From the Pastor: Read About Heaven This Lent
For three weeks now you have seen the violet tabernacle veil and, if you attend the Traditional Latin Mass, the violet vestments, as we have entered into a period preparing us for Lent. This period of preparation is just about over, as Ash Wednesday is this week! Have you figured out what you are going to be giving up for Lent yet? What extra prayers and spiritual readings you are going to take on during Lent? What additional Corporal and/or Spiritual Works of Mercy you will endeavor to fulfill? Time is short so don’t procrastinate any longer! A couple of years ago I suggested that you read a book or two on Hell for your spiritual reading. There is a terrible heresy spread far and wide these days that Hell probably does not exist or, if it does, that it is not too bad or, if it does exist and if it is bad that the few people who go there will only be there for a short time, as God cannot possibly punish anyone (let alone a bunch of people) for a long time, and certainly not for eternity. Reading books on Hell (written, of course, by orthodox Catholic authors) helps to combat such heresy and gives one a renewed interest in staying out of it. That leads to a better Lent, with more fervor behind the penances and reparations. The following year, I suggested that you read up on Purgatory. This subject, too, is one that many/most people, including Catholics, don’t engage in because they don’t believe it to exist or, if they do believe Church teaching about its existence, don’t understand how painful the purgation process will be. Reading up on it can be very helpful in trying to avoid it rather than looking forward to it or aiming for it, instead of Heaven, as life’s goal (as in “I just want to get a little pinky into Purgatory!”). This year I am going to encourage you to learn about Heaven. (See the logical progression here?) Dare I say that most people don’t believe in Heaven, either? Go ahead and challenge people you know and love by asking if there is a Heaven. Almost everyone will say, “yes” but then be completely and utterly unable to tell you why they would want to go there or what they would do there FOR ETERNITY. Saying that they believe in Heaven is no different than answering, “Fine” every time they are asked the question, “How are you doing”, whether they are fine or not. It is just the expected answer. It means nothing. What will they do in Heaven? Really, ask. See if they even mention God. Prayer. Adoration. Thanksgiving. Intercession. Knowing Him as He is. Beatific Vision. The properties of a resurrected body. Communion with angels and Saints. Or see if they rather answer, “Well, I’ll be happy” or “It will be pleasant” or “The weather will be nice” or “I’ll get to see grandma again” with no other idea of what to do or how to spend even a full day, let alone the remainder of eternity. “Golfing with Jesus” and “knitting with Mary” are the kind of things I hear priests talk about at funerals. Talk about being bored out of your skull after a few months! Why would anyone have that as their life’s goal?
But here is the problem with finding good writing about Heaven: it is impossible to describe it. St. Paul writes, “That eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what things God hath prepared for them that love him.” (I Cor. 2:9). We really cannot describe Hell or Purgatory, either, but we certainly find it easy enough to describe the pain and torments that will be inflicted upon the souls there. But we are not as good at describing consummate, lasting and holy pleasure, joy, happiness, contentedness, charity, prayer, or fulfillment. Even the Catechism of the Catholic Church is woefully sparse in its teaching on Heaven. Where to turn to, then? Plenty of people write about how to get to Heaven but far fewer write about it. Here are some sources. St. Thomas Aquinas is my first choice. He writes about Heaven in the Summa Theologica, explaining what it will be like, the properties of the glorified body, the states of happiness and much more. The Catholic Encyclopedia comes next, with quite a bit of good information in the online version at NewAdvent.org. Ludwig von Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma tells what the Church has officially taught on Heaven and the afterlife. If you prefer “stories” to “teachings”, you cannot go wrong with Dante’s Paradiso, though it helps a lot to have already read his Inferno and Purgatorio so you see his travels through Hell and Purgatory before he reaches Heaven. I assume you read both of those for your previous “Lenten assignments” so now is the time to jump into the third part of what is called the Divine Comedy. More books can be found with a google search, but I don’t want to recommend those which I haven’t personally read and approved and I really couldn’t remember which ones I have read as I did a search myself. As a general rule of thumb, though there are always exceptions, look for Catholic authors pre-1960’s, especially if they are priests! And absolutely stay away from non-Catholic authors, for nobody can really write well on Heaven if they have rejected the sure means of getting there!
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka