The four last things/Part 4
On the Nature of Heaven.
WE must not, as some do, picture to ourselves Heaven as a purely spiritual realm. For Heaven is a definite place, where not only God is, and the Angels now are, but where Christ is also in His sacred humanity, and Our Lady with her human body. There, too, all the blessed will dwell with their glorified bodies after the Last Judgment. If Heaven is a definite locality, it must accordingly be a visible, not a spiritual kingdom ; for a place must in its nature be to some extent conformable to those who abide in it.
Besides, we know that after the Last Judgment he Saints will behold Heaven with their bodily eyes, and consequently it must be a visible kingdom. We are ignorant of what the material structure of Heaven will be composed, we only know that it will be something infinitely superior to and more costly than the matter of which the other spheres, the sun, the moon, and other heavenly bodies, are formed.
For since God has created Heaven for Himself and for His elect, He has made it so beautiful and so glorious that the blessed will never tire of the contemplation of its splendours to all eternity.
Yet, I repeat, it is not within the power of the writer to describe, nor within that of the reader to comprehend, what it is of which Heaven is actually composed. Something may perhaps be learned concerning this from what St. Teresa writes. Speaking of herself, she says : " The Blessed Mother of God gave me a jewel, and hung around my neck a superb golden chain, to which a cross of priceless value was attached. Both the gold and the precious stones thus given to me are so unlike those which we have here in this world that no comparison can be instituted between them. They are beautiful beyond anything that can be conceived, and the matter whereof they are composed is beyond our knowledge. For what we call gold and precious stones beside them appear dark and lustreless as charcoal."
From these words we may form some idea of the beauty, the rarity, the costly nature of the stones wherewith the walls of Heaven are built. We gather from them that the light of Heaven is so dazzling as not only to eclipse the sun and stars, but to cause all earthly brightness to appear as darkness. We have besides every reason to believe that in the light of Heaven all the colors of the rainbow are seen to flash, giving it an indescribable charm to the eyes of the blessed. Moreover, the bodies of the redeemed are resplendent with light, and the more Saintly their life on earth has been, the more brilliantly do they shine in Heaven. What must be the glory of that celestial firmament, glittering with the radiance of many thousand stars! Nothing is more pleasing to the eye than light ; how brilliant, how beautiful must the light of Heaven be since, compared with it, the sun's bright rays are but darkness.
How the redeemed must delight in the contemplation of this clear and dazzling brightness.
O my God, grant me grace that on earth I may love the light and eschew the works of darkness, in order that I may attain to the contemplation of the eternal and perpetual light !
Concerning the size of Heaven all we know is that it is immeasurable, inconceivable, incomprehensible.
A learned Divine, speaking on this subject, says : " If God were to make every grain of sand into a new world, all these innumerable spheres would not fill the immensity of Heaven." St. Bernard also says that we are warranted in the belief that every one of the saved will have a place and an inheritance of no narrow limits assigned him in the celestial country.
How immeasurably vast in extent must Heaven then be ! Well may the prophet Baruch exclaim : " O Israel, how great is the house of God, and how vast is the place of His possession 1 It is great and hath no end ; it is high and immense " (Baruch iii. 24, 25).
We can readily believe this, for we have before our eyes the boundless realms of space. But of the nature of the infinite realms of Heaven we know nothing, and yet we can to some extent picture them to our imagination. It would be against common sense to think that these vast celestial domains are empty and bare, that the great Artificer, to whom the creation of worlds is a very little thing, would leave them unbeautified and unadorned.
If princes and lords fill every space, and leave no corner in their palaces or their grounds unembellished and unadorned, shall we suppose that the great King of Heaven would permit His regal palace, His celestial paradise, to be lacking in magnificence and in beauty ? What would there be to delight the senses of the Saints if Heaven were a large empty space ? What enjoyment, except the beatific vision of God, would there be for them, if they stood all together in a barren plain, like sheep in a penfold ? Are we not justified in believing that there are splendid and spacious mansions in Heaven constructed of incorruptible materials ?
Nay, more, a learned expositor of Holy Scripture considers it probable that by the wondrous skill and wisdom of the great Creator, these fair palaces and dwellings are of varied form and size, some being lower, others higher, some more richly adorned than others. Towering above all, and surpassing all in grandeur and magnificence, the palace of the great King Jesus Christ stands pre-eminent; and next in splendour and dignity ranks the abode of our Sovereign Lady, the Queen of Heaven. Then come the twelve palaces of the twelve apostles, which are so rich and beautiful that Heaven itself marvels at their magnificence. Besides these are mansions and dwellings innumerable which render the heavenly Jerusalem indescribably imposing and attractive. These splendid abodes were created when Heaven itself was made, and destined to be the dwellings of the redeemed.
The Church teaches us, in the office for martyrs, that each one of the elect will have his own place in the kingdom of Heaven. Dabo sanctis meis locum nominatum in regno Patris mei, dicit Dominus. (In 2 noct. Antiph. I. de Com. pi. Martj.) " I will give to My Saints an appointed place in the kingdom of My Father." And the Royal Psalmist says: " The Saints shall rejoice in glory ; they shall be joyful in their beds " (Ps. cxlix. 5).
We have also Christ's words : " Make unto you friends of the mammon of iniquity ; that when you shall fail, they may receive you into everlasting dwellings ; " that is to say, spend what you have over and above on works of charity and benevolence, that these may prove as friends to you, who will obtain for you admittance into the eternal and celestial dwellings (Luke xvi. 9).
Again : " In My Father’s house there are many mansions." Hence it may be inferred that each one of the redeemed has his separate abode in Heaven. For as a just and prudent father divides his real and personal property amongst his children, assigning to each one his particular share, so our heavenly Father apportions to each of His elect a part of His celestial treasures, both visible and invisible, giving to each one more or less, according to the amount he deserves to receive.
Who shall describe the majesty and glory of these heavenly mansions? If the kings and princes of this world build grand and costly palaces for themselves, what must be the splendour and beauty of the celestial city which the King of kings has built for Himself and those who love Him and are His friends ? Hear what St. John says concerning this city: "An Angel showed me the holy city Jerusalem, having the glory of God. The light thereof was like to a precious stone, as to the jasper stone, even as crystal. The city itself was of pure gold, like unto glass, and the foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with all manner of precious stones " (Apoc. xxi. u, 18, 19).
Speaking of the size of the city, the same apostle writes : " The Angel that spoke with me had a measure of a reed of gold, to measure the city and the gates thereof, and the wall. And the city lieth in a four-square, and the length thereof is as great as the breadth ; and he measured the city with the golden reed for twelve thousand furlongs, and the height and the breadth thereof are equal. And he measured the wall thereof an hundred forty-four cubits, the measure of a man, and used by the Angel."
A furlong is two hundred and twenty yards, and eight furlongs make a mile. It must be observed that the Angel did not measure the circumference of the city, but only the length of the wall, which was twelve thousand furlongs. When this is multiplied by four, it gives forty-eight thousand furlongs as the circumference of the city, that is equivalent to six thousand miles. To people a city of this size many thousand millions of inhabitants would be needed.
From the information given by St. John, who tells us that the length, the breadth, and the height of the city are equal, we form some idea of the imposing height of this celestial structure. This city does not constitute the whole of the heavenly Jerusalem, it is the special dwelling place of the most high God, wherein the sacred humanity of Christ abides, together with many companies of Angels and of the most eminent Saints. For besides this august city, there are others innumerable in the heavenly plains, wherein the redeemed dwell in the society of Angels. The more good a Saint has done on earth, the grander is the residence assigned him in Heaven. These palaces and mansions are transparent as crystal and built of precious stones of the costliest kind. And we may add on the authority of a learned theologian, that the blessed hold intercourse with one another, and meet together to laud and magnify the omnipotence of the Most High, who prepared for them such glorious abodes, and join in extolling His wisdom and His love.
Dost thou not, O my soul, feel an intense longing to behold this heavenly city, and, what is more, to dwell therein for evermore ? We esteem it a pleasure to visit a fine city, renowned for its architectural and other attractions ; and many are the travellers who journey all over the world to see foreign towns, and feast their eyes on their beauty. What are these cities of earth in comparison with the celestial cities? Could we but look into it for a few moments only, what wondrous things we should behold ! We should assuredly exclaim, in the words of King David: "How lovely are Thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts! My soul longeth and fainteth for the courts of the Lord. My heart and my flesh have rejoiced in the living God. Blessed are they that dwell in Thy house, O Lord; they shall praise thee forever and ever. For better is one day in Thy courts above thousands; I have chosen to be an abject in the house of my God rather than to dwell in the tabernacles of sinners" (Ps. Ixxxiii.).
If we may venture to speak of the interior of the celestial realm, we may assume that the vast, immeasurable space of Heaven does not only contain these heavenly cities, but much more besides, all of which enhances the delights of that blissful land. For as kings and princes on earth have gardens and pleasure grounds laid out beside their palaces, where they amuse themselves in the summer season, so, many theologians assert, there are heavenly paradises, that afford increased delight to the blessed. For not only the souls of the saved, but their glorified bodies also, will be conducted by the Angels of God into Heaven after the Day of Judgment.
St. Augustine, St. Anselm, and many other Saints do not hesitate to maintain that there are in Heaven real trees, real fruits, and real flowers, indescribably attractive and delightful to the sight, taste, smell, and touch, different from anything we can imagine.
In the revelations of the Saints mention is made of the gardens in Heaven, and the flowers that blossom there ; and we know it is recorded in the legend of St. Dorothea, that she sent to Theophilus by the hands of an Angel a basket of flowers culled in the gardens of the celestial paradise, of such surpassing beauty that the sight of them led him to become a Christian, and lay down his life for the faith of Christ.
We also read in the life of St. Didacus, that on coming to himself after a trance into which he fell shortly before his death, he cried aloud : " O what flowers there are in Paradise ! what flowers there are in paradise ! " Similar incidents are frequently to be met with in the legends of the Saints.
Consider how delightful it will be for the happy ones who are saved to wander in the celestial gardens, and contemplate those fair flowers. How pleasing the lovely blossoms are to the eye, how delicious is the fragrance they exhale ! Of a truth, if a man were to obtain possession of a single one of these heavenly flowers, it would produce on him the same effect as on Theophilus. He would be spoiled for all the beauty of earth, and would strive with his whole soul after the perfect beauty of Heaven.
Meditate often, therefore, upon the things of Heaven; raise thy eyes and thy heart to the bright firmament above, and awaken within thy heart by this or other means a keen desire to behold the mansions of the eternal Father, and to dwell in them for evermore.
O God, who hast enriched the heavenly Jerusalem with such beauty in order that we poor children of earth might have a greater longing to behold it, I beseech Thee, inflame my heart with an ardent affection and longing for the celestial abode which Thou hast prepared for us. For blessed are they, O Lord, who dwell in Thy house ; they shall enjoy consummate felicity for evermore, and for evermore they will praise the power, the wisdom, the bounty of our God. Would that I were worthy to be associated with that sinless company, to behold that fair city, to become one of its happy denizens. Grant me this grace, O God, I pray Thee; let me not be excluded from the number of Thine elect.
O blessed Saints of God, you who dwell within the courts of the heavenly Jerusalem, I humbly entreat you to intercede for me, that in His infinite clemency the God of mercy may grant me so to live that I may be found worthy to be admitted to your blissful company.
Hear the prayers of Thy Saints, O most compassionate God, and through the merits of Jesus Christ give me a share in that inheritance which He purchased for us with His precious blood. May the things of this world lose all value in my eyes, and do Thou make my heart to glow with the burning desire to behold Thee and the city that Thou hast built, the heavenly Jerusalem. Amen.
On the Joys of Heaven.
