For most Christians, the word “heaven” doesn’t mean very much.
This is for two reasons.
The first is that we just don’t think often about heaven. The practical demands of life on earth tend to monopolize our attention.
But this is a dangerous mistake. Jesus came to earth in order to be able to lead us to heaven. He died on the cross so that we could look forward to eternal life in heaven. Heaven is the goal, the destination of our lives on earth. How foolish a traveler would be to struggle forward without ever thinking about where he is going!
There is another reason why our idea of heaven is so shadowy: it’s simply because picturing eternal life is hard for us. This is where Jesus’ revelation in today’s Gospel is so helpful (Seventh Sunday of Easter; for the Feast of Our Lord’s Ascension, see here). He tells us exactly what eternal life is: “Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one you sent, Jesus Christ.”
The greatest joy of human existence even here on earth consists in relationships of love. After all, what would mansions and yachts, works of art and mountain cottages, sunrises and ocean voyages be without others to share them with?
Loving relationships can make life’s most boring activities enjoyable and meaningful. But here on earth, our relationships are fragile, like human life itself, and they can go sour, because of sin. Today Jesus is telling us that heaven is nothing more or less than a perfect relationship of love, an everlasting getting-to-know-God, Christ, and all the saints.
These relationships will never get boring or tedious, because God is infinite, and getting to know him is an adventure that will never end.
If the best human friendships never lose their luster, how much more indescribable will be our eternal friendship with God, from whom all good things come!
The New Testament talks allot less about going to heaven when we die than you would think. The synoptics concentrate on “The Kingdom of Heaven”, that is, the Reign of God, which includes going to heaven, but is a much, much broader concept: the Kingdom is also the historical community of believers transformed by grace, and the action of the Holy Spirit in the world of men, and the final victory of the second coming (which even the saints in heaven are awaiting!) John too is about the Lordship of Christ over the world. Even St. Paul’s notion of salvation is best understood in this context: he is talking about a reality that starts here and now, and has real effects in this world.
Christ came to redeem the world, to establish his Kingdom in it, not help a handful of people escape it, like the Gnostics would say. I think we don’t like talking about it because sometimes we can confuse this with political activism, “theocracy” or Catholic triumphalism.
As a result we have such a hard time linking “going to heaven” with, say, Catholic social doctrine: we treat them like two separate things; just like some protestants have a hard time linking “getting saved” with living a Christian life. They try to do both, but don’t see the reason why.
So true! It remains an incredible mystery — What eye hath not seen… God bless!
The lack of beauty in the celebration of Mass has also contributed.
I agree. The celebration of the Mass is the best thing we have on earth. We participate with the whole communion of saints in the Heavenly Liturgy. We should do more to help everyone to appreciate it more. Thanks for your comment!
I don’t entirely agree with the first couple of sentences in this post. I think that Christians do think a lot about heaven.
Everybody has lost loved ones, and they do think and talk a lot about them being in heaven. I work in a public library, and books on this subject are so popular that they just fly off of the shelves. Books like Proof of Heaven, Heaven is Real, The Lovely Bones, and countless more . . . movies are made from them too, adding to the dialog.
Perhaps the clergy doesn’t preach about it that often, but the laity and ordinary folks from every faith tradition think about it and discuss it all the time.
Sure, it is a “shadowy” subject without any clear visualization, because so few have come back to tell of it. If only someone had thought to interview Lazarus . . .
BTW, I really enjoyed the reply/comment by dpmonahan above. I agree with him totally.
I think it’s beautiful that you have this experience of knowing plenty of people with heaven on their mind. That is a good thing. God bless you Reinkat!
Thank you Biltrix, and God bless you as well.