Heaven is an Acquired Taste

There is a tendency today to forget that Heaven is an acquired taste; not everyone wants what God offers. While everyone wants to be happy, often happiness is conceived of in an egocentric way. Heaven is thought of as a personally designed paradise where we will be happy on our own terms.

But that is not what Heaven is. Heaven is the Kingdom of God in all its fullness. Its values and qualities are manifold but include many things that are not immediately desirable to those who live with hearts and minds that are worldly and sinful. The Kingdom of God features ideas that are often unpopular: love of one’s enemies, generosity, love of the poor, and chastity. Heaven features God and His teachings at the center, not me and what I think. Yes, Heaven is a place where every aspect of God’s law is perfectly manifested. Yet many find some of these things not only undesirable but downright obnoxious; some even call them hateful and intolerant. To those in darkness, the light seems harsh.

Yes, Heaven is an acquired taste. This helps to explain that the existence of Hell is not due to a “mean” God trying to remove people whom He doesn’t like from His presence. It is a respectful acceptance by God of the free decision made by those who do not want what He is offering. They do not want to think differently or even be told what to think. They do not want to give up their favorite sins or have their hearts purified of unruly or disordered appetites. In the end, God will not force us to love what and whom He loves. He will not force us to live in His Kingdom.

In his book The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis makes this very point. In it, many people come to “tour” Heaven, some of whom do not like what they find. Some struggle to adjust, others are resentful and say, in effect, “No thanks.” If you have not read it, I strongly encourage you to do so; it is an important book to read and ponder.

In yesterday’s Gospel, the Lord inquires after our hearts by giving us the images of buried treasure and a pearl of great price. The one who finds them goes and sells all he has in order to obtain them. Does this describe your heart? Does it describe the hearts of our family, friends, and compatriots? Often, the answer is no. Most people are not will to give up everything for the Kingdom of Heaven. Our hearts are disordered. We easily desire things that are sinful and harmful, and not so much those that are good, holy, and lasting. We prefer apparent goods to true goods. If we are faithful, the Lord can get us to that disposition of heart—but it takes time. At least grant Him your willingness to get to that place!

In yesterday’s Gospel the Lord also speaks of a dragnet. While he uses it as an image for the final judgment, that final judgement ultimately depends on the myriad judgments we make in our daily life. As you haul the net of your life ashore, what do you keep, finding it valuable, and what do you discard? Do you value what God is offering and retain it or do you more highly value other things in the net? What do you keep and what do you discard? The answers to questions like these points to your place in the net at the last judgment. God will gather into His Kingdom those who have desired it, not those who have rejected it.

Give the Lord your heart. Open when He knocks. Let Him create a desire in you for the very things He is offering. In the end, Heaven is an acquired taste, more so than we commonly imagine. Let God give you a taste for better and higher things.

This song says, “I’m trying to make heaven my home!”

Purgatory is Based on a Promise of Jesus’

All Souls' Day by Jakub Schikaneder, 1888
All Souls’ Day by Jakub Schikaneder, 1888

I have blogged before on Purgatory. Here is a link to one of those blogs: Purgatory – Biblical and Reasonable. I have also written more extensively on its biblical roots here: PDF Document on Purgatory.

On this Feast of All Souls, I want to reflect on Purgatory as the necessary result of a promise. Many people think of Purgatory primarily in terms of punishment, but it is also important to consider it in terms of promise, purity, and perfection. Some of our deceased brethren are having the promises made to them perfected in Purgatory. In the month of November we are especially committed to praying for them and we know by faith that our prayers are of benefit to them.

What is the promise that points to Purgatory? Simply stated, Jesus made the promise in Matthew 5:48: You, therefore, must be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect. In this promise is an astonishing declaration of our dignity. We are to share in the very nature and perfection of God. This is our dignity: we are called to reflect and possess the very glory and perfection of God.

St. Catherine of Siena was gifted by the Lord to see a heavenly soul in the state of grace. Her account of it is related in her Dialogue, and is summarized in the Sunday School Teacher’s Explanation of the Baltimore Catechism:

The Soul in the State of GraceCatherine of Siena was permitted by God to see the beauty of a soul in the state of grace. It was so beautiful that she could not look on it; the brightness of that soul dazzled her. Blessed Raymond, her confessor, asked her to describe to him, as far as she was able, the beauty of the soul she had seen. St. Catherine thought of the sweet light of that morning, and of the beautiful colors of the rainbow, but that soul was far more beautiful. She remembered the dazzling beams of the noonday sun, but the light which beamed from that soul was far brighter. She thought of the pure whiteness of the lily and of the fresh snow, but that is only an earthly whiteness. The soul she had seen was bright with the whiteness of Heaven, such as there is not to be found on earth. ” My father,” she answered. “I cannot find anything in this world that can give you the smallest idea of what I have seen. Oh, if you could but see the beauty of a soul in the state of grace, you would sacrifice your life a thousand times for its salvation. I asked the angel who was with me what had made that soul so beautiful, and he answered me, “It is the image and likeness of God in that soul, and the Divine Grace which made it so beautiful.” [1].

Yes, this is our dignity and final destiny if we are faithful to God.

So, I ask you, “Are you there yet?” God has made you a promise. But what if that promise has not yet been fulfilled and you were to die today, without the divine perfection you have been promised having been completed? I can only speak for myself and say that if I were to die today, though I am not aware of any mortal sin, I also know that I am not perfect. I am not even close to being humanly perfect, let alone having the perfection of our heavenly Father!

