To most of us, Heaven is rather abstract. It’s a kind of fuzzy thing. Often in life, we look forward to events — graduations, doctorates, marriage, and so on. But when our anticipation is great, the event, when it occurs, seems to lose something. That’s why, I believe, we don’t like to talk about Heaven. We’re so afraid it won’t be anything like what we are expecting, and so we begin to doubt.
St. Paul said:
“The things that no eye has seen and no ear has heard, things beyond the mind of man, . . . God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor. 2:9).
What Heaven is like hasn’t even entered into our wildest imaginations. On earth, you and I want happiness. But life is fraught with a little bit of bitterness, even when we’re happy. That’s because, as soon as we have something that makes us happy, we’re afraid we’re going to lose it. Happiness, here on earth, is always bittersweet.
We get so attached to this happiness that we become devastated when we lose it. That’s because happiness is an oasis in the desert. When we’re in that oasis, we don’t want to go anywhere else. And when we leave, we don’t want to think about the desert all around, so we pretend it’s not there. And then, if somebody talks to us about Heaven, far off in the invisible distance, we don’t want to hear it. We live in an age when we delude ourselves about where real happiness is found. And so, although we might have glimpses of that eternal life, we’re not ready for it. We don’t know what it means. We want to get there immediately or in a hurry, but we can’t, and so we pretend that what we have here and now is all there is. But if what we have now is all there is, we wouldn’t be any different from a dog, because what he has now is really all he has. He’s not going to get one thing more when he dies. I’m sorry to say that you’re not going to find your dog in Heaven wagging his little tail. He doesn’t have an immortal soul.
For most of us, then, keeping Heaven in our mind is difficult — especially for those of us, like me, who don’t have very creative minds. We prefer the things we can see. We think, “Don’t tell me what is going to be. Give it to me now!” But let’s take a look now at the question “Why do we fear death?” First, most of us are afraid of judgment. We just aren’t sure if we’re really sorry for our sins — or even if we remember them. That’s because we haven’t fully grasped the beautiful truth of God’s fatherly love and comfort and forgiveness. And when God forgives, He forgives and He forgets. And yet we are so often afraid of God and His Kingdom.
Why are we afraid of a Father who is so generous and so loving and so compassionate that He’s willing to give us a clean sheet? How many people give us a clean sheet? Anybody? Most people forgive, but they don’t forget. There are almost always little shadows left over. Many of the first Christians led lives of debauchery, but they had a faith that assured them that once they had a clean sheet from God after Confession, they could seek, desire, and
obtain Heaven. Why? Because God is our Father. Their faith was so real that when they were put in an arena to face lions, when Peter and Andrew were crucified, when Bartholomew was flayed alive, they all relied confidently on the power of God to keep them going. When St. Stephen was stoned to death, he saw Heaven open up, and he saw Jesus at the right hand of the Father. And as they were attacking him, his face glowed like an angel and he said, “Receive my spirit. . . . Lord do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:59—60).
We have to find out what those Christians had that we lack today, and what it is that has smothered real Christianity in our hearts. What is it in our lives that smothers the truth? What is covering it over? Is it riches? Is it a desire for human glory? Is it lust? Is it alcohol? Is it sex? Is it pride? What is it that hides the glory of the Kingdom from our eyes and makes us desire the least? What is it, or who is it, that blinds our eyes to the point where we desire to live in a mud shack rather than in a mansion? What is it in our lives that distorts the facts of life so greatly?
Holiness in this life is not complicated. It consists of one thing: the Will of God. Do you know what Our Lord told Sr. Lucy of Fatima? He said, “The sacrifice that each one can make is to do his duty and obey my law. That is the form of penance I now demand.” To be faithful to the duties of our state in life; to cling to God; to be faithful to His rule, His law, and His Church: That’s what it means to be holy.
We need to understand that around us is a kind of shield, like a little cloud of wrinkly Saran wrap. We strain our eyes to look through all the things in the world that keep the vision of the truth from our eyes and keep the real goal of life from entering our hearts. We need to remember that we are a people of God who should know where we are and where we’re going.
This article is adapted from a chapter in What is Heaven by Mother Angelica, which is available from Sophia Institute Press.
Art for this post on Heaven: Cover and interior images used with permission; Featured image used with permission of Pixabay.
To read more about Heaven and the consolation it brings, click HERE.