The attempt to portray heaven in human terms has often resulted in presenting a thoroughly unsatisfactory picture of heaven. Many people have no desire at all to go to a heaven of that sort. A boy fond of sport and athletics, or one who can imagine nothing more blissful than an afternoon of fishing will not be attracted by the prospect of playing a harp or even a silver trumpet.
We have to get away from too material a view of heaven. If there are pleasures on earth which we make much of—the innocent recreations of life, the refreshing dip into a cool pool, the satisfaction of a well-cooked meal, the varied pleasures and satisfactions of body and mind—we should not think heaven dull because maybe these specific things are not there. Rather look at it this way: If here on earth, in this valley of tears, there are so many partial pleasures and joys, what must be the happiness of heaven which surpasses all these beyond our power to imagine. Heaven is more than all the most intense pleasures of earthly life put together. And the happiness of heaven is not for isolated moments as on earth, but lasts forever. Heaven is precisely what we will most want. It is far better than anything we can even imagine now. The things we find so much fun now, will be as nothing compared with the undreamed of joys of heaven. "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man, what things God has prepared for those who love him" (1 Corinthians 2, 9).
The Happiness of Heaven
The same God who made the pleasures of the body which we now experience, has prepared the infinitely greater joys of heaven. We need never worry that we will not like heaven. We definitely will like it. If we want to be technical we would say that the happiness of heaven consists in seeing, loving and enjoying God. God is, after all, all. Everything we have we owe to God. Everything that is, comes from God. All the beautiful and enjoyable things of life are but faint reflections of God who is all things in Himself. The world and all it contains is but borrowed beauty and borrowed enjoyment. It is God who is the source of all beauty and joy. God has put a little of His beauty and a little of His joy into the things of this world. But nothing less than God can be as beautiful and as joyful as God Himself, from whom all these things come.
In seeing God the soul beholds all beauty and all joy. But why should we worry our poor heads now in trying to imagine what the joys of heaven are? Isaias and St. Paul both assured us that no one has ever seen or heard or imagined anything so enjoyable as the things God has prepared for those who love Him. (Isaias 64, 4; 1 Corinthians 2, 9).
The happiness of heaven is without end. Moreover it cannot be lost once the soul is in heaven. In fact, heaven is certain for whoever dies in the state of sanctifying grace. Even those in purgatory and not yet in heaven are certain of entering heaven some day and of possessing its joys forever. To die in the state of grace is to be safe forever. Here on earth we experience much uneasiness at the thought of possibly losing a present joy. A holiday is marred somewhat by the gnawing knowledge that tomorrow we must go back to school or to work. A young person might be saddened by the thought that youth cannot last. Health may give way to sickness, wealth to poverty, beauty to deformity. But the supreme joys of heaven are joys forever.
Sin Impossible in Heaven
One in heaven cannot commit sin, cannot lose heaven. Here on earth a person is always haunted by the thought that he might fall from grace, and lose his soul. There is always the chance of doing just that. But in heaven one cannot commit sin, one cannot lose heaven. Everyone in heaven will be extremely happy. Some, however, will have more happiness than others. Each one will enjoy heaven according to his capacity for enjoying it. Just as a man with a larger basket can carry away more gifts, so too one who is capable of receiving more joy in heaven will receive more. But just as the man with a smaller basket has his basket filled, so too the soul of smaller capacity will be filled with joy. Or just as the boy of smaller appetite is fully satisfied by a smaller meal, so too the soul in heaven capable of receiving less joy will nevertheless be filled with joy. A boy of small appetite is just as filled by his small meal, as is the boy of larger appetite by his larger meal. And both desire no more. All such examples are terribly weak to describe conditions in heaven, but they do serve in some way to illustrate the point that not everyone in heaven will have an equal amount of happiness, although the greater happiness of some will not make others feel any less happy.
It stands to reason that those who were better on earth deserve a greater reward in heaven. God is just. He gives to everyone what he deserves. He rewards in the degree in which reward was earned. As for ourselves, since heaven lasts forever, and since the degree of happiness depends upon how we live our lives on earth, it is only good planning to live as good a life as possible so as to have as high a place as possible in heaven. It must be a great regret to lie on one's deathbed and look back over a wasted life. There was so much chance for merit. Now it is too late. How we will wish we had been more careful about avoiding the occasions of sin! Those short cuts we took, those wasted hours of leisure now plague us. If only we had done things the hard way. How wise it would have been to suffer even intensely the whole of life on earth, since now the joyful reward would be eternal. Why did we sit down to rest so soon? Why did we not force ourselves on? Those who are willing to suffer more, to endure more, justly earn a greater reward in heaven.
In heaven there will be no sadness. We will be perfectly content with the joy that is justly ours. But the fact remains that we could have actually earned a higher degree of eternal joy, if only we had done so. As soon as the soul enters heaven it will be fully happy. When the soul receives back the body at the end of the world its happiness will flow into the body too. We will then be happy in soul and body, extremely so, and that forever and ever.
