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What Do We Know About Heaven?

September 14, 2022 Frontpage No Comments

By JOHN YOUNG

When did you last hear a sermon on Heaven? Seeing that the Gospel is the Good News of Salvation and that the high point of that Good News is that we are destined for an eternity of happiness in Heaven, provided we don’t reject it by mortal sin, one would expect to hear a great deal about that marvelous destiny.
Instead, the Scripture text is sometimes quoted: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard the things God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Cor. 2:7), with the apparent implication that we don’t know what is in store for us if we live good lives. But that quote leaves off in the middle of a sentence.
The continuation is: “But He has revealed them to us through His Spirit, for the Spirit searches all things, even the hidden things of God.” So, we can know something about Heaven.
Pope Benedict XII, in the year 1236, outlined Catholic doctrine about Heaven. He stated that the souls in Heaven “…See the Divine Essence with an intuitive vision, and even face-to-face, without the mediation of any creature” (DS 1001).
That is the supreme happiness of Heaven: the direct vision of God. It is totally beyond our unaided human powers, and is a destiny to which we have no right, but is a pure gift from God, and is made possible by sanctifying grace, which raises us to a new level.
Sanctifying grace makes us Godlike. As St. Peter says: “We have been made partakers of the Divine Nature” (2 Peter 1:4). Fathers of the Church made the startling statement: “God became man that man might become God.”
Suppose we were very fond of our dog and would like to elevate it to a share in our human nature. This would be impossible because a dog hasn’t got the capacity to share in human nature
But we human beings (and the angels) are made in the image and likeness of God through our intellect and will, and this makes us capable of being raised to a new level where, in Heaven, we will have a direct vision of God. As St. Paul says: “Now we see in a dark manner, as in a mirror; then we shall see face-to-face” (1 Cor. 13:12).
This is the Beatific Vision. In the present life we know material things through our five senses, which is a very vivid and concrete knowledge — but only of the surface of things, not their inmost reality. The Beatific Vision, however, will not be of the mere surface of material things; God Himself will be directly present to our intellect: not an idea of God, however magnificent, but the Divine Being Itself.
Further, in that Vision we will see not only God but creation, because in the Divine Mind there is a perfect knowledge of all things, so in seeing God we will also see created things.
God is infinite goodness, so our will, united to that goodness, must be totally happy. Nor could we be in danger of sinning, because sin occurs when we reject a true good for the sake of something that appears to be good. But in Heaven the will, united to Infinite Goodness, cannot reject it in favor of a lesser good.
As noted above, the Vision of God so transcends our human powers that we had to be elevated to a new level by sanctifying grace. It follows that the greater the grace in our soul at death the greater will be our intellect’s penetration into the Divine Being, and the greater the love we will have for Him.
That fact should encourage us in our striving for holiness. We shouldn’t be satisfied to just scrape into Heaven! The holier we are at death the greater will be the glory we give God for all eternity. And the holier we are the more efficacious will our prayers be in Heaven for people on Earth.
The created intellect with the most perfect vision of God is that of Jesus Christ in His Humanity. And next is that of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who transcends even the highest angels in holiness and grace.
What of other human souls compared with the angels? It is a theological belief that some saints exceed some angels in grace, and therefore have a deeper vision of God than those angels.
But the Beatific Vision will not block out, as it were, all other knowledge. The soul will have natural knowledge and memory. And after the General Resurrection we will have our bodies again, with sense knowledge.
This supernatural destiny is not due to us, and God could quite well have chosen not to give it to us. As St. Paul says: “Sin gives death as wages; God gives us Eternal Life as a free gift” (Romans 6:23). Some theologians have fallen into error here, maintaining that God would not create rational creatures without giving them the means of seeing Him face-to-face.
That is one of the errors condemned by Pope Pius XII in his encyclical Humani Generis. But haven’t we got a natural desire to see God? We have, but it is not a compelling desire without which our nature would be frustrated.
Compare it to the desire to fly like a bird. That might seem desirable, but it would be a mere wish, not something demanded by our nature and the absence of which would leave us frustrated.
We find that natural desire well expressed by Plato in his dialogue the Symposium. He believed there is a true Beauty of which the beautiful things we experience are a vastly inferior imitation, and in the Symposium he quotes a wise woman named Diotima speaking to Socrates: “But what if man had eyes to see the true Beauty — the Divine Beauty, I mean, pure and clear and unalloyed, not clogged with the pollutions of mortality and all the colors and vanities of human life . . . and holding converse with the true Beauty simple and Divine?” (212).
God need not have given us the Beatific Vision as our destiny if we are faithful to Him. But He has, and we can never be sufficiently grateful.

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