There is a long list of things that people never hear in sermons anymore: mortal sin, judgment, Hell, purgatory, fornication … you name it. But there is another omission that is rather odd given the tenor of these times: Heaven.
Almost no one talks of Heaven and I seldom hear any expressed desire to go there. The way most of our prayers sound, we are content to have God make this world a better place. People will ask God to fix their health, fix their finances, and so forth. But quite absent from most prayers is any mention of Heaven or a desire to go there and be with God.
Many old prayers spoke of longing for Heaven. The Hail, Holy Queen laments that we live in exile, in a valley of tears, and are poor, banished children of Eve who long to see the blessed fruit of Mary’s womb, Jesus. Lots of old hymns sang of being free at last, of flying away to Heaven some bright morning when this life is over and looking forward to that day, “By and By when the morning comes.” Yes, soon and very soon! Older churches were designed to remind Catholics of Heaven and their structures were often centered around the vision of Heaven from the Book of Revelation.
Today, most of the focus of our so-called spiritual life is on making this world a better place, almost as if we were saying to God, “Make this world a little more comfortable and I’ll just stay here forever!”
Honestly, do you long for Heaven or are you just trying to make it through to tomorrow? Have you ever heard a sermon on Heaven? Does the thought of it excite you? It IS after all our reward, that eye has not seen and ear has never heard!
Granted, today there is a serious problem with universalism wherein it is assumed that almost everyone is going straight to Heaven when he dies. And maybe that’s part of the problem. Since so few think they can possibly lose the gift of Heaven, most take it for granted (literally and figuratively). Why be vigilant or care that much about something that is certain and has to be entered through a rather unpleasant door called death? We tend to regard lightly what we get for free, but if we must sacrifice to get it, we value it more highly. (If we had to scrimp to be able buy tickets for some event, we’ll be sure to get there on time!)
Another factor is that we live very comfortably these days. It is a kind of comfort that both distracts us from spiritual things and focuses us on worldly things. Our comforts also make the Cross seem strange, even immoral. Who cares about Heaven, especially since you have to die to get there! Instead most would rather focus on expanding their cable service or taking a cruise.
Yes, Heaven is a pretty remote thought for many today.
I thought about this yesterday, on the Feast of St. Cyprian, as I read through some of his works and happened upon an account of his martyrdom and also a meditation he wrote on the joy of Heaven. Consider this brief account of his martyrdom and then his short reflection on longing for Heaven:
On arriving at the spot where he was to die, Bishop Cyprian took off his mantle (overcoat), and fell to his knees and prostrated himself before God. Then, arising he took off his dalmatic which he gave to his attending deacons and remained in his long white robe. He payed his executioner the sum of 25 gold denarii. While this gesture was not unheard of, especially for a person of some means, it nevertheless tells us of the graciousness and forgiveness in the heart of Cyprian. He himself tied the blindfold over his eyes after which his hands were tied. Kneeling again he awaited the final blow. At length the sword passed and Cyprian ended his pilgrimage here. It was September 14, 258.
Reflecting on his martyrdom we do well to recall his own words of Heaven,
We have solemnly renounced the world and therefore, while we continue in it, should behave like strangers and pilgrims. We should welcome that happy day (of our death) which is to fix us, in our proper habitation, to rescue us from the embarrassments and snares of this world, and remove us to the kingdom of heaven.
Who of us, if he had long been a sojourner in a foreign land would not desire to return to his native country? Who of us, when he had begun to sail there would not wish for a prosperous wind to carry him to his desired home with speed, that he might sooner embrace his friends and relatives? We must account paradise our country.
There friends and parents and brethren and children without number wait for us and long to celebrate our happy arrival. They are in secure possession of their own joy yet are solicitous for ours. How great will be our common joy upon the transports of meeting together in those blessed abodes.
How unutterable must be the pleasures of that kingdom which have no intermission. There we shall meet with the glorious choir of apostles; with the goodly company of the prophets; with an innumerable multitude of holy martyrs; there we shall be blessed with the sight of those triumphant virgins who have subdued the inordinate lusts of the flesh; and there we shall behold the rewards of those who, by feeding the hungry and consoling the afflicted have with their earthly treasure stored up for themselves treasure in heaven.
To these beloved brethren let us hasten with eager longing!
Let us pray that it may befall us speedily to be with them; speedily to come to Christ. May God see this our purpose. May Christ look upon this resolution of our mind and faith, who will give more ample rewards of His love to those whose longings for Him have been greater (De Mortalitate, 26).
Yes, speedily may we be rescued from the embarrassments and snares of this world. And may we stay in the Lord’s narrow way that nothing will prevent us from beholding the beautiful face of God, for whom we long and whom we must ever more deeply desire! Let us hasten to the Lord and Heaven with eager longing!