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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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Teresa of Kolkata (Calcutta): Mother Teresa of Kolkata, the tiny woman recognized throughout the world for her work among the poorest of the poor, was beatified October 19, 2003. Among those present were hundreds of Missionaries of Charity, the order she founded in 1950 as a diocesan religious community. Today the congregation also includes contemplative sisters and brothers and an order of priests. 
<p>Born to Albanian parents in what is now Skopje, Macedonia (then part of the Ottoman Empire), Gonxha (Agnes) Bojaxhiu was the youngest of the three children who survived. For a time, the family lived comfortably, and her father's construction business thrived. But life changed overnight following his unexpected death. </p><p>During her years in public school Agnes participated in a Catholic sodality and showed a strong interest in the foreign missions. At age 18 she entered the Loreto Sisters of Dublin. It was 1928 when she said goodbye to her mother for the final time and made her way to a new land and a new life. The following year she was sent to the Loreto novitiate in Darjeeling, India. There she chose the name Teresa and prepared for a life of service. She was assigned to a high school for girls in Kolkata, where she taught history and geography to the daughters of the wealthy. But she could not escape the realities around her—the poverty, the suffering, the overwhelming numbers of destitute people. </p><p>In 1946, while riding a train to Darjeeling to make a retreat, Sister Teresa heard what she later explained as “a call within a call. The message was clear. I was to leave the convent and help the poor while living among them.” She also heard a call to give up her life with the Sisters of Loreto and, instead, to “follow Christ into the slums to serve him among the poorest of the poor.” </p><p>After receiving permission to leave Loreto, establish a new religious community and undertake her new work, she took a nursing course for several months. She returned to Kolkata, where she lived in the slums and opened a school for poor children. Dressed in a white sari and sandals (the ordinary dress of an Indian woman) she soon began getting to know her neighbors—especially the poor and sick—and getting to know their needs through visits. </p><p>The work was exhausting, but she was not alone for long. Volunteers who came to join her in the work, some of them former students, became the core of the Missionaries of Charity. Others helped by donating food, clothing, supplies, the use of buildings. In 1952 the city of Kolkata gave Mother Teresa a former hostel, which became a home for the dying and the destitute. As the order expanded, services were also offered to orphans, abandoned children, alcoholics, the aging, and street people. </p><p>For the next four decades Mother Teresa worked tirelessly on behalf of the poor. Her love knew no bounds. Nor did her energy, as she crisscrossed the globe pleading for support and inviting others to see the face of Jesus in the poorest of the poor. In 1979 she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. On September 5, 1997, God called her home.</p> American Catholic Blog A healthy marriage is that it is a witness of Jesus’s love for the 
Church. We are the bride of Christ, and the greatest declaration of the groom’s love is found at the cross. The complete gift of self by Jesus at Calvary is so entire that it is life-giving.

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