Preparing on Earth for the Glory of Heaven

Guido Reni - St Joseph with the Infant Jesus - WGA19304
Guido Reni. St Joseph with the Infant Jesus (1620s) Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg

In the gospels, Our Lord is abundantly clear that we will live for eternity, either in heaven or in hell, and that heaven is the reward that God has prepared for those who love Him.

Although we do know something about heaven from the words of Our Lord and the teaching of the Church, we can never fully comprehend the beauty and happiness of heaven here on earth. As St Paul teaches:

“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man, what things God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Cor 2.9)

We do know that those who are in heaven no longer have any sorrow; heaven is a place of perfect happiness.

On earth, we can never be sure of our salvation, we need to pray always for the gift of final perseverance in our faith. It is good to pray to St Joseph for a happy death at which we receive the sacraments and die in a state of grace. In heaven, the saints are now certain of their salvation which is assured for all eternity.

The blessed have all that they desire, and they see God face to face. Here, we need to be careful. To have all that we desire does not mean that God confirms our present disordered desires for created things or even our sins. On the contrary, the saints only desire the love of God and He is all-sufficient for their happiness.

Part of our purgatory will most likely be the purification of our clinging to earthly pleasure and satisfaction. It will also be a time in which we begin to know God as He really is. It is easy for us on earth to imagine that God is as we want Him to be – or even as we might be if we were God. The protest that “My God” would do this or that” is telling. We do not make God up in our own image, He created us in His image, and we must bow down before Him as He reveals Himself to us. We cannot bring Him down to our own level, we cannot fit Him into our limited human concepts of what we think religion should be or what we think faith should be. Along with the boy Samuel, our safest attitude is to say “Speak Lord, your servant is listening” or with St Peter, when asked whether the disciples would join all the others who walked away because of Our Lord’s difficult teaching about the Eucharist being His own flesh and blood, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the message of eternal life.”

When we think of heaven, it is salutary for us in directing our lives here and now. It is a most urgent priority for us to give God the first place in our lives so that we may be more ready for heaven in which He will be our only good, and spend less time in purgatory repenting and being cleansed of our self-centred attempts to reduce God to our own thinking.

Thanksgiving and Prayers for the Holy Souls

Statue of the Immaculate – Day With Mary at Margate

Remembering those who died in war, we rightly pray for peace and give God thanks for the security that we take for granted. We should also be aware of our Catholic social teaching which upholds human dignity and equality, and the duty of contributing to the common good, and that solidarity which St John Paul so powerfully promoted.

Various anniversaries have also reminded us of some of the warped ways of thinking that have led to wars and to the killing of millions of innocent people. As Christians, we reject communism, fascism and terrorism and should be keenly aware of currents of thought that in any way promote these evil systems that have destroyed the lives of so many.

As Catholics, Remembrance Sunday should always be an occasion on which we pray fervently for the eternal rest of those who gave their lives. It is a mark of our gratitude not only to remember them, but to pray for them. Many who were unprepared for death will be grateful for ever for our prayers which speed them on the way to their eternal reward.

Judgement and Our Personal Responsibility

Jesus Christ (detail from Deesis mosaic) Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

St Paul warns us that “we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ” and “every one of us shall render account to God for himself.” (Rom 14:10,12) Our Lord, before His passion, spoke of the separation of the sheep and the goats in the general judgement at the end of time. We will also each have a personal judgement at the end of our lives, upon which will depend our eternal destiny.

Our Catholic faith teaches us that we are right to trust to the mercy of God. He will save many who would be condemned, if they were submitted to our judgement, for God is infinitely more merciful than we are.

At the same time, Our Lord leaves us in no doubt that some are lost for eternity and so we must not presume upon His mercy, treating His commandments as optional, and taking no care about whether we are in a state of grace.

Famously, Our Lord told us not to judge. He was clearly referring to the divine prerogative of judging the state of soul of a person; this belongs to Him alone. He was not excusing us from the duty to judge our own actions and moral choices, to accept His teaching as true and to reject the false lures of the world.

Charity to the Holy Souls in Purgatory

Christ giving the Keys of Heaven to St. Peter by Peter Paul Rubens - Gemäldegalerie - Berlin - Germany 2017
Peter Paul Rubens. Christ giving the Keys of Heaven to St Peter. Gemäldegalerie , Berlin

The Catechism teaches us that:

“All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.” (1030)

The holy souls in purgatory are no longer able to help themselves but rely on the mercy of God and on our prayers.

It is a great act of charity to remember the holy souls, something that we do all year round, but especially in the month of November. Our familial piety requires us to pray for our family members who have died, but it is a part of our Christian love to remember also the forgotten souls, those who have nobody to pray for them.

When Our Lord gave the keys of the kingdom of heaven to St Peter, He entrusted him with the care of the treasury of merits of the Church which are dispensed by means of indulgences. These may be applied by way of suffrage to the holy souls in purgatory, and we have many opportunities at this time of year to gain indulgences by carrying out those good works which are chosen by the Church for this purpose.

