Heaven is an abode of everlasting joy.
Christ gave His apostles on Mount Thabor some foretaste of the joys of heaven (Matt. xvii.). The heavens opened at the baptism of Christ (Matt. iii. 16). St. Stephen saw the heavens open (Acts vii. 55). St. Paul was rapt into the third heaven (2 Cor. xii. 2).
Heaven is both a place and a state. Many divines teach that it is somewhere beyond the stars; though this view is not of faith, yet it has some foundation, for Christ came down from heaven, and ascended again to heaven. Heaven is also a state of the soul; it consists in the vision of the Godhead (Matt. xviii. 10), and in the peace and joy of the Holy Spirit (Rom. xiv. 17); so the angels and saints do not leave heaven when they come to our assistance. Christ is the King of heaven. He called Himself King before Pilate, though He maintained that His kingdom was not of this world (John xviii. 36); He was acknowledged as King by the penitent thief: “Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom” (Luke xxiii. 42); in heaven the angels worship Christ (Heb. i. 6). Heaven is our true home; on this earth we are but strangers (2 Cor. v. 6).
The joys of heaven are unspeakably great: the blessed are free from even the slightest pain; they enjoy the vision of God and the friendship of all the inhabitants of heaven.
Of the joys of heaven St. Paul writes: “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what things God hath prepared for them that love Him” (1 Cor. ii. 9). “This happiness may be felt, but not described,” says St. Augustine. And David addresses God: “They shall be inebriated with the plenty of Thy house, and Thou shalt make them drink of the torrent of Thy pleasure” (Ps. xxxv. 9). “The present life,” says St. Gregory the Great, “in comparison of everlasting bliss, is more like death than life.” We shall enjoy there the same delights as God Himself (Matt. xxv. 21), for we shall be made partakers of the divine nature (2 Pet. i. 4) and like to God (1 John iii. 2). We shall be transformed in heaven like the iron in the fire. In heaven there are many mansions (John xiv. 2); the kingdom of heaven is like to a banquet (Matt. viii. 11; Luke xiv. 16), in which Our Lord Himself waits upon the guests (Luke xii. 37). In heaven there is no bodily, only a spiritual food (Tob. xii. 19); there is a great light (1 Tim. vi. 16); there are heard the songs of the angels (Ps. Ixxxiii. 5). The saints are robed in white (Apoc. vii. 14); they are crowned by their Lord (Wisd. v. 17); they have perfect freedom, and are set over all God’s works (Matt. xxiv. 47). “If, O my God, Thou dost give us such beautiful things here in our prison, what wilt Thou do in Thy palace!” exclaims St. Augustine. Lastly the joys of heaven are not sensual (Matt. xxii. 30). The blessed are free from all suffering. “It is easier,” says St. Augustine, “to name the evils from which the blessed are free than to count up their joys.” They shall neither hunger nor thirst (Apoc. vii. 16); death shall be no more, nor mourning, nor sorrow (Apoc. xxi. 4); and night will no more be (Apoc. xxii. 5). The blessed see always the face of God (Matt. xviii. 10); they see God as He is (1 John iii. 2), and face to face (1 Cor. xiii. 12); nor do they see God as it were in an image, but He is as present to the understanding as a visible object to the eye which sees it. The blessed enjoy this vision not by any power of their own, but by a special divine operation, called the light of glory, and in consequence of this they become like to God (1 John iii. 2). This vision of God is the source of untold happiness. “The blessed,” says St. Bonaventure, “ rejoice more over (rod’s blessedness than over their own.” If the contemplation of creation is so sweet,” says St. Charles Borromeo, “how much more so must be the contemplation of the Creator!” With the knowledge of God is necessarily linked the love of God, and increase of one means increase of the other. Hence this great joy banishes all sadness. The blessed in heaven also love one another; they are as one (John xvii. 21). “The love of the elect in paradise,” says Blessed Suso, “is so great that souls removed at an infinite distance from one another love with a greater affection than that which exists between parent and child.” “It is love alone,” says St. Augustine, “which separates the children of the eternal kingdom from the children of perdition. What happiness to meet again our relations and friends after so long and painful a separation!”
The joys of heaven last forever.
Christ says: “The just will enter into everlasting life.” The Holy Spirit will be united with them forever (John xiv. 16). This joy no man can take from them (John xvi. 22). No one can snatch them from the hand of the Father (John x. 29). Great kings and princes support their dependents even when these are no longer capable of rendering service; surely God, Who is the King of kings, will not be less generous. His reward is eternal, the only one worthy of Him. Were it not so, the joy of heaven would be incomplete from the fear of its coming to an end.
