Visions of Heaven
The Church Triumphant
A rainbow is a promise. God our Father reaffirmed the promise He made about our Redemption in the Garden of Eden when Noah landed on the rock after having spent forty days and forty nights in the ark during the flood. The Lord stopped the rain, and gave us a double rainbow.
"God said: `Here is the sign of the Covenant I make between Myself and every living creature with you for all generations; I set My bow in the clouds and it shall be a sign of the Covenant between Myself and you and every living creature of every kind."
Our Lord Jesus fulfilled the promise that God the Father made. As he committed to St. Dismas, the good thief, from the Cross, He also pledges to us:
"Indeed, I promise you, this day you will be with Me in Paradise."
We believe that when we die, when we shake off this mortal coil, we go to the next step in our eternal existence, from a physical, bodily life, to a new life, a new beginning.
We read that in Heaven we will know perfect happiness. We will see God in His Beatific Vision, in the fullness of His Glory. St. Thomas Aquinas, after having a vision of Heaven, stopped writing his Summa Theologiae, and stated to one of the brothers, "The end of my labors has come. All that I have written appears to be as so much straw after the things that have been revealed to me."
No wonder the Saints could hardly wait to die. We can experience this to some degree right here on earth. St. Teresa of Avila would get impatient with those who cried "Oh if I could have just walked with Jesus when He walked the earth." She would ask them if they did not know that they carry Him within, after they receive Him in Holy Communion and are with Him after the Host turns into Jesus' Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity? Don't they know He is in the Blessed Sacrament exposed on the Altar?
At that moment in the Mass, when the priest raises the Host in consecration, the overpowering Truth envelops me: He has arrived! The Lord of my life will agree to enter this weak and humble abode that I call my body and He and I will be one, in a few minutes. We believe that this moment, that of the Consecration of the Mass, when Jesus comes down on the altar under the form of bread and wine, is also the time when the Communion of Saints are most closely bound together. We believe that we, the Church Militant, kneel on one side of the altar, and that our brothers and sisters, the Saints, and our cousins, the Angels, who together form the Church Triumphant, kneel on the other side of the curtain which separates Heaven and earth. We gaze at Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, and they gaze at Jesus in the Beatific Vision. We are most in communion with each other, as we adore our God together. We are also strongest at that time. We truly live the words of St. Paul: "Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread." We can feel the oneness of the Body of Christ.
At other times, we can feel our hearts beat fast when we kneel before Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament as He is so regally being processed. Tears come to our eyes when the priest or bishop raises the Monstrance and blesses us. All we can think is, It is the Lord; It is the Lord! This is the closest we can come to experiencing He Whom we will know in Heaven. Our hearts could not stand it, were we to see Him as we will in Heaven. They would burst with joy and ecstasy. And so, our merciful and generous Lord gives us a glimpse of Himself to prepare us for that great and glorious day when we will stand Face to face.
Some questions most asked are: "How close to the Lord will I be in Heaven? Will I know the Lord like the Saints know Him?" It reminds us of the time when the mother of James and John asked of Jesus:
"Command that these two sons of mine sit, one at Your right and the other at Your left, in Your kingdom."
You recall He replied to James and John: "...to sit at My right and My left, this is not Mine to give but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by My Father."
How well do you know Jesus on earth? Is He your priority? Who is your God? Is it god with a small "g" or the One and true God with a capital "G" Whom you worship? In Paul's letters to the Romans, he answers this question most clearly:
"For those who live according to the flesh are concerned with the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the spirit with the things of the spirit. The concern of the flesh is death, but the concern of the spirit is life and peace."
How much time do you spend on matters of the spirit, of eternal life, in preparation for life with the Lord in Heaven? And how much time do you spend on the preservation of the body, the flesh that is decaying and passing away? It is the spirit which remains with us, our soul.
How much time do you spend getting to know Jesus? Do you spend any time visiting Him in the Tabernacle; or, if you are so blessed, adoring Him in the Blessed Sacrament exposed on the Altar? How do you answer His cry to His trusted Disciples to spend an hour with Him? Will He look at you when you meet and ask you the same question He asked of them: "So you could not keep watch with Me for one hour?" Then, will you not want to go to Purgatory to wipe away the times that you have put things of the world before Him?
