The Problem of Heaven

Fr. Patrick J. McHugh

There is one word we can never use of the Lord. We can never say that the Lord has problems, not even in His dealing with you and me. If it were asked, "What is the nearest the Lord can come to having a problem?" the answer might very well be, "The Lord has a problem when He tells humans about heaven."

Suppose a person blind from birth were to ask you to describe the colors of flowers in a garden how would you go about it? You would have a problem. Multiply that problem a hundred times, a thousand times, multiply it infinitely and you have some suspicion of the problem the Lord has. You are thinking, are you not, "Where is the problem? Heaven is a state of perfect peace and happiness and love that will last forever. There it is, as plain as ABC."

But it is not that simple at all. Heaven, we say, is "a state of perfect peace." That seems easy to understand until we stop to realize that what we call "peace" turns out to be a state where we have less turmoil, less anxiety, less conflict then we usually do. We call this: "Peace" and we are thankful for it; we rejoice in the little peace we have because we are catching a glimpse of something glorious and unspeakably good that lies beyond the stars that the Church prays for in every Funeral Mass: "Eternal rest grant unto him, Oh Lord, and perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace."

We do not know what peace is because the peace we have is sullied with so much that is opposite. We do not know what love is because love in this world is overshadowed by aversion, by separation, by hate. We do not know what goodness is because the goodness we know, even when it is real is contaminated with evil. We only have shadows, flickers, sparks cast out from the Furnace of love with a capital L and Truth with a capital T and Goodness with the capital G that is not something but Someone. The Lord's problem is how He can tell humans who do not know, because in the nature of things they cannot know, what the words love and goodness and truth and peace mean in themselves. Heaven will be where we see and experience these words--these realities--to be exact: this reality--in their pure state without any shadow or stain.

From In Season, Out of Season: meditations on the Sunday Gospels and Second Readings, liturgical cycle C, fifth Sunday of Easter, second reading (Rev. 21: 1-5).

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