Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Monday, April 23, 2018

Father Joe Krupp

Dear Father Joe: I’ve heard a lot of things and seen a lot of pictures about heaven and I wonder if that is what it will be like. Will there be mansions and streets of gold, and will we become angels?

 

A: This is such an important issue for all of us  death affects all of us indirectly and will obviously affect all of us personally at some point. We try, as a Church and even in society, to describe the ideas of death, resurrection and heaven because that is important to us. Heaven is our goal. But if we forget our goal, we get lost.

I’m going to use Scripture and our tradition to answer these questions, with a lot of help from Dr. Peter Kreeft, my favorite philosopher and a guy who has written a lot about heaven. If you type “heaven” and his name into Google, you’ll find numerous helpful articles on this topic. So, with that in mind, let’s dive right in.

First things first: Do we become angels when we die?

Short answer? No.

It’s become popular in our culture to say, “Heaven gained another angel” when someone dies. I imagine this is just an expression we use and, in that regard, it can come across as harmless. However, I do want to point out that, as humans, we most certainly do not become angels when we die. We humans are unique in creation and have a special dignity. It seems to me that thinking that we have to change from human to something else in order to enter heaven can inadvertently have a lot of negative consequences, philosophically and theologically. I won’t burden us with those issues now, as that would probably take up more room than I have.

The key is this: As humans, you and I are totally different creatures than angels. Probably the most distinctive difference between us and angels is that we are body/soul unities, whereas angels are pure spirit. If we make it to heaven, we will join the angels there, but we will join them as humans.

So, what kind of humans?

If we look at Scripture, we see that what happens after our death is laid out for us.

When we die, our souls leave our bodies to face judgment and, at that point, the body begins to decay.

This judgment will result in our going to heaven or hell, with the understanding that, technically, purgatory is not separate from heaven.

At some point known only to God, Christ will return and, when that happens, our bodies will be raised and restored, and then will rejoin our souls wherever they are. (As an interesting side note, many Catholic cemeteries bury people so that, when their bodies rise up at Christ’s second coming, they will be facing east!)

Since we were created as body/soul unities, we will experience heaven or hell as body/soul unities.

So, what will that experience be? What will make heaven heavenly?

This is something that, for more than 2,000 years, Christians have tried to describe and, frankly, I don’t feel a lot of hope that I can do that better than most of them. The key is to think of it this way: All we can do is use imagery we know to express something that cannot be described.

My favorite image of heaven comes from St. John in the Book of Revelation. In it, he gives us images of people in heaven waving palm branches. Why is that? Why palm branches? They symbolize the scriptural account of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem: In heaven, we are celebrating the King who conquered sin and death.

The key is this: The defining characteristic in heaven is ecstasy and the word itself gives us a sense of what heaven will be. When we look at the word “ecstasy,” we learn that it comes to us from the Greek word ekstasis, which means “standing outside oneself.”

We have hints and whispers of heaven and hell in our everyday life; the more selfish we are, the more selfish we act, the more miserable we get. We have seen people who live only for what they want and their ability to make life horrible for themselves and for everyone around them.

We have also all seen and experienced the wonder of selflessness. As counterintuitive as it is, when we live for God, when we live for others, we find a deep joy, a sense that goes beyond anything we can account for on our own.

I think this is what Jesus means when he tells us that we find our lives when we lose them. Christ, who knows our nature, who knows our hearts, knows that they “never rest until they rest in [God].” In heaven, we will be outside ourselves focused on what and who really matters: God.

I want to close with a quote from Peter Kreeft. When he was asked if we will be bored in heaven, his answer blew me away in its beauty and simplicity. He said:

“We won’t be bored because we are with God, and God is infinite. We never come to the end of exploring him. He is new every day.

We won’t be bored because we are with God, and God is eternal. Time does not pass (a condition for boredom); it just is. All time is present in eternity, as all the events of the plot are present in an author’s mind. There is no waiting.

We won’t be bored because we are with God, and God is love. Even on               earth, the only people who are never bored are lovers.”

Brothers and sisters, God has given us the hope of heaven. May we respond to his mercy and his call to holiness, so that we can live that hope with integrity and joy!