But Jesus made me a promise: You must be perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect. And the last time I checked, Jesus is a promise keeper! St. Paul says, May God who has begun a good work in you bring it to completion (Phil 1:6). Hence, if I were to die today, Jesus would need to complete a work that He has begun in me. By God’s grace, I have come a mighty long way. But I also have a long way to go. God is very holy and His perfection is beyond imagining.

Yes, there are many things in us that need purging: sin, attachment to sin, clinging to worldly things, and those rough edges to our personality. Likewise most of us carry with us hurts, regrets, sorrows, and disappointments. We cannot take any of this with us to Heaven. If we did, it wouldn’t be Heaven. So the Lord, who is faithful to His promise, will purge all of this from us. The Book of Revelation speaks of Jesus ministering to the dead in that he will wipe every tear from their eyes (Rev 21:4). 1 Corinthians 3:13-15 speaks of us as passing through fire in order that our works be tested so that what is good may be purified and what is worldly may be burned away. And Job said, But he knows the way that I take; and when he has tested me, I will come forth as pure gold (Job 23:10).

Purgatory has to be—gold, pure gold; refined, perfect, pure gold. Purgatory has to be, if God’s promises are to hold.

Catholic theology has always taken seriously God’s promise that we would actually be perfect as the Father is perfect. The righteousness is Jesus’ righteousness, but it actually transforms us and changes us completely in the way that St. Catherine describes. It is a real righteousness, not merely imputed, not merely declared of us by inference. It is not an alien justice, but a personal justice by the grace of God.

Esse quam videri – Purgatory makes sense because the perfection promised to us is real: esse quam videri (to be rather than to seem). We must actually be purged of the last vestiges of imperfection, worldliness, sin, and sorrow. Having been made perfect by the grace of God, we are able to enter Heaven, of which Scripture says, Nothing impure will ever enter it (Rev 21:27). And again, you have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and countless angels in festal gathering, and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven, and God the judge of all, and the souls of the just made perfect (Heb 12:22-23).

How could it be anything less? Indeed, the souls of the just made perfect. How could it be anything less if Jesus died to accomplish it for us? Purgatory makes sense based on Jesus’ promise and on the power of His blood to accomplish complete and total perfection for us. This is our dignity; this is our destiny. Purgatory is about promises, not mere punishment. There’s an old Gospel hymn that I referenced in yesterday’s blog for the Feast of All Saints that says, “O Lord I’m running, trying to make a hundred. Ninety-nine and a half won’t do!”

That’s right, ninety-nine and a half won’t do. Nothing less than a hundred is possible because we have Jesus’ promise and the wonderful working power of the precious Blood of the Lamb. For most, if not all of us, Purgatory has to be.

Ninety-Nine and a Half Won’t Do – A Homily for the Feast of All Saints

All Saints

All SaintsToday is the Feast of All Saints. Some saints of the Church have a particular day on the calendar associated with them and are commonly recognized by name. Many more, though not as familiar to us, are still known by God and have been caught up with Him to glory. Today is their day, the day of the countless multitude who have made it home to glory by God’s grace and by their “Amen” to the gracious call of God. Let’s consider these saints under three headings, based on today’s readings.

I. Their Privileged Place: The first reading today, from Revelation, speaks to us of saints: from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. They cry out in a loud voice, “Salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne, and from the Lamb.” … They prostrated themselves before the throne, worshiped God, and exclaimed, “Amen. Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving, honor, power, and might be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”

Note how liturgical the description is. In fact, the most common way that Heaven is described is in liturgical imagery. The liturgy is a kind of “dress rehearsal” for Heaven. To those who find Mass “boring,” this description can be challenging.

Indeed, many people today have rather egocentric notions of Heaven. Heaven is a place where I will be happy, where I will see my family, where I will take leisure. I will have my mansion; I will no longer get sick; I can play all the golf I want, etc. Heaven is a “better place.” But this better place is generally understood in very personal terms; it’s a kind of “designer Heaven.” But Heaven is what it is, not what we conceive it to be.

As for the real Heaven, the heart of it is being with God, looking upon His glorious face and thereby having all our inexpressible longings satisfied. In Heaven, the saints behold the glorious face of God and rejoice. It is their joy to praise Him and to rejoice in His truth, goodness, and beauty.

Note, too, both the sense of communion of the saints with God and with one another. The biblical portraits present a multitude, a vast crowd. The biblical way to understand the multitudes in Heaven is not to envision physical crowding but rather deep communion. In other words, the Communion of Saints is not just a lot of people standing around talking or moving about.

St Paul teaches, So we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members, one of another (Rom 12:5). And though we experience this imperfectly here on earth, we will experience it perfectly in Heaven. As members of one another, we will have deep communion, knowing and being known in a deep and rich way. Your memories, gifts, and insights will be mine, and mine will be yours. There will be profound understanding and appreciation, a rich love, and sense of how we all complete one another and are one in Christ.

Imagine the glory of billions of new thoughts, stories, and insights that will come from being perfectly members of Christ and of one another. Imagine the peace that will come from understanding and being understood. This is deep, satisfying, wonderful communion—not crowds of strangers.

St. Augustine had in mind the wonderful satisfaction of this deep communion with God and with one another in Christ when he described Heaven as Unus Christus amans seipsum (One Christ loving Himself). This is not some selfish Christ turned in on Himself. This is Christ, the Head, in deep communion with all the members of His body. This is all the members in Christ experiencing deep mystical communion with Him and one another, all swept up into the life of the Trinity. Again, as St. Paul says, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s (1 Cor 3:23).

II. Their Prize of Perfection: The second reading, from the First Letter of John, says, Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.

