Our readers might be interested in my latest offering on The Jesuit Post. Here’s how it starts:
In my current line of work—I’m the administrator of three small parishes on an Indian Reservation in South Dakota—I deal with a lot of funerals. I schedule them; I lead prayers; I empty the ashes out of the censer afterwards. I’ve helped to bury everyone from the saintly to those who haven’t seen the inside of a church since they were baptized.
The job causes one to hear and say and think quite a bit about the life after this one, which is a good thing: in our liturgy, in fact, we ask God to turn our thoughts from the things of this world to the things of heaven. And contrary to what skeptics like Nietzsche thought, a lively belief in heaven helps one live a good life here below; the courage of the saints and martyrs would never have been possible without it.
…and yet, I often find myself cringing at the things people say about heaven. Atheists have historically mocked Christians’ belief in paradise as an opiate—a comforting fantasy, a fairy tale we tell ourselves to soften the pain of loss. And sometimes I find myself agreeing with Christianity’s critics.
I’ve noticed, for example, a tendency among many to attempt to remake heaven in our own image. So if Grandpa really loved donuts, heaven gets described as an all-you-can-eat Dunkin’ Donuts, open 24 hours, where the Bavarian cream is always fresh and smooth.
You will be relieved to know that even though I cringe inwardly when I hear someone preach hope in an everlasting supply of jelly donuts, I don’t jump in with, “Actually-it’s-not-like-that.” Still, I can’t help but think how awful such a “heaven” would be—even if one were spared the indigestion. As Pope Benedict put it, reflecting on the possibility of an endless prolongation of this life: “…to live always, without end—this, all things considered, can only be monotonous and ultimately unbearable” (Spe Salvi, 10).