Life with the Cloistered Domincan Nuns

Life with the Cloistered Domincan Nuns

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Four Last Things: Heaven


The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes heaven as "eternal life with God; communion of life and love with the Trinity and all the blessed. Heaven is the state of supreme and definitive happiness, the goal of the deepest longings of humanity." (1023) As we see in the picture above, Fra Aneglico, OP pictured Heaven as a beautiful garden where saints and angels join in an eternal dance of joy. St. Ambrose wrote, "For life is to be with Christ; where Christ is, there is life, there is the kingdom." This mystery is beyond our limited human understanding. There was a cartoon many years ago that depicted a man--wearing wings and a halo--sitting on a cloud, presumably in Heaven, and thinking wistfully, "Wish I'd brought a magazine..." This idea that Heaven is a place of static, boring perfection is entirely wrong. Heaven is something that, as the band MercyMe sang, we can "only imagine". 

In meditating on Heaven, some of us may also think of music, and a piece that came to mind was Olivier Messiaen's composition "Quatuor pour la fin du temps" (Quartet for the end of time). This work was composed in 1940 while Messiaen was in a prison camp. Friendly guards gave him paper, pencils, and erasers, and allowed him a place to write. He composed the quartet using the instruments available in the camp: violin, clarinet, cello and piano. The result is a remarkable and deeply moving meditation on the end of time and eternity itself. Messiaen used a phrase from Revelation 10:7 to inspire him--in his Vulgate translation the angel says, "There shall be no more time", although today we are more accustomed to the translation which reads, "There shall be no more delay". The piece was actually performed in the camp in January 1941 before a large audience of prisoners and guards. What does this have to do with Heaven? Well, for one thing, there is no time in Heaven. Heaven is a perpetual and eternally present Now. Time with its sadness has come to an end; the joy of Heaven goes on always. Messiaen's composition, especially the two movements in praise of Jesus (5 and 8) attempt to suggest this beautiful sense of peace and everlasting happiness. It is also a reminder that even in the most dire of circumstances, we can lift our eyes to God and trust that in His great mercy He will bring us to be with Him forever one day. Messiaen's response to the cold, hunger and deprivation of the prison camp was to compose a masterpiece using what he had available to him. His Catholic faith sustained and encouraged him throughout his ordeal. 

St. Catherine of Siena, OP once said, "All the way to heaven is heaven." When we remember that Heaven is our longed-for, most desired destiny, we will not mind the little irritations and the enormous problems that confront us each day. We will hopefully keep our eyes fixed on Christ and remember that in Him alone we find our true happiness and joy. 

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