We cannot even imagine the glory of the saints in Heaven. The Heavenly Father once said to St. Catherine that if she were ever to see a saint in his or her transformed heavenly glory, she would fall down and worship because she would think she was looking at God.

This is our future, if we are faithful. We will reflect the glory of God and be transformed by the look of love and glory. Just one look, and oh, the glory we will reflect, God’s very own glory!

Gotta make a hundred; ninety-nine and a half won’t do. And when God is through with you and me, oh, the glory!

III. The Picture to Ponder: The Gospel today (the Matthean beatitudes) sets forth a kind of picture of what sanctity looks like. The beatitudes are the description of the transformed human person; they describe what happens to us as Jesus begins to live His life in us through the Holy Spirit.

This picture is not one that merely waits for Heaven, but one that is true of us even now as we grow into the likeness of Christ.

I have written more on the beatitudes HERE and HERE. For the purposes of today’s feast, we need to acknowledge that a beatitude is not something we do but rather something we receive. A beatitude declares an objective reality as the result of a divine act.

The present indicative mood of the beatitudes should be taken seriously and not transformed into an imperative of exhortation, as though Jesus were saying, “Start being poor or meek and then God will bless you.” Rather, He is saying that when the transformative power of the cross brings about in us a greater meekness, poverty of spirit, and so forth, we will experience that we are being blessed.

Beatitude is a work of God and results when we yield to His saving work in us. We are blessed when we accept and yield to the work that God alone can do. With this understanding, we see the beatitudes not as a prescription of what we must do per se, but as a description of what a human being is like whom Jesus Christ is transforming into a saint! And this transformation is a growing, stable, deep, and serene beatitude and holiness.

Therefore, today’s feast of all saints does not merely point to the completed saints in Heaven, but to us who would be saints, not just someday in the future but beginning now and in increasing degree.

At the end there will be saints and ain’ts. Which do you choose? As for me, ninety-nine and a half won’t do. I gotta make a hundred.

Why Is the Road to Destruction Wide and the Road to Salvation Narrow? A Meditation on a Teaching by Jesus

blog.6.24In the gospel earlier this week, we read a warning from Jesus that too many people just brush aside:

Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few (Matt 6:12-13).

I have commented on this blog at some length in the past on the serious problem of universalism (the notion that nearly everyone goes to Heaven). I will not create another whole post on that just now, but you can read one of those older posts here: Hell is for real and not rare.

But just to summarize, most people today have the teaching exactly backwards. Whereas Jesus says “many” are on the road to destruction and only “a few” travel the narrow road (of the cross) to salvation, most reverse what Jesus says and claim that many go to Heaven and only a few (if any) go to Hell. Don’t do that. Jesus is not playing games with us. No one loves us more than Jesus does, and no one warned us more of judgment and Hell than Jesus. And even though He doesn’t give percentages for each category, do not refute His words by trying to make “many” mean “few” and “few” mean “many.”

The question does surely arise as to why many walk the wide road to destruction and Hell. Is it because God is stingy or despotic? No. God surely wants to save us all (Ez 18:23; 1 Tim 2:4). The real answer is that we are hard to save and we must become more sober about that. We have hard hearts, thick skulls, and innumerable other traits that make us a difficult case.

If even a third of the angels fell, that ought to make us very aware of our own tendency to fall. This should make us more humble about our own situation. The fallen angels had intellects vastly superior to ours and their angelic souls were not weighed down with the many bodily passions that beset us. But still, they fell!

Adam and Eve, possessing preternatural gifts and existing before all the weaknesses we inherited from sin, also fell. Are you and I, in our present unseemly state and vastly less gifted than the angels, really going to claim that we are not in any real danger or are easy to save?

We need to sober up and run to God with greater humility, admitting that we are a hard case and in desperate need of the medicines and graces that God offers. He offers us His Word, the Sacraments, holy fellowship, and lots of prayer! We need not be in a panic, but we do need to be far more urgent than most moderns are about themselves and the people whom they say they love.

Consider some of the following ways we can be a hard case in terms of being saved (Disclaimer, I do not say all these things are true of you personally, just that we, collectively, have these common tendencies):

1. We have hard hearts and stubborn wills – While some of what this includes is specified more below, here is a good place to begin. God, speaking to us through Isaiah the Prophet, says, I know that you are obstinate, and your neck is an iron sinew and your forehead is bronze (Is 48:4). He is talking about us!

2. We are obtuse in our desires – In other words, if something is forbidden we seem to want it all the more. St Paul laconically observes, When the commandment came, sin sprang to life (Rom 7:9). If something is harmful we want it in abundance, but if it is helpful we are often averse to it. We like our sweets and our salty snacks, but vegetables rot in the refrigerator. In the desert the people of Israel longed for melons, leeks, onions, and the fleshpots they enjoyed in Egypt. Never mind that they were slaves then. But when it came to the Bread from Heaven, the Holy Manna, they said, We are disgusted with this wretched manna (Num 21:5). We are obtuse, that is, we are turned outward toward sin instead of inward toward God in a Holy embrace. Jesus sadly remarked that judgment would go poorly for many because The light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed (Jn 3:19).

3. We don’t like to be told what to do – Even if we know we ought to do something, or to stop doing something, the mere fact that someone is telling us often makes us either dig in our heels and refuse, or else comply, but resentfully rather than whole-heartedly.

4. We are not docile – When we were very young we were fascinated with the world around us and kept asking “Why, Mommy?” or “Why, Daddy?” But as we got older our skull thickened; we stopped asking why. We figured we knew better than anyone around us. The problem just worsens with age, unless grace intervenes. St Paul lamented, For the time will come when people will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths (2 Tim 4:3-5).

