Loading...
Loading...
Click here if you don’t see subscription options
Terrance KleinMay 11, 2022
Photo by Berkan Küçükgül on Unsplash

A Reflection for the Fifth Sunday of Easter

Readings: Acts 14:21-27 Revelation 21:1-5A John 13:31-33a, 34-35

What is heaven like? Some would say that no one knows, though it is a spot, like Narnia, where the imagination of C. S. Lewis once traveled, in a story called The Great Divorce (1945). Not unlike the plot of the television series “Lost” (2004-10), a group of travelers are deposited in a place they do not know, though these characters arrive via an otherworldly bus, not a plane crash.

Here’s the narrator’s first contact with this new land. Familiar, yet something has changed; his companions seem to be phantoms.

It was the light, the grass, the trees that were different; made of some different substance, so much solider than the things in our country that men were ghosts by comparison. Moved by a sudden thought, I bent down and tried to pluck a daisy which was growing at my feet. The stalk wouldn’t break. I tried to twist it, but it wouldn’t twist. I tugged till the sweat stood off my hands. The little flower was hard, not like wood or even like iron, but like diamond. There was a leaf—a young tender beech-leaf, lying in the grass beside it. I tried to pick the leaf up: my heart almost cracked with the effort, and I believe I did just raise it. But I had to let it go at once; it was heavier than a sack of coal. As I stood, recovering my breath with great gasps and looking down at the daisy, I noticed that I could see the grass not only between my feet but through them. I also was a phantom. Who will give me words to express the terror of that discovery? “Golly, I thought, I’m in it this time.”

Speaking of troubles, St. Paul told the congregation of the church in Antioch,

It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships
to enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22).

A bromide? Paul had been through a lot in his first mission. He had been once proclaimed a god and twice stoned. He was not mouthing platitudes.

When a pastor is not repairing buildings, an activity that occupies an inordinate amount of time, he is doing what he can to repair lives. Sometimes I feel like the general of a giant, sad army in retreat: This one has died. These two are dying. These ones are quite ill. This one is so worried about his child. That one feels her husband has abandoned her though he never left home.

And now, thanks to pastoral technology, I receive daily texts and email updates, begging me to pray. No complaints. It is my vocation. And, like so much that I do in my calling, it is the vocation of all the baptized.

“It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” Sometimes, when a person’s faith is strong enough, I can say that to them, and they can hear it. They are not lost souls. They may not, in the present moment, know the way, but they know where they are headed. Heaven is their home. These are the hardships of the way.

It is faith that makes us ready for heaven. And what is faith? Stubbornly seeing purpose in this life—stubbornly because sometimes it does take a great effort—that others cannot see.

When the faith is weak, I have less to say. There is less I can say. And the suffering do not ask much of me, save to listen with patience as they speak of their sorrows. I do that as well because it is my vocation: listening for, and to, bleating lambs.

No judgment, at least in this moment, on my part, for my faith has also been both strong and weak. I am brave, and I bleat. So I simply do what I can to strengthen faith: theirs and mine.

C. S. Lewis’s story suggests that not everyone is ready for heaven. Some arrive there like ghosts. Heaven itself is quite real. Indeed, it is so solid that they cannot even walk across its grass without great effort. As people—our word would be “souls”—they are simply too insubstantial for heaven.

It is faith that makes us ready for heaven. And what is faith? Stubbornly seeing purpose in this life—stubbornly because sometimes it does take a great effort—that others cannot see.

The genius of C. S. Lewis is to suggest that, if we cannot see God’s glory in this vale of tears, we will struggle to see it in the life to come.

Mel Gibson will always be a genius to me because in his movie, “The Passion of the Christ” (2004), a wounded Jesus, fallen under his cross, struggles back to his feet and sputters to his mother a line that the resurrected Christ proclaims in the Book of Resurrection. “See, Mother, I make all things new” (21:5). How hard to believe, in that moment, that he was indeed doing just that!

Except for the woman to whom Christ spoke, we are all a mixture of sinner and saint. Sometimes we suffer, and we can do no more than resent our fate and question God. That is the sinner in us. The saint sees the very same but is given the grace, like Christ the night before he died, to see the glory of God.

Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him (Jn 13:31).

The genius of C. S. Lewis is to suggest that, if we cannot see God’s glory in this vale of tears, we will struggle to see it in the life to come. Without God’s purifying, readying mercy, heaven will simply be too much for us.

In the dark night before Calvary, Christ saw his Father’s glory. But how are we, weak as we are, supposed to do that? How are we supposed to trust that “it is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God”? After all, no one has seen heaven and come back to tell us about it.

But, you see, that is not true! Someone has gone before us and come back to tell us of the life to come. Christ! And he has not left us to fend for ourselves. The mystery we call the church comes down to this: one of us strengthening the other in Christ.

As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.
This is how all will know that you are my disciples,
if you have love for one another (Jn 13:34-35).

The latest from america

At times, by over-emphasizing our efforts to do good works, we have created an ideal of holiness excessively based on ourselves.
Pope FrancisMay 15, 2022
The lives of the saints prove that holiness is not an unreachable goal accomplished by a select few but comes from acknowledging and sharing God’s love, Pope Francis said.
In “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” Marvel took all the toys that they know the fans want and then smashed them in front of us.
Jim McDermottMay 13, 2022
The greatest evangelization we can offer is a joyful church.
Damian J. FerenceMay 13, 2022