First, a couple of things:
1. I know nothing about going to heaven
Saint Paul speaks of being whisked away to the third heaven, whatever that is, though he does give us a clue in his repeating a number of times that this happened to him while he was in the body or out of the body he does not know. This sounds like the ecstacy some of the saints have experienced, but whether in the body or out of the body we do not know. Sanctifying grace, which turns to glory in heaven according to the Apostle in another place, is entirely amazing in the profundity of the Sacred Mysteries, as this concerns the indwelling of the Most Holy Trinity, the fiery Holy Spirit bringing us through, with and in Jesus unto the Father, as Jesus’ gift to the Father. Some confuse this with the beatific vision. I always tell such good souls that, in fact, the beatific vision will be so very much better, no matter the goodness and love they experienced, what with that grace turning to glory. But, again, what do I know or what could I even say, since the Apostle himself says that he heard ineffable things that man is not permitted to speak.
2. I found out the other day just how much I don’t know about God’s love, again
Here’s the deal: I brusquely take Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament with me on long and not always uneventful journeys of some hundreds of miles such as I did this past Tuesday, racing off to see this and that person who have suffered more than most of us have or could ever suffer put together. And then we speak of heaven, of God’s love, or, rather, I have the privilege of listening, captivated by all that which resonates in the weak sounding board that is my heart and soul. They come close to speaking that which is ineffable as they open up above me the weight of the glory of God, putting me into reverence mode before the Lord who loves us so much, before the angels who encourage these souls for my sake to express their love of the Lord the way they do. I come to know a little bit more just how much I don’t know about God’s love, but rejoice to have been introduced to His goodness and kindness in whatever way that is. I am so very much in debt to those who pray for me, so many lay people, so many priests and bishops, so many cloistered souls, some of whom have offered their prayers and sufferings for me for life. As I often repeat, when I complained to one cloistered nun that the Lord is going to reprimand me at my judgment, asking me what I did with all the graces which I have been given because of all those who have prayed for me, she said, yes, Father George, that is true, but just think of where you would have been had we not prayed for you!
So, having said all that… let’s continue our journey to the gates of heaven, which journey boasts of two possible venues, the first of which is inescapable here on this earth, the second of which, in purgatory, can be dispensed if we cover the ground which we must here on this earth if we should go straight to heaven when the Lord calls us. Both places are, after our redemption and, please God, in our being saved, training grounds for entering into heaven. The training is somewhat different here on earth and in purgatory.
Here on earth… the Lord introduces other souls to us of any time or place, with all that which they need by way of our meager intercession, regardless of whether we know them or not. We don’t carry their crosses, but rather carry our own cross better, knowing all the more how far our Lord had to reach to get us, that is, me, or you, so that we know just a bit more what we would be like if we were without grace, that is, cut off from God and all that which is the frustration of hell, but this being occasioned by these others, by their need, even if it is that severe. Jesus opens up our eyes to the fact that by original sin and whatever of our own sin we have all crucified the Son of the Living God: “I’ve done that.” He’s right with us in all this even as it seems we are in hell itself. We can’t go to heaven alone. We must take others with us. So, this is all occasioned by the needs of others, though we could never guess who they are, even though we insist we are praying for this person or that. The Lord knows best who to give to us for intercession. If we survive in the state of grace while undergoing such trauma of carrying our own cross better, seeing how far our Lord had to reach to get us (though that is occasioned by the need of others) our very lives are then made into acts of intercession for the Church and for those souls in particular who our Lord, as it were, gave to us. Again, we don’t carry their cross, but our own cross of what we would be like if we were in those circumstances and perhaps without the grace of God. Our Lord knows what we can and cannot handle in His grace. He never takes us out of His grace for this, though it sure seems that He does. Our faithfulness even in the midst of hell is wrought for us by Jesus, by His grace, so that we learn to trust only in the strength of Jesus, being lifted up into the strength of Jesus, not being given that strength as if it were an energy product to dispense and that we could use apart from Him. This is about looking to Jesus who is strength. This is about love and trust before the Love of God. Jesus introduces us to more and more souls in this way of intercession by our faithfulness in carrying our crosses better until we can embrace the entire mystical body of Christ, Jesus the head and the rest of us that He calls to Himself being the members, but always the one body of Christ. On this earth, the intercession that we do as occasioned by others but with us just being faithful in all things has us grow by leaps and bounds in Jesus’ love, even though, paradoxically, it may well seem to us that we are only more distant because of being on the cross, you know, the ole “My God! My God! Why have you abandoned me?” And yet, with a nanosecond of discernment, it is readily admitted by such a soul that they right before Jesus, insistently, adamantly, in solidarity with Him on the cross even as He is in solidarity with us. It is readily admitted that He’s got us, has a good grip on our hearts and souls. This is training for entering into heaven in that we get to know how much the Lord has done not only for ourselves, but also for all members of the mystical body of Christ. He sure had to reach far to get us! We come to know more His great love. We come to know that He would have us be vessels of mercy, of His love for others also through, with and in us, filling up in ourselves the sufferings lacking to Jesus as Head of the body, we being the members of the same body. In this way, we come to know why we should be thanking Him for all He has done for us. We are prepared to say the biggest Thank You! of our lives to Jesus; we are prepared to have the gates of heaven open for us so that we can say that biggest Thank You! as we enter into heaven. This is how this earth is a training ground for entering into heaven. The more hell we see on this earth, also how far we could have been from Jesus, the more ready we are to have the joy of thanking Him in heaven for having, in fact, reached out that far to get us. And we bring others with us by this faithfulness of solidarity of intercession for others. We are one in Christ Jesus.
