Destined to Be with God in Heaven

11-10-2019Pastoral ReflectionsRev. Brian F. Manning

It is common throughout human culture that if you believe there is an afterlife it is often viewed as the fulfillment of the privations and difficulties of this life. Heaven is often seen as a feast of unlimited food and drink; for others, heaven is a warm and safe place free of violence. What about us? We who are primarily overfed, warm and safe people, how do we envision heaven? As our culture often fulfills every comfort and desire that we have, the idea of an afterlife has diminished. Indeed belief in the reality of God has also declined greatly. The “nones” of today are really saying that they believe only in this life, and in fact just in themselves and their singular life. In many ways, the new “temple or church” is the fitness center or gym. In many ways, we have raised our children to come to this belief of themselves as the ultimate focus and end of their lives. Popular culture has made heaven to appear to be a cluster of stained glass “angels” which we hang in front of our windows to capture the sun and make the angels sparkle. What is guiding truth for believers in the Roman Catholic Way of Life is that we do not truly know what heaven is, but by our faith we know that it is. Today’s scripture helps us to deal with the troubling question of eternal life and heaven, which are for some Catholics a difficult question and for other Catholics a clear matter of faith.

In the time of Jesus, the question of life after death was a highly disputed question. We hear in the Gospel this weekend the response of Jesus to the Sadducees on this topic. This learned group of only men followed a literal and strict interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures. They were an elite group who were a priestly aristocracy intimately associated with the great Temple in Jerusalem. For the Sadducees, the Torah was the only and ultimate source as sacred scripture. As a result, they did not believe in life after death, nor did they have a messianic doctrine. For the Sadducees, Jesus was clearly problematic. Their way of life followed the debate model: if you win the argument you are correct and the other side is wrong. Thus they offered a rather silly non-reality based argument. It was based on the requirement in the Torah for a man to marry the widow of his deceased brother if the brother has died and fathered no male child. Because most Jews of then did not believe in afterlife, their hope for the future was always one’s children, really meaning one’s sons.

The Sadducees over-argue their case with the seven husband example. Jesus responds back to them, also using the Torah and talking about the ancient patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He simply uses their bizarre logic. He asks that if God is a God of the living, and these three giants of faith are dead, what then? He goes on to say that if these patriarchs are dead, then God is not a God of the living. He then concludes if God is a God of the living, then they are alive beyond their bodily death. “Ergo” they are eternally with God.

Note in the Gospels that Jesus spends little time discussing what eternal life really is. He mentions angels because that irritates the Sadducees who do not believe in them and also, more importantly, these metaphysical spiritual beings emphasize the enduring life of the human spirit.

When it all is said and done, we learn that we are destined to be with God in heaven. We understand that we are to follow the Catholic Way of Life. What makes our Tradition so great is that it has many, many pathways and understandings to follow Jesus. We do indeed walk by faith, but not by sight. We may lead a good and comfortable life now, but our eternal life is the ultimate question. To be in good physical shape, one must constantly exercise and follow the rules of good health habits. The same is true of our life of faith: we must constantly worship God at Mass and follow his rules. It is not enough to say I am healthy; that is like saying I am spiritual. Rather we have to put the effort into being healthy, and we must also put the effort into being religious. Good thoughts are not enough. Good actions matter in health and in religion.