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Terrance KleinFebruary 13, 2014

Chronically ill children, because of medical advances, are living longer. The January 20th edition of The New Yorker reported on their growing need for physicians whose work bridges the gap between family practitioners and “high tech specialists, who address specific ailments.” Jerome Groopman, M.D. writes, “Such pediatric palliative-care programs, as they are called, have three goals: to coordinate care, help families make difficult decisions about treatment options, and ease the child’s pain and suffering.”

His article, “Lives Less Ordinary” mentions a small boy, dying of neuroblastoma, a common cancer in children. In the vignette, the medical melts back into the spiritual. The boy was distressed by what would follow his death. “His mother made it very clear to him that she would see him again in Heaven someday…but he was worried about how he would find her. So they made a plan to meet in the front left corner of Heaven.” 

The map of the boy and his mother might be a bit skewed, but it will lead them to each other. Why skewed? We can’t help but to picture heaven as a place, with coordinates such as we know in this life. Hamlet famously called the afterlife “the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns”(3.1.81-82), but our imaginations don’t find much traction in picturing heaven as an unknown place, to which we will one day immigrate. The picture has no dimensions, no details to which we can cling. 

The little boy may be wrong to worry about heaven’s geography, but he couldn’t have been more right about the meaning of heaven. Whatever else heaven might be, however the angels might better describe it, heaven is the place where love comes into its own, where love finds its own. 

Forget about clouds and harps. Imagine beloved faces, tender caresses, ardent embraces. Heaven is both realm and relationship, but all we know of the place is people. Christ is there. Our loves are there. The Catechism simply says, “To live in heaven is to be with Christ.” It then quotes Saint Ambrose, “For life is to be with Christ; where Christ is, there is life, there is the kingdom” (§1025). And, because heaven is all about love, nothing but love can lead us there. One might say, love is God’s GPS, built right into the human heart. 

Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven”(Mt 5:20). At first hearing, Jesus sounds as though his Gospel couldn’t be more exacting. 

You have heard that it was said to your ancestors,
You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.
But I say to you,
whoever is angry with brother
will be liable to judgment.
You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery.
But I say to you,
everyone who looks at a woman with lust
has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Mt 5:21-22, 27-28).

But the master’s ire isn’t aimed at those who frequently falter and fail. It’s pointed at those who think they can plot and plod their way into heaven, as if, over time, they could make God their debtor by obeying rules and covering every contingency with indulgence and excuse. But we cannot calculate our way to heaven, and how can we ingratiate ourselves into that which we cannot even imagine?

What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard,
and what has not entered the human heart,
what God has prepared for those who love him
this God has revealed to us through the Spirit (2 Cor 2: 9-10).

We don’t earn our way into the undiscovered country. We simply love down its doors. And, the little boy, dying of cancer, need not have worried about where to find his mother on the other side. Love knows the way.

Sirach 15: 15-20 1 Corinthians 2: 6-11 Matthew 5: 17-37

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Bruce Snowden
7 years 11 months ago
Terrance W. Klein says, “God is love’s GPS built right into the heart!” Fabulous! I love that theology and it should be incorporated into the Catechism Of The Catholic Church’s definition of God. And that little child with terminal cancer worried about where will his Mom be in heaven and his and his Mom’s solution to meet at “the front left corner of heaven.” Beautifully wrenching! For want of a better word heaven must be a wonderful “place.” Having said that I find myself wondering why would a spiritual body need a place to stay, since in the Land of the Living people are not subject to crowding. They are “of the Spirit” for me an unsatisfying, satisfying explanation! Somehow uncountable trillions of the Blessed live happily together without running into one another. A mind boggling reality connected to the promise, “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, what God has prepared for those who love …” which pulls me back to the magnificent thought that “God is love’s GPS built right into the heart!” Yet it’s all mystery, heaven, about which I wish I knew more. About why is it that as far as we know, only three people are bodily in heaven, the rest there only in spirit. According to scripture and or Tradition, the three are Jesus, Mary and Elisia. Why just three? I find myself hoping that heaven is filled with people already embodied in the grandeur of the “new creation.”To make this happen resurrection is necessary, but we believe this will not happen until the end of time. Well, for the dead the end of time has come, so might it be possible that bodily resurrection into the “new creation” is happening continually, linked to Paul’s mysterious words that, “that which is and that which is to come” seemingly one and the same? I don’t know, but it sure makes me wonder, recalling that first and foremost heaven is a wonderful place! I just love speculative theology, but most of all I am in love with whatever is theologically authentic, meaning only that which is one holy catholic and apostolic, true to Catholic Faith. Hopefully in joyful love I’ll also find a little space near “the front left corner of heaven.”

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