The month of November begins with the solemnity of All Saints, followed by the commemoration of the Faithful Departed. These celebrations invite us to cultivate the “communion of the saints”; to reflect on our supreme calling, that of the common vocation to sanctity.
PUBLISHED ONDec 2016
If the angels once invited the Apostles to lower their eyes to earth, when they contemplated Jesus going up to heaven, today perhaps they will invite us to raise them! Our look has become shortsighted. Used to the darkness of earth, our earthly eyes, like a mole’s, are incapable of looking up to contemplate heaven. November, is the right time to look up to heaven with hope!
These celebrations offer us a window through which we can catch sight of vaster horizons, or a skylight to admire the starry sky. Better still, they open a door for us: “I saw a door open in heaven and heard the same voice speaking to me: Come up here…”(Revelation 4:1). Let us, therefore, go through that open door (moreover, wide open in the Year of Mercy!). Paradise has opened its doors, allowing a visit! An opportunity not to be missed!...
Allow me to share with you something of that “visit”!
All the same or all different?
First surprise: Heaven is an immense mosaic of diversity! “I saw that there was a huge number, impossible for anyone to count, of people from every nation, race, tribe and language” (Revelation 7:9). There are no different “heavens” to separate and avoid “diversity”… in an eternal and monotonous uniformity! But only one, to welcome and integrate the diversity. All the diversities: geographical, temporal, racial, cultural as well as religious, happily living alongside each other, grateful for the wealth of variety that offers a continuous perennial novelty!
Last surprise: the wealth of temperaments and sensitivities! All of them respected. All of them purified. “A drop of God exists in every man. We are the dissimilar leaves of a single tree” (Cardinal Martini). Gone are the very shadows of every character (their limits, the other side of the coin!), their luminous side resplendent! Finally, “the wolf will live with the lamb” (Isaiah 11:6).
An example? I see two saints “born to go to heaven” on the same day, September 30, with diametrically opposed characters, living happily together: St. Jerome, an abrupt, austere and fractious man, and Saint Teresa, completely constituted of delicate sensitivity!
A second surprise: there is hustle and bustle, you work in heaven!...heaven is not a place for idleness! Everybody works! The “Boss” is the first to show the example: “‘My Father still goes on working, and I am at work, too” (John 5:17). And it is not a “heavenly” work, made “from above;” on the contrary, it is very human, a humble service, carried out kneeling: “Who sees Me sees the Father,” says Jesus, after having washed His disciples’ feet. And what can we say about the Holy Spirit, sent to continue Jesus’ work?
Change your minds, then, those who think that “eternal rest” is the justification for idleness. And relax, those who can’t bear “being with nothing to do!” As the world is going, how could we go on without help from heaven? Doesn’t it have to continuously attend to our requests for help? Whilst man rests, God tirelessly continues His work (Isaiah 40:28; Psalm 127:2).
God is the Creator not just because He “created” but because He is continuously creating, “making the whole of creation new” (Revelation 21:5). God continues to admire His work, experiencing happiness as He creates. All of heaven shares God’s joy in creating with the power of His Word, without giving up on the childlike joy of modelling, with the hands of a Potter, the clay of earth. The wholeness of being involves pure action. At that point, we’ll finally reach harmony between being and doing, integrating in us Martha’s action and the contemplation of her sister Mary. In a happy perpetual contemplative ecstasy and in a calm fruitful active ecstasy!... ”Do you know what is the happiness of the saints? It is having their will satisfied in all of their aspirations” (St. Catherine of Siena).
A third surprise: the joy of heaven is not a “relaxed happiness!” And how could it be if it is the place of perfect charity? How could our brothers alienate themselves from our suffering and from our pains? And especially God! Christ’s solidarity, His compassion, His tears (John 11:42) are emblematic. The Scriptures do not shy away from speaking of the “profound grief of God” (Genesis 6:6). And St. Paul says to us: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God” (Ephesians 4:30), He who petitions for us “in groans that cannot be put into words” (Romans 8, 26). So it isn’t surprising that some clairvoyants have heard our Lady speaking of the “sadness” of God and of His Son, and have seen her “crying!”…”The sadness of our heart is the sadness of God” (Thomas Merton).
Heaven is the “place” of extreme solidarity and perfect charity. The happiness of heaven will be “total” when it is shared by everyone, when “He will wipe away all tears from their eyes; there will be no more death and no more mourning or sadness or pain….” (Revelation 21:4). “Do not think that celestial joy is merely individual. NO! It is shared by all the citizens of the homeland, men and angels” (St. Catherine of Siena).
A prize won by our merits?
Fourth surprise: heaven is not exclusively for the “upright!” Heaven is not the “salary” granted only to the upright who deserved it through their good works. We will perhaps be amazed to find “certain” people there and be embarrassed when we embrace some “enemy” of ours! “When Jesus was at dinner in His house, a number of tax collectors and sinners were also sitting at table with Jesus” (Mark 2,15). “Infinite goodness has such wide arms, they take what turns to them” (Dante). Therefore, to go to heaven, “it suffices to want to,” says St. Thomas.
Heaven is the gift of divine generosity. Nobody deserves it. “All are justified by the free gift of His grace” (Romans 3:21-28). “When God awards our merits” – says St. Augustine – “he’ll only be crowning his gifts.” Here, we can well understand Jesus’ disconcerting parable about the workers invited to work in the vineyard and they receive their pay in its entirety. A parable which could be eloquently applied to the case of the “good thief” “contracted” at the last minute who, without working, was the first to be paid (Luke 23:43). And the upright are not scandalized by this divine behavior; on the contrary, “there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner repenting than over ninety-nine upright people” (Luke 15:7).
You can only enter heaven through love. Bearing this in mind, the Sufi mystic Moslem Rabia al-Adawiyya of Bassora (died in 801) said that, if he could, he would extinguish hell and burn heaven so that everyone would love God disinterestedly!
Forgive my boldness. My “view” is certainly misrepresented by my shortsighted obfuscated eyesight. A miserable and clouded shadow of reality, as heaven is the great surprise that God has reserved for us! The hope of it brings light to our “night,” as it did for late Cardinal Martini:
“God wanted us to walk along this “dark alley” which is death, and that we enter the darkness… [because] without death we would never manage to carry out any action to put our trust entirely in God. In fact, in every compromising choice, we always have “safety exits.” Contrary to this, death obliges us to put our trust totally in God. What is waiting for us after death is a mystery, requiring total trust on our part. We desire to be with Jesus, and we express that desire with our eyes shut, blindly putting ourselves totally in His hands.”
I’ll say farewell with the “vision” a mystic had of heaven: “Finally, I understand what paradise is. It is what your beauty, nature, light and song consist of. It is made of love. Paradise is love. It is love that everything creates. Love is the base on which everything rests. Love is the apex where everything proceeds from. The Father operates through love. The Son judges through love. Mary lives through love. The angels sing through love. The blessed acclaim through love. Souls are shaped through love. Light exists because it is love. Song exists because it is love. Life exists because it is love” (Maria Valtorta).