Monday, October 28, 2013

What Is Heaven?

On the way to Sunday mass, I recalled some moments when I had opportunities to do for others, but chose to do for myself first.  Trivial, I mused.  God will understand my weaknesses.  Then, entering the church the peripheral vision of my right eye caught sight of a light going on --- the small Confessional Room had lit up.  And the one person sitting outside it got up, and went inside.  And I stood there, thinking for a moment of the coincidence with my earlier thoughts, and then I sat down, next in line.  Trivial sin, I had thought earlier --- but just how well do I REALLY know the mind of God, and what HE deems important, or trivial. 
It is so easy for us to put our judgments of life and things important first, assuming we know best.  I thought that way on Sunday morning --- until the light went on.
After confession, I went over and lit a candle next to the statue of Mary, as I like to do each Sunday.  It’s a reminder to me, and her, of a lot of things:  how little I am, how alone (mine is usually the first candle lit on a Sunday morn), and how much I need prayers for me.  And so I ask her, mother, to pray for me.  And a little later as I sat in the nearby pew, a mother and her little son came over to the same statue.  She picked up a stick from the small sandbox, and using my candle lit it, as her son excitedly pointed to another as being the one he wanted her to light.  And I was reminded of one other thing by my candle:  I am but a small light in this world, yet I am there to light others.  With our life, we burn, we dwindle down, yet even as we do, we spread light and warmth.  That’s just what candles do.
Enkindle in my heart, the fire of Your love.  Send forth Your spirit, and You shall renew the face of the earth.
My recent thoughts and meditations have considered who I am, and what I am to do with my life.  This morning I read an interesting article on the back page of the Wall Street Journal; it was a retiree noting how they felt useless in their retirement, and how their work had defined so much of their value.  I certainly understand that.  But what I also understand, intellectually and spiritually, is that man is not created for work alone, or the earthly benefits that work may bring.  Man is meant for eternal life; it is what Jesus came here to make possible for us ---- possible, but not inevitable.  For we have a role in making it happen.  St. Augustine said that we are restless until we rest in Thee.  He was not speaking of heaven, but of earthly life.  One thing this very wise man discovered, after quite a while of not even looking, was that he WAS restless, until he turned his eyes and life toward God.  Interestingly, he first had to turn them away from himself, from the mirror which focused only on himself. 
Then he began to find heaven.
We pray in the Our Father that Thy kingdom come.  We are not praying, there, that we die and go to heaven.  No, we are praying that God’s kingdom come to earth.  Heaven, eternal life with God, begins here on earth.  In my youth I always thought of heaven as “somewhere else.”  Oh, I never really thought of it as a place with people sitting around on clouds, but I did think of it as “another place.”  Eye has not seen, and ear has not heard … so I thought it as being kind of a strange place compared to earth.  I thought in terms of black and white, totally different things.  I thought of dying as leaving all the familiar things of earth and waking up to a totally strange place:  “Where am I?”  That was my concept of this place we could not conceive of. 
And I was wrong.
It’s taken many years, many books, and much grace for me to grow closer to the truth of heaven.  That book I referenced last time, which I am still reading, does a very good job of explaining things.  Heaven, eternal life with God, begins here on earth.  Our life is a continuum, not a radically changing thing, as from black to white.  We grow physically during our life, and we were made to grow spiritually also.  And Jesus’ coming to earth help orient the path of our spiritual growth.  He came to earth, never to leave.  Know that I am with you always, even to the end of time.  Heaven isn’t entering some strange place where we are confused, rather it is part of the continuum of our life. 
