to be in Heaven with you!”

I interjected, “Well, then, you’d better become Catholic.”

It’s a bit of a sore point between us, so he ignored my comment and went on, “Maybe God would let us hike in all kinds of beautiful places together, and maybe He would even let us hike on other planets, all around the universe!”

I find it interesting to hear what other people think Heaven will be like. To me, it seems that most people have a vision of Heaven that is little more than an abundance of whatever they think makes them happy here on earth, and an absence of anything unpleasant. 

On Face Book, you see those who consider themselves Christians often saying things or posting “memes” that say things along the lines of “If you have a mom or dad in Heaven, like and share this post!” Or even, “If you know some angels in Heaven [meaning someone you know who has died, and is now, therefore, an “angel”), share this post!” Then there’s the occasional post about someone who has died: “So-and-So went to be with Jesus last night.” And people talk about their deceased pets meeting them at the Pearly Gates. These things irritate me because…well, because they are not reflections of Catholic theology, for one thing!

I think Heaven is about being one with God. And if you are one with God, then whatever needs are being fulfilled here on earth by things like hiking, or pets, or relationships with others, are completed filled by God’s presence; then there would be no need of the things we think we enjoy and “love” in our earthly bodies. I’m not sure what Catholic theology has to say about that, really, but I do know that Heaven is not just an extension of earth!

Probably one of my all-time favorite quotes on this subject is found in the preface of The Ladder of Divine Ascent, by St. John Climacus. It is actually a quote from St. Augustine, and it says:

Imagine a man in whom the tumult of the flesh goes silent, in whom the images of earth, of water, of air and of the skies cease to resound. His soul turns quiet and, self-reflecting no longer, it transcends itself. Dreams and visions end. So too does all speech and every gesture, everything in fact which comes to be only to pass away. All these things cry out: 'We did not make ourselves. It is the Eternal One Who made us.' And after they have said this, think of them falling silent, turning to listen to the One Who created them. And imagine Him speaking. Himself, and not through the medium of all those things. Speaking Himself. So that we could hear His word, not in the language of the flesh, not through the speech of an Angel, not by way of a rattling cloud or a mysterious parable. But Himself. The One Whom we love in everything. Imagine we could hear Him without them. Reaching out with speeding thought we come to Him, to the Eternal Wisdom which outlasts everything. And imagine if sight of Him were kept available, while all lesser sights were taken away. Think of this encounter, seizing, absorbing, drawing the witness into the depths of joy. Eternal life would be of a kind with this moment of understanding.' (Confessions ix, 10, 25)

I think that is simply beautiful, something to yearn for! And it has colored my thoughts on Heaven since I first read it (probably 10 years ago). 

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

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