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Eternal Life With God Cannot Be Boring
By Father Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.


What Is Heaven Like?
Who Was Melchizedek?
Why Do We Pray ‘Lead Us Not Into Temptation’?
How Long Have We Had Permanent Deacons?

Q: If we are good enough when we die, do we join our relatives and friends in heaven? Are husbands, wives and children reunited? Are we simply spirits floating around? The way some people talk, heaven sometimes sounds boring. Can that be true?

A: Catholics believe that heaven involves sharing God’s life fully, sharing completely the divine life we were always meant to enjoy. Unfortunately, we may think of heaven simply as the extension of earthly life rather than as a completely new existence.

An incident in the Gospel of Matthew is very helpful here. Several Sadducees posed to Jesus the extreme case of a woman who followed the Law of Moses and married seven brothers in succession because she was widowed with no children by any of them. The Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, wanted to know whose wife she would be in heaven!

Jesus responded: “You are misled because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. At the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like the angels in heaven. And concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living” (22:29-32).

In heaven, God’s ways will be completely normal. No one will be tempted to question whether the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-10) truly describe a blessed state. Most Christians have presumed that they will recognize family members and friends there. The Catholic Church teaches that Jesus and Mary are already in heaven in their glorified bodies, but everyone else will be reunited to their glorified bodies only when the world ends.

Satan fosters the idea that heaven is boring. In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain has Huck observe that, given the way many Christians speak of heaven and the stingy, joyless lives they lead, hell did not sound so bad. Maybe going there would be better. Twain here is satirizing some of his Christian contemporaries.

C.S. Lewis, an Anglican professor of literature and a writer, presented The Screwtape Letters as the advice of an experienced devil to his nephew, a much younger devil learning how to tempt people. This fictional work is extremely truthful on many levels as Uncle Screwtape explains sin’s attraction.

Lewis’s book The Great Divorce describes the inhabitants of hell on a day trip to heaven. They find fault with everything! What is boring is not heaven, but rather their selfishness.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem, lived in Galilee, died and rose in Jerusalem and sent his apostles to spread the Good News so that all people would come to know how much God loves them. That love is hardly boring here on earth and certainly cannot be in heaven.

Q: Reading the Bible raises many questions for me. For example, now I need information about Melchizedek, because I learned nothing about him in my Catholic classes. Was he a pagan? A Catholic?

A: The story of Melchizedek, the pagan king of Salem, is told in Genesis 14:1-20. Abram (called Abraham after Genesis 17:5) joined five kings in battle against four other kings in order to rescue Lot, Abram’s nephew. After their victory, we read: “Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine, and being a priest of God Most High, he blessed Abram with these words: ‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High, the creator of heaven and earth; And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your foes into your hand’” (Genesis 14:18-20). Abram gave Melchizedek a tenth of the battle spoils.

In Psalm 110:4, we read, “Like Melchizedek you are a priest forever.” In Chapters Five through Seven, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews makes seven references to Melchizedek, presenting him as prefiguring Christ. Melchizedek’s parents are never mentioned; he apparently did not inherit from anyone his role as priest.

Many editions of the Bible have excellent notes to explain how a person or event may be cited in other parts of the Bible. John L. McKenzie’s Dictionary of the Bible is very useful. There are also concordances that list all uses of a word in the Bible. Each concordance is based on a particular translation of the Bible.

Q: For many years the Our Father’s petition “lead us not into temptation” has baffled me. I’m sure there must be an excellent interpretation of this phrase. Certainly, Our Lord would not lead us into temptation! Can you shed any light on this?

A: Both versions of the Our Father (Matthew 6:9b-13 and Luke 11:2b-4) end with a similar petition. Because we use Matthew’s text at Mass and on most other occasions, I will refer to it. The meaning of the corresponding phrase in Luke’s text is virtually identical.

In sections 2759 through 2865, the Catechism of the Catholic Church offers a phrase-by-phrase explanation of the Our Father. The authors write: “It is difficult to translate the Greek verb used by a single English word: the Greek means both ‘do not allow us to enter into temptation’ and ‘do not let us yield to temptation.’ ‘God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one’ [James 1:13]; on the contrary, he wants to set us free from evil. We ask him not to allow us to take the way that leads to sin. We are engaged in the battle ‘between flesh and spirit’ [#2516]; this petition implores the Spirit of discernment and strength” (#2846).

The authors further explain that the Holy Spirit helps us discern between trials that are necessary for the growth of the inner person and temptation, “which leads to sin and death.” The object of temptation “appears to be good, a ‘delight to the eyes’ and desirable [see Genesis 3:6], when in reality its fruit is death” (#2847).

When Jesus was tempted in the desert, he prayed and responded with Scripture passages that challenged the ones that the tempter had twisted out of context.

In the Our Father, we pray for individual and communal perseverance in God’s ways. “The devil (dia-bolos) is the one who ‘throws himself across’ God’s plan and his work of salvation accomplished in Christ” (#2851).

In the Collegeville Bible Commentary, Daniel Harrington, S.J., writes: “The three ‘we-petitions’ (vv. 11-13) ask for physical and spiritual well-being in the difficult period before the fullness of God’s kingdom. They ask that God provide the bread we need today, that the forgiveness we receive from God may lead us to forgive those who have wronged us (‘debts’ is a metaphor for sins), and that in the time of testing accompanying the coming of God’s kingdom we may not fall prey to the Evil One.”

You are absolutely correct that God does not tempt us. Rather, God’s help enables us to recognize temptations for the lies and dead ends they are.

Q: During a recent family discussion, one person asked how long we have had permanent deacons. I said that they were present in the early Church. Someone else said that there were only deacons who would soon be ordained priests. What’s the story here?

A: The roots for establishing the diaconate are described in Acts 6:1-7, which uses the verb diakonein (“to serve”). In Philippians 1:1, St. Paul greets that Church’s overseers (episcopoi) and ministers (diakonoi). The office of diakonos is further described in 1 Timothy 3:8-13. Phoebe is called a diakonos (Romans 16:1).

Only over time did the Church speak of bishop, priest and deacon as levels within the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

St. Stephen, one of the seven men chosen in Acts 6:5, was martyred about 36 A.D. He is considered the patron of deacons. St. Lawrence, a deacon, was martyred around 258.

In Western Christianity by the year 1000, the office of deacon had pretty much become simply a step toward priestly ordination. There is, however, a contemporary reference to St. Francis of Assisi, who died in 1226, as a deacon, though he is never described as a priest. Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church envisioned the permanent diaconate (#29), which Pope Paul VI officially restored in the Latin Church in 1967. The Orthodox Churches had deacons continuously.

If you have a question for Father Pat, please submit it here. Include your street address for personal replies enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, please. Some answer material must be mailed since it is not available in digital form. You can still send questions to: Ask a Franciscan, 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.

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