On August 15 we celebrate Mary’s glorious assumption, body and soul, into Heaven.
What is Heaven like?
Heaven is a communion of love. It is a love that unites the Father, Son and Holy Spirit with those who trusted in His mercy and took up their cross.
It is hard to imagine Heaven because it is so far removed from this world, broken by sin. But I find it helpful to think about Heaven, to contemplate what it’s like not only as an eventual reward, but as a concrete reality I am journeying towards now. Father John Riccardo talks a lot about living the life of Heaven now. Our sins hold us back from living in a communion of love with God and His children, but as we grow in our prayer life, as we participate in the sacraments, we can receive God’s grace more and more and come closer to the reality we will embrace fully in Heaven.
So what is Heaven like?
Saint Catherine of Sienna lived in Italy in the 14th Century. Though she had no formal education, she had a rich mystical life, and her holiness made her renowned. She successfully counseled Pope Gregory XI to end the papal exile in Avignon, France and return to Rome. She is recognized not only as a saint but as one of 36 doctors of the Church for the importance of her teachings.
Her most famous work is The Dialogue, a conversation between herself and God the Father. The Father revealed many truths to Saint Catherine about Heaven:
“The good of these souls [in Heaven] is beyond what your mind’s eye can see or your ear hear or your tongue describe or your heart imagine.”
“What joy they will have in seeing me who am all good! What joy they will have yet when their bodies are glorified!… You will all be like Him [Jesus] in joy and gladness; eye for eye, hand for hand, your whole bodies will be made like the body of the Word My Son.”
Will Heaven be boring? It’s hard to contemplate an eternity of… anything, without projecting an earthly torpor upon it. But Heaven isn’t boring. The Father tells Catherine that the saints in Heaven “are hungry and satisfied, satisfied yet hungry – but they are far from bored with satiety or pained in their hunger.” That’s a wonderful image. We’re used to everything on earth being an either/or situation. (Or we reduce things to an either/or situation.) We’re hungry or we’re full. We’re busy or we’re bored. I’m sure we’ll adjust to the “yes, and” world of Heaven: “hungry and satisfied, satisfied yet hungry.”
Will we be with our loved ones in Heaven? The Father revealed to Saint Catherine, while we will love everyone in Heaven, our special bonds with family and friends will be preserved for all eternity:
“Though they are all joined in the bond of charity, they know a special kind of sharing with those whom they loved most closely with a special love in the world, a love through which they grew in grace and virtue. They helped each other proclaim the glory and praise of My name in themselves and in their neighbors, so now in everlasting life they have not lost that love; no, they still love and share with each other even more closely and fully, adding their love to the good of all… When a soul reaches eternal life, all share in her good and she in theirs.”
Two things jump out at me here: we will love our spouses, our children, our parents, our siblings, our friends with an even greater love in Heaven, and the Father is very specific about what kind of love is everlasting: the love which helps us proclaim the glory of God’s name in ourselves and in our neighbors. Jesus linked these in the two great commandments: love God and love one another. So too the Father tells us that true love between humans must be rooted in and testify to the source of all light and all love, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
What will we do in Heaven? One thing we will do, as we are filled with love for souls as the Father is, is pray for those who are still pilgrims on earth. Talking about the saints in Heaven, the Father tells Catherine that:
“their desires are a continual cry to me for the salvation of others, for they finished their lives loving their neighbors, and they did not leave that love behind but brought it with them when they passed through the gate that is my only begotten Son. So you see that whatever bond of love they finish their lives, that bond is theirs forever and lasts eternally… What these blessed ones want is to see me honored in you who are still on the way, pilgrims running ever nearer your end in death. Because they seek my honor they desire your salvation, and so they are constantly praying to me for you. I do my part to fulfill their desire provided only that you do not foolishly resist my mercy.”
How do we get to Heaven? We enter by the gate that is Jesus. By the mercy that flowed from His Sacred Heart on the cross.
The quotes from Saint Catherine’s The Dialogue are all found in Ralph Martin’s book The Fulfillment of All Desire, which examines the similarities in the spiritual journeys of seven doctors of the Church (see pages 56-58).
Image: The Assumption of the Virgin by Titian (downloaded from Wikipedia Commons).