Friday, 22 May 2015
An Eternity of Heaven Or Hell. Part 2, By Rev. Clement Henry Crock. “MAN SHALL GO INTO THE HOUSE OF HIS ETERNITY” -ECCLES. 12:5.
What are the pains of hell? They are both positive and negative. The positive suffering in hell is that of pain. This we can readily understand here on earth, being, as we are, surrounded by so much suffering. But perhaps the greatest suffering in hell is that of loss, which we can less readily understand. The latter suffering of loss, I would rather stress as the greater by far of the sufferings endured by the damned. Nothing hurts a child more than to hear from an angry parent the words: “Depart from me!” “Get out of our house!” A soul that is lost will be deprived forever of the happiness of seeing God face to face. To its eternal regret, the lost soul will realise that, through its own fault, it has forfeited the greatest of all blessings and missed the very purpose of its existence here on earth, namely, one day to enjoy the Beatific Vision.
Here is how Saint John Chrysostom describes this pain of loss: “The fire of hell is insupportable—who does not know it? and its torments are awful. But if you were to heap a thousand hell-fires one on top of the other, it would be as nothing compared to the punishment that consists in being excluded from the beatific glory of heaven, hated by Christ, and compelled to hear Him say: “I know thee not”.” All former love between friends on earth now turns into hate; only curses, complaints, accusations, weeping, and gnashing of teeth remain. No kind or friendly word between former friends will ever fall on their ears, nothing but groans, curses, and shrieks, to which they will add their own lamentations and unavailing regrets.
Do you wish to avoid such an eternal calamity? Here is the admonition of Saint Bernard: “Descend into hell during life, that you may not descend after death.” We will then work out our salvation in fear and trembling. Many who are Saints in heaven today would never have persevered in virtue, except for the fear of hell. And if the thought of a loving and merciful God can no longer move us to do good and avoid evil, then let us, with filial fear, turn to the God of Justice and pray with the Psalmist: “Pierce Thou my flesh with Thy fear, for I am afraid of Thy judgments” (Ps. 118, 12).
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“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has i t entered into the heart of man, what things God has prepared for those who love Him” I Cor 2, 9.
As we approach the twilight of life all agree that life on earth, even at its best, is an unsatisfying thing. “Within each spirit’s hidden depths
Some sweet hope withered lies,
From whose soft, faded bloom we turn
In sadness to the skies.”
Yes, no matter how numerous our successes, no matter how extensive the acquisition of our knowledge, no matter how great our wealth or physical comforts we may acquire and enjoy along life’s way, we are ever conscious of desires and yearnings that nothing on earth can satisfy. This human trait manifests itself already in early childhood, accompanies us through youth to old age, and terminates only at the grave with death.
Some have sought to satisfy these desires in creatures. Such people are sadly disillusioned through life, and especially at death. With a belated remorse such people then realise that we are destined for something incomparably better than anything this world can offer. For, as the Author of nature, God has endowed the soul of every man with an innate and fixed propensity, namely, a desire for the good, the beautiful, and the true; nay more, for the perfectly good, the perfectly beautiful, and the absolute true. The purpose of this continual restlessness is to lead us ultimately back to God, to heaven. Saint Augustine expressed it when he exclaimed: “O Lord, our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee!”
And to this natural propensity, God has further added the supernatural gift of faith through Baptism, giving us added knowledge of God and divine things; guiding us, if we follow His teachings and carry out His precepts, to the ultimate fulfilment of our exalted desires and aspirations. Then, in order to encourage us in our struggles and sorrows, Jesus has given us reminders of the brevity of our earthly pilgrimage, and promises of rewards exceedingly great if we persevere faithfully to the end. “Your reward,” He assures us, “is very great in heaven” (Matthew 5, 12). Again, “be thou faithful until death, and I will give thee the crown of life” (Apoc. 2, 10). This leads Saint Paul to exclaim: “I reckon that the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come” (Rom. 8, 18).
This brings us to the question: What is heaven? Words fail us when we attempt to define what heaven is; our efforts are but feeble attempts to describe heaven adequately. In general, and by way of analogy, heaven has been described as “the accomplishment of all the desires of God, of creatures, and of man; as the restoration of all things into a state of absolute perfection; as the eternal repose of quiet and order.” Saint Thomas indicates that even the earth and its elements will be changed to serve the elect. The water shall then be crystal-clear; the air pure as the clearest sky; fire as bright as the sun and the stars; and the surface of the earth as transparent as glass, with a sweet unchanging temperature. Saint John pictures heaven with its gates of pearl, its streets of pure gold, its foundations of all precious stones, its light of the glory of God (Apoc. 21, 19–23). Yet, all these are mere wordpictures, in no way pretending to describe the real beauty of God’s house.
