Heaven: Miracle or Entitlement?

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…

…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).

To continue click here…


3 Responses to Heaven: Miracle or Entitlement?

  1. Qualis Rex says:

    Great post, Anton. I’ve often tried to explain heaven to people, especially the young’ens in my family. I generally ask them: “what was the best feeling you ever felt in your life? Imagine feeling that way forever, without ever having to worry that it would end.” Pretty simpliefied, but it seems to work for the under-7 set without having to resort to Dunkin donuts (or gelato).

  2. bill bannon says:

    And yet, there is a reason God will resurrect people at the end time. Were spiritual Beatific Vision, in se, sufficient in God’s eyes, that future resurrection of us and of the “new heavens and a new earth” would be redundant. Aquinas said the Beatific vision in us at that future event will increase not intensively but extensively and I suspect he means we will see God in every vista and in our bodily family and friends (if we all persevere here in bearing fruit) in some constantly mystical manner that discloses God as the origin of all. We will see perhaps their identity and God’s idenity in them simultaneously or rather both in it’s unity.
    The trick here and now is to hope in God and in seeing Him instead of hoping in the beautiful secondary as primary. But the secondary cannot be dismissed precisely because it is God’s plan. We will according to Aquinas get our bodies back at their peak and glorified to boot. The infant who died at 2 weeks will resurrect perhaps at 27 or 37 years of age or whatever God sees as his “would have been” peak. This peak body concept could well be the reason Christ after His resurrection but prior to ascending was only slowly recognizable to the disciples at the sea where they caught 153 fish… and not at all recognizable to the two at Emmaus until they saw His wounds in His hands. His peak may have been different than His death age by years so that His face looked familiar but not the Christ others knew at 33.
    Christ though despite that peak of His age… keeps His wounds as the disciples at Emmaus recognized Him through the hand wounds. This was prophesied in the Mosaic law in Deuteronomy 15 in the slave who chooses not to go free out of love for the slave woman he married during slavery and an awl is driven through his ear into the doorpost as a mark of his unending love for her….thus Christ keeps the scars from His suffering servanthood for His bride…even in the renewed world amongst us. Hear Christ talking of His Bride the Church in the slave’s words about his wife in Exodus version of Deut.:

    Exd 21:5 …” ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free…”

    The “Word” does not return to pure Spirit as He was prior to Bethlehem but keeps His Body and the wounds because of Love for His Bride.

  3. Dante says:

    This resembles Dante Aligheri (and Lewis’ Great Divorce) very much, I think. We reap what we sow. Simply, we will receive what we given into it. If we are not changed and grow into a more complete, more divinized person, then God is unbearable. Heaven becomes a hell. Conversely, if the glutton (in a hypothetical scenario) does not struggle beyond himself to become more like the Word and less like his old self, the afterlife precisely will be eating many jelly dougnuts – stuck in himself, unrealized. Dante depicted this in having lovers’ caught in the winds of their own passion or the violent consuming one another. Heaven and Hell are not imposed on us but exist as what we create them through our own flaws. Personally, I believe that Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell are the same places in the light of God experienced differently. Sin itself is hell when viewed from the divine perspective, in light of God, just as light illumines – when the window is let up – all the dirt in a room. People cannot remain themselves – really their pale shadows of themselves – in Heaven. We must be changed.

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