Now that we have meditated upon the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of God, we will proceed to consider the happiness which the Saints who dwell therein enjoy, both in regard to body and soul. It is true as yet they have not their bodies, as a general rule, but at the Last Day they will all have them again, and those bodies will then be so beauteous, that nothing in the world can compare with them. And this will principally be because every member will be endowed with four qualities or attributes, namely: beauty, impassibility, agility, and subtlety. By reason of its beauty or glory the body of each one of the elect will shine like a star, yet, as one star differs from another in glory, so the Saints will shine with greater or less splendour, according as their lives upon earth have been more or less holy.
In these glorified and radiant bodies the blessed will be so inexpressibly beautiful, that if a mortal man were now to behold one of these resplendent beings, he would be dazzled by its brilliance and be ready to expire for joy of heart.
In her revelations to St. Bridget, the Blessed Mother of God once said: "The Saints stand around my Son like countless stars, whose glory is not to be compared with any temporal light. Believe me, if the Saints could be seen shining with the glory they now possess, no human eye could endure their light all would turn away, dazzled and blinded."
Think what happiness it will be for thee, when thy body shines like the sun at midday. Everything that lives and moves rejoices in the light and warmth of the sun: it gladdens all the face of nature. In like manner thy body will be a joy and delight to thyself and all around thee in Heaven, because of its beauty and its glory.
The second attribute is impassibility, for the glorified body is incapable of suffering. It will never be sick or infirm, it will not grow old or unsightly. It will never again be inconvenienced by hunger or thirst, by heat or cold, by draught or dampness. It can nevermore be burned by fire, drowned in water, wounded by the sword or crushed beneath a weight; it will be immortal, unchangeable, eternally endowed with perfect health and unfailing strength. If any one on earth could purchase this gift of impassibility, how gladly would he give all he possessed to obtain it!
The third attribute is agility. The glorified body will be able to traverse the greatest distance with the speed of thought. In one moment it can come down from Heaven to earth; in one moment it can pass from one end of the Heavens to the other, without labour, without fatigue, without difficulty. We often wish that we could fly like the birds, that we could speed on our way like clouds on the wings of the wind, that we could follow thought in its rapid flight. If it were possible to purchase this power, every one would part with all his worldly wealth for it, if only to obtain it for one single year.
How is it, then, that thou dost take so little trouble to ensure for thyself the possession of this gift for all eternity?
The fourth attribute of the glorified body is subtlety, which consists in the faculty of penetrating all matter, of passing in and out wheresoever it will. No wall is so thick, no iron gate so massive, no mountain so great as to form an obstacle to the glorified body. As the sun's rays pass through glass, so the bodies of the redeemed as they are in Heaven, penetrate all matter, however dense and solid it may be. They can also make themselves visible or invisible at will. What wouldst thou not give to become possessed of such a faculty?
How great is Thy bounty, almighty God, towards Thine elect ! Thou bestowest upon them precious and sublime gifts, that no amount of this world’s riches can purchase. Who would not gladly spend his life in Thy service and suffer afflictions in this world in order to possess these inestimable gifts to all eternity?
Ask this poor frail body if it would not fain shine as the light, be exempt from suffering, move with the speed of thought, be unfettered as a spirit? To own such powers would indeed be a joy and a consolation unspeakable.
Wouldst thou not consent to have a hard penance laid on thee for a whole year, if at the end these attributes were bestowed on thee? If so, then do not esteem it a grievance to lead here below a life of penance, in the hope that these fair gifts may be thine during all eternity. See that here on earth thou love the light, the light of good works; bear all pain and tribulation with patience, be prompt and zealous in the service of God; mortify within thyself more and more all sensual desires, and thou wilt assuredly be the happy possessor hereafter of these four attributes of the glorified body.
We will now turn our attention to the pleasure and gratification which the blessed will experience by means of these five senses ; and first of all we will inquire what satisfaction they will find in their sight. The power of sight will be so perfect that nothing can be hid from their eyes. They will see what is distant as distinctly as what is near, the smallest object as plainly as the largest, the dark will be to them as clear as the light. Their vision will be so undimmed that they will be able to gaze without flinching at the sun, even were its light a hundredfold more dazzling. Their sight will be so keen that no obstacle will offer a hindrance to it. Now think what delight awaits thy sense of sight, when thy eyes first rest upon the glories of Heaven. First they will behold the city itself, with its palaces and mansions, whereof the splendour and majesty is so great that the contemplation of these magnificent structures would afford pleasurable employment for a whole eternity.
In the second place, thou wilt gaze with delight upon the fair flowers, the trees, the gardens, and all the other beauteous sights that will arrest the eye in Heaven.
Thirdly, it will be an unspeakable pleasure to thee to behold thyself and all the other Saints arrayed in beauty, glory, splendour, grace and majesty far surpassing anything seen in this world.
Fourthly, thou wilt see the incomparable beauty of the Angels, for it is believed that those celestial spirits will assume bodies of great loveliness formed from the air, in order to render themselves visible to the blessed. This opinion is held by St. Anselm. And if the beauty of an Angel immeasurably exceeds all human beauty, wilt thou not rejoice in the contemplation of so many thousands of Angelic beings, all of surpassing loveliness, for all eternity?
Fifthly, on nothing will thine eyes rest with such keen delight as on the inexpressible beauty of Jesus and Mary, whose glorified bodies are so irresistibly charming, attractive, beautiful and majestic, that if the damned were permitted to behold them, they would no longer find Hell intolerable.
Now consider what a fertile source of delight it will be, to be continually and forever surrounded by sights so enchanting and so sublime. Our natural inclination leads us here below to take long journeys for the sake of seeing some beauteous sight, to expend large sums to obtain some beauteous object, and even to imperil our souls in our eager search after what is beautiful.
Since the love of the beautiful is so deeply rooted in our nature, how strange that we do not yearn for the beauty of Heaven. Why do we not close our eyes to the attractions of earth, that we may be found worthy to open them upon the splendours of Heaven?
From sight let us pass on to hearing.