AS FOR GOD, we may describe heaven as the full enjoyment of all His works; the manifestation of His glory, power, goodness, wisdom, and all His other perfections or attributes; the loving intercourse and companionship of a fond Father with His affectionate children; the immense, eternal, overflowing love of creatures for God. AS FOR MAN, every creature will retain his own individuality, but will form a union with God so intimate that everyone will enjoy an ocean of unspeakable delights and the plenitude of his being. In heaven man will realise the accomplishment of all his legitimate desires. This comprises two things, namely freedom from all evil, and perfect possession of all good.
The negative side of heavenly happiness, namely, freedom from all evil, can be more readily understood by us mortals, because of our daily experiences. Life as a whole is often spoken of as “a vale of tears,” both for body and soul; the spirit constantly in conflict with the flesh. “We have passions that tyrannize over us, thoughts that trouble us, desires that torment us, remorse for the past, disgust of the present, solicitude for the future, weariness, bitterness, agitation.” As for the body, we are constantly plagued with pain, toil, fatigue, infirmity, disease, poverty, disaster, reverses of fortune- an unending series of evils without end. In heaven these body afflictions will cease, never to return. “God will wipe away,” says Holy Writ, “every tear from their eyes. And death will be no more; neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Apoc. 21, 4). If heaven were nothing more than this, that in itself would be a blessing without comparison to anything we know of here on earth. Yet, this is only a small portion of what heaven really is, and as we unfold these heavenly beauties one by one, the words of Saint Paul will become an eternal reality when he tells us that “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man, what things God has prepared for those who love him” (I Cor. 2, 9).
“We see now through a glass in a dark manner, but then face to face” I Cor. 13, 12.
Let us never lose sight of the fact that, by God’s eternal decree, heaven is our goal, heaven is man’s destiny. Reason, revelation, and the experience of more than six thousand years unite in the one proclamation that perfect happiness cannot be found in this world. It certainly cannot be found in creatures, because they were not endowed with the powers to bestow it. Perfect happiness cannot be found even in the practice of virtue, because God, in His wisdom, has decreed that virtue should merit, but never impart perfect happiness in this world. But God has solemnly pledged to bestow “eternal life” upon all who love and serve Him here on earth. He has promised a happiness so unspeakably great that it will surpass all that our senses ever enjoyed here on earth.
From what has been revealed to us, this happiness in heaven falls into two categories, namely, the primary and the secondary happiness. The primary, or SUPREME HAPPINESS in heaven, consists in seeing God “face to face.” It consists in the possession and enjoyment of God Himself in the BEATIFIC VISION which bestows perfect satisfaction on every rational craving of our nature in the glorious resurrection of the body.
An admonition is in place here; namely, that we must guard against certain mistakes when speaking of the joys of heaven. We are very apt to build up a heaven of our own, which naturally takes the shape and colour which our sorrows, needs, and sufferings might suggest. The poor man, for example, who has suffered much from toil and want, may look upon heaven as a place of rest, abounding in all that can satisfy the cravings of nature. Another, who has endured the pangs of disease, may look upon heaven as a place where he will enjoy perpetual health of body and mind. Still another, who, in the practice of virue, has had all manner of temptations to overcome, may delight in viewing heaven as a place totally free from temptation where even the possibility of sin will be excluded. All these things, with many other pleasures that come from creatures, are, to be sure, a portion of our heavenly joys; but they are accidental, or secondary joys, that accompany the essential and primary happiness which the soul receives immediately from God in the Beatific Vision.
This distinction is so important that we might make it more understandable with an illustration. A man, for example, is gifted with perfect health of body and mind. He not only enjoys life itself, but likewise receives much pleasure from the beauties of nature, from literature, amusements, and society. Now suppose that he loses his health, and sickness lays him low. He is no longer able to enjoy either life itself, or its pleasures, because, with the loss of health, he has lost also the powers of appropriating the secondary pleasures of life; for this man, then, health is essential for the enjoyment of life, while the relish of other pleasures is secondary. So, too, in heaven: the Beatific Vision is essential, not only to enjoy the very life of heaven, but likewise to enjoy the accidental or secondary glory wherewith God perfects and completes the happiness of His elect.