The Four (4) Last Things
Part IV: Heaven

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Adoration of the Trinity in Heaven - by DÜRER, Albrecht - from Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna . . . . . . Dürer created this Altarpiece showing the Adoration of the Trinity, a Celestial Vision which forms an Iconographical Whole. The Trinity is depicted with Christ on the Cross being supported by Angels, the Focal Point of the Heavenly Gathering of Saints. The Role of the Father is Twofold. On the one hand, He is taking His Son back, thus accepting Jesus' Sacrifice for Mankind. Yet, the very same gesture serves to Present and Recommend this Offering. The Crowd of Martyrs on the left is led by Mary, and the group of Old Testament Prophets and Kings on the right by Saint John the Baptist. Clergymen and Laypersons following the Heads of the State and Church, Form the lowest Horizontal Zone in Heaven.


The Active Study of the Four Last Things
and the Deep Consideration of them,
is the thing that will keep you from Sin.

--Saint Thomas More


The Four (4) Last Things
Part IV: Heaven

by Father Paul K. Raftery, O.P.

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Man is made for Union-with God. The Fulfillment of this Union comes in Heaven. Only there will the Human Creature, into which God has placed a Profound Desire-for Himself, have the Satisfaction of all its Hopes and Desires. All the Limited Goods of this World cannot Touch the Desire-for God that He has placed within us. Nor can we simply Turn-off this Desire. It is Fixed within us, an Irrevocable Part of our Nature. Even when God is Rejected, the Desire-for Him remains. As we saw in the Last Article on Hell, a Continual Source of Torment for the Condemned is how they will never be-able-to have Union with God, Whom they then Clearly and Horribly Realize is the Source of all Human Happiness.

But that Man might not End in such a Profound State of Deprivation, God has sent His Son into the World, to Open for us who Accept Him, the Way-to Divine Union. The Vision of God is not beyond our Grasp. The Great Kindness of God has Cleared a Path that leads Man through Physical Death, and into the very Life of God, the Heavenly Existence that is the Topic of this Final Article on the Four (4) Last Things.


Preparing the Soul for Divine Union

Stepping from Death Directly-into Divine Union depends-on the Readiness of the Soul at the End of Life. Not all those who Die in the State of Grace, and thereby Merit Heaven, are Ready-for the Vision of God. There may be Venial Sins that remain at the Moment of Death. Though not Involving the Complete-Rejection of God, which is the Case with Mortal Sin, such Lighter Sins still Hinder a Person from Union with God. The Divine Command to the Hebrews applies not only to our Conduct in this Life, but also to the Condition of any Soul who Hopes to Join God in Eternity: You must be Holy as I am Holy (Leviticus 20:26). There will be no Entry into the Presence of God unless even the Slightest Traces of Sin are Purged.

There may also be Dispositions in a Departed Soul that cause it to Look-back with Excessive Fondness to the Things of Earth. Attachments to this World and Selfish Habits that the Soul Carries-with it into the Next Life, are Incompatible-with a Whole Hearted, Uncompromising Love for God. As the Catechism expresses this Teaching:

All who Die in God's Grace and Friendship, but still Imperfectly Purified, are indeed Assured of their Eternal Salvation; but after Death they Undergo Purification, so as to Achieve the Holiness necessary to enter the Joy of Heaven. The Church gives the name Purgatory to this Final Purification of the Elect, which is entirely different from the Punishment of the Damned (1030-1031).

purgatory_soul.jpg (32679 bytes) The Sufferings that such Souls endure before the Vision of God are far more Painful than any Experienced here in this Life. But as this Passage from the Catechism Points-out, there is no-need to Portray them as Hell-like. In fact, this is to do our Teaching on Purgatory a Great Disservice. Father Benedict Groeschel humorously quips:

Purgatory has had very Bad Press. Many people grew up with an Image of Purgatory as Hideous Pools of Fire with Naked Holy Souls bobbing up and down like French Fries in a Fast-food Emporium. The Council of Trent Condemned making the Temporal Punishment in Purgatory sound Hideous... St Catherine of Genoa, who wrote a Marvelous Book on Purgatory, maintained on the basis of her Mystical Experience that it is a Vast Improvement over this Life and that the Holy Souls have no Regrets except that they haven't finally taken their Place in Heaven (Arise from Darkness 111-112).

