Last time ,we looked at what Scriptures tell us about Heaven. Perhaps we do know more about Heaven than we think.
Well, I guess, at least we know with certainty that we are going to die. So what happens when we die?
We believe that we will be judged for our actions during this life. But no one knows what that judgment will be like. I tend to lean more on God’s mercy than on God’s judgment and so I don’t think it’s going to be a condemnation. I think we are more likely to condemn ourselves. They do say that God doesn’t send anyone to Hell – people go there out of their own will.
So at the Judgment we either choose to go with God or not, and then get sent to Heaven, Hell or Purgatory.
The first Christians thought that the dead simply slept, awaiting Jesus’ return. Of course, they expected him to show up any day. In 1336, Pope Benedict XII defined as dogma that people faced an individual judgment and entered Heaven, Hell or Purgatory immediately after death.
So what is Purgatory? It is the final purification of a person who is on their way to Heaven. Only the truly pure and perfected in Grace can see God face to face. If we don’t achieve the perfection of charity on this earth, the mercy of God provides for us a place of final purification. The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. Catholics pray for the dead and believe that their prayers can ease the process of purification.
If understanding Purgatory can help us understand Heaven, so can it also help understanding Hell:
To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from God forever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from Communion with God and the blessed is called Hell. This is what I wrote earlier – we have to choose Hell; we condemn ourselves.
There is a beautiful Korean story where Heaven is a huge dinner party, but the chopsticks are six feet long, so the guests cannot feed themselves; they can only put food in someone else’s mouth. Hell is the same, except the guests are too caught up in their own pride and selfishness that they refuse to feed each other and wait in hunger forever.
Saints and Blesseds are the people whom we know with certainty are already in Heaven; they are already in that state of Union with God. I know that it must be amazing being with God all the time, but I have to be honest – it scares me a bit. I guess it scares me a bit to think of eternity. It’s because my little mortal and temporal mind can’t comprehend it. We may not be able to fully comprehend eternity as we are confined by time and space, but we can understand the concept of being with God; of being with God and all our loved ones, the Community of Saints and being able to love perfectly. That’s Heaven!
And I think we can try to do that right here on earth. It’s no use trying to figure out where Heaven is. Heaven is with God – and wherever that is – that’s where I want to be. St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:9, “Eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, what God has prepared for those who love him.” That’s Heaven.
Write to me and tell me what you think.
Every week, Deacon Pedro takes apart a particular topic, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching:firstname.lastname@example.org @deaconpedrogm