Are you grieving? Here is hope and consolation.
I’m a sucker for old Catholic books. Not having been written in the midst of our own controversies, they have an air of solidity. The authors do not typically fall all over themselves responding to the least sensitivities of our modern naysayers, and in most cases they were written during a period in which the Catholic Faith seemed somehow more settled—less disrupted, perhaps, by the instant media attention afforded to every aberration today.
If we look back even as far as the nineteenth century, for example, we frequently find writers focused on the enduring verities in preference to the latest theories, and it does not hurt at all that they tend to express themselves in a more formal tone and even in the richer cadences of an exquisitely balanced style. Longer sentences and longer paragraphs were popular then, and even lesser writers tend to sound just a little like the incomparable Blessed John Henry Newman.
So it is no surprise that I was attracted to a recent offering from Sophia Institute Press entitled In Heaven We’ll Meet Again. This is a collection of seven letters from the French Jesuit François René Blot, in which he offers considerable comfort to those who have suffered the death of someone they love. When Blot was writing, many were afflicted by the Jansenist tendency to discount human grief, using the argument that a true Christian would never let anything so lowly as earthly attachments disrupt his focus on God alone. In some circles, then, grief was considered a proof of spiritual weakness.
Benziger Brothers published this book in 1863 under the title “In Heaven We Know Our Own”, which was an English translation of an earlier French edition. Fr. Blot reviews the question of whether we will know and be reunited with our loved ones in heaven, concluding that in heaven all of us will, in fact, know everyone. Recognizing that “heaven is love and light”, he emphasizes the many connections we have with each other, considers the endurance of family and friendship, urges prayer for sinners, recounts the benefits of remembering our departed loved ones, and even discusses the union of men and angels.
Fr. Blot draws on Scripture, the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and the lives of the saints. Happily, his exquisite style comes through even in translation. For example, opening at random to page 56 in the letter which urges us to pray for sinners, we find Fr. Blot marveling at the many striking ways in which God manages to embrace struggling souls through His forgiveness and mercy:
How do we explain these strokes of grace? By the value of a soul purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ and by the mercy that knows no limits; by some good work, almsdeed, or prayer of the sinner during life; by the invisible ministry of the guardian angel, ever prompt to act, and ever ready to save his charge; by the preceding prayers of the just on earth and of the saints in heaven; but, more than all, by the intercession of the Virgin Mary; in fine, by the prayers offered up for sinners after their death, even though they may have given no sign of repentance.
When we think of the theory of six degrees of separation (first posited, apparently, by Frigyes Karinthy in 1929 but popularized more recently in the game called “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”), we are often surprised how closely connected each person is to everybody else—even now, with billions currently on the face of the earth. But this is even more true spiritually, considering the many prayers that we say not only for others by name, but by category—the hungry, the oppressed, those suffering from a particular natural disaster, the sick, the dying, the souls in purgatory, and certainly ”those most in need of Thy mercy”. How much stronger still are our ties to those, living or dead, whom we love!
In this we have not only personal connections but great hope. It explains in part why In Heaven We’ll Meet Again is so enormously consoling. I highly recommend this little book of 130 pages to all those who are grieving for a friend, a sibling, a parent, a child, or a spouse. Our grief is not foolish. It too has its special place here on earth, and its particular fulfillment in the joys of heaven.
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