Yes, dear Fleming, we still believe in Heaven. May I direct you to the catechism of the Catholic Church? Paragraphs 1023 and 1024 “Those who die in God's grace and friendship and are perfectly purified live for ever with Christ. They are like God for ever, for they "see Him as He is," face to face.” This perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity - this communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed - is called "heaven." Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness.
Still, we have a very strange concept of heaven that we probably get from a very poor understanding of certain biblical passages. In John 14:2-3 we read, "In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also." So that means we each get a mansion. Revelation 21:18 “And the building of the wall of it was of jasper: and the city was pure gold, like unto clear glass.” Somehow this is taken to mean that our mansion is on a street of gold. And then there are those @#$%^ harps.... Revelation 14:2. “And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and I heard the voice of harpers harping with their harps.” So that’s heaven: Mansions on streets of gold, while we sit on clouds playing harps. To this, Catholicism adds something called the beatific vision: we sit around staring at God, who must be terribly fond of harp music. At least it’s not bagpipes.
First of all, the word in the text isn’t mansion. It is dwelling places, and can just as well mean rooms, which makes more sense. In My Father’s house there are many rooms.” In other words, we are going to move in with God. Second, the bit about gold is obviously poetic. Gold like glass? As I always remind you some of us have the souls of poets, others have the souls of appliance repairmen. Third, we have the harps and all that staring at God. It all sounds very boring. No wonder Hollywood makes hell seem so much more interesting.
What the Bible really says is that you can’t even begin to imagine how wonderful heaven will be, but you can begin to experience it a little if you get to know Christ. “However, as it is written: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him, but God has revealed it to us by His Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.”
(1 Cor. 2, 9-10)
The amazing thing is that there is more than heaven when we die! Remember that God’s plan is not simply to reward us, but to adopt us. That’s why He wants us to move in with Him. We are His children and he want us to move back home! We have a room at Dad’s house, and when we grow up we will be just like Him. He will be part of us and we will be part of Him, just as Jesus already is. At least that’s what St. John seemed to think:
“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. Everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure."(1John 3:1-3)
The beatific vision, staring at God for an eternity, is not quite as boring as it might first appear. Have you ever fallen in love? A young man marries a young woman and she wakes in the middle of the night to find him staring at her in the moonlight. It’s kind of creepy. She asks him “What are you doing?” and he says, “Oh nothing. I was just looking at you. You’re so beautiful.” A parent might sneak into the nursery late at night and just watch a newborn child asleep. There is nothing as beautiful, as wonderful as the simple joy of seeing someone you love. Heaven is to behold the beloved perfectly and forever. If you have ever fallen in love, You’ve experienced a pale shadow of the wonder of heaven. To be perfectly in love forever with someone who is really worthy of all our devotion. That is worship. That is heaven. We will see Him as He is, and He will see us as we shall become.
The thief on the cross asked Jesus if He would remember him when He came into His kingdom. Jesus answered him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with Me in paradise." (Luke 23:43) Paradise is not quite what most people understand as heaven. Paradise is originally a Persian word that means a walled garden. The king was very formal and anything he said was law, but in his private chambers and his walled garden he walked with his friends as equals. That is God’s promise to us. We shall be in love with Him and walk with Him forever.
the Rev. Know it all
PS The harps are optional.