Saturday, November 20, 2010

Life Everlasting

It took me a long time to know and understand the Church’s teaching about heaven: life everlasting. Oh, I knew there was a heaven, and it was beyond all my understanding --- but, well, I wanted some understanding anyway. The thoughts of wings, and clouds, and harps, or just sitting at God’s feet adoring seemed unsatisfying. That can’t be all it is, or at least that can’t be all of my understanding of it. There must be more I can understand, to make it more appealing. Eventually I did see and understood those parts of Scripture, the writings of the saints, and the teachings of the Catholic Church about what heaven is. And once I understood the teaching, I found it everywhere. And I did find great comfort.

This morning I found all I had learned about heaven summarized very succinctly by Saint Thomas Aquinas. Here’s his words regarding heaven and what it is:

It is fitting that the end of all our desires, namely eternal life, coincides with the words at the end of the creed, “Life everlasting. Amen.”
The first point about eternal life is that man is united with God. … This union consists in seeing perfectly. Next it consists in perfect praise.
It also consists in the complete satisfaction of desire, for there the blessed will be given more than they wanted or hoped for…. Only God satisfies. As Augustine says: “You have made us for yourself, Lord, and our heart can find no rest until it rests in you.”

Again, eternal life consists of the joyous community of all the blessed, a community of supreme delight, since everyone will share all that is good with all the blessed. Everyone will love everyone else as himself, and therefore will rejoice in another’s good as in his own. So it follows that the happiness and joy of each grows in proportion to the joy of all.

That is a great summary of heaven, as I understand it: Union with God, seeing perfectly, perfect praise, and satisfaction of all desires. But it is not just union with God, because if I am united to Him, so are all others, so the community is united in all things with God. Through union with God, everyone loves God and his neighbor perfectly ---- but wait, those are the two great commandments for here on earth, too! What Aquinas and the Church’s teaching is saying, then, is that we will never perfectly live out those two great commandments here on earth; the perfect fulfillment of them will be in heaven. With the charge to grow in holiness, all our life, we should be transitioning here on earth through focus on those two commandments, to that heavenly bliss.

I think, however, that some of us are too focused on transitioning to the “complete satisfaction of desire” and not enough to the “joyous community of all the blessed.” Especially now, when our neighbor needs us so much.

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