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Bible Reflections View Comments

"All the Way to Heaven Is Heaven"
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, April 7, 2013
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There’s never a shortage of books about the afterlife and near-death experiences. A few of the more prominent books that have emerged recently are Proof of Heaven and To Heaven and Back, both written by doctors, and Heaven Is for Real, by the 4-year-old son of a small-town Nebraska pastor. Such accounts offer solace and inspiration to believers, even while they’re dismissed by skeptics. For all their claims of proof, they end up not really proving anything.

Most of the images we link to heaven have accumulated over centuries by people trying to make sense of this great mystery of Christianity. But it is interesting that the foundational text of our faith doesn’t spend a lot of time talking about what the afterlife will be like. Jesus doesn’t return to his friends and disciples with a vision of heaven and God the Father. He simply encouraged them to go out and continue the work that he had begun. St. Catherine of Siena, no stranger to visions, would say it this way: “All the way to heaven is heaven, because he said ‘I am the Way.’”

We come to Easter each year with experiences that give us new insight into the resurrection narratives in the Gospels. Never has this been more true for me than it is this year. My mom passed away last October. In the last two weeks of her life, we tried everything we could think of to help ease her transition from this life to the next. We told her about the loved ones with whom she would be reunited. We told her she would still be able to watch over us. We talked about Easter and resurrection and the communion of saints. We told her over and over again that God loved her and was waiting to welcome her. Nothing seemed to ease her anxieties. But perhaps the greatest testimony to her faith was that we believed the things we were telling her. She had formed us well.

Today’s reading from John’s Gospel begins in the evening of that first Easter day. Confused, even frightened, by rumors flying through their small group, Jesus’s closest friends and followers are gathered in the upper room where just days before they had celebrated Passover. Like any group of people gathering in the aftermath of a tragedy, they’re consumed with the events that have taken place and the effect those events have had on their emotions.

Then, Jesus is in their midst saying, “Peace be with you.” That’s all. A blessing of deep peace. Three times in the reading he says this. Some things are beyond understanding, beyond figuring out with our rational, problem-solving minds. We know that our emotions can be untrustworthy at times, influenced by so many things. We see in the first appearances after the resurrection that faith transcends both emotions and reason. Faith responds to God’s peace with a simple acknowledgment: “My Lord and my God.” Thomas may have thought he wanted proof, but in the end he didn’t need it.

In the movie adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Gandalf says to Bilbo, “Well, all good stories deserve embellishment. You’ll have a tale or two to tell of your own when you come back.” When Bilbo asks, “Can you promise that I will come back?” Gandalf responds, “No. And if you do...you will not be the same.” This might be the best thing anyone can promise. Our faith in God, and the presence of the Risen Lord in our midst, change us continually. But the Lord’s gift to us through all these changes is always divine peace.


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Monica: The circumstances of St. Monica’s life could have made her a nagging wife, a bitter daughter-in-law and a despairing parent, yet she did not give way to any of these temptations. Although she was a Christian, her parents gave her in marriage to a pagan, Patricius, who lived in her hometown of Tagaste in North Africa. Patricius had some redeeming features, but he had a violent temper and was licentious. Monica also had to bear with a cantankerous mother-in-law who lived in her home. Patricius criticized his wife because of her charity and piety, but always respected her. Monica’s prayers and example finally won her husband and mother-in-law to Christianity. Her husband died in 371, one year after his baptism. 
<p>Monica had at least three children who survived infancy. The oldest, Augustine (August 28) , is the most famous. At the time of his father’s death, Augustine was 17 and a rhetoric student in Carthage. Monica was distressed to learn that her son had accepted the Manichean heresy (all flesh is evil)  and was living an immoral life. For a while, she refused to let him eat or sleep in her house. Then one night she had a vision that assured her Augustine would return to the faith. From that time on, she stayed close to her son, praying and fasting for him. In fact, she often stayed much closer than Augustine wanted. </p><p>When he was 29, Augustine decided to go to Rome to teach rhetoric. Monica was determined to go along. One night he told his mother that he was going to the dock to say goodbye to a friend. Instead, he set sail for Rome. Monica was heartbroken when she learned of Augustine’s trick, but she still followed him. She arrived in Rome only to find that he had left for Milan. Although travel was difficult, Monica pursued him to Milan. </p><p>In Milan, Augustine came under the influence of the bishop, St. Ambrose, who also became Monica’s spiritual director. She accepted his advice in everything and had the humility to give up some practices that had become second nature to her (see Quote, below). Monica became a leader of the devout women in Milan as she had been in Tagaste. </p><p>She continued her prayers for Augustine during his years of instruction. At Easter, 387, St. Ambrose baptized Augustine and several of his friends. Soon after, his party left for Africa. Although no one else was aware of it, Monica knew her life was near the end. She told Augustine, “Son, nothing in this world now affords me delight. I do not know what there is now left for me to do or why I am still here, all my hopes in this world being now fulfilled.” She became ill shortly after and suffered severely for nine days before her death. </p><p>Almost all we know about St. Monica is in the writings of St. Augustine, especially his <i>Confessions</i>.</p> American Catholic Blog The Church really is my mother, too. She isn’t a vague maternal force for a generic collection of anonymous people. This Mother truly nurtures us—each one of us. And for those of us who are baptized Christians, the Church has actually given birth to us on a spiritual level.

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