1. The happiness of the blessed varies according to their merits.
The master in the gospel of St. Luke (xix. 16, etc.), gave to the servant who had used his ten talents to gain other ten talents the command of ten cities, and to the one who had successfully used his five talents the command of five cities. Thus God acts, and in so doing acts with the greatest justice. St. Paul says: “He who soweth sparingly shall also reap sparingly, and he who soweth in blessings shall also reap of blessings” (2 Cor. ix. 6). The just see in heaven the triune God, yet some see Him more perfectly than others according to their merits (Council of Florence). “One is the glory of the sun [Christ], another the glory of the moon [Mary], and another the glory of the stars [the saints]” (1 Cor. xv. 41). The knowledge and love of God are greater in one saint and less in another; and the same is true of the joy of heaven. Men are intended to take the place of the fallen angels, and of these there are some from all the nine choirs of angels. The degree of glory in heaven depends on the amount of sanctifying grace which a man has at his death (Eccles. xi. 3); in other words the degree of glory is greater in proportion as a man has at his death more of the Holy Spirit, or more of the love of God in his heart. The degree of glory in the blessed cannot be increased nor diminished throughout eternity; yet there are accidental delights, as for instance when special honor is paid to a saint. Our Lord revealed that there is a particular joy in heaven when a sinner is converted (Luke xv. 7). The canonization, beatification, the feast day of a saint on earth, the prayers, the holy sacrifice, and other good works which the faithful perform on earth in honor of a saint are a special source of joy to that saint, St. Gertrude saw on such occasions the saints clothed in more resplendent raiment, and surrounded by a glorious escort; they seemed also to be raised to a state of greater bliss. Yet among the blessed there is no envy. They are all children of one Father and have received their portion from Him (Matt. xx). To use the homely illustration of St. Francis de Sales: two children receive from their father a piece of cloth to make a garment; the smaller child will not envy his brother the bigger garment, but will be quite satisfied with the one that fits him. So it is in heaven, and more than this, each one rejoices over the happiness of the other as though it were in some measure his own.
2. Only those souls enter heaven which are free from all sin, and from the penalty due to sin.
According to the Council of Florence, the souls only of those who after Baptism have not sinned, or who, if they have sinned, have done perfect penance on earth or in purgatory, can enter heaven. “Nothing defiled can enter heaven” (Apoc. xxi. 27). Moreover none could enter heaven before the death of Christ; they had to remain in limbo.
3. Heaven is won by suffering and self-denial.
St. Paul writes: “By many tribulations must we enter the kingdom of God” (Acts xiv. 21), and Christ’s words are: “He that loveth his life shall lose it, and he that hateth his life in this world keepeth it unto life eternal” (John xii. 25). i.e., he who goes after all the joys and pleasures of this world will be damned, and he who despises them will be saved. There is no blessedness without self-denial. The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure or a costly pearl; whoever will possess it must give his all for it (Matt. xiii. 44-46), i.e., he must give up all inordinate attachment to the things of this world. “The kingdom of heaven suffers violence” (Matt. xi. 12). “Narrow is the gate and straight is the way that leadeth to life” (Matt. vii. 14). He wins the prize in the race who runs swiftly and steadily, and refrains from all things (1 Cor. ix. 25). He who would be among the blessed must be a martyr at least in intention. The greater efforts we make to secure salvation, the greater will be our joy.
4. For the just heaven begins already on earth.
“While we seek life eternal we already enjoy it,” says- St. Augustine. The just have the true peace (John xiv. 28); they have the peace of God which surpasses all understanding (Phil. iv. 7); hence they are joyful even when fasting (Matt. vi. 17), and in the midst of sufferings (Matt. v. 12). The just possess the Holy Ghost, hence they are, even while still on earth united with God (1 John iv. 16). Christ ever dwells in their hearts (Eph. iii. 17); they have within them the kingdom of God (Luke xvii. 21). “Think of the reward and thou wilt suffer with joy,” says St. Augustine. The sufferings of this world are not to be compared with the glory which shall be manifested unto us (Rom. viii. 18). “If we think of the joys of heaven, the things of this world will appear worthless” (St. Gregory the Great). “He who stands on a hill-top,” says St. John Chrysostom, “either does not see objects in the valley, or they appear to him very small.”
This article, 3. HEAVEN is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
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