It would be unwise were we to attempt to describe the gratification it will be to the ear to hear the canticles of the Angels, and the soft music of their harps. The nine choirs of Angels will sing the praise of God, and the blessed will join them not only in heart, for they will mingle their voices also in the sweet harmony. Thus the powers of both soul and body will be exercised, and the praises of God will ascend in melodious hymns and celestial songs. For if we mortals are impelled by fervent love and heartfelt joy to lift our voice in song, how much more will the holy Angels and blessed Saints do so, who are all aflame with the love of God, and filled with joy unspeakable. Their hymns of praise will resound without ceasing through the courts of Heaven.
In a prophetic spirit the elder Tobias says: "The gates of Jerusalem shall be built of sapphire and of emerald, and all the walls thereof round about with precious stones, all its streets shall be paved with white and clean stones, and alleluia shall be sung in its streets" (Tob. xiii. 21, 22).
These words seem to indicate that the redeemed will walk at their pleasure with one another in the heavenly Jerusalem, their voices uniting in happy alleluias.
In wondrous harmony the Angels and Saints will praise and magnify their God. What happiness for them, O my God, what sweetness, what joy! If sweet songs rejoice us here, and awaken elevated feelings within our breast, the canticles of the Angels and Saints will indeed cause us rapture and delight, when we have the felicity to be admitted into their blessed company.
My God and my all ! how great is the abundance of the favours Thou hast prepared for them that love Thee! My heart thirsts for the stream of celestial joys. Truly blessed are they that dwell in Thy house, O Lord; they shall praise Thee forever and ever. The Saints shall rejoice and be glad in this glory, the high praises of God shall be in their mouth. Would that it were even now granted me to join these citizens of Heaven and with them to extol Thy name forever! When will the hour come, that happy hour in which I shall be privileged to behold the majesty of Thy house? Until it comes, I shall bear all the sufferings and tribulations of this world with patience, and will brighten my journey through this valley of tears by singing Thy praise; I will bless the Lord at all times, His praise shall be ever in my mouth. Magnify the Lord with me, ye Angels and Saints; let us extol His name evermore.
From the sense of hearing we will pass on to that of smell. The delicious odours of paradise surpass anything that man can imagine. The fairest lilies, roses, violets, carnations, and other rare and lovely flowers grow in the gardens of the heavenly paradise, and their fragrance is so delightful, that if a man had but a petal of one of those flowers, he would be overcome by the sweetness of the perfume. "Israel [that is the company of the redeemed] shall spring as the lily, and his smell shall be that of Libanus" (Osee xiv. 6).
Experience has abundantly shown that the bodies of the Saints whilst in their graves already emit a fragrant smell; how much more powerful will that fragrance be when they are again raised to life and glorified. Above all the bodies of Christ and of His Blessed Mother will exhale so sweet a perfume that all Heaven will be pervaded by it.
How lovely are Thy tabernacles, O Lord, wherein we shall be invigorated by the aromatic odours that environ us ! For if sweet odours refresh and revive us here below, the odours of Paradise will surely give strength and refreshment to the blessed.
Even the sense of taste will be gratified in Heaven, not, it is true, by the consumption of ordinary food, but in a manner whereof we can as yet form no conjecture. The blessed will taste a sweet sustenance which will satisfy them, as we learn from the words of the Royal Psalmist: "They shall be inebriated with the plenty of Thy house, Thou shalt make them drink of the torrent of Thy pleasure" (Ps. xxxv. 9).
The sense of touch will have its own peculiar enjoyment. The more one has mortified himself here on earth, the greater will be his bodily well-being hereafter. St. Anselm says: "In the future life the Saints will experience a feeling of untold comfort and ease. This pleasurable sensation will pervade every member, producing a wondrous sense of peace and contentment."
In fact, what can be wanting to the glorified body in Heaven? It is in the enjoyment of perpetual health, perpetual rest, perpetual happiness, so that in the superabundance of joy and satisfaction it can scarce realize how enviable is its condition.
Finally, the redeemed will take very great pleasure in beholding one another, in conversing with one another, in kindly intercourse and friendly communication. Think how beautiful a sight it will be to see hundreds of thousands of beings in all the splendour of their glorified state. If on earth we esteem it a pleasure to look upon a handsome face, we can appreciate in some slight degree what it will be in Heaven, the lowliest of whose inhabitants is possessed of a beauty far exceeding the personal attractions of any mortal man.
Moreover, the redeemed are united together by the bond of mutual charity, for they love one another more dearly than the most affectionate of brothers and sisters. If they have never met on earth, yet they know one another better than if they had been brought up together. Each one will know the incidents of his earthly career.
Each one will be able to see into the other's heart, and know how great is the affection he feels for him. Each one will rejoice in the other's glory as much as if it were his own; and the lowliest in the kingdom of Heaven exults as much in the glory of the highest as the latter can possibly do. This was explained to St. Augustine by St. John the Baptist in a vision. "Know," he said to him, "that on account of the inexpressible charity that the blessed have towards one another, that each takes no less pleasure in the exaltation of another than if it were his own. Nay, more, he who is greater wishes that the lower were equal to him, and even more honoured than himself ; for in his triumph he, too, would triumph.
"In like manner those who are in a lowly place rejoice in the glory of those who are in the highest place; they do not envy them, far from it. They would not desire the high position if the others had it not; they would rather give them a part of their own glory, were this possible." Hence it may be seen that the Saints take pleasure in the splendour wherewith their fellows are crowned, and entertain for each and all of them a heartfelt affection. More especially do they love one who has, by word or example, helped them on their way to Heaven; to such a one they know not how they can sufficiently testify their gratitude.
Each one will also feel a particular affection for the Saint whom he chose as his patron upon earth, and whom he honoured with a special devotion; and this affection will be reciprocated by the object of it. Those who stood in this relation to one another will meet together more often; they will converse on holy subjects and mutually relate their experiences on earth, telling how marvellously the providence of God saved them from eternal perdition. In a word, the pleasures afforded to the redeemed by this intercourse will be innumerable, and they will do everything in their power to gratify and show kindness to one another.
