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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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Oliver Plunkett: The name of today's saint is especially familiar to the Irish and the English—and with good reason. The English martyred Oliver Plunkett for defending the faith in his native Ireland during a period of severe persecution. 
<p>Born in County Meath in 1629, he studied for the priesthood in Rome and was ordained there in 1654. After some years of teaching and service to the poor of Rome he was appointed Archbishop of Armagh in Ireland. Four years later, in 1673, a new wave of anti-Catholic persecution began, forcing Archbishop Plunkett to do his pastoral work in secrecy and disguise and to live in hiding. Meanwhile, many of his priests were sent into exile; schools were closed; Church services had to be held in secret and convents and seminaries were suppressed. As archbishop, he was viewed as ultimately responsible for any rebellion or political activity among his parishioners. 
</p><p>Archbishop Plunkett was arrested and imprisoned in Dublin Castle in 1679, but his trial was moved to London. After deliberating for 15 minutes, a jury found him guilty of fomenting revolt. He was hanged, drawn and quartered in July 1681. 
</p><p>Pope Paul VI canonized Oliver Plunkett in 1975.</p> American Catholic Blog God had a plan even before he created Adam and Eve. God is never caught off guard. He knows all. He sees all. And he is working all things together for the good of his children. Nothing can stop his plan of mercy and love.

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