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A Reflection on the Glory of Paradise

We conclude our series on the Four Last Things. Read the first three parts on death, judgment, and the fires of Hell. St. Benedict sums up the spiritual necessity of the Four Last Things in his chapter “What Are the Instruments of Good Works”:

To have wholesome fear of the day of judgment.
With fear to shrink from hell.
To long for eternal life with all spiritual desire.
To have the expectation of death daily before one’s eyes. [1]

Here we see pithily summarized the whole way of the saints, which has led them to great glory in holiness. Today we consider the glory of paradise, for which we must long “with all spiritual desire.” The glory of this blessed country is beyond all human reckoning, yet it is the burning desire of every faithful heart. Without a doubt, “the greatest of all the torments of the damned in hell, arise from the thought of having lost heaven through their own fault” [2]. The act of contrition says, “I am sorry for my sins because I dread the loss of heaven.”

For the Apostle declares emphatically that eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what things God hath prepared for them that love him (I Cor. 2:9). Yet we must contemplate the glory of our heavenly home even if our finite contemplation falls like a drop water in an ocean. God has not left us without images to stir our spiritual longings for eternal life. Let these considerations be close to your heart so that you may stir up the necessary spiritual longing for paradise.

The End of Sin and Death

Consider all the pain of this life. The pain of sickness, weariness, despair, loneliness. The physical injuries, emotional wounds, spiritual evils, the tears of loss. Consider the vast wickedness of man in this life.

In paradise, every evil is banished. Every wickedness is gone. Every iniquity is no more.

And death shall be no more, nor mourning, nor crying, nor sorrow, shall be any more, for the former things are passed away. And he that sat on the throne, said: Behold, I make all things new. (Apoc. 21:4, 5)

There in our blessed homeland there is no uncertainty about God, for we shall see Him face to face. Now I know in part; but then I shall know even as I am known (I Cor. 13:12). There is no fear of judgment, for we have passed over judgment (Jn. 5:24). There is no anxiety of separation, for then truly what shall separate us from the love of Christ? (Rom. 8:35).

As the baptismal rite foreshadows, “But you, evil spirit, depart, for the judgment of God has come.” Heaven is the definitive judgment of God against all evil forever. Then will God put right what is wrong, straighten what is crooked, and revive what is dead. And hell and death were cast into the pool of fire (Apoc. 20:14).

Then there will be the peace of Christ through the reign of Christ. The prophet Micheas saw it and rejoiced:

And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be prepared in the top of mountains, and high above the hills: and people shall flow to it. And many nations shall come in haste, and say: Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob: and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths … and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into spades: nation shall not take sword against nation: neither shall they learn war any more. And every man shall sit under his vine, and under his fig tree, and there shall be none to make them afraid: for the mouth of the Lord of hosts hath spoken…we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever (Mic. 4:1–5)

Image of natural beauty

Even after the fall of man, God has not left the natural world without the tranquility of beauty, which is a glimpse of the world to come. The saints have used this beauty to contemplate paradise. St. Francis de Sales:

Represent to yourself a lovely calm night, when the heavens are bright with innumerable stars: add to the beauty of such a night the utmost beauty of a glorious summer’s day — the sun’s brightness not hindering the clear shining of moon or stars, and then be sure that it all falls immeasurably short of the glory of Paradise. O bright and blessed country, O sweet and precious place! [3]

Consider the sentiment you feel on beholding the great glory of the natural world’s most awesome wonders. The vast reaches of the heavens and the stars, the endless stretch of the sea, the height of mountains and the expanse of the forests and meadows. Remember the sweet fragrance of spring, the song of birds, and the freshness of the morning air. Then know for certain these things are drops in the ocean of the glory of paradise. Even still, the natural world serves as a powerful icon of the world to come. In our finite existence, we find a great boon for meditation in the beauty and immensity of creation.

