Most Reverend Jerome E. Listecki
Archbishop of Milwaukee
I guess, because of all of the craziness that is happening in our world and society, I have been thinking more and more about heaven. I am not seeking a type of escapism, avoiding the world that confronts us, but heaven is what we seek and is promised by our Lord.
It is interesting that everyone has their own particular vision of heaven. We have heard it said that heaven’s streets are paved in gold. This must appeal to the people who value monetary riches and shiny things. Another vision states that heaven is this great banquet, a feast like no other. This must appeal to those who enjoy parties, good food and drink and the company of friends. Others also say that heaven is filled with mansions, occupied by those who are admitted into the kingdom. But, honestly, how many rooms can anyone occupy for eternity?
A number of years ago, when I was asked about my vision of heaven, I said that I know that I will be in heaven if suddenly I wake up and find myself walking home on the street where I grew up as a boy and sitting down to dinner with my family. There seems to be two principles for me at work in this vision for life everlasting -- one being home, and the other a great sense of belonging. I shared this with one of my priest classmates, Fr. Anthony Brankin, who I am sure thought this was a fairly pedestrian concept. Later, when he was presiding at my mother’s wake service, he mentioned my vision of heaven as part of his reflection and how he envisioned his family visiting my family in the afterlife.
Home for me was always a place of rest. We all long to be at rest with God. St. Augustine said it well in his Confessions: “Thou has made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds rest in Thee.” Composer Antonin Dvorak created the New World Symphony, and this work has a haunting melody entitled “Going Home,” with lyrics that say “Shadows gone break of day, a real life has begun.” The comfort of home brings a sense of peace.
The other principle is belonging. A family claims you. There are no other expectations than to be who you are. Many may protest that there are individuals without families or non-loving families. However, I would offer that everyone seeks to belong. We need to belong. When you discover love, you possess a sense of belonging. Someone claims you and you belong to someone.
This coming Sunday is the feast of the Blessed Trinity. This is the central doctrine of the Christian religion. God reveals himself as three distinct persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit -- not three Gods, but one with three persons. The heart of the Trinity is a loving relationship. In the afterlife, we will possess the beatific vision. We will enjoy the happiness of our total belonging to God. God has placed people in our lives to assist us in knowing Him and our pilgrimage to heaven. The beauty of the afterlife means we will know each other and experience the other without obstacles, understanding the purposefulness of our relationships.
I am a good enough theologian to realize that my reflections are only speculations of the kingdom based upon human longings, and are definitely limited. We cannot know the mind of God. St Paul, who enjoys the beatific vision, stated in 1 Corinthian 2:9-10: “But as it is written: What eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him, this God has revealed to us through the Spirit.” So, I do know that heaven is so much more than anything I can imagine, and filled with unending love. We will be home, belonging to God’s love forever.
A great deal of work needs to be done here and now before we reach the hereafter, and what will give us a glimpse of eternity is following the Lord’s command to LOVE ONE ANOTHER.
Note: This blog originally appeared as the June 2, 2020, "Love One Another" email sent to Catholics throughout the Archdiocese of Milwaukee by Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki. If you are interested in signing up for these email messages, please click here.