Dear Father Joe: Every year, Lent happens and I start off really hoping to make something of it. My intentions are the best, but it always seems like, the next thing I know, it’s Easter and I’ve missed it. Can you help me do better this year?

fr joe right thingQ: Dear Fr. Joe: I get really discouraged about doing the right thing. I never mean to be mean or disrespectful and yet I keep finding myself falling into it  how do I act like the person I want to be? I try so hard.

Q: DEAR FATHER JOE: I’d like to invite my “lost sheep” family members back into the crèche. How can I invite them back to the Church at the holidays and moving forward?

A: What a great question — it can be such a difficult thing to invite someone into practicing the faith without coming across as self-righteous or as somehow a bit “off.” A big part of the process of bringing someone back is to start with the recognition of a couple of points.

First, remember that what you are desiring is holy; it’s good. Sometimes, what we desire isn’t so good, isn’t so holy. You have in your heart a hunger to bring someone back into a communal practice of the faith and that is a blessing. You desire something good.

With that idea, I ask you to read this passage from Philippians 1:6: “He who started a good work in you will see it to completion on the day of Christ Jesus.” This good thing you desire? It came from God. He placed it in your heart and you can be confident that, however he uses you in this effort to bring someone back, he will be the one to see it to completion.

So, the last preparatory step in bringing someone back is to ask God to bless your efforts. Remember the words of the Book of Psalms, Chapter 127:1 “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain.” Your effort is inspired by God; now you are making sure it is strengthened and guided by him as well.

With this solid foundation of faith and prayer, you are ready to begin. To be clear, I’m going to offer you a few different ways to go about this: it doesn’t mean you have to follow it in this way — let God lead you. You may find that you mix and match these ideas or go in a totally different direction. Trust that you can follow his prompts well.

One good way to go about it is to be a bit more covert, frankly. If Mass is at 4:30, invite your friends to “Come to Mass and dinner with us.” It’s a bit less threatening to people if you make your invitation a social one. “Mass and dinner” can be a nice way to ease into the topic. This will serve as an invitation for them and a great blessing for you, as well. When they come to your house, make sure to pray before the meal. Make sure that your conversation is joyful and life-giving and that they walk away having had a lovely time.

Also, you can consider if they have hobbies or things that are a consistent part of their life that you can be a part of. Scriptures tell us that, when Jesus first met St. Peter, he got into Peter’s boat. It was only after he had been in Peter’s boat for a bit that he initiated a conversation/relationship with him. In the same way, you can “get into your friends’ boat.” Enter into their lives and bring the light and life of Christ with you. Go to their kids’ games, head off to bowl with them or whatever it is they enjoy doing.

A lot of people in our culture are “doers.” As a general rule, people like to help. Is there a project at the church where people are asking for help? Maybe some table set ups or some church cleaning? Volunteer for it and ask your friend to help. Bring them in to see you and others volunteering. Prepare any of the volunteers who are there for the fact that there will be new people coming and that you want to make sure they are welcomed and loved in that volunteering.
Hopefully, at some point, they will begin a conversation about why you go to church or why you are connecting with them. This is your moment!

Before you speak, pray and ask God to lead you in your words. I like to tell people in this moment, “Share your why.” This is the time to share why you go to church, why it is important to you and how it has made your life better. Don’t worry about defending the Catholic faith. Don’t tell them how they are wrong or their church is wrong — share how Christ is present at the Mass!

I find it helpful if you practice what you are going to say. You are going to share your heart in this conversation and, if you are like me, it’s easy to get emotional or overly passionate. I know it sounds funny, but practice what you are going to say. Keep it simple, clear and personal.

These are just some ideas. The key is to get them there and let Christ do the work. Show them through your words and example how faith in Jesus has made your life better, has made you a better person.

A final point: Do not worry about results. Do not focus on whether your efforts are successful — focus on being faithful. I often remind myself of the fact that Jesus gave us a parable where he spoke about the kingdom of heaven as a sower sowing seeds. In the end, the sower was “successful” only about one in four times. Your goal is to let Christ use you to plant a seed in their hearts. Maybe you will see it grow, maybe someone else will.

May God bless our efforts to lead people to his glorious kingdom!

Enjoy another day in God’s presence.