Clearing Heaven’s Haziness — 4th Sunday in Easter—Year C

Today, St. John has a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and language. They wear white robes and hold palm branches in their hands. They stand before the throne and before the Lamb (who is Jesus Christ,) and in His temple they worship Him day and night. St. John is glimpsing the worship in Heaven.

Heaven should be one of our great consolations in difficult times and we should really be excited about going there someday. But I think that we often have faulty ideas about Heaven that can get in the way of us being excited or consoled. For instance, maybe you heard the first reading today and thought, “The idea of standing night and day and holding a palm branch doesn’t seem that awesome to me; and going to Mass for an hour is well and good, but I don’t know how I could enjoy going to church forever in Heaven.” Concerns like these would understandably make us weary of Heaven.

We need to recognize that the Book of Revelation is symbolic.  Not everything we see in John’s vision is not literally what we’ll get in Heaven. For instance, St. John sees Jesus as a lamb who was slain and having seven horns and seven eyes. That’s one odd looking lamb, but this is symbolism. The image of the lamb recalls Jesus’ sacrifice, His horns imply perfect power and His eyes imply perfect wisdom. Likewise, the multitude’s white robes point to their dignity, their palms signify their victory, and they are standing because that is the traditional posture for worshiping God. The God who created the universe, and all of the good things we enjoy in it, surely has more to offer us than just palm branches, white robes, and boredom in Heaven.

You have heard it said that we will enjoy the “beatific vision” in Heaven, but you maybe wonder, “How could I enjoy staring at God forever?” But the phrase “beatific vision,” is also metaphor and the experience means more than mere gazing. The “beatific vision” is the immediate knowledge of God enjoyed by the angels and saints in Heaven. We call it “vision” because it is an experience of God which is direct, not mediated, and in the fullest depth and detail which our souls can receive. We call this vision “beatific” because intimately experiencing God, what the prophets call beholding Him “face to face,” gives perfect happiness.

The saints in heaven experience this beatific vision now, even though, (except for the Virgin Mary, and perhaps Enoch, Moses, and Elijah,) none of the saints have their bodies yet. Their flesh is still on earth awaiting the resurrection. But this raises the question of how can we experience anything without having our bodies?

Think of it this way: When I am asleep I see nothing with my eyes (for they are closed.) And in the silence, I’m not hearing anything with my ears. There’s nothing to taste nor smell, and even if I’m feeling the bed sheets they do not have my attention. Yet sometimes when I sleep, even as I’m dead to my senses, my soul can be alive and alert while I dream. If dreams of mere fantasies can be made vividly realistic to our souls, then I’m confident that God can engage our souls with the higher realities of truth and love, even as our bodies sleep in death.

Sometimes people ask, “Will my experience of Heaven only be between God and me? I mean will I be so overwhelmed by God that I won’t notice or care about the multitude around me?  Will I even remember the people that I knew on earth?” I would answer in this way: how could coming closer to the God who is Love make our love toward others colder, or how could being in the presence of Truth Himself make us stupider? In Heaven, we will never forget that our parents were our parents, or that our friends were our friends, or that our spouses were our spouses and we will remember the love we shared. And the fact that miracles have occurred through praying to the saints for their intercession before God shows that the holy dead are still aware of us and care about us still on earth.

So what exactly is heaven like now, and what will it be like after the resurrection when this entire universe is remade into a new heaven and new earth? We don’t exactly know. Like in the book of Revelation, Scripture speaks of it in images: life, light, peace, a wedding feast, wine of the kingdom, the Father’s house, the heavenly Jerusalem, and paradise. Though we don’t exactly know what Heaven will be like, we shouldn’t fear that it will disappoint us. When, by God’s grace, we all get arrive there we will look at everything that He has prepared for us and find it very good.  

Until we get there, let us realize and remember that every Mass gives us a foretaste of Heaven. Here we bring with us everything that has happened in our lives. We come here before the throne of the Lamb who was slain, and we praise Him. And here He gives us Himself along with every heavenly blessing which we are ready to receive. Though a veil remains, every Mass bring Heaven to earth.

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One Response to “Clearing Heaven’s Haziness — 4th Sunday in Easter—Year C”

  1. Katie Reigel Says:

    This gives me a better understanding of heaven and a greater desire to go there and not be disappointed!!!

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