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April 14, 2010

The Reality of Eternal Life
by Friar Jim Van Vurst, O.F.M.


We just celebrated the greatest feast of our faith—the Resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday. Without the Resurrection, there would be no Christianity. Jesus would be remembered as a wonderful man, even a prophet. But it is the Resurrection that is the ultimate proof that he is the Son of God. That makes his teachings and actions—and the Gospels themselves—truly divine revelation. He was and is, indeed, the “way, the truth and the life.”

But the Resurrection is also about us as followers of Jesus. “He who believes in me will live forever” (Jn 11:25). You and I know in our hearts that we never believe in eternal life more than when a loved one dies. As a people of faith, for all our tears and sense of loss, we know we will be together again some day. Jesus promised that. But Jesus’ promise of life was not just about some vague existence. It ultimately means eternal life in heaven. But what does heaven mean? Simply, it means complete and perfect union with the God. And we know enough about God from what Jesus told us to be able to reflect on eternal life.

Heaven Is All About Relationships

First, heaven is all about relationship and, most of all, about union with God and with each other. From our own experience on earth, we have a sense of what it means to be in union with others. Just ask anyone who has fallen in love or parents who have first gazed at their newborn baby! And isn’t it true that when a loved one dies, we realize more than ever what the union with them really meant? In fact, we use the expression, “When my beloved died, a part of me died.”

The word heaven is best defined as “complete and total union with God.” Right now on earth, we have, by sanctifying grace, the Lord’s presence within ourselves. We may not “feel” it as such, but God is there. We have that union with Jesus when we receive Eucharist because of our faith in Jesus’ words and promises. But no matter how we try to describe even the most perfect unions we have on earth, they are merely a hint of what heavenly union is and will be.

Now, our experience of perfect union with God in heaven means that we are also in a very special union with each other as God’s family. This union with God means that we and everyone else are completely and totally healed. No sin, imperfection or temptation will be possible because of that union with God. We remain our true selves, our own unique personalities, body and spirit. All of our potential will be realized in that union with God. Therefore, every relationship in heaven is perfect.

In our wounded humanness now on earth, we can’t understand or experience what that perfection really is. There is no sin, no temptation, no imperfection. We are not now perfect, and so we struggle with hurts, feelings, memories, anger and all the effects of original sin. Every relationship in heaven is healed. Marriages that were stressful and, by any standard, very difficult or even complete failures, where spouses were so distant from each other there seemed to be little love, will be completely changed. Spouses will love each other with a love they could not have imagined. They will see each other as God sees them. Spouses who thought they had the perfect marriage on earth have no idea of how much more they will love one another.

Human  Relationships Are Perfected

Relationships here on earth have a special place in heaven. Now, some Christian theologies teach that heaven exists just between the person and God. There are no other relationships allowed in heaven, they say, because God deserves all our love. Not true. God is not jealous of our relationships. They were his gifts to us in the first place. Human love, one for another, brings joy to God. What parents would not be ecstatic to witness their children—brothers and sisters—loving one another? Special relationships on earth—spouses, children and parents, siblings—are perfected in heaven. Heaven means total love shared by all, and special relationships on earth are infinitely more close in heaven. Just imagine Mary and Joseph and the unique relationship they had with each other on earth. What must that be for them in heaven? What about the Franciscan family—friars, sisters, Poor Clares and all the Secular Franciscans? How could there not a special relationship with St. Francis and St. Clare?

Complicated relationships on earth are perfected in heaven. Jesus said men and women are not given in marriage in heaven. He did not mean there was no relationship between them. He was saying that earthly marriage cannot compare to what God has prepared for them in heaven. Thus a child who was adopted will love his birth mother and his adopted mother with all the love in his heart. And the two mothers will love each other for the life they cared for and gave to each other. Spouses married more than once love each of their earthly spouses. Remember, unions are perfected in pure love; no more jealousy or fears, no imperfection. There is only perfect love for all and, in a particular way, for all those who played a part in our earthly journey and those special relationships.

So you see, our Catholic doctrine is very much based on the relationship within the Trinity, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Isn’t Mary our Mother also, a gift from Jesus on the cross? Thus, heaven is not a group of isolated people looking at God but not each other. It is one infinitely loving gathering of God’s people…one that will never end.

Friar Jack's Inbox
Readers respond to Friar Jack Wintz's March E-spiration, Musing: The Canticle of Mary (The Magnificat)

Dear Friar Jack: I remember when I was in grade school around 4th or 5th grade and the Statue of Our Lady of Fatima came to our church. How beautiful it was! I’m getting cold chills now remembering it all. We had a choir of grade school students. We sang the Magnificat in Latin. I miss the Latin Mass and hymns. This was 64 years ago. God be with you. Judith

Dear Friar Jack: I absolutely love the Magnificat and pray it many times a day beyond the Liturgy of the Hours. My spiritual director, many years ago, gave the Magnificat as my penance in Reconciliation. It has never been a penance. The Magnificat has become my favorite prayer and has helped me come closer and closer to Our Mother, the beloved Trinity and St. Joseph….I loved your reflection of comparing the Magnificat to the hymn of praise that Hannah sang to the Lord. It was outstanding. God bless you for your ministry. Sister Theresa

Dear Judith and Sr. Theresa: I appreciate your positive memories and admiration for The Magnificat. Your words help us see that Mary’s Canticle has remained popular and highly valued despite changing periods of Church history. May your admiration for Mary and her song of praise draw you closer to her and to her son! Friar Jack

Dear Friar Jack: I really liked your reflections on the Magnificat. One question though—I had always thought that Mary was of the house of David as well as Joseph. Have I been wrong all these years? Do we know? Lynda

Dear Lynda: You bring up questions that have been debated for ages, but no clear or final answers have emerged. Arguments, for example, could be made that Mary, a “relative” of Elizabeth (Luke 1:36), could be of the priestly line (Elizabeth’s husband Zechariah, you will recall, served as a priest in the temple) or that she is a descendant of David. But the arguments cannot be proven conclusively. It is always best to come back to what Luke says clearly, namely, that “the Angel Gabriel was sent from God…to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David” (Luke 1:27). According to Jewish custom, a child’s lineage was traced through the father, and not the mother, whether he is the child’s biological father or the child’s foster father, as in the case of Joseph. I hope you are satisfied with this relatively short answer. Arguments on these questions can go on for pages and pages.

Once again, let me remind you and all readers of Friar Jack’s E-spirations that you and all your loved ones are in my prayers. May our risen Savior bring you healing and peace through Mary’s intercession! Friar Jack

Send your feedback to friarjack@franciscanmedia.org

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Welcome!
I am Fr. Jim Van Vurst and hope you'll enjoy
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