5. We love distraction and don’t listen – Even when saving knowledge is offered to us, we are too often tuned out, distracted, and resistant. ADHD is nothing new in the human family. God says through Jeremiah, To whom shall I speak and give warning, that they may hear? Behold, their ears are uncircumcised, they cannot listen; behold, the word of the LORD is to them an object of scorn; they take no pleasure in it (Jeremiah 6:10). Jesus invokes Isaiah to explain why He speaks to the crowds only in parables: For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed (Is 6:10).

6. We are opinionated – We tend to think that something is true or right merely because we think it or agree with it. Having opinions, even strong ones, about what is right and true is not wrong per se. But if God’s Word or the Church’s formal teaching challenges your opinion, you’d better consider changing it, or at least making distinctions. The last time I checked, God is just a little smarter than you are. His official teaching in the Scripture and the Doctrine of the Church is inspired and you are not. Scripture says, All we, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way (Is 55:8). Or again, Can the pot say to the potter, “You know nothing”? (Is 29:16) Or yet again, Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker, those who are nothing but potsherds among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, “What are you making?” (Is 45:9) But still many go on with their own opinions and will not abide even the clear correction of God.

7. We have darkened intellects due to unruly and dominating passions – Our strong and unruly passions cloud our mind and seek to compel our will. Too easily, without training and practice in virtue, our baser faculties come to dominate our higher faculties, making unreasonable demands for satisfaction. And thus we love to tell ourselves lots of lies. We suppress the truth and our senseless minds become darkened ( Romans 1:21). The catechism says, The human mind … is hampered in the attaining of … truths, not only by the impact of the senses and the imagination, but also by disordered appetites which are the consequences of original sin. So it happens that men in such matters easily persuade themselves that what they would not like to be true is false or at least doubtful. (Catechism #37). And the Second Vatican Council, in Lumen Gentium 16, says, But very often men, deceived by the Evil One, have become vain in their reasoning and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator.

8. We are lemmings – We are too easily swayed by what is popular. We prefer ephemeral notions to ancient and tested wisdom. Tattoos, tongue bolts, and piercings are in? Quick, run out and get one! Whatever the fad or fashion, no matter how foolish, harmful, or immodest, many clamor for it. Let a Hollywood star get a divorce and soon enough everyone is casting aside true biblical teaching against it. The same goes for many other moral issues. What was once thought disgraceful and the stuff of back allies is now paraded on Main Street and celebrated. And like lemmings, we run to celebrate what was once called sin (and is still sinful from any biblical stance). Instead of following God we follow human beings. We follow them and the “culture” they create, often mindlessly. Yes, lemmings is the right image.

9. We live in a fallen world, governed by a fallen angel, and we have fallen natures. Many seem to abide all of this quite well and make quite a nice little home here.

10. If all this isn’t enough to show that we are a hard case, consider a “few” others. We are so easily, in a moment, obnoxious, dishonest, egotistical, undisciplined, weak, impure, arrogant, self-centered, pompous, insincere, unchaste, grasping, harsh, impatient, shallow, inconsistent, unfaithful, immoral, ungrateful, disobedient, selfish, lukewarm, slothful, unloving, uncommitted, untrusting, indifferent, hateful, lazy, cowardly, angry, greedy, jealous, vengeful, prideful, envious, contemptuous, stingy, petty, spiteful, indulgent, careless, neglectful, prejudiced, and just plain mean.

So if the road to destruction is wide (and Jesus says it is), don’t blame God. The road is wide for reasons like this. We are a hard case. We are hard to save. It is not that God lacks power, it is that we refuse to address much of this. God, who made us free, will not force us to change.

We ought not kid ourselves into thinking that we can go on living resistant to and opposed to the Kingdom of God and its values, but that then magically at death we will suddenly want to enter His Kingdom, which we have resisted our whole life. Jesus said that many prefer the darkness. Is it really likely that their preference will suddenly shift? Will not the glorious light of Heaven seem harsh, blinding, and even repulsive to them? In such a case is not God’s “Depart from me” both a just and merciful response?  Why force a person who hates the light to live in it? I suppose it grieves God to have to abide such a departure, but to force a person to endure Him must be even more difficult to abide. I am sure it is with great sadness that God accepts a person’s final “No.”

Yes, the road is wide that leads to destruction. It is wide because of us. The narrow road is the way of the cross, which is a stumbling block and an absurdity to many (1 Cor 1:23), who simply will not abide its message.

So, we ought to be sober about the Lord’s lament. We ought also to be more urgent in our attempts to secure our own unruly soul and the souls of those we love for the Kingdom. The blasé attitude of most moderns is rooted in the extremely flawed notion that judgment and Hell are not real issues. That is a lie, for it contracts Jesus’ clear word.

Why is the road to destruction wide? Because we are hard cases; we are hard to save. We ought not be unduly fearful, but we ought to run to Jesus in humility and beg Him to save us from our worst enemy—our very self. If you don’t think you’re a hard case, read the list above and think again.

https://youtu.be/dZM1mmcis-s

Not Crowded, but Close – A Brief Reflection and Clarification on the Communion of Saints in Heaven

051415Many of you know that I write the weekly “Question and Answer” column for the Our Sunday Visitor newspaper. Every now and again I get a question that stands out as unique, one that I had not thought of before. And such is the case with the question below. I had never thought of Heaven as potentially being crowded or considered it a drawback. But the question led me to reflect on the deeper experience of what we call the Communion of Saints in Heaven.

