I was at the March for Life last Thursday, on the day that most places around the world celebrated the Feast of the Ascension. Here in Canada we celebrate it today, the Sunday after the 6th Sunday in Easter.
After the March, as I was reflecting about it, I started thinking about how the life in the womb can be described in relation to our life, as our life can be related to life after death. If our lives on earth are but a preparation for the Life to come; that is sort of what life in the womb is: a preparation for life after the womb.
It’s not a perfect analogy – but I was thinking about that because of the Ascension. I was thinking about the relationship of this life to the Life to come.
So, let me ask you this: What is your idea of Heaven? Is it an idyllic place? Is it always sunny? Is there a beach? Is there no traffic and no pollution? Are there birds singing? Is it quiet and peaceful? Is your family there?
I once read about a woman who hoped to see her late husband in Heaven. A friend however told her: "But you’ll be so happy looking at God you won’t even notice your husband." This woman was voicing her hope of reunion but her friend was echoing the Church’s teaching that Heaven’s joy is focused on enjoying the "beatific vision," seeing God face-to-face. I wonder who is right: The woman, her friend, or both of them.
We don't have any details of life in Heaven. Nobody has ever come back to tell us what it's like. But we do have some informed speculation. For one, Jesus spent a lot of time trying to explain to his disciples what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. Think “the Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed” (Mt 13:31; Luke 13:19; or “a wedding banquet.” (Mt 22:2)
In the New Testament, Heaven is referred to as “the Kingdom of Heaven” (Mt 5:3); “the Kingdom of the Father” (Mt. 13:43); “the House of the Father” (Jn 14:2); “Paradise” (2 Cor. 12:4); “glorious inheritance” (Eph. 1:18) and “eternal inheritance” (Heb. 9:15).
And we know that according to the Gospel of Luke, Heaven (or at least “Paradise”) is the Kingdom where Jesus went after his death on the cross. When Jesus was hanging on the cross, one of the criminals hanging on the cross beside him kept mocking him but the other criminal rebuked him saying, “Do you not fear God since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we are getting what we deserve, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom”. Jesus replied, 'Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise" (Luke 23:39-43).
So, perhaps we do know more about Heaven than we think. Still, can we say we know exactly what Heaven is? The Church teaches that "The Christian who unites his own death to that of Jesus views it as a step towards him and an entrance into everlasting life (CCC#1020). It also teaches that those who die in God's grace and friendship and are perfectly purified live forever with Christ (CCC#1023).
Heaven is not a physical place. Heaven is a state of being one with God. When we learn about the Ascension of Jesus – while we can believe that Jesus really did physically ascend – we are not referring to a physical action. Heaven is not up in the skies somewhere. Ascension into Heaven is a coming into unity with God where we belong. St. Athanasius is known for saying that “God became man so that man might become god.” It sounds heretical and new age, but that is what we believe: That the temporal will become eternal; the physical will become spiritual and the human will become divine. That is Heaven. Heaven is "a living, personal relationship with the Holy Trinity. It is our meeting with the Father which takes place in the risen Christ through the communion of the Holy Spirit." It is the fulfillment of God's desire to be one with each person as God is one with Himself in the Trinity (CCC#1023-29).
And Heaven includes all of Creation. All material Creation will not be “deleted” in Heaven; it will be “completed” in Heaven. We believe in the “resurrection of the body.” That means that in Heaven we will have bodies. That is what we see with Jesus being resurrected in a new body and also ascending to the Father in a physical body. After the resurrection Jesus ate and the disciples touched him. At the same time, the resurrected Jesus didn't seem to be confined by time and space. So perhaps in Heaven we will be with our bodies, but it will be different. Here on earth we have a physical body, but in Heaven, we will have a spiritual body.
But no one knows what it means to have a spiritual body. Will we have emotions? Is Eric Clapton right to sing that there tears in Heaven? Are there calories in Heaven? Will I have hair in Heaven?
What we do know is that God intends for us to be in union with Him. That is why we are created. God is creating us to go to Heaven and be with Him.
What do you think? Write to me and share your thoughts.
And come back next week and we’ll look at other fun things like judgment, purgatory and hell.
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