It's funny, we wouldn't ask one spouse if we had the same relationship with his (or her) spouse. We respect the time they have spent together, the many years they have known one another, how they have laughed and cried together, shared so many crosses and enjoyed so many resurrections. We know that no one could be as close as they are. Is it difficult to believe that it would come to pass that those who have loved the Lord more on earth will love Him more and have more of Him in Heaven? As you cannot love someone you do not know, the more you have gotten to know Him on earth, the greater capacity you will have to love Him in Heaven. It makes sense! A thimble full of liquid is as full as a gallon jug. One is not fuller than the other, but one takes in a greater capacity than the other. The Mercy of God in Heaven is that you will never know what you are missing. If you did, it would not be Heaven; it would not be perfect happiness. We believe you will have the fullness of His Love, but is it to the fullness of how much you have loved Him? No one really knows; but what do you think?
For me, I want to have the most of Him in Heaven and on earth that I, in my imperfections and weaknesses, can possibly have. I walk confident, with faith in my Lord Jesus and in St. Paul's words which reassure us,
"And the One who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because it intercedes for the holy ones according to God's Will."
Whatever He deigns to give me, I know I will be ecstatic, for I know that the love that He has for me, and for you, far surpasses our hopes and dreams. He is the Cup of Love Which runs over. We can not drink enough to empty the cup of never-ending love which He pours out to us.
To me, Heaven must be like when we are about to go on a pilgrimage. Our pilgrimages have always been longer than just the weeks at the Shrines, because we are preparing months before, in anticipation of what is to come. Do we look upon Heaven in the same way? If we do, then we will be able to sample a little bit of Heaven right here on earth. When we instruct pilgrims to prepare for their pilgrimage, we always suggest they read background material on the Saints or the Apparitions or perhaps the Miracles of the Eucharist so that when they arrive at the Shrine, they will know and understand more what the Lord has in store for them; and in so doing, will get so much more out of their pilgrimage.
Our time on earth is a pilgrimage to our final Home, with Heaven in our sights. We need someone with experience to guide us on a pilgrimage to the Shrines. What makes us think we can find our way to Heaven without assistance? If you go on a pilgrimage which turns out instead to be a tour, with a guide who knows little about the Shrines and the Apparitions, the Saints and the Miracles, etc., then you will not receive all that the Lord, His Mother, the Angels and the Saints have prepared for you at the different Shrines. Heaven is the Shrine, we all long to go to, where we will be in the company of the Lord and His whole Heavenly family. Will we know Him and them? As most of us studied long and hard to learn professions, so that we could live more fully our time on earth, do we not think it worth it to spend the rest of our lives learning about our Faith, so that we will live more fully our eternal time in Heaven?
Heaven and Holy Scripture
Heaven is mentioned frequently in Holy Scripture.
Jesus spoke of Heaven when He was delivering the Sermon on the Mount, in one of the Beatitudes:
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
Then in John's Gospel, Jesus refers to Heaven as His Father's house: "In My Father's house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?"
In St. Peter's epistle, we hear Heaven once again mentioned, as the crown of glory: "And when the chief Shepherd is revealed, you will receive the unfading crown of glory."
St. Paul mentions Heaven repeatedly, as he brings hope to us, for ourselves and our loved ones. He also teaches what will be required from us to achieve that crown of glory: "But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the spirit is alive because of righteousness."
"If the Spirit of the One Who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the One Who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through His Spirit that dwells in you."
"The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him."
"I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us."
"Those He predestined He likewise called; those He called He also justified; and those He justified He in turn glorified."
St. Paul speaks of the mission of God's children, to be pure of heart and purpose: "Thus should one regard us: as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Now it is of course required that they be found trustworthy.
"It does not concern me in the least that I be judged by you or any human tribunal; I do not even pass judgment on myself; I am not conscious of anything against me, but I do not stand acquitted; the One Who judges me is the Lord.