My answer is brief due to the limits of that particular column (600 words or less). But I choose not to expand my answer here, hoping that its brevity might provoke a few more readers.

There is an online catalogue of my “Question and Answer” column at OSV here: Msgr Pope’s OSV Columns.

Q: The descriptions in the Bible seem to describe a vast amount of people and the paintings I have seen from the Renaissance make it look rather crowded and busy. Frankly I hate big cities and crowds. Are these descriptions accurate or am I missing something? –Doris Leben, Wichita, KA

A: The danger to avoid when meditating on Heaven is taking earthly realities and merely transferring them to Heaven. Whatever similarities heavenly realities have to things on earth, they will be experienced there in a heavenly and perfected way, with unspeakable joy.

The more biblical and theological way to understand the multitudes in Heaven is not as some physical crowding, but as a deep communion. In other words the Communion of Saints is not just a lot of people standing around talking or moving about.

St. Paul teaches, So we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members, one of another (Rom 12:5). And though we experience this imperfectly here on earth, we will experience it perfectly in Heaven. As members of one another we will have deep communion, knowing and being known in a deep and rich way. Your memories, gifts, and insights will be mine, and mine will be yours. There will be profound understanding and appreciation, a rich love and sense of how we all complete one another and really are all one in Christ.

Imagine the glory of billions of new thoughts, stories, and insights that will come from being perfectly members of Christ and of one another. Imagine the peace that will come from finally understanding and being understood. This is deep, satisfying, and wonderful communion—not crowds of strangers.

Therefore, the biblical descriptions of Heaven as multitudes should not be understood as mere numbers, but as the richness and glory of communion. The paintings showing “crowds” should be understood as an allegory of deep communion, of being close in a way we can only imagine.

St. Augustine had in mind the wonderful satisfaction of this deep communion with God and with one another in Christ when he described Heaven as Unus Christus amans seipsum (One Christ loving Himself). This is not some selfish Christ turned in on Himself. This is Christ, the Head, in deep communion with all the members of His Body, and all the members in Christ experiencing deep mystical communion with Him and one another, together swept up into the life of the Trinity. Again, as St. Paul says, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s (1 Cor 3:23).

Come Lord Jesus! A Meditation on the Stunning Glory of Being Gathered to Christ on the Last Day

120914In Advent, as we continue to meditate on the Parousia (the magnificent Second Coming of the Lord), we do well to allow our imaginations to be engaged in contemplating the glory that awaits those who are faithful, to meditate on the joy and ecstasy of the culmination of all things!

Though we have soberly meditated on the need to be ready and on the great danger that many who are not serious may be lost, for those who ARE ready, what glories await! The great and terrible day of the Lord will indeed be great for those who have allowed the Lord to prepare them.

I was stirred this past month in reading a magnificent book by Cardinal Jean Danielou on Angelology (usually pronounced an-GELL-o-gee), the study of angels. The book is entitled The Angels and their Mission: According to the Fathers of the Church. It is must reading and very accessible—only 114 pages—but packed full of stirring and edifying accounts of the wonderful works of the angels, according to Scripture and the Fathers of the Church.

The final chapters on the eschaton (the last things) and the Parousia (the Second Coming) are particularly magnificent. I would like to distill them here, adding some material and reworking it just a bit. However, the research is that of Jean Cardinal Danielou. I hope you will be stirred with as much joy and zeal as I was in reading and preparing this material. And thus we proceed:

Perhaps as a beginning point, we may wonder what happens to the ministry of our Guardian Angel when we die. Even if our souls are in heaven, our bodies are still awaiting the resurrection. Ancient Christian tradition maintains that during this time the angels keep watch over the tombs of the saints. In the Jewish apocalyptic book The Assumption of Moses, it is said that Joshua saw Moses’ soul rising to Heaven with the angels (40:1–7). However, the Epistle of Jude also says that the Archangel Michael fiercely disputed with the devil about the body of Moses (cf Jude 1:9). Stories such as these, combined with the ancient Christian practice of frequently depicting angels in cemetery art and funeral monuments, indicate a role for the angels in guarding the bodily remains of the elect, even those sadly scattered about or buried in the depths of the sea.

Scripture is replete with descriptions of the role of angels in the great Second Coming of the Lord. In the Gospel of Matthew there is a text that may refer to 70 AD, but surely also describes the end of time:

Then will appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory; and he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other (Matt 24:30-31).

The first epistle to the Thessalonians also says,

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise … (1 Thess 4:16).

St Cyril goes on to describe the extraordinary magnificence that the presence of the immense multitude of angels gives to the final judgment. He considers how the great depth and breadth of the spiritual world has been invisible until now, except to the eyes of faith. But suddenly it is made manifest! He asks us to try to imagine the immense multitude of angels by considering the vast numbers of human beings who ever existed, from the time of Adam to the present day, now standing before the Lord Jesus. And then he asks us to imagine that the angels are vastly more numerous than we are. For they are the 99 sheep whereas humanity is but the one sheep! Such vast numbers can only be spoken of as myriads and myriads! Or as Daniel poetically says,

Thrones were set up and the Ancient of Days took his throne. His clothing was white as snow, the hair on his head like pure wool; His throne was flames of fire,  with wheels of burning fire. A river of fire surged forth,  flowing from where he sat;  Thousands upon thousands were ministering to him,  and myriads upon myriads stood before him (Dan 7:9-10).

Such a vision and such multitudes can hardly be imagined.

Of course the first step in assembling this Great Judgement is to wake the dead. And the angels are surely part of this: 

The Second Sibylline Book, a Christian work, describes the archangels shattering the gates of death, raising up even the bodies of those who had been drowned in the sea or whom savage beasts had devoured (Sib, 2:214–235).