O God of all mercies! who would not desire to enter into this land of eternal peace, where are joys beyond all that mortal man can conceive, joys so many and so manifold, so wondrous and so sweet! Sometimes the pleasures of this world have such a fascination for a man, that he cannot renounce them, even though he sees Hell open before him. And yet those pleasures are less than nothing in comparison with the joys of Heaven; in fact, all the joys one can picture to one's self or desire for one's self cannot equal the least and the lowest of the joys that will be ours to all eternity! O my God, how unspeakable will be the bliss of Heaven ! May it be my happy lot to share in that felicity!
Urged by this desire, I will give Thee no rest, every day I will implore Thee to take me to Thyself. I will detach my heart from this world, I will entirely renounce all earthly pleasures; all my aspirations, all my affections shall be fixed upon the heavenly treasures, and I will hold myself ready every day to quit this earthly scene. The sooner death comes to fetch me hence, the more welcome will it be, for I shall leave this land of exile and enter into my true country. God grant that so it may be. Amen.
On the Joys of Heaven (Continued).
WITH regard to the spiritual joys of the redeemed in Heaven, they are in such great abundance, that in speaking of them one does not know where to begin or where to end. Think of the spiritual consolations granted to eminent servants of God in this world. We know concerning some Saints that their life on earth was more that of Angels than of men, so frequently were they favoured with ecstasies, visions, interior lights, and Divine consolations of all kinds. And yet all these favours were but as a drop out of the boundless ocean of celestial sweetness. What rapture it will be for holy souls in Heaven to drink from the fountain-head, and draw freely from the inexhaustible source of all felicity! All the powers of the mind, the understanding, the memory, the will, the imagination, every thought, every desire, the whole intellectual being, elevated and perfected by God Himself, will be fully satisfied, and will add to and heighten the joys of the soul.
With the understanding the blessed will behold all created things in the light of God, and thoroughly penetrate the secrets of nature. It is recorded of King Solomon that "God gave to Solomon wisdom and understanding exceeding much, as the sand that is on the seashore. And the wisdom of Solomon surpassed the wisdom of all the Orientals and of the Egyptians, and he was wiser than all men. He also spoke three thousand parables, and his poems were a thousand and five. And he treated about trees from the cedar that is in Lebanon unto the hyssop that cometh out of the wall ; and he discoursed of beasts, and of fowls, and of creeping things, and of fishes. And they came from all nations to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and from all the kings of the earth, who heard of his wisdom" (3 Kings iv. 29-34).
We have never heard of wisdom equal to this, nor can we cease to wonder at the wide range and astuteness of this great king's understanding. Yet compared with the wisdom of the least of the Saints in Heaven, it ranks no higher than does the knowledge possessed by a child of three years old beside the erudition and wisdom of the most learned of men. For all the operations of nature, all the powers of the universe are open and revealed to the least of the Saints in Heaven. Nothing is hidden or mysterious in his eyes. He knows all that the Holy Trinity has accomplished from all eternity, in how marvellous a manner the heavens and the earth were created out of nothing, how wisely all has been ordered and maintained from the beginning to the end of time. He knows how the Son of God was begotten of the Father before all ages; he knows how the Holy Spirit proceeds eternally from the Father and the Son. He knows how Christ was born of an earthly mother without violation of her virginity; he knows all that Our Lord did and suffered during His whole life, and how each Saint and servant of God lived for God and laboured in His service. All that is mysterious and incomprehensible to us in the Holy Scriptures, the mysteries of religion and of nature, he understands without a moment's reflection. Hadst thou been on earth but a simple, illiterate peasant, on thy entrance into Heaven thy eyes would be opened, and thou wouldst see clearly and understand all things perfectly. What joy, what happiness this knowledge and clear insight will be to thee I What grateful thanks thou wilt render to God for it!
Secondly, in as far as their memory is concerned, the blessed will also find fullness of joy in Heaven, for it will, like the understanding, be enlightened by God; and all the events of their past life will be as fresh and as distinct to their remembrance as if they beheld them inscribed on tablets before their eyes. Then they perceive by what a marvellous way God led them to their eternal goal, how mercifully He pardoned their transgressions, how He succoured them in the hour of temptation, and how He made all things work together for their good.
This retrospect will arouse in the heart of each one the holiest gratitude towards God and oft-times they will give expression to it thus: O my God, whom I love above all things, how great are the gifts and graces Thou hast bestowed upon me, how generous Thou hast been towards me, how often Thou hast rescued me from the danger of falling into sin, how mercifully Thou hast preserved me from eternal damnation, and how wonderfully Thou hast guided me in the way of salvation ! How can I sufficiently praise and magnify Thine infinite bounty? How can I sufficiently thank Thee and adore Thee for the benefits Thou hast lavished on me?
Thirdly, the will of each one of the blessed will be crowned with felicity, and kindled with the love of God and of the blessed in whose company he is.
The noblest pleasures a man can enjoy come from his will. A man is happy when all succeeds with him according to his wishes; when he acquires and possesses all that his heart can desire; when he is generally esteemed and praised by his fellow-men; when he loves, and is loved by the object of his affections. This and much more besides is the portion of the blessed, but in the highest degree and in the greatest possible perfection.
The love of God for them, and their love of Him is so profound, that they are inflamed and consumed with Divine charity, that their will resembles a live coal, glowing with light and heat, until it is absorbed by the fire of which it is a part. So it is with the Saints in Heaven; imbued with Divine charity, they burn and shine in the light of God, and reflect His image more and more. St. John says: "We know that when He shall appear we shall be like to Him, be cause we shall see Him as He is" (i John iii. 2). In the love of God and in union with Him they find such ineffable delight that, inebriated by the sweetness of Divine charity they lose themselves in Him.
There is no greater happiness upon earth than to love and be loved, and the more tender, pure and ardent this love is, the greater the joy and delight it affords us. Now the love of Heaven, the love of the redeemed for God and for one another, is the most tender, the most pure, the most ardent affection, an affection infinite and boundless; consequently it is a source of immense delight and happiness unspeakable. May the God of all grace make us partakers of this love, and we shall then know by experience that of which words fail to convey an idea. No one will be privileged to partake in this love, unless here below he lives in the love of God, and dies in His friendship. Let us therefore strive to increase within us this Divine charity, that we may be admitted hereafter to the full enjoyment of His love.
