Preparation for death/XXIX. OF HEAVEN
"Your sorrow shall be turned into joy." S. John xvi. 20.
LET us now endeavour to endure patiently the afflictions of this life, offering them to God in union with the pains which Jesus Christ endured for our sakes, and let us encourage ourselves with the hope of paradise. All these afflictions, sorrows, persecutions, and fears, will one day come to an end; and when we are saved they will become joys and pleasures for us in the kingdom of the blessed. Even thus does the Lord encourage us, " Your sorrow shall be turned into joy." Let us, therefore, reflect today somewhat upon paradise. But what can we say of this paradise, if the saints who had more knowledge than we, were unable to make us understand the joys which God has in store for His faithful servants, and David could only express his praise of it by saying, that paradise is a rest which is very desirable, " Oh, how amiable are Thy dwellings, Thou Lord of Hosts." (Ps. lxxxiv. I.) But thou, at least, my holy Paul, thou who hadst the happy chance of being ravished at the sight of heaven, "caught up into paradise," tell us something of what thou hast seen. No, says the Apostle, it is not possible to explain what I have seen. The delights of paradise are " unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter." (2 Cor. xii. 4.) They are so great that they cannot be described unless they are enjoyed. I can tell you nothing more, says the Apostle, than that " eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him." (i Cor. ii. 9.) No man on earth has ever seen, or heard, or understood, the joys, the harmonies, the pleasures which God has prepared for those who love Him.
We are unable to understand the joys of paradise, because we have no conception but of the joys of this earth. If horses were capable of reasoning, and they knew that their master had prepared a grand banquet, they would imagine that it could consist of nothing else but of good hay, oats, and barley, because horses have no notion of food except such as this. Even thus do we form notions of the joys of paradise. It is beautiful to see, on a summer's night, the sky all glittering with stars; and how delightful, in the time of spring, to stand on the sea-coast when the sea is calm, so that the rocks within can be seen all covered with seaweed, and the fishes which glide nimbly by; and it is very delightful to be in a garden full of fruit trees and flowers, surrounded by running fountains, and with birds which fly about and sing as they fly. Some might say, " Oh, what a paradise!" What a paradise? Do you say, What a paradise? Very different are the joys of paradise. In order to understand something, although obscurely, of paradise, let us remember that the Omnipotent God is there, Who is ever engaged in delighting the souls which love Hun. S. Bernard says, Dost thou wish to know what there is in paradise? "There is nothing that thou wouldst not have, but everything that thou wouldst have, there."
O God, what will the soul say upon entering into that blessed kingdom? Let us imagine that some young girl and some youth, who, having consecrated themselves to the love of Jesus Christ, are dying; the hour of death having arrived, the spirit quits this earth. The soul is presented before the judgment seat, the Judge embraces her, and makes known to her that she is saved. Her guardian angel comes to meet her and rejoices with her; she thanks the angel for the assistance given to her, and the angel then says, " Take courage, beautiful soul, rejoice, for thou art now saved. Come and see the face of thy Lord." Behold, the soul now passes through the clouds, the heavens, and the stars. She enters heaven. O God, what will she say when she enters for the first time that blessed country, and when she looks for the first time upon that city of delights? The angels and the saints will come to meet her, and they will welcome her with shouts of joy. What consolation she will have in meeting again those relations or friends who entered paradise before her. The soul will then wish to kneel before them and to worship them, but they will say to her, " See thou do it not, for I am thy fellow-servant." (Rev. xxii. 9.) Then the soul will be led to Jesus, Who will receive her as His spouse, and will say to her, " Come with Me from Lebanon, My spouse." (Cant. iv. 8.) Rejoice greatly, My spouse, all thy tears, griefs, and fears are now for ever ended, receive the everlasting crown which I have obtained for thee by My Blood. Jesus Himself will then lead her to receive the blessing of His Divine Father, Who, embracing her, will bless her, saying, " Enter thou into the joy of Thy Lord." (S. Matt, xxv. 21.) And He will bless her with the same beatitude which He Himself enjoys.
Affections and Prayers.
Behold, my God, at Thy feet one ungrateful, who was created by Thee for heaven, but who, often for miserable pleasures, has renounced it to Thy face, and has chosen to be condemned to hell. But I hope that even now Thou hast forgiven all the injuries that I have done, of which I repent over and over again, and will continue to repent until death. I desire that Thou ever wouldst renew my pardon. But, O my God, although Thou hast already pardoned me, it will yet be ever true that I had no disposition to embitter Thee, my Redeemer, Who, to bring me to Thy kingdom, hadst given Thy life. But may Thy compassion, O my Jesus, be ever praised and blessed, that with so great patience hast borne with me, and in place of chastisements hast increased toward me graces, lights, and calls. I see, my dear Saviour, that Thou didst will my special salvation, and in Thy country to love Thee eternally, but Thou desirest that first I should love Thee on earth. Yes, I will love Thee, and this, even were there no heaven, while I live, with all my soul and with all my might. It is enough for me to know that Thou, my God, desirest to be loved by me. My Jesus, assist me with Thy grace and do not abandon me. My soul is eternal; therefore, it is certain that for ever either I must love Thee or hate Thee. No, I will love Thee for ever, and I will love Thee much in this life and in the next. Dispose of me as it pleaseth Thee, chasten me here as Thou wilt, but do not deprive me of Thy love, and afterwards do with me as it may please Thee. My Jesus, Thy merits are my hope. I place all my trust in Thy intercession. Thou didst deliver me from hell when I was in sin; now that I desire Thee, do Thou save me and make me holy.
