To most of us, Heaven is rather abstract. It’s a kind of fuzzy thing. Often in life, we look forward to events — graduations, doctorates, marriage, and so on. But when our anticipation is great, the event, when it occurs, seems to lose something. That’s why, I believe, we don’t like to talk about Heaven. We’re so afraid it won’t be anything like what we are expecting, and so we begin to doubt.
What Heaven is like hasn’t even entered into our wildest imaginations. On earth, you and I want happiness. But life is fraught with a little bit of bitterness, even when we’re happy. That’s because, as soon as we have something that makes us happy, we’re afraid we’re going to lose it.
Happiness, here on earth, is always bittersweet.
We get so attached to this happiness that we become devastated when we lose it. That’s because happiness is an oasis in the desert. When we’re in that oasis, we don’t want to go anywhere else. And when we leave, we don’t want to think about the desert all around, so we pretend it’s not there. And then, if somebody talks to us about Heaven, far off in the invisible distance, we don’t want to hear it. We live in an age when we delude ourselves about where real happiness is found.
And so, although we might have glimpses of that eternal life, we’re not ready for it. We don’t know what it means. We want to get there immediately or in a hurry, but we can’t, and so we pretend that what we have here and now is all there is. But if what we have now is all there is, we wouldn’t be any different from a dog, because what he has now is really all he has.
For most of us, then, keeping Heaven in our mind is difficult — especially for those of us, like me, who don’t have very creative minds. We prefer the things we can see. We think, “Don’t tell me what is going to be. Give it to me now!”
Why Do We Fear Death & Judgement?
Let’s take a look at the question “Why do we fear death?”
First, most of us are afraid of judgment. We just aren’t sure if we’re really sorry for our sins — or even if we remember them. That’s because we haven’t fully grasped the beautiful truth of God’s fatherly love and comfort and forgiveness. And when God forgives, He forgives and He forgets.
And yet we are so often afraid of God and His Kingdom. Why are we afraid of a Father who is so generous and so loving?
Many of the first Christians led lives of debauchery, but they had a faith that assured them that once they had a clean sheet from God after Confession, they could seek, desire, and obtain Heaven. Why? Because God is our Father.
Their faith was so real that when they were put in an arena to face lions, when Peter and Andrew were crucified, when Bartholomew was flayed alive, they all relied confidently on the power of God to keep them going. When St. Stephen was stoned to death, he saw Heaven open up, and he saw Jesus at the right hand of the Father. And as they were attacking him, his face glowed like an angel and he said, “Receive my spirit. . . . Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:59—60).
We have to find out what those Christians had that we lack today, and what it is that has smothered real Christianity in our hearts.
Do you know what Our Lord told Sr. Lucy of Fatima? He said, “The sacrifice that each one can make is to do his duty and obey my law. That is the form of penance I now demand.” To be faithful to the duties of our state in life; to cling to God; to be faithful to His rule, His law, and His Church: That’s what it means to be holy.
We need to remember that we are a people of God who should know where we are and where we’re going.
Love in Life and Death
We, as Christians, must speak with great enthusiasm and great wonder about the Kingdom that is to come. The Kingdom of Heaven, after all, is within you; it is around you; it is above you. “No one has gone up to heaven except the one who came down from heaven, the Son of Man who is in heaven.” (John 3:13) That’s why it’s so important to think of Heaven: we begin our Heaven, our Purgatory, or our Hell right here. We don’t just plop from one state to another.
One of the reasons Heaven is so hard for us to understand is that, in Heaven, we will be loved by everyone in total unselfishness. Can you imagine being in a place or a family today where every member really and truly loved each other? If you do, then you live in Heaven here.
In today’s culture, we talk an awful lot about love. I wonder, though, how much we really love. Would the world be in the condition it’s in if we all loved everyone? If we all loved everybody on a human and divine level, we wouldn’t have all the terrorism, prejudice, selfishness, robberies, murders, or anything else bad you can think of. We wouldn’t be afraid. There would be no lying and cheating, no adultery, no lust.
might say, “But that’s impossible!” No! It’s not impossible. Jesus made it
possible. It’s you and I who make it impossible.
We might wonder, “What will we do in the Kingdom?” First, we’ll just be loved by everybody! We won’t have anybody going after us, hating us, or thinking we’re in the way or useless. There will be no more loneliness in the Kingdom. We’ll be able to look at the Father face-to-face. We can’t even imagine that kind of joy.
What We’ll Know (and Not Know)
No one on earth knows what it’s like not to have fears. Everybody has them. In fact, today I think there’s more fear in our society than in any other time. We fear everything and everyone.
But in Heaven, that shackle will be torn away, and instead of experiencing fear and doubt — including all the doubts we’ve had about whether there’s a God, why there’s a God, why He does what He does — we shall see Him face-to-face.
We’ll also never be discouraged again, and never tired. That will be terrific — never to feel fatigue, never to feel mentally drained. There will never be a mystery we can’t understand. How are there three Persons in one God? And how did God make all of this? Those seemingly impossible questions will be answered. And we will never have to worry about our salvation again. We will know that we are in love with God and that God is in love with us and that everybody around us thinks we’re the greatest.
We’ll know why everything happened in our lives. Boy, are we going to be embarrassed! If it were possible to be sorry in the Kingdom, we would be awfully sorry for having griped so much, for having questioned God’s providence and mercy and will. We’ll know why all the pains and tragedies happened in our life. It will become so clear that we’ll look at God and say, “Thank You, Lord, for every time You said no to me.”
There is so much disappointment in life: We’ve been disappointed by people, by ourselves, by society, by governments. But don’t be afraid: Heaven will never disappoint you. When we get to Heaven, we will realize that, in spite of our weaknesses, there was glory in our everyday lives. In spite of all our pain and the imperfections, we will realize in the Kingdom that all of our weaknesses have somehow been bound up in our journey home.
Here’s something that’s very important for us to understand: You and I are no longer servants of God. Jesus said, “I shall not call you servants any more. . . . I call you friends” (John 15:15).
In the first days of Christianity, as the Christians lived their lives on their journey home, they proved the goodness of their faith by their purity. Purity is our knowledge of God, our patience, our kindness, our spirit of holiness, and our desire for the good. That’s why it’s so important that we make the right choices now. Don’t listen to the world. Listen to the Word. Listen to the Church. Listen to your conscience. And make your choices in favor of the Lord.
Let us look at Our Lord and at ourselves without fear. God knows us, and He loves us as we are. More than that: He gives us the grace to be transformed. That’s the most important thing in life. We don’t just suddenly become a perfect saint who never loses her temper or never gives in to a temptation or never makes a mistake. That’s a mummy; that’s not a human being.
Jesus exhibited every kind of emotion: He cried; He sighed; He even was angry sometimes. He couldn’t get over the incredulity of His apostles. He was hurt when people didn’t give Him a kiss when He entered. So, everything that Jesus did, you and I do. We need to want to do it like Him. That is how we bring Heaven to earth — and how we prepare ourselves for the Kingdom to come.
This article is adapted from Mother Angelica’s What is Heaven? It is available through Sophia Institute Press.