How about heaven?

Fausto Gomez OP

          We checked a good dictionary of Spirituality: heaven, or eternal life is absent. We read the contents of a popular booklet entitled 25 Tough Questions on the Catholic Faith: heaven is not one of them. Last time we heard a sermon/conference on heaven was in 1964 in Metro Manila. Belief in heaven, in eternal life is part of Christian faith. 

          The young man asked Jesus: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Cf. Mt 19:16-19; Mt 10:17-22). The Beatitudes (cf. Mt 5:2-12) of the Lord speak of the reward of the Kingdom of Heaven. In the Parable of the Last Judgment, Jesus says to the righteous: “Come, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you” (Mt 25:34). The Parable of the poor man Lazarus and the rich man speaks of two possibilities in the afterlife – of a good eternity and a bad one respectively (cf. Lk 16:19-31). Likewise, Jesus’ words on the cross addressed to the good thief: “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk 23:43). Jesus rose from the dead, and those who belong to him shall rise after him – in heaven (cf. I Cor 15:23). Indeed, “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil 3:20). Those who die in God’s grace and love will see God “as he is” (1 Jn 3:2), “face to face” (1 Cor 13:12). 

          It is noteworthy to underline that the textbooks of classical moral theology start with the ultimate end, which is the first in intention and the last in execution. The ultimate end is the beatitude, heaven, eternal life: union with God. We all have been created by God to inhabit “the heavenly city.” The ultimate end of this life and of the afterlife is the glorification of God through Christ and eternal happiness: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31; cf. Rom 11:36). The good soul “searches the glory of God in the salvation of souls” (St. Catherine of Siena). 

          Why shall we live forever? Because God created us and loves us, and He is the God of the living. On April 8, 1943, theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was condemned to death by the forces of Hitler. Just before his execution he reportedly said: “This is not the end for me; it is the beginning of life. How lovely: we are told that St. Paul VI consoled a child, who was crying after his dog died, with these words: “You will see your dog in paradise.” Vittorio Messori was asked: “Do you believe in this?” His answer: “It is not a dogma, but I believe that all we have loved will be saved.”

          In the last Article of our Creed, we profess: “I believe in life everlasting.” And in the previous article: “And In the resurrection of the body”: Christians believe in the resurrection of the body (the spirit is immortal): “Body and soul are inseparable in the person …, they stand or fall together” (Veritatis Splendor, VS, 49).  What does it mean to believe in everlasting life for the whole human person? St. Thomas answers: It means union with God, which entails perfect vision of God (called “the beatific vision”), perfect knowledge and praise of God, perfect fulfillment of desires, perfect security and companionship of the blessed. How wonderful: “Eternal life consists in the pleasant companionship of all the blessed, a companionship that is replete with delight since each one will possess all things together with the blessed” (The Aquinas Catechism). Heaven is “the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longing, the state of supreme, definitive happiness”, and means “the communion of life and love with the Blessed Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed” (CCC 1024). 

          What shall we see in eternity? St. Paul answers: “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor 2:9). Faith tells us that the blessed are in heaven neither bored nor jobless, but very happy and active: they love God and us; they intercede for us, and urge us to walk by the path that leads to heaven – Jesus’ way of love of God and neighbor. 

Every time the victorious Roman generals went back to Rome from battle, they were acclaimed and honored. And every time their servants whispered to their ears: Memento mori – remember that you will die! Death is part of our human life and ought to be faced not with excessive fear nor with unreal forgetfulness but as part of this life which death changes but not ends. 

          Christian life is a pilgrimage to the house of the Father – to heaven: “The life of mortal life is the hope of immortal life” (St. Augustine). As pilgrims, we walk with faithful hope by steps of love. The virtue of theological hope is not a selfish longing for heaven, but personal and communitarian hope: I hope that you and I – and all – will attain heaven. 

          On hearing of the death of his “closest” friend Father Gerhard Winkler, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI sent (October 2, 2021) a touching letter of condolence addressed to the abbot of the Austrian Cistercian community of Wilhering: “Among all my colleagues and friends, he was the closest. His cheerfulness and his deep faith have always drawn me. Now he has arrived on the other side, where surely many friends already await him. I hope that I can join their company soon. The Pope Emeritus adds: “In the meantime, I am united in prayer with him and the monastic community of Wilhering.”           

Our Christian hope prays! In the Holy Eucharist, “a pledge of future glory is given to us” (O Sacred Banquet).  In the Our Father, we ask the good Lord: “Your Kingdom come.”  Jesus ascended into heaven, and He continues to be with us: “And remember, I am with you always, until the end of time” (Mt 28:20).