The Definitive Blessing of Life in the Glory of Heaven
What lies beyond death is shrouded in mystery, something that we cannot fully comprehend, but Jesus Christ offers us the Good News of heaven, of new and everlasting life even after our earthly bodies have died and our temporal existence has ended. Still, all human attempts to describe precisely what heaven is like will fail.
This much we can say with complete assurance – despite popular imagining, in heaven, we do not become angels and we do not spend our time playing harps on clouds. Nor is it just like this world lived in time, only forever, to be experienced as “an unending succession of days.” Most would agree that would be monotonous and even boring (Spe Salvi, 10, 12). Instead, God and heaven are in eternity, that is, they transcend the progression of time and are an ever-present reality where all is ever fresh and new.
In the Creed, we allude to the end, but we speak of it as a beginning, something we “look forward to.” While this earthly life is a great gift from God, we were made for something greater. God’s plan is that our old flesh be taken off and our bodies resurrected in Christ, to be given new glorified bodies fit for eternal life in heaven.
Scripture describes heaven “in images: life, light, peace, wedding feast, wine of the kingdom, the Father’s house, the heavenly Jerusalem, paradise: ‘no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him’” (CCC 1027). In the heavenly kingdom, “there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain” (Revelation 21:4). Theologians have also traditionally spoken of “the beatific vision,” of the happiness of seeing the essence of God intuitively and face to face, rather than by faith (CCC 1028; cf. 1 Corinthians 13:12, 1 John 3:2), but the blessings of heaven go beyond even this.
In its most fundamental sense, to be in heaven is to live in the fullness of the life of God and his infinite love and truth (CCC 1024-25), which we received as a seed in baptism. This blessed communion and resurrected eternal life with God and in God brings perfect peace and joy. It is like “the supreme moment of satisfaction, in which totality embraces us and we embrace totality,” expressed Pope Benedict XVI. “It would be like plunging into the ocean of infinite love, a moment in which time – the before and after – no longer exists. We can only attempt to grasp the idea that such a moment is life in the full sense, a plunging ever anew into the vastness of being, in which we are simply overwhelmed with joy” (Spe Salvi, 12).
God implores us to choose this life; he does not will for anyone the “second death” that is hell. God wants the entirety of his human creation to have eternal life with him in heaven and we have been given his Son Jesus, the Church and the sacraments to help us attain it. For our part, ultimately when we get right down to it, just as people have questions about the Last Things, God has one of his own for each of us. And here Blessed Mary is instructive. The Lord asks us a simple question which calls for a straight answer – Yes or no?
Do we want God in our life, yes or no? Realizing that there is no eternal life or heaven apart from the Lord, we answer by what we believe, profess and do. If one has fashioned a life of goodness and love fit for heaven as shown by their conduct here, if they have accepted and cooperated with God’s grace as best as they understood it – that is, if their answer is “yes” to God – we have his trustworthy promise of heaven.
Hopefully, by being mindful of the Last Things, we will make our life a “yes” to God and his love and truth. It is my hope too that this brief exploration of the Last Things in this blog series will inspire you to learn more about and prayerfully reflect upon these realities and then have discussions with others and continue to ask questions.
This is the sixth entry in a multi-part series on the Last Things.