St. Ephrem speaks of the angels as waking the dead, and says,

Then the Lord will appear in the heavens like lightning with an unspeakable glory. The Angels and the Archangels will go on before his glory like flames of fire, like a mighty torrent. The Cherubim will turn their faces and the Seraphim will fly ahead crying out in fear: “Arise, you who sleep. Behold the bridegroom is coming!” Then the tombs will be opened and in the flash of an eye all the people will rise and behold the beauty of the Bridegroom.

St. Paul says that our bodies will rise, truly our bodies, but gloriously transformed:

He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself (Phil 3:21).

So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power (1 Cor 15:42).

Then of course Comes the Judgment by Christ and the here too the angels execute that Judgement:

Matthew 13 describes the angels as separating the wicked from the just:

The Son of man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father (Mat 14:41-43).

And Matthew 25 describes the angels as with Christ when He takes His judgment seat:

When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats (Matt 25:31-32)

St Cyril of Jerusalem speaks of the angels leading the sinners away, body and soul, “in the full sight of the armies of heaven and they will be unable to escape.” But the angels are also uniting the just.

So, on the one hand, Matthew 13 describes the angels leading evildoers away:

The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all who caused others to sin and all evildoers. They will throw them into the fiery furnace (Mat 13:41-42).

On the other hand, St Ephrem also goes on to describe the angels leading the elect to paradise:

Then the angels will come together from all sides and take up the holy and faithful people into the glory of the clouds above, to their meeting place with Christ.

Origen also speaks of the angels escorting the blessed to paradise:

When … we have begun to enter the holy place and pass on to the promised land, those who are really holy and whose place is the Holy of Holies will make their way, supported by the angels and unto the tabernacle of God … They will be carried on [the angels’] shoulders and raised up by their hands.

St Paul seems to speak to the same glory when he writes to the Thessalonians,

The dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Thus we shall always be with the Lord. (1 Thessalonians 4:17).

The Fathers of the Church then consider and imagine the joy (and relief) of the angels whose long work is now done. Of this final culmination, Scripture says,

The last enemy to be destroyed is death. “For God has put all things in subjection under [Jesus’] feet.” But when it says, “All things are put in subjection under him,” it is plain that he [the Father] is excepted who put all things under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things under him, that God may be everything to every one (1 Cor 15:26-28).

And thus, having gone forth to execute judgment, Jesus now returns to His Father’s right, in the Holy Of Holies. He ascends there, now with all the members of His body (body and soul) joined to Him. He ascends to the throne as Unus Christus, amans seipsum (one Christ, loving Himself). And though co-equal to His Father in glory and majesty, He is delighted to hand over the Kingdom of His Body, the Church, to His Father, who is, as Father, the Principium Deitatis.

And at this ascension, the Fathers ponder that the angels will make the same declaration, the heavens echoing with their cry:

 Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in. Who is the King of glory?  The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle! Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors!  that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory?  The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory! (Psalm 24: 7-10)

And there shall then come to pass the transformation of all creation and the fulfillment of its longing for its share in the glorious freedom of the Children of God, as prophesied through St. Paul:

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it [because of our sins]. But the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies … (Rom 8:19-25).

And now it comes! Heaven and earth are united and creation receives its original glory and more besides, for the heavenly realities are now joined to the earth, beautifully restored and raised. Again, as Scripture says,

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.” And he who sat upon the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new” (Rev 21:1-5).

Cardinal Danielou beautifully concludes,

On that day, the joy of the friends of the Bridegroom, [the angels] will be complete. They have led to paradise the souls of the just who are entrusted to them. They have kept watch over their mortal remains. But [for now] they still await the day in which the Bridegroom will come to look for his Bride, when her beauty is finally perfect, in order to lead her into the House of his Father for the eternal wedding feast (p. 114).

Of this magnificent beauty, St. Methodius says to us,

Oh dearly beloved, [the angels]  burn to see the day of your marriage, all the angels Christ has called from heaven. They will come, O Lord, O Word, and they will carry with them mighty gifts, in their spotless robes.

Thus we shall always be with the Lord (1 Thess 4:17).

The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” … He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.  (Rev 22:17; 20-21).

The "Great Gettin’ Up Morning" as Described in an Unlikely Advent Hymn

120814Here in the heart of Advent, we are considering how prepared we are for the Lord to come again. Either He will come to us or we will go to Him, but either way we must prepare. In today’s post I’d like to consider some teachings about the Day of Judgment, from an Advent hymn that most do not know is an Advent hymn. Tomorrow I would like to consider the great Parousia, wherein the saved enter into glory with the Lord.

Regarding the “Great and Terrible Day of the Lord, Judgment Day,” I am of the mind that one of the great treasures and masterpieces of the Church’s Gregorian Chant is the current sequence hymn for Latin Requiem Masses, the Dies Irae. This gorgeous chant was one of the more beautiful and soaring melodies of Gregorian Chant, and many composers such as Mozart and Verdi set the text to stirring musical compositions.

But the hymn was not in fact composed for funerals. Actually, it was composed, by Thomas of Celano in the 13th century, as an Advent hymn. Yes, that’s right, an Advent hymn. Don’t forget that Advent isn’t just about getting ready for Christmas; it is also about getting ready for the Second Coming of the Lord. And that is what this hymn is really about. At this time of year, as the the leaves fall and summer turns to winter, we are reminded of the passing of all things. The Gospels we read are those that remind us of death and the judgment to come.

