While passing an airport bookstore, I had a few minutes to spare and thought I’d look to see what was on offer in the religion section. As I browsed, I passed Fiction, Romance, Business, Bestsellers, History, Children’s, even Psychology- but no “Religion” or “Spirituality” or anything like that. Frankly, I was rather surprised! But at the same time, I was reminded that our culture doesn’t often encourage us to think beyond the “here-and-now”- which, of course, our religion does.
How often do we think beyond the “here-and-now?” A factoid I read recently said that 64% of Americans today believe that they’ll go to heaven. However, I wonder how often these folks actually think about heaven? Or how much time they spend preparing for heaven?
The truth is, Jesus wants us to prepare for heaven. In fact, he wants us to make preparing for heaven the top priority in our life. If you’re a Catholic of a certain age who grew up with the old Baltimore Catechism, you’ll remember that one of the first questions was: “Why did God make you?” And the answer was: “God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to
be happy with Him for ever in heaven.” Very simple, but very true. God made us for heaven, and this life is meant to be a preparation for it.
Lots of people these days talk about planning for “the future.” However, when they speak about the future, they’re speaking about retirement. And that’s fine. But as Christians, the most important future we need to plan for is not retirement, but heaven. Isn’t that what Jesus says to us in today’s gospel? In his parables of the buried treasure and the pearl of great price, he speaks about spending all of one’s resources to gain the kingdom of heaven- a kingdom whose fullness we’ll encounter not in this life, but the next. Because even though we can sometimes taste a little bit of heaven on earth, it’s only after we die that we can hope to experience the real thing.
When my son was in kindergarten, he said to me: “Daddy, I learned at Mass that earth isn’t our real home. Earth is like a hotel. Our real home is in heaven!” And he was right, of course. Our real home is in heaven with God. It’s this home that we need to spend this life preparing for.
One way God helps prepare us for this life is by testing us. God tests us by presenting us with choices, because choices determine our commitments, and commitments shape our character, and it’s our character we’ll take with us into eternity. In today’s first reading from First Kings, we heard how God tested Solomon by offering him anything he might ask for. Solomon passed his test by refusing selfish gifts of power, riches, or long life, and choosing instead wisdom, that he might better serve God’s people.
God tests us in similar ways, every single day. In fact, everything that happens to us is a test, because everything that happens to us, happens for a reason. Remember: God is in control. This means that everything that happens God has allowed to happen. And everything he allows to happen he does so for a reason- often so that we can grow by being tested. We heard St. Paul speak of this in today’s reading from his letter to the Romans. He said: “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” Why? So we can be “glorified” by being “conformed to the image of his Son.”
St. Paul is saying here that God allows all things to happen so that we can become more like his Son, and spend eternity with him in heaven. This includes not just the good things, but the bad things as well. Because it’s through the bad things that we can often grow the most, by facing the most difficult choices. That’s why God allows them to happen. As St. Augustine once wrote, “God would rather bring good out of evil than to prevent it from happening in the first place.”
If we make the right choices, God will bring good out of evils we face. For instance, they challenge us to completely surrender ourselves to God, by showing us that we aren’t in control. They give us opportunities to exercise forgiveness, grow in compassion, and learn humility. They invite us to reconsider our priorities, as so many people did after 9/11. And they remind us that heaven is our true home- that place where every tear is wiped away, and suffering is no more.
When we’re in the midst of suffering, it’s very easy for us to lose sight of this. I recently read a devotional which spoke about a bird that had flown into a house. To get it to back outdoors where it belonged, the author tried to “shoo” it with a broom. The bird, however, became frightened. It thought it was being attacked or punished, when all along the guy with the broom was trying to do it a favor. Sometimes God needs to whack us with a broom, if you know what I mean. At the time, we may think we’re being attacked or punished, but in reality God is doing us a favor, acting in love to get us moving in the right direction- the pathway to heaven.
Regardless of what our culture might tell us, heaven is our true home. Heaven is where God wants us to be for all eternity. And heaven is what God wants us to prepare for-beginning today. This is what motivates the choices God makes for us. Let’s pray for the grace that the choices we make, will be choices that lead us back home to him. As St. Therese the Little Flower once said, “I will do anything for heaven!”
Readings for today’s Mass: http://www.usccb.org/nab/072411.shtml