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Bible Reflections View Comments

"All the Way to Heaven Is Heaven"
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, April 7, 2013
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There’s never a shortage of books about the afterlife and near-death experiences. A few of the more prominent books that have emerged recently are Proof of Heaven and To Heaven and Back, both written by doctors, and Heaven Is for Real, by the 4-year-old son of a small-town Nebraska pastor. Such accounts offer solace and inspiration to believers, even while they’re dismissed by skeptics. For all their claims of proof, they end up not really proving anything.

Most of the images we link to heaven have accumulated over centuries by people trying to make sense of this great mystery of Christianity. But it is interesting that the foundational text of our faith doesn’t spend a lot of time talking about what the afterlife will be like. Jesus doesn’t return to his friends and disciples with a vision of heaven and God the Father. He simply encouraged them to go out and continue the work that he had begun. St. Catherine of Siena, no stranger to visions, would say it this way: “All the way to heaven is heaven, because he said ‘I am the Way.’”

We come to Easter each year with experiences that give us new insight into the resurrection narratives in the Gospels. Never has this been more true for me than it is this year. My mom passed away last October. In the last two weeks of her life, we tried everything we could think of to help ease her transition from this life to the next. We told her about the loved ones with whom she would be reunited. We told her she would still be able to watch over us. We talked about Easter and resurrection and the communion of saints. We told her over and over again that God loved her and was waiting to welcome her. Nothing seemed to ease her anxieties. But perhaps the greatest testimony to her faith was that we believed the things we were telling her. She had formed us well.

Today’s reading from John’s Gospel begins in the evening of that first Easter day. Confused, even frightened, by rumors flying through their small group, Jesus’s closest friends and followers are gathered in the upper room where just days before they had celebrated Passover. Like any group of people gathering in the aftermath of a tragedy, they’re consumed with the events that have taken place and the effect those events have had on their emotions.

Then, Jesus is in their midst saying, “Peace be with you.” That’s all. A blessing of deep peace. Three times in the reading he says this. Some things are beyond understanding, beyond figuring out with our rational, problem-solving minds. We know that our emotions can be untrustworthy at times, influenced by so many things. We see in the first appearances after the resurrection that faith transcends both emotions and reason. Faith responds to God’s peace with a simple acknowledgment: “My Lord and my God.” Thomas may have thought he wanted proof, but in the end he didn’t need it.

In the movie adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Gandalf says to Bilbo, “Well, all good stories deserve embellishment. You’ll have a tale or two to tell of your own when you come back.” When Bilbo asks, “Can you promise that I will come back?” Gandalf responds, “No. And if you do...you will not be the same.” This might be the best thing anyone can promise. Our faith in God, and the presence of the Risen Lord in our midst, change us continually. But the Lord’s gift to us through all these changes is always divine peace.


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Jacopone da Todi: Jacomo, or James, was born a noble member of the Benedetti family in the northern Italian city of Todi. He became a successful lawyer and married a pious, generous lady named Vanna. 
<p>His young wife took it upon herself to do penance for the worldly excesses of her husband. One day Vanna, at the insistence of Jacomo, attended a public tournament. She was sitting in the stands with the other noble ladies when the stands collapsed. Vanna was killed. Her shaken husband was even more disturbed when he realized that the penitential girdle she wore was for his sinfulness. On the spot, he vowed to radically change his life. </p><p>He divided his possessions among the poor and entered the Secular Franciscan Order (once known as the Third Order). Often dressed in penitential rags, he was mocked as a fool and called Jacopone, or "Crazy Jim," by his former associates. The name became dear to him. </p><p>After 10 years of such humiliation, Jacopone asked to be a member of the Order of Friars Minor(First Order). Because of his reputation, his request was initially refused. He composed a beautiful poem on the vanities of the world, an act that eventually led to his admission into the Order in 1278. He continued to lead a life of strict penance, declining to be ordained a priest. Meanwhile he was writing popular hymns in the vernacular. </p><p>Jacopone suddenly found himself a leader in a disturbing religious movement among the Franciscans. The Spirituals, as they were called, wanted a return to the strict poverty of Francis. They had on their side two cardinals of the Church and Pope Celestine V. These two cardinals, though, opposed Celestine’s successor, Boniface VIII. At the age of 68, Jacopone was excommunicated and imprisoned. Although he acknowledged his mistake, Jacopone was not absolved and released until Benedict XI became pope five years later. He had accepted his imprisonment as penance. He spent the final three years of his life more spiritual than ever, weeping "because Love is not loved." During this time he wrote the famous Latin hymn, <i>Stabat Mater</i>. </p><p>On Christmas Eve in 1306 Jacopone felt that his end was near. He was in a convent of the Poor Clares with his friend, Blessed John of La Verna. Like Francis, Jacopone welcomed "Sister Death" with one of his favorite songs. It is said that he finished the song and died as the priest intoned the Gloria from the midnight Mass at Christmas. From the time of his death, Brother Jacopone has been venerated as a saint.</p> American Catholic Blog By immersing our lives in the rhythm of the season, charity can flood our souls and fill us with the happiness for which we were created. We awake Christmas morning prepared to celebrate the birth of our Savior not as a memory but as a profound experience of God’s redemptive love.

 
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