The beatific vision of the Divine countenance is a joy above all joys, a delight far surpassing all the celestial pleasures of which we have spoken. Without this all other joys would lose their savour, they would be changed to bitterness. On one occasion, when the devil was speaking by the mouth of a person who was possessed, he said: "If the whole Heavens were a sheet of parchment, if the whole ocean were ink, if every blade of grass were pen, and every man on earth a scribe, it would not suffice to describe the intense, immeasurable delight which the vision of God affords to the blessed." And at another time he said that if God would but vouchsafe to grant him the privilege of beholding His Divine countenance for a few moments, he would, if it were possible, gladly bear in his own person all the torments of Hell until the Day of Judgment. This teaches us that if a man spent his whole life in works of most severe penance, and after his death were permitted only for one instant to gaze on the face of God, he would have received an ample recompense for all his mortifications.
Now consider how transcendent must be the bliss which the Saints derive from the contemplation, the enjoyment, the possession of the supreme God! If to gaze on the Divine countenance for one passing moment is a joy beyond all that a life of pleasure offers to the world ling, what rapture will it be to gaze for evermore, with undimmed eyes, on His infinite beauty, what rapture to call this supreme Good one s own for all eternity!
God is a being in whom all that is most admirable and desirable exists in the highest degree. In Him is all that most attracts and fascinates us; clemency, beauty, justice, compassion, wisdom, majesty, every sweet and sublime attribute in its fullest perfection. From God proceeds all grace, all that we need for our spiritual and temporal welfare, all the happiness, the joy, the repose, the consolation, all the benefits and blessings which His creatures enjoy in Heaven and on earth. And when the redeemed enter upon the contemplation of this infinite Good, upon the possession of this source of all that is to be loved and admired and longed for, their joy will indeed be full. What unspeakable delight it will afford them to understand the mystery of the Incarnation, the mystery of the Holy Eucharist!
What unspeakable delight it will be to them to comprehend how God can be invisible Himself, and yet see everything ; how He can Himself be unmoved, and yet the source of all motion; how He can be Himself immutable, and yet the author of all change. These and many other mysteries will be made clear to the blessed in the light of God, and this fount of knowledge will not be exhausted to all eternity. The more they know God, the more will their desire to know Him better increase, and of this knowledge there will be no limit and no defect. Thus they will ever hunger, and yet be perfectly satisfied; this rich treasury will ever be open to them, and never will they exhaust all the wealth it contains.
Meditate frequently on this subject, O reader, and excite within thy soul an earnest desire to enjoy God forever and ever.
O my God and my all ! Who art infinite beauty, infinite sweetness, infinite bounty ! With all my heart I long after Thee. As the hart pants for the water-brooks, so my soul thirsts for Thee, the mighty and living God; when shall I come and appear before Thy presence? When will it be my happy lot to behold Thee, to enjoy Thee forever? I venture to hope that this joy may be mine; I humbly hope and trust in Thy infinite goodness, for Thou dost reject no one who comes to Thee with a contrite and loving heart. -How rich, how happy, how joyful shall I be when I shall have this supreme Good for my own possession 1 I shall embrace Thee with reverent affection, I shall lose myself in Thee, when once I have Thee for my own.
I am ready, I am desirous, O my God, to do all that lies in my power, to render myself worthy to be admitted into Thy presence. I am prepared to suffer all that my weak nature will enable me to bear. I am prepared to withdraw from the world, to renounce all earthly things in as far as the duties of my position permit. I am prepared to labour as far as in me lies, for Thy service ; and this I will do in the hope of winning Thee, the infinite and eternal Good, and beholding for evermore Thy infinite beauty. Nay, even did I know that I should be lost, I would still love Thee. For I do not love Thee because I hope for eternal salvation through Thee, but I love Thee because Thou art perfect Beauty and infinite Goodness, worthy to be the sole object of our affections and aspirations.
Thus believing and thus hoping, I desire to live and die, and I call the Angels and Saints to witness to the truth of what I say.
And in attestation of the same I repeat with heart and voice:
My God, I love Thee, not because
I hope for Heaven thereby;
Nor because they who love Thee not
Must burn eternally.
Not with the hope of gaining aught,
Not seeking a reward;
But as Thyself hast loved me,
O ever-loving Lord.
On the Number of the Saved.
IN the three previous chapters it has been our pleasurable task to point out how beauteous is the celestial paradise, how great is the happiness enjoyed by the redeemed. And doubtless in the heart of each one of our readers a fervent desire has arisen to gain admission to the realms of eternal light, and become a partaker of its joys. Perhaps each one will feel sure that his hopes in this respect will be fulfilled.
It is, however, greatly to be feared that many a one will come short of the goal, and will be forever excluded from the kingdom of Heaven, as this chapter is intended to demonstrate. Let me, however, beg all who peruse it, not to allow what is said to discourage them, and render them pusillanimous, but rather to let it increase in them the spirit of humility and salutary fear, and stimulate them to greater energy and diligence in working out their salvation, if this appear to them less easy than they were inclined to imagine. My only motive in writing this chapter is to open the eyes of the reader, and show him his danger. For were I not to do this he might go on blindly on the wrong road, and only become aware that it is the road to perdition when it is too late to retrace his steps, when the hand of death draws the veil from his eyes. Thereupon I consider that I shall do the wanderer a service if I enlighten him as to the risk he is incurring, and endeavour to direct his steps into the path to Heaven.
Let me ask thee, O reader, what proportion thinkest thou of all who live upon this earth will be saved? Half? or a third part? or perhaps a quarter? Alas, I fear, and not without good reason, that the number will not be nearly so large. Jesus Christ, Who is eternal Truth, His holy Apostles, and the Fathers of the Church, all tell us that so it will be.