The Rosary as a Way of Meditative Prayer

Bernardo Cavallino - La Visione di San Domenico (anni 1640)
Bernardo Cavallino. The vision of St Dominic (c.1640-1645) National Gallery of Canada

Prayer is the raising of the mind and heart to God. Our traditional formulae of vocal prayers are helpful to us in addressing God with reverence, but the saints encourage us also in the practice of mental prayer, or meditation, in which we think of a particular mystery, express our affections and form resolutions to offer to God as the fruit of our prayer.

This can seem a difficult thing to ask, but Our Lady, instructing St Dominic, gave us a way that is suitable for all: the Rosary. For about a quarter of an hour, we express ourselves with simple vocal prayers, while at the same time focussing on the mysteries of Our Lord’s life, death and resurrection.

For example, we might think of the Visitation and picture the scene where Our Lady is welcomed by St Elizabeth, and the child, St John the Baptist, leaps in her womb. Our Lady expresses praise to God in the Magnificat. We can be prompted to praise God, to thank Him for life, to adore the child Jesus, and to promise to be faithful to Him.

Consoling the Immaculate Heart of Mary

Our Lady of Sorrows

This coming Friday marks the 100th anniversary of the final appearance of our Lady at Fatima on 13 October 1917.

When later, in 1925, Our Lady specified her intention to Sr Lucia that she would like her to promote the devotion of the five first Saturdays, she said “Look, my daughter, at my Heart encircled by these thorns with which men pierce it at every moment by their blasphemies and ingratitude. You, at least, strive to console me.”

Our Lady suffered at the foot of the cross in union with Our Lord; the anguish she experienced on seeing His sufferings fulfilled, the prophecy of Simeon: “A sword shall pierce your own soul also.” (Lk 2.35) Her grief was greater than the martyrs since she was concerned not with her own sufferings but with those of the her son who was God made man, suffering not only physically but also psychologically and spiritually through the sins of all the world from the sin of Adam to the end of the world.

Our Lady asks us to console her by our prayers, our good works, and our penances, and especially by reverence for and adoration of the most Blessed Sacrament in which we offer to Our Lord the honour and love which He deserves from us in place of the indifference and contempt with which He is routinely treated.

Our reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary is not at all in “competition” with the reparation which we give to Our Lord. The hearts of Jesus and Mary are united. Our Lady herself offers reparation in the highest degree to God the Father through Christ His Son in the unity of the Holy Spirit who was poured out upon her along with the apostles at Pentecost.

We join with Our Lady when we listen to her and carry out what she asked us to do. The devotion of the first Saturdays is easily achievable, but requires of us an effort and commitment which reminds us of our duties of worship and reverence for God, placing this as a higher priority than our worldly concerns, and our desire for entertainment.

Our Lady told Sr Lucia that she was especially offended by blasphemies against her Immaculate Conception, her perpetual virginity and her divine maternity, the blasphemies of those who seek openly to foster in the hearts of children indifference or contempt and even hatred for her, and the offenses of those who directly outrage Her in her holy images.

In our own time, we have seen these offences multiplied and worsened in ways that the children of Fatima could not have comprehended, by the destruction of the unborn, the attacks upon marriage and the family, and even by assaults against the innocence of children in the human nature that has been given to them by God.

Our Lady shows us that we are not helpless but that we can make a difference spiritually to the evils of our time, and in our own circle of influence, however small, also to those whom we know and love. May the Immaculate Heart of Mary triumph in our souls, in our families and in our country.

Giving Glory to God with the Holy Angels

Stained glass window at St Austin and St Gregory (Photo: Fr Timothy Finigan)

On Friday, we celebrated Michaelmas, the feast of St Michael the Archangel, and (on Monday) tomorrow, we celebrate the feast of the Holy Guardian Angels. So it is a good time to remind ourselves of the teaching of the Church which we believe with faith concerning these spiritual beings.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states clearly

“The existence of the spiritual, non-corporeal beings that Sacred Scripture usually calls ‘angels’ is a truth of faith. The witness of Scripture is as clear as the unanimity of Tradition.” (382)

The name ‘angel’ refers to their work for us, as messengers of God.

The angels are personal spiritual beings who constantly look upon the face of the Father even as they enlighten our minds, guard us from evil, and prompt us to do what is right and good. The Archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, whose works are told in the scriptures, were given greater missions by God for the sake of the whole world. When a third of the angels rebelled against God with the battle cry non serviam “I will not serve”, St Michael defeated Lucifer and his cohorts in battle, sending them to hell. It is speculated that they rebelled against God for His kindness and mercy, and for the privilege that he gave to us inferior creatures of flesh and blood in allowing us to receive His grace and even to share in His body and blood.

The angels feature frequently in the gospels. St Gabriel brought the message of the Father to Our Lady, asking her graciously to consent to being the mother of God the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit. The angelic choir gave glory and praise to Christ at His birth in the words we sing at Mass Gloria in excelsis Deo, “Glory to God in the highest.” An angel ministered to Our Lord in His passion, the angels told the women that the Lord had risen, and angels told the apostles that the ascended Lord would return as they had seen Him ascend.