"Therefore, do not make any judgment before the appointed time, until the Lord comes, for He will bring to light what is hidden in the darkness and will manifest the motives of our hearts, and then everyone will receive praise from God."
St. Paul speaks of God's Love for us, and our response to that Love. He reiterates what we have been saying: The degree of that love which each of us will receive will correspond directly to the quality of our love for Him.
But what do we consider God's Love? We all want to go to Heaven but we do not want to die to the world and its allure, its demands, its false promises. We want to know Jesus in the good times but like the apostles we have a tendency to run away from Him when He asks us to help carry His Cross. St. Paul's words are as vital today, as at that time. We know that Paul's time of evangelization was, like that of his Savior, one of suffering, rejection and persecution. He stressed that man could not go to Heaven on his own but solely through Jesus Christ interceding to the Father. As Jesus Crucified saved us on the Cross, so Paul preached we must all go through the Cross, our own cross. And so he preached: "I determined that while I was with you, I would speak of nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified."
St. Paul humbly tells the Corinthians that as he came to them, preaching in his weakness, full of fear and apprehension, lacking the eloquence and persuasiveness to win them over; it was not he, but "the Spirit" Who had convinced them. Therefore their faith lay not in the wisdom of men but in the "power of God." Clearly defining God's wisdom, he said:
"It is not a wisdom of this age, however, nor of the rulers of this age, who are men headed for destruction."
He goes on: "No, what we utter is God's wisdom: a mysterious, a hidden wisdom. God planned it before all ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age knew the mystery; if they had known it, they would never have crucified the Lord of Glory."
How many crucify Jesus by crucifying His Church? Do they know the mystery? Do they believe?
St. Paul speaks of Heaven when he writes:
"Of this wisdom, it is written:
`Eye has not seen, ear has not heard,
nor has it so much as dawned on man
what God has prepared for those who love Him.'"
Heaven and the Catholic Catechism
The Doctrine of Heaven is distinctly spelled out in the Catholic Catechism. We read: "By virtue of our Apostolic authority, we define the following: According to the general disposition of God, the souls of all the saints...and other faithful who died after receiving Christ's holy Baptism (provided they were not in need of purification when they died,...or, if they then did need or will need some purification, when they have been purified after death,...) already before they take up their bodies again and before the general judgment - and this since the Ascension of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ into Heaven - have been, are and will be in Heaven, in the Heavenly Kingdom and celestial Paradise with Christ, joined to the company of the Holy Angels. Since the Passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ, these souls have seen and do see the divine essence with an intuitive vision, and even face to face, without the mediation of any creature."
One of the references in the Catholic Catechism is from Vatican II, Lumen Gentium: "When the Lord will come in glory, and all His Angels with Him, death will be no more and all things will be subject to Him. But at the present time some of His disciples are pilgrims on earth. Others have died and are being purified, while still others are in glory, contemplating `in full light, God Himself triune and one, exactly as He is.'...Once received into their Heavenly home and being present to the Lord, through Him and with Him and in Him they do not cease to intercede with the Father for us, as they proffer the merits which they acquired on earth through the one mediator between God and men, Christ Jesus..."
Heaven and the New Catholic Encyclopedia
The New Catholic Encyclopedia, considered one of the most valid and soundest sources of information on the Church, breaks up their article on Heaven into two parts, (1) Heaven as the culmination of Salvation History, and (2) State of Heavenly Glory, or the Beatific Vision, which is covered in the next section. So in this paragraph, we'll confine ourselves to Heaven as the culmination of Salvation History.
"Heaven is the state of happiness of those who have died in Christ. Although it is also a place, this is of secondary importance...We understand Heaven as the final state of those who die in Christ by reference to the final state of Christ Himself, Who is the Savior and Head of His Mystical Body. It is only as members of the Mystical Body of Christ that we can die in Christ; hence it is only as such that we can enter the state of Heavenly glory. Thus we conceive Heaven as the state of happiness that brings full, lasting satisfaction to the whole of our being through our union with the Holy Trinity in Christ together with all the members of the Mystical Body.