I know; I know.  Some of you are saying right now: “Well if my life is heaven, I want no part of it.”  I’m sure Augustine said that at one point also --- I know I did.  And you will NOT understand what I am saying right now, just by reading these words.  Better if you would read Augustine’s words in his book Confessions, he went through more pain and mental torture that you or I ever will.  And, he probably went through more physical pleasures than you or I will either.  In man’s judgments, Augustine had it made; he had all the pleasures and prestige life could offer --- yet in his mind he suffered.  You can understand that, I am sure.  We read about it all the time, the Hollywood multi-zillionaire who dies of a drug overdose or suicide.  The things of this earth don’t really satisfy; you can never have enough to satisfy that longing, that yearning within you.  That ache that says: “Is this all there is?”  Jesus came to answer that question, and say: “No, there is much more, starting with Me.  I am the Way, the Truth, and THE LIFE.”
Augustine eventually found the path, so did I.  It’s not straight-forward, and it’s not simple.  It begins with human life, our life.  But the path, the way we should grow, began with Jesus.  I am the Vine, and you are the branches.  We grow throughout our life, and bear fruit.  And must be pruned sometimes.  And as we branch off, we grow, and others branch off from us, getting life (and light) from us.  And as we grow, we move forward toward heaven, even as we are attached to a part of heaven, the Vine, Jesus, here on earth, giving us nourishment.  And growing forward, we cannot go back.
I spoke to a friend recently.  She was concerned about past mistakes of her life, and of a deep loss with the death of her mother.  She ached, and living in the pleasures of her memories, while realizing they were past, regretted she didn’t relish them more in the past, even while not appreciating there are even more in the future.  It’s not hard for us to wonder, and perhaps regret, over “what might have been.”  But all those events of our life, those things which have changed, are in our past.  They are branches sprouted off the vine, and now we grow in different directions, gaining nourishment from our past --- even the bad times --- so that we can grow in the future.  If we focus on the past too much, especially that of others who were part of our lives, then we may not reach OUR futures, the ones meant for us, where WE are growing towards.  A who mother died, like even mine, is a branch which served its purpose and falls to the ground.  But I know that she has not disappeared forever, but only has changed in appearance.  She had become part of the soil, now nourishing and becoming part of the root of the Vine.  She is in heaven.  Looking back, I will not see her any more, no matter how much my searching, or regret.  But looking forward, growing towards heaven myself, I WILL see her again, not in the past but in the future, when I become part of the root of that Vine also.  And I eagerly look forward to it.
We are, and are meant to be part of the Body of Christ, part of His living Church, wherein He is with us, always.  At mass we pray: I confess, I believe, and then we pray OUR Father, … Thy kingdom come.  This part of the Catholic mass where we pray, together, and receive Jesus in the Eucharist, together, is the visible sign He gave us: I will be with you always.  The people of the Church, together, are where He is, part of His kingdom, even today.  He told His apostles, What I say, you say, and what you say, I say.  They speak for Him, as do their successor bishops in the Church.  The Church is always growing, but anchored to the Vine, not changing at its root.  And we, fulfilling our role in the Church, the Body of Christ, help others to be who they should be, to help them grow.  That should be the focus of our lives, others, not ourselves and our worries and our earthly needs.  Our growth is not something we can will, but accept.  And we cannot nourish ourselves; it comes from others. 
On Sunday morning I read the hymn at the start of the Morning Prayer.  It said many words which my heart was feeling:
Sing with all the sons of glory,
Sing the resurrection song!
Death and sorrow, earth’s dark story,
To the former days belong
O what glory, far exceeding
All that eye has yet perceived!
Holiest hearts for ages pleading,
Never that full joy conceived.
Life eternal! Heaven rejoices:
Jesus lives who once was dead;
Join, O man, the deathless voices;
Child of God, lift us thy head!
O to enter that bright portal,
See that glowing firmament,
Know with thee, O God immortal,
“Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent!”
And then I read the words I had written in the margin of the prayer book next to that hymn:  “I don’t know what it is; how can I want it so much?”  It is a mystery.


  1. "We have heaven within ourselves, since the Lord of heaven is there." -St Teresa of Avila

    1. Ah, great quote, KW. But still my final thoughts mesh with it, for in truth I am a mystery to myself. But I AM looking. That's a start.