When the soul shall have entered into the beatitude of God, "There shall in no wise enter into it anything that defileth." (Rev. xxi. 27.) There will be no more trouble. " God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And He that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new." (Rev. xxi. 4, 5.)
In heaven there is no more weakness, nor poverty, nor trouble; no longer any succession of day and night, nor of cold and heat; there, it is perpetual day, ever serene; a continual spring, ever delicious. There will be there no more persecutions, or envyings. All will love tenderly, and each one will rejoice in the good of the other as if it were his own. There are no more fears, since the soul, confirmed in grace, can no longer sin and lose its God. " Behold, I make all things new." All are new, and are consoling and satisfying. " There is everything that one can desire." There, shall the sight be satisfied by gazing at that city. " The perfection of beauty." (Lam. ii. 15.) What delight would it be to behold a city, where the pavement of its streets would be of crystal, the palaces of silver with ceilings of gold, and the whole adorned with festoons of flowers? Oh, how much more beautiful will be the heavenly city! What will it be to behold those citizens clad in royal robes, since all are Icings; as S. Augustine said, "As many citizens, so many kings." What will it be then to see the Divine Lamb, the Spouse Jesus! The sense of smell will be satisfied with the odours of heaven; the sense of hearing by celestial harmonies. What will it be to hear all the saints and angels singing in chorus the glories of God! " They will be always praising Thee." (Ps. lxxxiv. 4.) In short, all the delights are there that can possibly be desired.
But these delights now mentioned are the lesser blessings of heaven. The good which makes heaven is the Highest Good, which is God. S. Augustine says that " all which we look for are two syllables, Deus, God." The reward which the Lord promises us does not consist only in the beauties, the harmonies, and the other joys of that blessed City, for the chief reward there is GOD HIMSELF, that is, to see and to love God face to face. " I am .... thy exceeding great Reward." (Gen. xv. I.) S. Augustine says, That if God were to show Himself to the lost, immediately hell itself would be changed into a pleasant paradise; and he continues, That if a departed soul did choose between seeing God and abiding in the punishments of hell, and not seeing God and being liberated from it, "it would rather choose to see God and to be in these pains."
This joy of seeing and loving God face to face cannot be understood by us in this life, but we can infer something of what it is like, knowing that this Divine love is so sweet, that even in this life it has lifted from earth the souls of the saints. The holy martyrs, through its sweetness, were joyous in the midst of their very torments. S. Augustine records, that S. Vincent, whilst he was being tortured, so spake that "it seemed one who suffered, and another who spoke." S. Laurence, whilst on a gridiron, scorned the tyrant, " Turn me and eat me." Yes, says S. Augustine, because S. Laurence, inflamed with this fire of Divine love, did not feel the burning. Moreover, how sweet it proves to a sinner in this life, even the weeping over his sins. Whence S. Bernard says, " If it be so sweet to weep for thee, what must it be to rejoice for thee?" What sweetness then does not the soul experience, to whom in prayer is disclosed by a ray of light, the Divine goodness, the mercies experienced, and the love which has been and still is shed upon it, by Jesus Christ. And although in this life we see not God as He really is, for we see Him but obscurely. " Now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face." (i Cor. xiii. 12.) At this present time we have a bandage before our eyes, and God is hidden under the veil of faith, and He allows us not to see Him. But what will it be, when the bandage is taken away from the eyes and the veil is raised, and we can see God face to face? Then shall we see how lovely, how glorious, how just, how perfect, how amiable, how loving He is.
Affections and Prayers.
Oh, my Highest Good, I am that miserable one who has turned away from Thee, and has renounced Thy love, so that I am not worthy either to see Thee or to love Thee. But Thou art He, Who through compassion for me, hadst no compassion upon Thyself, but condemnedst Thyself to die of shamed grief upon the accursed tree. Thy death, indeed, gives me hope that one day I shall see and enjoy Thy face, and then I shall love Thee with all my strength. But now that I stand in danger of losing Thee for ever, now that I find that I have already lost Thee through my sins, what shall I do in the life which remains to me? Shall I continue to offend Thee? No, my Jesus, I detest with entire hatred the offences which I have committed. It grieves me in the greatest degree that I have injured Thee, and I love thee with all my heart. Wilt Thou cast away from Thee a soul which repents and loves Thee? No, truly I know what Thou hast said that Thou knowest not how, my loved Redeemer, to cast away any one who comes as a penitent to Thy feet. " Him that cometh unto Me, I will in no wise cast out." (S. John vi. 37.) My Jesus, I leave all and turn to Thee, and embrace Thee, and unite Thee to my heart. Do Thou embrace me, and unite me to Thy heart. I dare so to speak, since I speak to and treat with Infinite Goodness. I speak to that God who willed to die for my sake. My Beloved Saviour, give me hope in Thy love.
