No more tears
REV. JOSÉ MARIO O. MANDÍA
Last week, we saw that hell is to definitively shut ourselves in our own prison, allowing nothing and no one to come in. The opposite of it, to open ourselves and let ourselves be filled by the Source of all that is true, good and beautiful, is called heaven.
The theologians among you may balk at this, but when I explain heaven to children, I tell them that heaven is infinite fun – you can play anything you like for as long as you want, and mommy will not tell you, “It’s time to go home.” That’s because you’re already home. You will be simply overwhelmed with joy. Imagine a theme park extending into infinity. Awesome! I imagine that all the saints in heaven are always saying the same thing, “I never imagined it would be this good!”
Everlasting and unlimited joy is something that can never happen here on earth. We never get pure unalloyed joy. There is always some tinge of sadness in every earthly joy. And earthly joys never last. They are, as Saint Josemaría said, like fireworks that glitter and die – “hardly had they begun, and they have already ended” (The Way 753). When he was still archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Bergoglio (now Pope Francis) once told his faithful, “If a politician comes promising you heaven, tell him to go to confession.”
Heaven is not a cheap advertising gimmick. The One who promised it to us has a good record of keeping his Word. He said he would die for us, and die he did. He said he would rise, and rise he did. He said anyone who keeps his word will find eternal life, and you can bet, he will find it.
Earthly words fail when describing heaven. When two people speak about heaven, it is like a blind man telling another what the color “red” is. Or like deaf man trying to explain to another deaf man what polyphony means. Words just fail.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1027) affirms that heaven “is beyond all understanding and description. … ‘no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him’ (I Corinthians 2:9).”
But there is a succinct explanation about heaven that I love to use and meditate on. It comes from two books of the Bible. The book of Isaiah (25:8) says, “He will swallow up death for ever, and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth; for the LORD has spoken.” And the book of Revelation (21:4-5) uses almost the same words: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away. And he who sat upon the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’”
No more tears! “Tears” are situations that annoy or bother us, that make us uncomfortable, sad, angry, nervous, fearful, depressed, disappointed, frustrated. Tears are pains, aches, sorrows …. All that will be a thing of the distant past. (I can say goodbye to my cholesterol problem.)
Pope Benedict XVI, in the Encyclical Spe Salvi, no 12, describes heaven as “the supreme moment of satisfaction, … like plunging into the ocean of infinite love, a moment in which time – the before and after – no longer exists … in which we are simply overwhelmed with joy. This is how Jesus expresses it in Saint John’s Gospel: ‘I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you’ (16:22).”
Saint Thomas Aquinas says it surpasses all human desire, goes beyond all human expectations. In heaven, we shall go from one discovery to another, from one surprise to another, and the whole adventure will never end. To be in heaven is to be with God, the Dad of all dads (cf Ephesians 3:14-15). If you are a mom or a dad, I am sure that when your son or daughter’s birthday comes around, you would like to give him the best surprise that your paycheck can afford. God is infinitely much more a father and mother than all the fathers and mothers put together. He has no budget constraints. He is infinitely magnanimous and prodigiously imaginative in his gifts – He has prepared delights which will keep his children so awed for all eternity that – as Peter Kreeft writes – there will be no time for boredom (cf Everything You Wanted to Know About Heaven). This explains why Jesus thanked him every time he spoke with him: “I thank you, Father….”
Moral lesson? Heaven is worth all the trouble, yes it is. Saint Paul tells the Romans (8:18): “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
And how does one qualify to get in? The Catechism (1023) gives a very simple requirement: “Those who die in God’s grace and friendship and are perfectly purified live for ever with Christ.”
To die in God’s grace means being aware of not having one single mortal or grave sin (each mortal sin is a flat “no” to God). This is why we need regular and frequent confession.
Purification comes through the reversals, unpleasant circumstances, crosses that we encounter in life and which we offer up to God (instead of complaining about them). The saints were keenly aware of the value of these “bad things that happen to good people.” This explains their constant joy in the midst of suffering. We can also choose to be purified in purgatory (which we will talk about next time) but why wait so long?
Is it good to think about heaven all the time? Athletes always think about the medal they want to win. People separated from their loved ones always think about the persons they miss. God our Father is so eager to see us back home – we should always feel homesick for heaven.