Have you ever wondered what heaven will be like? People sometimes ask if there are dogs in heaven, and I happen to think there will be. Sometimes people wonder what we’ll do in heaven. As one bumper sticker proclaims: “If there’s no golf in heaven, I’m not going!” And it’s not unheard of for parents to assure their children that thunder is simply the sound of God bowling in heaven. I can’t say for sure if there is golf or bowling in heaven. But if there is, I promise you that there will be no golf widows, and nobody will bowl alone.
I say this because “Bowling Alone” is the title of a recent book from a Harvard professor which speaks about our society’s increasing fragmentation, and how we’ve become more and more disconnected from each other. Over the past 25 years we’ve experienced a huge drop in the number of people participating in clubs and other organizations, having friends over, and attending family dinners. We have seen an increase in the number of people who bowl. But they don’t bowl in leagues. Increasingly, we bowl alone.
But in heaven, nobody will have to bowl alone. Why? Because God is a Trinity. Now, if I lost you just there, bear with me. Understanding the Trinity is critically important. It’s easy for us to dismiss the Trinity as a mystery of faith we accept simply because we’re Catholics. But it’s essential that we understand the Trinity, because it will help us understand ourselves, and appreciate why there is no solitary bowling in heaven.
We became Christians when we were baptized- as Jesus’ instructed in today’s gospel- “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Because of this, as St. Paul explained in our second reading, we received the Holy Spirit into our hearts, making us children of God with Jesus our brother, who call upon God the Father as Abba, or “Dad.” Through baptism, we are united with all three persons of the Trinity in such a way that we share in the very life of God. And God’s life is a sharing of love between three Persons: Father, Son, Holy Spirit. You and I have been created in the image of the Trinity. This means that you and I were made to share love. And this can only be done in community. With others. Never alone.
It’s true that as Christians we believe in one God, not three. But we believe in one God in three Persons, so perfectly united by love that they are indeed one. This is important. Because if God were ONLY one, then we might understand God as being lonely. Which could mean that you and I, as God creation, might simply be an expression of God’s neediness, God’s boredom, God’s loneliness. We might be nothing more than God’s distraction, or God’s hobby. If God is alone, it would mean that you and I would have been created to be alone too. To be lonely as God is lonely. To bowl alone.
But God is not simply one. He is three-in-one. A community of persons united in love. Therefore, there’s no chance that we’re merely expressions of God’s neediness. Instead, we’re an expression of God’s love. Perfect love, which God is, is giving, generous, overflowing. It can’t contain itself. You and I might understand ourselves, then, as an overflowing of God’s love. And since we’re made in God’s image, we can say that we’re both created by overflowing love, and created for overflowing love. Which makes our existence both a gift, and a possibility- a possibility to give and receive love the way God does: a perfect love without conditions, without limits.
Sometimes, however, encountering such love in this life can remain only a possibility. We may experience love, but it is far from perfect. What we thought was love ends up not really being love at all. We’ve wound up being hurt, abandoned, used, left behind. We’ve confused physical intimacy with love. Friends and family may have turned their backs on us when the going got rough, or because they were looking for greener pastures. We may not have wanted to bowl alone. But we wound up doing so anyway.
When this happens, we can be understandably angry. It’s as if we’re being cheated out of something we were meant to have. We say: “This isn’t fair! This isn’t the way it should be!” And we’d be absolutely right. Because we’ve been made for something much better than this.
Now, it may be that we are deeply blessed by the love of others in this life; hopefully others are blessed by our love too. But any and all human love, this side of the veil, is always imperfect, however good it may be. It’s only in heaven that we will experience love in all its fullness, in all its perfection. The brokenness we experience here, will be healed and restored there. In heaven, we will finally be able to love, and be loved, the way God intended us to. The way he created us to do. The way God the Holy Trinity does. In this life we often say, “You always hurt the ones you love.” But in heaven, we’ll finally be able to say, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”
While we wait and hope and pray for such love, it’s important that we keep trying to love as best we can, and be grateful for the love we receive. We can’t give up, retreat into ourselves, or get stuck in cynicism. We need to keep reaching out, keep trying, keep forgiving. We need to have realistic expectations about our relationships with others, all the while trying to grow in our relationship with God, as we set our sights on heaven.
So what will heaven be like? Will there be dogs? I wouldn’t be surprised. Golf and bowling? Perhaps. But bowling alone? Not a chance.