In this life the greatest pain that can afflict the souls who love God, and who are desolate, is the fear that they do not love, and are not loved by God. " No man knoweth either love or hatred by all that is before them." (Eccles. ix. i.) But in heaven the soul is certain that it loves God, and that it is loved by God, and it sees that it is happily lost in, the love of its Lord; and that God holds it in His embrace as if it were a dear child; and it sees that this love will not be dissolved even in eternity. The better knowledge that it will then acquire, will increase the blessed flames of that love which led God to become man, and to die for us, of that love which instituted the Holy Communion, in which God becomes the food of worms. The soul will then see distinctly even all the graces which God has given to it in liberating it from so great temptations, and the dangers of being lost; and then it will see that those tribulations, weaknesses, persecutions, and losses, which it called the punishments and chastenings of God, were all of love, and that they came by Divine providence to conduct it to heaven. It will see particularly the patience that God had in bearing with so great sins, and the long-sufferings that He has exercised in giving it so many lights and so many calls of love. It will see there, from that blessed mountain, so many souls condemned to hell for less sins than its own; and it will see itself saved, in possession of God, and secure of never losing that Highest Good for all eternity.
For ever then will that blessed soul, enjoy that happiness which, through all eternity, at every moment will be for ever new, as if that moment was the first in which it enjoyed it. It will ever enjoy that happiness and will ever obtain it; ever thirsting and ever satisfied; ever satisfied and ever thirsting. Yes, since the desire of heaven brings no pain, and the fulfilment of it brings no weariness. In short, as the lost are vessels of wrath, so the blessed are vessels of joy. S. Teresa says that, even in this world, when God brings a soul into " the banqueting house," where it partakes of this Divine love, He renders it so happily inebriated, that it loses the affection for all earthly things. But in entering heaven, as David says, how much more perfectly shall it "drink of Thy pleasures as out of the river." (Ps. xxxvi. 8.) It will happen then, that the soul, beholding so openly, and embracing the highest good, will remain so inebriated with love, that delightfully it will lose itself in God; that is, will perfectly forget itself, and will not think of anything else from that moment than to love, praise, and bless that Infinite Good which it possesses.
When, therefore, the crosses of this life afflict us, let us comfort ourselves, and bear them patiently with the hope of heaven. S. Mary of Egypt being asked at the end of her life how she had been able to endure living so many years in that desert, answered, " In the hope of heaven." Let us also, when we find ourselves straightened by the miseries of this present life, raise our eyes to heaven, and console ourselves by sighing and saying, " Heaven, heaven." Let us consider that if we are faithful to God, shall end one day, all these pains, miseries, and fears, and we shall be received into that blessed country, where we shall be fully happy, whilst God shall be God. Behold, the saints are expecting us; and Jesus stands with a crown in His hand to make us kings of that eternal kingdom.
Affections and Prayers.
My beloved Saviour, Thou hast taught me to pray, "Thy kingdom come." Thus now do I pray to Thee, may Thy kingdom come in my soul, that Thou mayest wholly possess it, and that it may possess Thee, the Highest Good. O my Jesus, Thou hast spared nothing to save me, and to gain my love; save me, therefore, and may it be my salvation to love Thee for ever in this life and in the next. I have so often turned away from Thee, and with all this Thou causest me to know that Thou wilt not disdain to embrace me in heaven through all eternity with as great love as if I had never caused Thee offence. And knowing this, shall I be able to love any other save Thee, seeing that Thou desirest to give me heaven, after I have so often deserved hell? Ah, my Lord! that I had never offended Thee! Oh, if I could be reborn, I would ever love Thee! But what is done is done. Now, I can do no more than give to Thee that portion of life which remains to me. Yes, I give it all to Thee.; I consecrate it all to Thy love. Depart from my heart, ye worldly affections; give place to my God, Who desires to possess it wholly. Yes, possess me altogether, O my Redeemer, my Love, my God. From this day forward I would only think how I can please Thee. Aid me with Thy grace; this I hope for through Thy merits. More and more increase in me Thy love, and the desire to please Thee. Heaven, heaven! When will it be a O Lord, that I shall see Thee face to face, and shall embrace Thee, without the fear of ever having to lose Thee. Ah, my God, hold Thy hand over me, so that I shall no more offend Thee. Help me, O my Jesus! suffer me not to lose myself, and to stand afar off from. Thee.