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On Heaven

Advent Reflections from the Master of Thomism
Part I: On Death
Part II: On Judgment


Heaven. Oh, what a place that will be! It is a place that millions of dreamed about. A place of peace, joy, and charity. A place where our tears will be wiped away. A place where we shall be reunited with our loved ones. Today many people long for heaven but unfortunately believe many inaccuracies about the place. Even myself growing up in American evangelicalism, who was raised on a healthy diet of Sacred Scripture, still believed many false and (dare I say) self-centered things about heaven. For me growing up, Heaven was a place where God resided and if I put my faith in His atonement I would go to dwell there with him. However, in heaven I would also have many of my own selfish or personalized natural needs met.

Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange was not a preacher who wanted man to repent from his sins and then go on living a life apart from God. Rather, Fr. Garrigou’s whole theological life and work reflect the powerful reality that man is made for a deep and personal union with his creator. The Christian life is not merely a “get out of hell” free ticket. Or as I heard it said growing up, “Christianity is not just fire insurance.” Rather, we are called to a deep spiritual conversion of infinite proportion. We are called to a true infinite perfection of our fallen nature, through a deep spiritual union with the divine. With this in mind, heaven cannot be seen as a place where our selfish desires are met. On the other extreme, heaven should not be looked at as a boring place where won’t have any fun. Rather, through that deep call and process of interior conversion, true joy and lasting contentment in the person of Christ grows.

Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, commenting on heaven writes:

The saints in heaven, seeing God face to face, love Him above all things, because they see with the most perfect evidence that God is better than all creatures combined. This love will never pass away. Faith will give place to vision; hope will be replaced by possession: but “charity never falleth away.”

We receive the three theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity at our Baptism. These virtues are infused into our souls. We, by the power of God’s grace, grow in these virtues throughout the course of our Christian life here on earth. However, in heaven, Faith and Hope will pass away for we shall see our beloved. Charity, that great virtue that unites the lover and the beloved will remain and grow for all eternity. We are called by our baptism to ultimate union with the living God. Therefore, the Catholic life is not one merely of purging past sins by actions of penance and striving to avoid mortal sin. While both are essential, we are called yet to a deep interior love of God, which will in turn by the power of grace, deeply cleanse our innermost being. In heaven, we will love God as he is supposed to be loved.

Fr. Lagrange writes:

By charity, already on earth we love God, not only as a good supremely desirable, the object of hope, but because of His infinite goodness in itself, a goodness far higher than any of His gifts. Charity wills He should be known, loved, and glorified; that His imprescriptible rights be recognized, His name be sanctified, His will be done. This is the love of friendship, whereby we will unto God all that belongs to Him, wishing His happiness as He wills our happiness. Thus, even here on earth, we share in God’s intimate life, have our life in common with Him, have spiritual communion between Him and ourselves.

This charity will last forever. It would be an error, even a heresy, to think that our love of God in heaven is merely the consummation of our hope, which makes us desire God as our supreme Good. Even here on earth, the act of hope, which can exist in a soul in the state of mortal sin, is notably inferior to the act of charity, and love of God in heaven is nothing but the perfect act of charity, whereby the soul transcends itself, whereby without cessation it loves God more than itself, whereby it passes out beyond itself, and enters into a state of uninterrupted ecstasy.

This Love of God, this heart-to-heart of the beloved and the lover, is a love of true friendship.  Not the shallow and common associations that many associate the word friendship with. Rather, a true giving of self to the other and desiring and willing their good.

Love implies admiration, reverence, recognition. It implies, above all, friendship, with all its simplicity and intimacy. It is love with all its tenderness and all its power, the love of a child that throws itself into the tenderness of its Father, and wills unto that Father all that belongs to Him, just as the Father takes the soul into His own beatitude. God says to us: “Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” Christ says: “Come, ye blessed of My Father.” We shall not indeed love God as He loves us, but the Holy Spirit will inspire a love worthy of Him.”

This union with God is what we are made for. It is a union that is transformative, where we share in the intimate life of the trinity. Sanctifying grace in the soul is after all the life of the blessed in our Souls.

This transforming union, now in a state of consummation, fuses our life with the intimate life of the Most High. We rejoice that God is God, infinitely holy, just, and merciful. We adore all the decrees of His providence, all manifestations of His glorious goodness. We subordinate ourselves completely to Him, saying to Him: “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to Thy name give glory.” This supreme act of the highest of the theological virtues is the only one that is meant to last eternally. God alone, it is true, can love Himself infinitely, love Himself as far as He is lovable, but each blessed soul will love Him with all its power, with a love that no longer knows obstacles.”

In conclusion, we could speak much more of the nature of heaven in general and of the wonderful theology that Fr. Lagrange illustrates. However, in this time of Advent, I have chosen these specific passages of his thought to illustrate a point that I believe many of my own fellow Traditionalists need to remember. We are called to be saints. However, what does that call really mean? It is a call to personal holiness and theological orthodoxy, yes, but more accurately, it is a call to a deep conversion of heart that brings about true and lasting joy. This joy is not fleeting natural happiness. Rather it is the recognition and response of those in an ever-growing union with the love of God. In this Advent Season, rejoice my fellow believer! There is much to be happy for. Know of God’s love for you and the deep and universal call to holiness upon your life. Trust in him, Hope in him, and accept His love for you!

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