Saturday, May 27, 2017
Live for Heaven
In the top drawer of my desk I keep a prayer card that had belonged to my Aunt Pat. Aunt Pat was my Dad’s oldest sister and she passed away a few years ago. The night before her funeral, her daughters gave me this prayer card, which they had found in her well-worn Bible. The card contained a well-known poem often read at funeral’s called “Safely Home.” But, in the margins my Aunt had handwritten two notes. One said simply, “Please read this at my funeral.” But on the other side she had written, “My last prayer is that you all get right with God, so I’ll see you all again.” Aunt Pat, especially as she was nearing her own death, had a mind and a heart that was fixed firmly on Heaven – and she wanted the same for all of the people she loved.
While I’m sure we all want to get to Heaven, I would bet that getting there isn’t something most of us think about on any given day. This is for two reasons. First, the practical demands of everyday life on earth usually grab our attention even though Jesus came to earth to lead us to Heaven, or as we’ll hear in the Eucharistic Prayer today, “Where Christ has gone, we hope to follow.” Heaven is the goal; Heaven is the destination of our lives on earth. How foolish a traveler would be to struggle forward without ever thinking about where they are going!
But there is another reason why we don’t give too much thought to Heaven: it’s simply because imagining eternal life is hard for us. Jesus gives us some insight today. He said, “Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one you sent, Jesus Christ.”
We all know that the greatest joy of our lives is the relationships of love we are blessed with. What would all of the most beautiful things in the world be – the wonders of nature, the joy of children and family, beautiful works of art, even nice homes and cool cars – what would these be without others to share them with? Loving relationships make life’s most ordinary activities enjoyable and meaningful.
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, the saints, being reunited with our loved ones who have gone before us. 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 our eternal friendship with God be!
C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia series has a beautiful way of explaining the reality of that Heavenly relationship with God. Narnia tells the story of English school children who find their way into another world where they have many adventures and go on special quests to defeat the forces of evil. All the children love Narnia, and they love their adventures there; and are always sorry to have to go back to England at the end of each adventure.
At the end of the last book, however, it turns out that they don’t have to go back. They are permitted to stay in “Aslan’s Country” forever, which in the books is the equivalent of Heaven. Lewis describes this reality, “For [the children], [the end of the books] was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the title and the cover page. Now at last, they were beginning Chapter One of the great story, which no one on earth has read, which goes on forever, in which every chapter is better than the one before.” Compared to life in Heaven, absolutely everything that had come before, all the amazing adventures and thrilling experiences, were nothing more than a hint, a faint idea of how wonderful the rest of the chapters were. And life in Heaven was always getting better and better, like a book with an endless amount of chapters, each one better than the last.
In his encyclical, “Saved in Hope,” Pope Emeritus Benedict gave a simple suggestion of how we can daily lead lives focused on Heaven. He suggested reviving the tradition of “offering up” the small trials of each day, those little sufferings, pains, and inconveniences, that we all go through all the time. We all experience them. No one escapes them. From traffic jams to money worries, the trials of daily life affect us all. “Offering them up” simply means turning them into a prayer. Instead of complaining, we turn our minds to Christ, and we unite our small sufferings with Christ’s redeeming sacrifice, joining them with God’s plan of redemption. By doing this, we keep our hearts set on the Lord. And if we do that, with the help of God, eternal life will surely be ours.
My friends, my Aunt Pat had it right: let us get ourselves right with God so that in the glory and complete and perfect joy that is Heaven, we will see each other again. Or as St. Bernadette Soubirous said, “Let us work for Heaven: all the rest is nothing.”
May the Lord give you peace.