Other Joys of Heaven
Besides the main happiness of seeing God face to face, there are other secondary joys in heaven. The souls in heaven will have great knowledge. They will know many things they always wanted to know while on earth. Many of our present problems will be solved in heaven, to our great satisfaction. We will never know as much as God. That would be impossible. But we will know very much. And we will not be in error about anything that concerns us. It will be a great joy to speak with the other saints in heaven, to compare notes, as it were. Everyone in heaven is a saint. Perfect sinlessness is a condition for entering heaven. Those who die imperfect are made saints in purgatory before being admitted into heaven. We must remember that we human beings remain human even in heaven, and carry with us many of our ways of acting. We will enjoy the social atmosphere of heaven, and the superb company there.
There will be no evil in heaven, no sadness, no sorrow, no grief. Sometimes a person, while still on earth, wonders how a mother could be happy in heaven when she knows her son is being tormented in hell. Her son's damnation will cause her no grief in heaven. Seeing things as she does in heaven, she will understand that her son is being treated justly by God. Here on earth we are swayed by emotions, so that often we feel in place of thinking. In heaven we will not be misled by our emotions, we will think as God thinks, and what God thinks will be our will too. Since God punishes whoever must be punished, a mother will agree with God that her son must by all means be justly punished for his sins.
Sometimes people, while still on earth, see a difficulty in family relationships in heaven. They wonder how a man who had a second wife after his first wife's death will feel and act toward his two wives in heaven.
First of all, until the end of the world we will not have our bodies in heaven. So, any bodily difficulty just does not exist. Secondly, the glorified body after the resurrection at the end of the world will not be subject to the limitations and deficiencies it now labors under. Thirdly, as far as marriage is concerned, marriage ends at death. A couple when they are married make their promises "till death do us part." Our Lord Himself answered this very question when some of the Sadducees came to him and asked which one of seven husbands would a woman in heaven have, who had been married successively to seven different men. Our Lord told them very simply that at the resurrection they will neither marry nor be given in marriage, but are as angels of God in heaven. Again, it is difficult for people happily married to imagine themselves supremely happy without each other. But again we must remember that we definitely will be happy in heaven, more so than we can imagine. If we are happy now on earth with what we have, we will be much, much more happy in heaven. Or, take the case of a woman who had a drinking husband. They never got along together. He dies with benefit of the sacraments of the Church. She reflects that she could never be happy in heaven if he were there too. But she reasons falsely. Rather she does not reason. She lets feeling blind her. She should remember that before either he or she can enter heaven, each must first be made a saint. Saints do get along in heaven, and they enjoy each other's company immensely.
Our Friends in Heaven
Here on earth we often cannot be with those whom we love most. We often have to be content with a brief visit when we would willingly spend unending hours together, if only time and circumstances would permit. In heaven we will have eternal leisure in which to enjoy the companionship of our friends. How often older people wish that they could get along with all their relatives! There always seems to be some jealousy spoiling an otherwise good relationship. In heaven we will get along. We will enjoy all our relatives.
What a joy it will be, too, to converse with our favorite saints! While on earth, we prayed to this or that saint. We cultivated a friendship, but even so there was a great gap between us. But in heaven we can associate to our utter joy with the saints we so much admired during our life on earth.
No wonder writers and preachers have spoken of life on earth as an exile. We really belong in heaven. We were made for heaven. It is our true home. While we are on earth, we are out of our true element. We are exiles. What a joy it will be to return to the kind Father who awaits us in His and in our home.
We should ever keep before our minds the guiding thought that we are made for heaven and destined for heaven. While we live on earth, we should be constantly looking towards heaven where we belong and where we desire to be. Anything that would spoil our chance of getting there, we must avoid at any cost. What a failure indeed we wrould be, if we failed to reach what we were made for!
Special Honors in Heaven
In heaven certain persons will be given a special sign of honor, the aureola, as it is called. Virgins, martyrs, and doctors will receive this special crown of victory. They deserve it. Virgins have won a victory over the flesh. Martyrs have stood courageous even to death and have overcome external persecution. Doctors, learned writers and teachers and preachers as they were, have won a victory over the enemies of the faith.
Scripture itself makes reference to special honors given to virgins, martyrs and doctors. The Church, too, singles out these courageous souls for special mention. The aureola, although pertaining to the mind, will adorn by its brilliance also the resurrected body. Although all persons in heaven will have glorified bodies, the aureola of virgins, martyrs, and doctors will be over and above the ordinary splendor of the glorified body.
The Church has never said precisely where heaven is. It is, however, a real place. It is a place separate and distinct from hell and purgatory. We usually refer to heaven as above, and to hell as below. This is, of course, only a way of speaking. To those who live on the other side of the earth, their above is the same as our below, as far as direction is concerned.
However, one might consider all the space surrounding the earth as being above the earth, since from any point on the earth some of the outer space is above. But why should we worry about where heaven is? We would do better to make sure that we get there. Let us be content to know that it is a place, and that it is situated somewhere. As for the rest, let us be content to have God show us the way in His own good time.
At present Christ and His Blessed Mother have their bodies in heaven. Possibly also Enoch and Elias who, as we have already said, were taken up bodily into heaven.
Heaven is such a delightful and glorious place that the very thought of it should make us keep out of sin so that we will not run the risk of losing it. The fear of hell is a powerful motive to keep us out of sin. The desire of heaven is also a powerful motive. We ought to develop a real longing and yearning for the joys of heaven. No matter what we might have to suffer on earth, we ought to undergo it patiently. What matter is it to suffer however much when we know that the suffering will end and the joy that replaces it will be supreme and last forever?
Source: Come The End, Imprimatur 1951