In times of great suffering like ours, it does us good to think about heavenly things. Such considerations are constant reminders that our greatest concerns should be our union with God in this world and the next. Indeed, in times past, people commonly raised their hearts to Heaven, which made all their woes seem small.
Such thoughts are far from our normal self-centered lives. We live in a shallow, materialistic culture that avoids these supernatural topics. Worse yet, we cannot conceive Heaven because our minds are darkened by vice and worldly pleasures. We do not want to see anything beyond our petty concerns.
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What makes it even more difficult is that we do not know the goal we should seek. True notions of Heaven are not often preached from the pulpits. At best, the common idea of Heaven is a boring cherub-filled place with no concerns. We lack those fiery preachers who make the joys of Heaven palpable and attractive. There are none to make us fear Hell and lament the loss of celestial bliss.
Thus, our postmodern world is the home of restless souls unaccustomed to thinking of a place of rest where our happiness is perfect. We generally think in terms of experiencing fleeting joys, drop by drop, limited as they are by time. In Heaven, the blessed will always feel infinite joy for all eternity. Heaven will satisfy all desires and longings.
The coronavirus crisis has turned this world upside down and invites us to change perspectives. Would that we might think about heavenly things!
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Saint Augustine’s Sermon
It is told that Saint Augustine (354–430), bishop of Hippo, would preach to his flock on the happiness of Heaven amid his troubled times. All who heard him would become inflamed with the love of God.
One day, he delivered a sermon charged with deep passion and emotion in which he described the marvels of Heaven. Those who witnessed the scene thought that it was not a man, but an angel who spoke, such was his golden eloquence.
With each word that came from his lips, the people became more captivated by his descriptions. It was if they were transported to the magnificent feast of Heaven and enjoying the celestial beatitude, so compelling was his account. They were enthralled by this vision of the rewards that would be theirs should they be faithful to God’s Word.
Cries and Groans of Wonder
Suddenly, the multitude broke out into cries and groans of wonder. All eyes filled with tears. The people lost all inhibitions and loudly implored that they might see the day when they would drink abundantly of the waters of Eternal Life.
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Moreover, all trembled for fear that they might be led astray by weakness and seductions, and thus be deprived of Heaven. Everywhere, they cried out: “O Heaven of great beauty, when shall I see you! Shall I be so foolish as to prefer the pleasures and fortune of this day to you? Who would not consent to purchase you at the price of the heaviest sacrifices and labors?”
Saint Augustine was astonished by the exclamations and sighs provoked by his sermon. He also was moved like the enraptured crowd. When he tried to continue his description of the heavenly Jerusalem, he found the sobbing of the multitude, and his emotions stifled his words. His tears and theirs mingled into a single flow. They were overcome by sorrow for our earthly exile and the beauty of our magnificent and heavenly home.
A Need for Preachers Like Saint Augustine
Our problems today would seem so small if we had preachers like Saint Augustine, who might inflame us with the love of God and Heaven.
Alas, we need not only Heaven but those heavenly times when people thought about Heaven.
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Few souls can admire and love all that is heavenly. We lack a culture that thirsts for what Saint Paul describes when he says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil. 4:8).
Turning Toward Heaven
However, our shortcomings can change.
Times of crisis are often the occasions when people turn their hearts and minds to God. When earthly pleasures and human solutions fail, people begin to see the futility of trusting in ourselves. Suffering opens us up to the consideration of heavenly things.
This is the time to read about Heaven and heavenly things. The Church has a vast treasury of literature that deals with Heaven. In the present distress, these words will be like a balm. We will see the earth for what it is — a land of exile. We will realize, like those who heard Saint Augustine’s sermon, what madness it is to lose Heaven for the sake of sin and pleasure.
This conclusion invites us to reform our lives. It does not excuse us from fighting against the evils of this world. Our contemplation of Heaven should serve as the basis of constructing that society where people think about Heaven.
In these days of desolation, let us turn our souls to Heaven. We will then see our problems in their real perspective and hope in the vast eternity that we are promised. Indeed, as Saint Augustine said: “Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in Thee!”
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