"Heaven is the fulfillment of the life of grace on this earth, that life of union with the Blessed Trinity through Christ that all His members have in common. It is the fulfillment of God's salvific plan for the whole world; hence Heaven exists in the fullest sense only after the Parousia of Christ at the end of the world. Thereafter there shall be the restoration of the body, now a glorified body, to each who is saved, and even the fabric of this world, likewise restored, will probably be part of Heaven."
The Beatific Vision
We are taught that in Heaven our happiness will come, first and foremost, from our complete union with God, our spirit overflowing with His Love, at last beholding Him as He is in His Beatific Vision.
Pope Benedict XII declared the Church's teaching concerning Heaven in his constitution, "The Blessed God." Using Holy Scripture, he declared that the blessed: "see God's Essence directly, and face to face, and thus the souls of the departed enjoy the Divine nature, and are thereby rendered truly happy in the possession of eternal life and peace."
The New Catholic Encyclopedia and the Beatific Vision
"Theologians all teach that the essential element in the state of Heavenly glory is the union with the Blessed Trinity in mind and heart, (called the Beatific Vision, the Beatific love) resulting in the Beatific joy; they further teach that other factors round off this bliss, notably the glorification of the body and the enjoyment of the renewed universe and the company of the blessed. Although essential glory is possessed by all who die in the state of grace as soon as their purification (purgatory) is completed, the fullness of glory is theirs only after Christ's Parousia, when they receive back their bodies in the reconstituted universe."
If you read carefully, you'll find writings from the Catholic Catechism and the New Catholic Encyclopedia which affirm beliefs you've had all your life, but have not lately been able to defend, because you didn't know where the writings could be found. We have always believed that we would be in Heaven, body and soul. We have always believed that Heaven was a place, but many of us were shot down when we could not prove it. We'd hear things like, "Oh, where is Heaven? Can you take the interstate or freeway to get there? Do you make a left turn at Purgatory?" Well, here it is, folks, right in the Catechism and New Catholic Encyclopedia. We've always known that Our Lord Jesus and Our Lady were taken up into Heaven, Body and Soul. But we could never figure out where they would be. As the New Catholic Encyclopedia stated,
"Because Christ and Our Lady are now glorified in Body and because a body requires a place in which to dwell, Church tradition, following the language of Scripture, has constantly taught that Heaven is a place."
These are some very powerful teachings. You may say to yourself, "This is not the kind of reading we expect from Bob and Penny." And you would be right. Normally, we don't get into such heady matters as what we're quoting above. But this is such an important subject, we can't take a chance of mis-stating what the Church is teaching, or having you misunderstand what we're saying. When you have to defend your beliefs about Heaven, Hell and Purgatory, which are very explosive subjects in certain circles, we don't want your only line of defense to be, "Well, we read about it in Bob and Penny's book."
It's true; you did. And you can be sure we would never lead you astray. But we got it from these very reliable sources. And none of this can be considered old-fashioned beliefs, or that we're dating ourselves. [Author's note: Once Penny was sharing about our beliefs in the teachings of the Magisterium and she was told by a very sophisticated person in this really droll voice, "Oh, Penny don't use that term. You're dating yourself." Well, we don't want you to be accused of dating yourself. But if the new Catholic Catechism can use references from the various Councils of the Church, in this instance the Council of Florence (1439) and the Council of Trent (1536), two powerful Councils in the Church; that's good enough for us, and it's good enough for you.]
We want you to know the experiences of the Saints who had Visions of Heaven, Hell and Purgatory. We want to share those beautiful gifts with you. But we also want you to have a solid foundation in the Faith of the Doctrines of Heaven, Hell and Purgatory. We've spent a year researching these dogmas of our Church, so that you can use them in defense of our beliefs. We've indexed them, and inserted footnotes showing where certain teachings came from. You don't have to stand by with egg on your face while someone tells you that you don't know what you're talking about because you don't have a degree in Theology. As Mother Angelica says, "All you need is the Bible and the Catholic Catechism!" and that's where our information comes from. Read on, brothers and sisters, the best is yet to come.
Excerpted from Bob and Penny Lord's Book