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.”
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
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.
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 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
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