No one who has Finished this Life and is Fully-Aware that the Vision of God awaits them, is going to Shrink-from the Opportunity of Cleansing their Souls of what is Holding them Back from God. As Saint Catherine of Genoa explains in her Teaching, they are filled with a Yearning for Him that we cannot Imagine, a Longing that makes the Worst Afflictions Bearable, and even Desirable. In the Midst of their Horrible Affliction, these Holy Souls are filled-with a Willingness to Suffer, and, as they Progress, Great Joy (Ibid., 114-115).


The Vision of God

Those who Leave this Life Purified, or whose Purification is Completed-after Death, have been made ready to enter the All-Holy Presence of God. No longer having any Veil between them and the Almighty, they see Him as He is. Their Intellect beholds Him without any Material Image, Imaginary Image, or even any Concept-of God Produced-in the Mind. Necessarily, any Understanding-of God produced by the Human Mind is going to Fall Infinitely (∞) Short of the Divine Majesty. So what the Mind beholds is a Direct Intuition of God without Concepts or Images of any kind. It is Mind meeting the Beauty of God in the Purest Way, with Absolutely Nothing but the Two (2) coming-in Contact with One Another. It is God's Total Gift of Himself to the Soul without Restraint.

Nothing about God will be Hidden from our Eyes. But, at the same time, we will not see all of God. His Infinite (∞) Being will come Unreservedly-to us for all Eternity, but there will be no-way that we can Grasp the Totality of His Being. No Creature can do this. The only Mind that can Wrap Around, so-to-speak, the Infinite (∞) Being of God is His Own Infinite (∞) Mind. Thus, our Knowledge of God in Heaven will be Direct, but not Comprehensive, not All-Embracing.

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The Transfiguration of Christ -
by RAFFAELLO Sanzio -
from Pinacoteca, Vatican
[The Transfigured Christ floats in an Aura of Light and Clouds above Mount Tabor, accompanied by Moses and Elijah. Below are His Apostles, Astonished by the Miracle and His Glorious Radiance. Peter kneels in Amazement, and John and James fall, Dazzled by the Light of Glory.]

As Generous as this Divine Self-giving is, it would be Completely Overwhelming for the Soul if God did not come to its Rescue. No man can see God and Live (Exodus 33:20) is the Scriptural Admonition that Touches-on this Inability of the Creature in itself to have Immediate Contact with the Divine Nature. Saint Teresa of Avila describes the Mystical Experiences the Soul has of God in this Life, as it Moves-toward Intimate Union with Him. Even here on Earth, where God does not Fully Disclose Himself to the Soul, those Far Advanced in the Spiritual Life have Experiences she describes as a Brief Flash of Lightning that Reduces Everything Earthly in our Nature to Powder (Interior Castle, Sixth Mansion, XI). That the Soul Survives such Experiences is due to the Supernatural Strength He Imparts-to the Soul as He, at the same-time, so Overwhelmingly Reveals Himself.

Even more, the Full-and-Direct Vision of God in Eternity would be the Destruction of the Soul unless God were to Endow it with a similar Supernatural Ability. Theologians call this Capacity added-to the Soul the Light of Glory. As Father Garrigou-Lagrange relates: This Light Supernaturalizes the Vitality of our Intelligence, as the Infused Virtue of Charity Supernaturalizes the Vitality of our Will (Life Everlasting 226). God comes to the Aid of our Weak Human Faculties and lifts them up to His Level. In themselves, they were not Designed-by Him to Function with Infinite (∞) Being. Our Minds and Wills were made to deal with the Created Things we find in this World. But once we Step-into the Divine Presence, God Immediately grants us a Supernatural Strengthening-of Mind and Will to Embrace Him without Danger to our Frail Nature (ST, I, 12, 4&5).