In purgatory… for those who have not been so generous in interceding for all the members of the body of Christ of whatever time and place by carrying their own cross all the better, there is a grace period to come to know just what it is that our Lord has done for us so as to learn to say the biggest Thank You! to Jesus they also must say as they enter into heaven, for saying that Thank You! will be the greatest joy. The souls in purgatory come to know this love not by growing in charity as the souls on earth might well grow, but by standing in awe of Jesus’ love within the souls of His beloved on earth, those souls who pray for those in purgatory, again being vessels of mercy, of God’s love, while on this earth for the rest of the members of the body of Christ, also those in purgatory. The sufferings of those one earth of carrying their cross all the better, fulfilling justice as the foundation of mercy, is the act of intercession by which those souls in purgatory will fly off to heaven to say their biggest Thank You! to Jesus as they enter those heavenly gates: Thank you, Jesus, for dwelling in the souls of your beloved so much on earth that they remember us here! How great is your love within your beloved! Thank you! The purging in purgatory is all about coming to know how lacking in generosity one was on this earth, so lacking while they were on this earth in helping others whether those others were also still on earth or already in purgatory, thus learning, painfully, learning in humility, that one has been inadequate in humbly thanking the Lord, in being a vessel of mercy and love on this earth, but this, not so as to beat oneself up, but instead, in contrast, so as to know how far our Lord, also in His saints, has reached to get us.
O.K. Having said all that… let’s go to the gates of heaven, shall we?
As we come up to the gates of heaven, what do we see? We see all the souls for whom, unbeknownst to us, we interceded by carrying our cross all the better in coming to know just how far our Lord had to reach to get us and, in remaining faithful in those circumstances as occasioned by the need of others, tossed those souls lightly up into the gates of heaven. The “heavy lifters” are the ones who toss every so lightly! ;-) Jesus says that with us having paid our debt in this way, those souls who we prayed into heaven will be the ones who will welcome us into the everlasting habitations, that is, into heaven, where God dwells in us and we dwell in God and we see the good of others as our good because it is our good as that good is God Himself. What a joyful and enthusiastic welcome that will be. We just have no idea. None. I’m such an idiot to say such things. What do I know?
But having said all that… let’s go into the gates of heaven, shall we?
Look, I don’t know what I’m talking about. What do I know? Nothing. But, I write since my guardian angel has not killed me off for being so foolhardy.
We see Jesus, with those wounds on Him… How much He has loved us! We see Jesus, by His love within the souls in heaven, with the angels of heaven, by His love dwelling in our souls. The sense of belonging, of being loved, of the integrity of loving others with Jesus’ own goodness and kindness… Jesus then whisks us up and, while we try to mumble our thanksgiving, we are left quite speechless as the court of heaven takes up with enthusiasm our thanksgiving as Jesus gives us as His own gift to our Heavenly Father, our speech of thanksgiving being reduced, or perhaps expressed all the better, in tears of joy, of thanksgiving, not for “having made it there” so much as now having the opportunity all the more to be now expressions of God’s own love for the love of God, all through, with and in Jesus.
And then… and then… there I am once again, at midnight, on the highest mountain back roads of Western North Carolina, burdened with a hundred thousand inadequacies and distractions, making my way back home, in a blizzard at that height, cold, dark, afraid to slide off icy roads constituted entirely of switchbacks and hair-pin turns into this cliff or that ravine in the midst of dozens of miles of cell-phone blackout, an empty pyx hanging from my neck in front of my chest, alone, and yet so thankful for the saints among us who pray even for me, perhaps unbeknownst to themselves, encouraging me thus to pray for others, at least just by trying, in the Lord’s grace, to be faithful in whatever circumstances on the outside or within, noticing then, a million miles from anywhere and a zillion away from the Lord, that He is right with us, with His holy angels, with all the saints, one family, one body of Christ, on earth, in purgatory, in heaven. God is good.