Journey with me into the beauty and solemn majesty of this hymn. I will offer an inspiring English translation by W. J. Irons, one that preserves the meter and renders the Latin well enough. (You can see the Latin Text along with English here: Dies Irae.) I will also offer the scriptural verses that serve as background to the text.

The syllables of this magnificent hymn hammer away in trochaic dimeter: Dies irae dies illa solvet saeclum in favilla, teste David cum Sybila!  Perhaps at times it is a bit heavy, but at the same time, no hymn more beautifully sets forth a basis for God’s mercy. The dark clouds of judgment part and give way to the bright beauty of the final line: Pie Jesu Domine, dona eis requiem (Sweet Jesus Lord, give them [the dead] rest).

The hymn opens on the Day of Judgment warning that the day will reveal God’s wrath upon all injustice and unrepented sin. God’s wrath is His passion to set things right. And now it is time to put an end to wickedness and lies:

    • Day of wrath and doom impending,
    • Heaven and earth in ashes ending:
    • David’s words with Sibyl’s blending.

Yes, all are struck with a holy fear! No one and no thing can treat this moment lightly: all are summoned to holy fear. The bodies of the dead come forth from their tombs at the sound of the trumpet and all of creation will answer to Jesus, the Judge and Lord of all. Consider two scriptural roots to this first verse:

  1. (Zeph 1:15-18) A day of wrath is that day, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of trumpet blast and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the lofty battlements. I will bring distress on men, so that they shall walk like the blind, because they have sinned against the Lord; their blood shall be poured out like dust, and their flesh like dung. Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them on the day of the wrath of the Lord. In the fire of his jealous wrath, all the earth shall be consumed; for a full, yea, sudden end he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth.
  2. (2 Peter 3:10-13) But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and the works that are upon it will be burned up … the heavens will be kindled and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire!

The “Sibyl” referred to here is most likely the Erythraean Sibyl, who wrote an acrostic on the name of the Christ in the Sibylline Oracles. These will figure prominently in tomorrow’s meditation on the Parousia.

And now the stunning, opening stunning scene of creation. All have been set aghast; our rapt attention turns to Jesus, who has come to judge the living and the dead and the whole world by fire:

    • Oh what fear man’s bosom rendeth
    • When from heaven the judge descendeth
    • On whose sentence all dependeth!
    • Wondrous sound the trumpet flingeth,
    • Through earth’s sepulchers it ringeth,
    • All before the throne it bringeth.
    • Death is struck and nature quaking,
    • All creation is awaking,
    • To its judge an answer making.
    • Lo the book exactly worded,
    • Wherein all hath been recorded,
    • Thence shall judgment be awarded.
    • When the Judge his seat attaineth,
    • And each hidden deed arraigneth:
    • Nothing unavenged remaineth.

Here, too, many Biblical texts are brought to mind and masterfully united. Here are just a few of them:

  1. (Matt 25:31-33) When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left …
  2. (Matt 24:30-32)  And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven. And then shall all tribes of the earth mourn: and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with much power and majesty.  And he shall send his angels with a trumpet and a great voice: and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the farthest parts of the heavens to the utmost bounds of them.
  3. (Rev 20:12) And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.
  4. (Rom 2:4-6) Do you not know that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. For he will render to every man according to his works:
  5. Luke 12:3 What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.
  6. 2 Peter 3:14 and the earth and everything done on it will be found out.

So, Judgment shall be according to our deeds; whatever is in the Book! Ah, but also in God’s Word is the hope for mercy. And so our hymn turns to pondering the need for mercy, and appeals to God for that mercy, basing it on the very will of God to save us. Was He not to be called Jesus because He would save us from our sins? (Mt 1:21) Did not God so love the world that He sent His own Son? And did He not come to save rather than condemn? (Jn 3:16-17) Did He not endure great sorrows and the cross itself to save us? Ah, Lord, do not now forsake me as I ponder my last end. Keep me faithful unto death!

    • What shall I frail man be pleading?
    • Who for me be interceding?
    • When the just are mercy needing?
    • King of majesty tremendous,
    • Who does free salvation send us,
    • Font of pity then befriend us.
    • Think kind Jesus, my salvation,
    • Caused thy wondrous incarnation:
    • Leave me not to reprobation.
    • Faint and weary thou hast sought me:
    • On the cross of suffering bought me:
    • Shall such grace be vainly brought me?
    • Righteous judge for sin’s pollution,
    • Grant thy gift of absolution,
    • Before the day of retribution.
    • Guilty now I pour my moaning:
    • All my shame and anguish owning:
    • Spare, O God my suppliant groaning.
    • Through the sinful Mary shriven,
    • Through the dying thief forgiven,
    • Thou to me a hope has given.

Yes, there is a basis for hope! God is rich in mercy. Pondering the Day of Judgment is salutary, since for now we can call on that mercy. For of that day, though there will be wailing and grinding of teeth at a just condemnation, such tears will be of no avail then (Mt 13:42). Please Lord, let me not be with the goats at the left, but with the sheep on the right (Mt 25:33). And in the end, it is only grace and mercy that can see us through that day. Only you, Jesus, can save me from the wrath to come (1 Thess 1:10):

    • Worthless are my tears and sighing:
    • Yet good Lord in grace complying,
    • Rescue me from fire undying.
    • With thy sheep a place provide me,
    • From the goats afar divide me,
    • To thy right hand do thou guide me.
    • When the wicked are confounded,
    • Doomed to flames of woe unbounded:
    • Call me with thy saints surrounded.
    • Lo I kneel with heart-submission,
    • See like ashes my contrition:
    • Help me in my last condition.