Our Lord Himself taught the apostles that the children have their own guardian angels, as do we all, spirits who watch over us to guard and guide us, and to prompt us to good, especially when we are tempted by the devil to sin.

In the sacred Liturgy, the angels are frequently mentioned, the high point being in the Preface, and then the Sanctus which is the chant of the seraphim in the presence of God in the Temple as described by the prophet Isaiah. (Is 6.3)

When we offer Christ to the Father in union with the whole Church, we are also united with the court of heaven which includes the choirs of angels. Their ministry to us is of immense value and we do well to pray both the prayer to St Michael the Archangel, and regularly to use the prayer to our Guardian Angel. As St Paul reminds us, when we struggle in the spiritual life, our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the spirits of wickedness. We need not fear them as our heavenly Father has given us His angels to protect, enlighten and guide us. When our Father has been so generous in sending them to us, it is foolish to ignore their ministry.

Christian Celebration of the Harvest

Anglo-saxon Christians were all influenced by natural times and seasons, and the harvest was of great importance to them. Some older folklore did survive, but usually in a Christianised form. It is a modern superstition to invest such festivals with a sanitised modern pagan meaning. The celebration of Harvest is something natural to us as Christians.

Harvest began with “Lammas” the Hlaf Maesse or loaf Mass at the beginning of August when the first corn was harvested and loaves were made from it to be used at the celebration of Mass. It ended on Michaelmas, 29 October, the feast of the Holy Archangel St Michael.

Today we are largely distanced from the natural cycles of the earth by the availability of foods all year round, by electric light and central heating, and by being able to buy all our food from the produce of others.

The Harvest Festival teaches us of the goodness of God’s creation, and our duty to give thanks to the Lord for His generosity. Although we are mostly distanced from the production of the harvest, we do in fact rely on it, and on the working of the universe that God created. Thanks to the intellect which he gave us and to the work of others, we are able now to produce food with great efficiency, providing for far more people than in the past. As Christians, we attach importance to the invetigation of our world by means of the natural sciences. It is a myth, sadly repeated ignorantly at times by those involved in education, to describe the Church as opposed to science: the opposite is true, since the original impetus for scientific research found its place in Christian philosophy, and is beginning to break down precisely with the loss of that Christian culture.

Our celebration of the harvest is a celebration of God’s magnificent creation and the wisdom with which it is shot through, a wisdom that we did not put there, but discover by the hard work of scientific research, which can at its best, lead to great advances in the production of food, and the well-being of people throughout the world.

Therefore we also remember those who produce our food, and those around the world who suffer from poverty and famine, doing what is in our power to help by our charity, knowing that when we show love for others, we are counted by Our Lord as having shown that love for Him.

Rejoicing in the Gifts and Blessings of Others

Guido Reni - St Filippo Neri in Ecstasy - WGA19295
Guido Reni. St Filippo Neri in Ecstasy (1614) Santa Maria in Vallicella, Rome

The 9th and 10th commandments forbid us from coveting another’s spouse, or the property of another. A common fault which leads to this sin is envy of another’s good or jealousy of our own. These disordered passions can lead us to become sad or angry and can give rise to hatred of individuals and division within a community.

These faults, like all sin and evil, are irrational. They stem from a desire for what will in fact do us harm spiritually and often materially, and from a failure to cherish the gifts that the Father has given to each of us, and the grace that He has won for us by the redeeming death of His Son.

The remedy for such faults is to give thanks for all the blessings that God has given to us and to those that we know. In the Mass, we offer thanksgiving to the Father through Christ Our Lord and recognise that it is right and just to do so.

A good example may be found in the great saints of 16th century Europe who knew each other and rejoiced in the rich variety of different blessings that God gave through them to the Church as priests, religious, missionaries, experts in prayer and leaven in society.

Calumny, Detraction and St John Vianney

St John Vianney, the Curé of Ars
St John Vianney, the Curé of Ars

The eighth commandment “You shall not bear false witness” forbids the telling of lies and other sins by which we offend against truth. Particularly harmful are calumny, when we harm the reputation of others by remarks that are untrue, and detraction, which discloses the faults and failings of another, without a valid reason, to persons who did not know them.

The Curé of Ars observed that “The great bulk of malicious talk is done by people who are simply irresponsible, who have an itch to chatter about others without feeling any need to discover whether what they are saying is true or false. They just have to talk.” In our time, this loose gossip can be magnified by the use of social media and a more permanent record of it is made.

Whenever we have harmed a person’s reputation without just cause, we are bound to make restitution.

Cardinal Sarah recently wrote a book called “The Power of Silence. Against the Dictatorship of Noise.” He gives a valuable witness which applies not only to our prayers but also to our lives in the world when we often need to resist the urge to speak about someone else without justification.