Revelation of all that is Hidden

The Soul that Reaches the Glorious Vision of God, Comes-into the Fullness-of Joy. It arrives-at Beatitude, the Possession-of Infinite (∞) Goodness. What this Vision involves, we can only say from what we know of God in this Life. His Oneness, Goodness, Truth, and Beauty, that we only have Glimpses-of here in this World through Creatures, will then be seen in all their Infinite (∞) Greatness. The Essence of God, what He is Directly-in Himself, which is Hidden from our Eyes in this World, will be seen Unhindered-by our Intellects. We will Know First-Hand the Indescribable Mystery of the Trinity. We will see the Son in His Eternal Procession from the Father, and the Holy Spirit Breathed Forth by both the Father and the Son. Our Minds will Fully Perceive how these Three (3) Divine Persons are, in fact, One (1) God.

Looking back on our Lives in this World, and the Way so many Aspects-of God and His Activity in the World were Beyond our Understanding, all will become Clear. God's Infinite (∞) Goodness permits Great Evil to Exist-in the World. In Heaven, we will see the Love and Wisdom of God in bringing Good out-of Evil. Each Tragic Event God Permitted, each Act of Human Malice and Destruction that He Allowed, will be Understood in the Overall Triumph of Divine Goodness. We will Understand why all the Trials of our own Lives took place and how they Resulted-in our being Safe in the Divine Embrace.

The Mysteries of the Incarnate Word of God will become Clear to us. All the Prophecies about His Coming will be Known in the Greatest Detail. His Descent-into our Human Nature, and how this was Possible, we will Grasp. The Entire Course of His Life on Earth, from His Childhood to His Ascension into Heaven, will no longer be Left-to the Imagination. The Graces of Redemption, that have Extended-to all Time and Space, by-means-of the Sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross and its Sacramental Continuation-in the Holy Mass, will be a Never-ending Source of Wonder and Joy. We will Know and have the Greatest Joy in all that has been Accomplished-by Our Lord Jesus.

And this will include as well all that has Taken-place In and Through His Mystical Body the Church. The Activity of the Holy Spirit within the Church, the Great Beauty of the Church as the Bride of Christ, and the Part Played by each of the Blessed in Forming the Mystical Body, will Astound and Captivate.

We will Behold the Eminent Greatness of the Mother of God, and the Way God Endowed her with the Fullness of Grace. We will be Astounded-at the Strength of her Faith and Love as we learn the Details-of her Life in this World. We will Discover how Profoundly she has Loved us throughout our Lives, her Role of Dispensing all Graces coming from her Son, and the Power of her Intercession on our Behalf.


Joy Without End

But, will not an Eternal (∞) Existence eventually Bring-about the Decline of all this Heavenly Wonder? Is it not possible that the Contemplation of God and His Works will become Tiresome as we Move Through Life-without-End?

The Answer to each these Questions is, of course, no! Time and Eternity (∞) are very Different States. In fact, we do not even Move Through Eternity (∞), because there is no Succession-of Moments as we know it. Eternity (∞) is One (1) Moment that never Ends.

What is more, it is a Moment that will never Cease to Satisfy our every Longing. The Goodness coming from God will never be Exhausted. Saint Augustine uses the Beautiful Image of Singing, that Overflowing-of Joy from the Heart to the Voice:

We shall Sing our Amen Forever, but with a Satiety that is Insatiable. With Satiety, because we Live in Perfect Abundance, but with an Insatiable Satiety, because this Good, while it Satisfies Completely, Produces also a Pleasure ever New. Insatiably Satiated by this Truth, we shall Repeat Forever: Amen. Rest and Gaze: that is our Eternal Sabbath (Sermon 362, 29).

Thus the Two (2) Aspects of Heaven, its Eternity (∞) and the Limitless Beauty of God, make for the Impossibility-of Joy Decreasing.