The Love of the Saints and the Hope of Reunion with Lost Loved Ones

St. Francis de Sales tells us to meditate on the love of the saints:

Imagine yourself alone with your good angel in an open plain, as was Tobit on his way to Rages. Suppose the Angel to set before you Paradise, full of delights and joys; and on the other hand Hell, with all its torments … your good Angel is urging you with all his might to [choose heaven], offering you countless graces on God’s part, countless helps to attain to it[.] … Behold [Christ’s] mother yearning over you with maternal tenderness — “Courage, my child, do not despise the Goodness of my Son, or my earnest prayers for thy salvation.” Behold the Saints, who have left you their example, the millions of holy souls who long after you, desiring earnestly that you may one day be for ever joined to them in their song of praise, urging upon you that the road to Heaven is not so hard to find as the world would have you think. “Press on boldly, dear friend,” — they cry. “Whoso will ponder well the path by which we came hither, will discover that we attained to these present delights by sweeter joys than any this world can give.” [4]

The great glory of the saints is the burning charity they hold toward the wayfaring soul — even us sinners. They have not ceased to yearn for your salvation since before you called upon them for aid. They still labor — if it can be called labor — for your eternal felicity and joy. At one with God, their only longing is to share this peace with more souls. Our Blessed Mother above all tenderly desires your union with all the saints in Christ. As the perfect mother, she burns with love for your soul.

Consider the sound of their chorus to which they invite you, rising infinitely in praising the mercy of God. The most beautiful and exquisite music you have ever heard is like foul noise in comparison. Once, St. Francis heard the sound of an angel playing an instrument, and he nearly died for joy [5]. Consider the beauty of the voice of the Virgin Mother above all the rest. De Sales says, “even as the newly-fledged nightingale learns to sing from the elder birds, so by our sacred communing with the Saints we shall learn better to pray and sing the praises of the Lord” [6].

Consider, too, the hope of finding in that heavenly country the loved ones we have lost. The baptized children who were lost before the age of reason will run to you. Perhaps others whose loss you have suffered will greet you — a departed father or mother or even a spouse. If they have gained eternal life, then without a doubt they have longed for you and prayed for you as all the saints. Consider the love of all the saints, beckoning you to lift your heart to paradise and come.

The Love of God

But all these are what St. Alphonsus calls “the least of the blessings of paradise” [7]. The true joy of paradise is the vision of God the Blessed Trinity and glory of union with Him forever. Remember a time when you were filled with divine consolations. Remember those moments when God filled you with spiritual sweetness or joy in Him. Then know that these too are drops in the ocean.

Just as the immensity of the heavens far exceeds the greatest works of man, so too the consolation of God in paradise far exceeds every glimpse of His love on Earth. According to the height of the heaven above the earth: he hath strengthened his mercy towards them that fear him (Ps. 102:11). When God touched your soul to show you His love, did you not rejoice in Him? So too you shall rejoice in Heaven in His great love for you, yet immeasurably more beyond all telling. The countless words, works, and labors of all the saints for two thousand years have not sufficed to begin to tell all his praises. And in Heaven, only eternity can provide enough space for His praise — and that only in our human capacity.

Consider your creation out of nothing. Before you existed, what did you do to deserve to be? It was the love of God that created you as an individual, unique soul. It was the love of God that provided you what was necessary for your growth and sustenance. The charity of God called you out of nothing and called you to life with Him.

Consider the Heart of Jesus Christ that became incarnate to seek your soul as the good shepherd seeks the lost sheep. Consider the Passion of Jesus, expiating your sins and washing you white as snow (Ps. 50:9). Faint and weary, Thou hast sought me, on the Cross of suffering bought me [8]. It was for you that He shed His blood and breathed His last breath. It was for you that He rose again and  showed you the glory of His wounds. He delivered me because he desired me (Ps. 17:20).

It was for this love that the saints joyfully received the torments of fire and the sword. It was for this love that the saints watched and fasted and prayed. It was for this love that they journeyed over land and sea and died to bring you the faith and save your soul. Because the sufferings of this life are not worthy to be compared to the glory to come (Rom. 8:18). Receive Christ in you, the hope of glory (Col. 1:27), and burn for eternal life with all spiritual desire.

[1] Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 4

[2] St. Alphonsus, Sermon on the 2nd Sunday of Lent, On Heaven

[3] St. Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life, Ch. 16

[4] Ibid., Ch. 17

[5] St. Alphonsus, op. cit.

[6] St. Francis de Sales, op. cit., Ch. 16

[7] St. Alphonsus, op. cit.

[8] Hymn Dies Irae

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