What does Christ say about the number of the elect? His words are these: "Many are called, but few are chosen." He repeats these words when He speaks of the guest who had not on a wedding garment: "Bind his hands and his feet, and cast him into the exterior darkness. For many are called, but few chosen." Were nothing more to be found to this intent in the whole of the Scriptures, this passage could not fail to alarm us. But there are many other similar ones, of which I will quote one or two.
In the Gospel of St. Matthew we read that Our Lord said: "Enter ye in at the narrow gate, for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leadeth unto destruction, and many there are that go in thereat. How narrow is the gate and strait is the way that leadeth unto life, and few there are that find it" (Matt. vii. 13). Are not these words calculated to inspire us with anxiety and apprehension? May not we be amongst those who go in at the wide gate, who walk on the broad road that ends in everlasting perdition?
In order that thou mayst better appreciate the meaning of Our Lord's words, and perceive more clearly how few are the elect, observe that Christ did not say that those were few in number who walked in the path to Heaven, but that there were but few who found that narrow way. "How strait is the gate that leadeth unto life, and few there are that find it." It is as if the Saviour intended to say: The path leading to Heaven is so narrow and so rough, it is so overgrown, so dark and difficult to discern, that there are many who, their whole life long, never find it. And those who do find it are exposed constantly to the danger of deviating from it, of mistaking their way and unwittingly wandering away from it, because it is so irregular and over grown. This St. Jerome says, in his commentary on the passage in question. Again, there are some who when they are on the right road, hasten to leave it, because it is so steep and toilsome.
There are also many who are enticed to leave the narrow way by the wiles and deceits of the devil, and thus, almost imperceptibly to themselves, are led downwards to Hell. From all that has been said we may gather that those are but few in number who find the way to Heaven, and yet fewer are those who persevere in following it unto the end.
Now because Christ knew that these words of His would be misinterpreted, and understood in a false sense by both believers and unbelievers, on another occasion He accentuated and emphasized what He had already said concerning the small number of the elect. For when one of the disciples asked Him: "Lord, are they few that shall be saved?" He answered and said: "Strive to enter by the narrow gate; for many, I say unto you, shall seek to enter and shall not be able" (Luke xiii. 24). Listen to the words of the Divine Teacher. He bids us strive, take trouble, make use of all our powers in order to enter unto the narrow gate. And what is still more calculated to appal, He adds that many shall seek to enter in and shall not be able.
If those who desire and endeavour to enter into the kingdom of Heaven fail to do so, what will be come of those who lead a careless, perhaps an ungodly life, and manifest no zeal, no interest in what concerns their eternal salvation?
We have already heard Christ three times declare to us that the number of the elect is small; that in proportion to the great mass of mankind only a few will be saved. And because He was aware that we should not lay this weighty truth to heart as we ought, He reiterates it in yet more explicit language.
After He had told a rich man who came to Him to leave all his possessions and follow Him, and the man had gone away sorrowful, He said, addressing His disciples: "How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! And the disciples were astonished at His words.
But Jesus again answering saith: Children, how hard it is for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God. It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. Then the disciples wondered the more, saying among themselves, Who then can be saved? And Jesus looking on them saith: With men it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible unto God" (Mark x. 23-27).
Truly these words, coming from the lips of our Divine Master, are enough to inspire us with profound alarm; they are almost enough to cause us to despond. For they expressly tell us that the work of our salvation is a work of immense difficulty, an almost miraculous achievement, and that it is well-nigh impossible for poor humanity to enter into the kingdom of Heaven. It is in reality as much of a miracle for a man to escape everlasting perdition and to attain eternal felicity, as it would be for one man single-handed to vanquish and put to flight a whole army. For all the powers of Hell are leagued together with the wicked world against us; all the powers of Hell put their forces in array in order to conquer and enslave every one of us mortals. And with the awful powers of darkness the evil, crafty world makes common cause, and the concupiscences of the flesh do the same, for the purpose of compassing our ruin.
Now, since there are so many adversaries who assail us, adversaries so crafty, so strong, so fierce, who can deem himself sure of victory? It is little short of a miracle if one escapes the clutches of foes so numerous and so formidable. Who can hope in his own strength to triumph over them? We must needs acknowledge that all who have over come the evil enemy, the evil world, and their own evil proclivities, have been strengthened by God with His special assistance. Hence we see how toilsome and laborious a work it is to win Heaven; and we learn the truth of Our Lord's words, when He said: "The kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away" (Matt. xi. 12).
For the consolation and encouragement of the Christian it must here be remarked that if the number of his enemies is so appallingly great, the number of his friends is still greater.
"Fear not, for there are more with us than with them." So spoke the prophet Eliseus to his frightened servant." And the Lord opened the eyes of the servant and he saw; and behold the mountain was full of horses and of chariots of fire" (4 Kings vi. 1 6). We are not left to do battle alone; our holy guardian Angel and all the blessed spirits are on our side; we may rely on the powerful protection of the Mother of God, on the virtue of the sacraments, the merits of Christ’s Passion, the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the succour of Almighty God. By means of these mighty aids we shall overcome, if we fight bravely and do not weakly yield ourselves into captivity, as unhappily too many do. For these timid, slothful, spiritless persons delude themselves with the false hope that, after all, Heaven is not hard to win. They think and say to themselves: It is not so bad a case as some would make out; Christ did not suffer for us for naught; if it were not God’s will that we should be saved, He would not have created us for the enjoyment of Heaven. These and similar words we hear from the lips of the children of this world; they live according to these notions, and succeed in deceiving themselves and others.
That such persons are in error, and that they are walking on the broad road that leads to destruction, Holy Scripture leaves us no doubt.
The whole teaching of the Gospel is wholly at variance with the principles they follow; and those who live a careless life and indulge their senses are repeatedly warned that eternal death will be their portion. Listen to the admonition Christ addresses to the votaries of this world and the lovers of its luxuries: " Woe to you that are rich, for you have your consolation. Woe to you that are filled, for you shall hunger; woe to you that now laugh, for you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you when men shall bless you," that is, when men of bad principles, opposed to the maxims of religion, applaud your words, your actions, your opinions. This denunciation from Our Lord s lips may well fill us with dismay.