Saint Thomas adds another Consideration. In Heaven we Leave-behind Imperfect Material Goods. By their Nature, these will always eventually Lead-to a State of Boredom. In the Desire for . . . Temporal Goods, Saint Thomas explains, when we Posses Them, we Despise Them, and Seek Others; which is the Sense of Our Lord's Words, 'Whosoever Drinketh of this Water . . . shall Thirst Again' (I-II, 2, 1, ad 3). But once, God Willing, we find ourselves in Eternal Life, Second-Rate Material Goods are gone forever. From then on, Spiritual Goods will be the Source of our Happiness. The Problem of Joy giving way to Boredom then is Solved, as these Spiritual Goods give the Soul an Inexhaustible Delight, like a Font of Refreshing Water continually Welling-up within the Soul (John 4:14).


The Resurrection of the Body

As was pointed-out in the Previous Articles in this Series on the Four (4) Last Things, Souls that Depart from this Life are Immediately Judged by Our Lord, and go to the Eternal Existence they have Merited. But their Existence as Human Beings is, at-this-Point, not Complete. Man was not made by God as Pure Spirit, as were the Angels. The Human Being, by Nature, is a Spiritual Creature with a Physical Body, a Bodily-Spirit. For this Reason, both the Scriptures and the Defined Doctrine of the Church Speak-of the Resurrection of the Body.


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Resurrection of the Body - by Luca Signorelli - from the Chapel of San Brizio, Duomo, Orvieto


For both the Just and the Wicked, this will take place on the Last Day (See 1Corinthians 15:20-26). Then, the very same Bodies they Possessed in this Life will be Restored-to them in an Immortal Form. The Council of Toledo in A.D. 640, proclaiming this Ancient Belief, states: And we do not Believe that we shall Rise in an Ethereal Body or in any other Body, as some Foolishly Imagine, but in this very Body in which we Live and Are and Move (Denz. 540).

The Great Beauty of the Glorified Body is Impossible for us to Imagine now. Saint Paul speaks of the difference between the Earthly Body and the Glorified Body as between a Seed and the Full Grown Plant (1Corinthians 15:37). So, as much as we may Praise the Creator for the Beauty the Human Form now takes in this World, it will One Day be seen as a Completely Colorless, Uninteresting, and Lowly Beginning (like a Seed) to the Glorious Form it will eventually take in Eternity.

Saint Thomas, identifies Four (4) Primary Traits of the Resurrected Body:

Subtlety, and

The Problem of Suffering and Death will no longer exist after the Day of Christ's Coming. Death shall be no more, neither shall there be Mourning nor Crying nor Pain any more (Revelation 21:4). The Bodies of the Just will be no longer Capable-of Physical Pain or Corruption of any kind. This is what the Term Impassibility Refers-to, from the Latin Im-Passio, meaning Without-Suffering.

Agility is the Free and Swift Movement of the Glorified Body. The Experience we often have now of the Body Weighing-down and Hindering the Soul, will no longer be the case. In the Blessed, the Soul will be Completely in-Charge. Wherever the Soul wishes to go, it will go Instantaneously, with the Quickness of Thought.

trans2_250.jpg (20717 bytes) Thus, the Material make-up of the Resurrected Body will no longer be the Physical Flesh and Blood we now have. Saint Paul calls it a Spiritual Body (1Corinthians 15:44). As a Result, there will be a Remarkable Ability of the Glorified Body to Pass Through other Bodies without Difficulty. This is called Subtlety. As the Gospels described Jesus Passing Through the Walls of the Upper Room after His Resurrection, so it will be for the Resurrected Saints.

Light is one of the Special Qualities Emanating-from God. All those who become Sharers-in Divine Life, Emanate this very same Light of God. Our Lord speaks of the Time when the Just will Shine as the Sun in the Kingdom of their Father. Jesus Himself, as a Preview of the Light that He would one day impart to the Redeemed made His Body Shine on Mount Tabor at the Transfiguration with a Brightness that Astounded the Apostles. This is the Clarity, or Brilliance, that will be seen in the Glorified Body. The Soul, filled-with the Divine Presence, will Overflow with God-like Radiance, turning the Body into a Thing of Spectacular Beauty and Brightness.



nextCLR.gif (8822 bytes) littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) Page 1 - Death
littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) Page 2 - Judgment
littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) Page 3 - Hell
littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) Page 4 - Heaven