A Glimpse of Heaven
I mentioned in my last Insights message that Benedict XVI had offered some very interesting insights into the meaning of “heaven” in his homily on the Solemnity of the Assumption. On the vain hunch that there are some who occasionally take the risk of reading this blog but not the Holy Father’s homilies, I’d like to call further attention to the Pope’s argument here.
Benedict’s reflection on Mary’s Assumption body and soul into heaven led him to suggest a way in which we can understand the concept of heaven itself. He began with a common enough idea, the notion that those who die somehow live on in our memories. This is true only in a highly attenuated sense, of course, though it is too often the only kind of “immortality” to which pious atheists will admit. Happily, in Benedict’s hands one need not fear a trite result. He immediately acknowledges that what lives on in memory resembles a “shadow”. It is not the person himself, and even this shadow “is destined to end.”
The point, however, is that all of us exist purely because of the love of God, and there is nothing shadowy about what lives on in Him:
We exist in God’s thoughts and in God’s love. We exist in the whole of our reality, not only in our “shadow”. Our serenity, our hope and our peace are based precisely on this: in God, in His thoughts and in His love, it is not merely a “shadow” of ourselves that survives but rather we are preserved and ushered into eternity with the whole of our being in Him, in His creator love. It is His Love that triumphs over death and gives us eternity and it is this love that we call “Heaven”.
In other words, the human capacity for loving memory—for holding someone in our hearts—is but a shadow of God’s love, by which He creates us and sustains us in being.
The Pope also makes the point that “God welcomes into His eternity what is developing and becoming now”. The whole of man’s life, taken up and purified in God, receives eternity. Thus, Christianity does not offer salvation to the soul alone, in some vague afterlife in which we are stripped of everything that is dear to us. “Nothing that is precious and dear to us will fall into ruin; rather, it will find fullness in God.” As Jesus said, even the hairs on our heads are counted.
We profess belief in the life of the world to come, and this life with God will also be the fulfillment of this earth. Benedict cites St. Paul: “Creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rom 8:21). It should be our constant consolation amid the tests and trials of life that all of this is so precious to the God of Love. And as the Pope concludes, we must seek “to glimpse the beauty of the future world” so that, even in our worry and our toil, we may become people of hope and joy, determined to “build a world open to God.”
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