What object in life have the great majority of mankind? What is it that they strive after and crave for?
They desire to be rich, to be prosperous, to live in luxury, and to be praised by their fellow-men. Nobody considers this to be a sin. And yet Our Lord declares that everlasting death will be the doom of such persons, and He denounces them in forcible language.
From these and similar passages, which abound in Holy Scripture, thou seest that God is more Strict than thou dost imagine, and it is a more easy matter to lose thy soul than thou perhaps thinkest. Wherefore do not any longer live so heedlessly, but work out thy salvation with fear and trembling, as the Apostle exhorts thee. The Saints did so at all times, having the fear of God s judgments ever be fore their eyes. The ungodly, on the contrary, were ever wont to say, as many do at the present day: God is merciful, He will not condemn us so lightly to eternal damnation. But remember what is said in Holy Scripture: "Be not without fear about sin forgiven, and add not sin to sin. And say not, The mercy of the Lord is great, He will have mercy on the multitude of my sins. For mercy and wrath come quickly from Him, and His wrath looketh upon sinners" (Ecclus. v. 5-7).
We also find St. Catharine of Siena saying: "O unhappy sinners, do not rely upon the greatness of God’s mercy ; believe me, the more you provoke the anger of this merciful God by willful sin, the deeper you will be cast into the abyss of perdition."
It is undoubtedly true that we ought to place our trust in God s mercy; but what the nature of our confidence should be, we are taught by St. Gregory. He says: "Let him who does all that he can, rely firmly upon the mercy of God. But for him who does not do all that lies within his power to rely upon the mercy of God would be simple presumption." To each and all of us the Apostle Peter says: "Labour the more, that by good works you may make your calling and election sure" (2 Pet. i. 10).
Several of the Fathers of the Church consider that from the fact that at the time of the deluge only eight persons were saved, at the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah only four namely, Lot, his wife and his two daughters escaped with their lives, and of the six hundred thousand able men who departed out of Egypt not more than two reached the Promised Land, the others all dying in the desert, it may be concluded that the number of the elect amongst Christians will be proportionately small. This agrees with what St. John Chrysostom said on one occasion when he was preaching in the city of Antioch: "What think you, my hearers, how many of the inhabitants of this city may perhaps be saved? What I am about to say is very terrible, yet I will not conceal it from you. Out of this thickly populated city with its thousands of inhabitants not a hundred will be saved; I even doubt whether there will be as many as that. For what indifference we see amongst the aged, what wickedness amongst the young, what impiety amongst all classes of people."
Such words as these may well make us tremble. We should hesitate to believe them, did they not come from the lips of so great a Saint and Father of the Church. And if it is true that in the first five centuries, when the zeal and devotion of Christians was much more fervent than it is now, so small a number attained everlasting salvation, what will it be in our own day, when crime and vice prevail to so fearful an extent?
Since it is impossible for any one to deny, or even to doubt, that the number of the elect is small in proportion to that of the reprobate, I beseech thee, O Christian reader, exert thyself to the utmost to accomplish the work of thy salvation. Thou knowest what an awful thing it is to be damned eternally.
The plagues and torments of Hell are so terrible that words cannot be found to describe them. Consider in time the eternity of those unspeakable tortures, and take heed, lest thou too be cast into the abyss of never-ending anguish.
How wouldst thou be able to endure torments so immeasurable, so endless? Wouldst thou not despond and despair, wouldst thou not storm and rage? Yet that would avail thee nothing; it would only add to thy sufferings and increase thy misery.
All this is most terrible, most awful, most appalling. How is it that thou dost not think about it more often? How is it possible that thou canst live on so heedlessly? How is it possible that thou hast not more fear of Hell? Dost thou perhaps think thyself secure of Heaven? How is it that thou dost go with the multitude, as if thou didst not know that thou art in great danger of perishing with the multitude?
If thou wouldst be saved, follow the counsel of St. Anselm, when he says: "If thou wouldst be certain of being in the number of the elect, strive to be one of the few, not of the many. And if thou wouldst be quite sure of thy salvation, strive to be among the fewest of the few; that is to say: Do not follow the great majority of mankind, but follow those who enter upon the narrow way, who renounce the world, who give themselves to prayer, and who never relax their efforts by day or by night, that they may attain everlasting felicity."
Let us, my dear reader, courageously and cheerfully do all, undertake all, sacrifice all that we may gain the ineffable happiness of Heaven, for we never can purchase Heaven at too dear a price. Let us not be disheartened at the difficulties on our road, for, after all, it is not so difficult to merit Heaven. Were we to do for Heaven half as much as people do to earn a living, to acquire a little wealth, power or fame, or to enjoy life, we would be sure of securing a high place among the Saints. All we have to do to gain Heaven is to keep the commandments of God and of His Church, to bear our little crosses, to discharge the obligations of our state of life, to overcome temptation; and although this is above our natural strength, we nevertheless can count on the grace of God, if we pray earnestly for it, and with God s help everything will become comparatively easy, for, as St. Paul says: "I can do all things in Him who strengtheneth me" (Phil. iv. 13). Earnest, persistent prayer will secure Heaven to us.
I now, dear reader, address to you the words the mother of the Machabees addressed to her youngest son, a mere boy, when he was about to be tortured to death, as his six brothers had been before him: "My son, I beg thee to look up to Heaven." Look up to Heaven every day, especially in time of trial and temptation. Heaven is well worth every suffering and every sacrifice and every combat required of us, and even a thousand times more! Life is short; its trials, its sufferings, its labours, its combats, its crosses also are short and transitory; but Heaven and its joys are inconceivable, satiating every desire of the heart and never-ending!" Our present momentary and light tribulation worketh above measure exceedingly an eternal weight of glory" (2 Cor. iv. 17).
May God in His mercy grant this happy end to the writer of this book and all into whose hands it may fall.