And now comes the great summation: that day is surely coming! Grant me O Lord your grace to be ready; prepare me:

    • Lo, that day of tears and mourning,
    • from the dust of earth returning.
    • Man for judgment must prepare him,
    • Spare O God, in mercy spare him.
    • Sweet Jesus Lord most blest,
    • Grant the dead eternal rest.

It is a masterpiece of beauty and truth, if you ask me. Some years ago, I memorized most of it. I sing it from time to time over in Church late at night, the hauntingly beautiful chant ringing through her echoing arches. When I die, please sing it at my funeral! For I go to the Lord, the judge of all, and only grace and mercy will see me through. Perhaps the plaintive calls of the choir below at my funeral will resonate to the very heavens as I am judged. Amen.

The Fire Next Time – A Homily for the Second Sunday of Advent

120814An old spiritual says, God gave Noah the rainbow sign, No more water, but the fire next time. The second reading in today’s Mass speaks to us of the “fire next time” and again reminds us of the need to be ready for the coming of the Lord. In this homily, I will focus on that second reading, wherein St. Peter reminds us of the passing that will come for us all, sooner or later. And since Advent is a time to prepare through prayer and repentance, we do well to heed this sacred teaching and warning, echoed by St. John the Baptist as well, of whom the Gospel today says, A voice of one crying out in the desert: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” John the Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Mk 1:2-3).

Note four aspects of the second reading:

I. The PATIENCE that is PURPOSEFUL – The text says, Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day. The Lord does not delay his promise, as some regard “delay,” but he is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

Though the Lord seems long-delayed in coming (2000+ years!), the text tells us that this delay is so that as many of us as possible can be saved.

But notice that the text says that God wants us to come to repentance. So God’s patience should not be seen as an excuse for presumption, but, rather, a time for repentance. This is no time to say, “Later.” This is a time to be serious about repenting and about preparing to meet the Lord.

Note, too, that the Greek word here translated as repentance is μετάνοιαν (metanoian), referring not just to better behavior, but also to a new mind. For our transformation is not merely external, but also internal. When what we think changes, so does our behavior. When our thinking is conformed to God’s revealed truth, our priorities, feelings, desires, and decisions all begin to change as well. Conversion and repentance are the result of being a changed and transformed human being with a new mind.

II. The PASSING that is PERILOUS – The text says, But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a mighty roar and the elements will be dissolved by fire, and the earth and everything done on it will be found out.

In effect, the text says that God’s gonna set this world on fire one of these days. And when he comes it will be

Sudden – For the text says that the Day of the Lord will come like a thief.

This image is quite a consistent with the image Jesus used for the Day of Judgment as well. But the image should not be true for those of us who wait and watch. St. Paul says, But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief … So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled (1 Thess 5:4,6).

Further, the image of God as a thief is also not appropriate for us if we realize that all we have and all we are belongs to God. For those who are worldly and who claim authority over themselves and their things, God is a thief who comes suddenly and in a hidden way. He overtakes their perceived ownership and possession and puts an end to it. To them He seems a thief as He “steals” what they consider theirs. They are badly misled.

But for us who watch and are prepared (pray God), the Lord comes not to take but to give. He comes to bestow and reward as we inherit His Kingdom.

Shocking – For the text speaks of the roaring heavens and of fire that overwhelms, and by it, all will be dissolved with fire.

Now here, too, the image, though shocking, should not alarm us if we are already on fire. At Pentecost, as well as at our individual baptism and confirmation, the Lord lit a fire within us in order to set us on fire, in order to  bring us up to the temperature of glory. Thus, for those in the Lord, the “weather” on that day will seem just fine.

The prophet Malachi speaks of the twofold experience of the Day of the Lord in this way: “Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them. But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. Notice therefore, that for some the Day is burning with wrathful heat, but for the Just, it is a sunny day wherein the Sun (Son) of righteousness will bring warmth and healing (Mal 4:1-3).

An old spiritual refers to this verse sayingGod gave Noah the rainbow sign, no water but the fire next time. Thus God wants to get us ready by setting us on fire with His love and grace. If God is a Holy Fire then we must become fire ourselves in order to endure the day of His coming.

Showing – For the text says that all things will be revealed.

So it would seem that this fire burns away the masks many people wear, leaving them to be seen for what they really are. The Lord says, But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken (Matt 12:36). And again He says, There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs (Lk 12:2-3).

Now even the just may wince at this, for all of us have a past and most would prefer that the past stay in the past. But I have sometimes seen, when I have visited 12-Step meetings, how many will recount vividly what they did when they were drinking. And they seem to do so with little shame and much laughter, for they share it with those who understand, those who have also been set free from the source of the problem. Perhaps, for the just, on that disclosing Day it will be like that.

But for those who are among the unrepentant, imagine the embarrassment and fear as their secrets, sins, and injustices are disclosed to those who are also unforgiving and unmerciful. A bad scene, really.

III. The PRESCRIPTION that is PROCLAIMED – The text says, Since everything is to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be, conducting yourselves in holiness and devotion, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved in flames and the elements melted by fire … Therefore, beloved, since you await these things, be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him, at peace.

The text asks rhetorically, “What sort of persons ought you to be?” In a word, the answer is “fiery.” God has lit a fire within us to purify and refine us. Hence, on that day when the Lord will judge by fire, we will pass through. And though some final purifications (purgation) may take place, the fact that the fire has been kindled in us and has already been fanned into a flame, will mean purification, not destruction.

St Paul describes the just as going through the purgatorial fire that leads to purification rather than destruction in HellIf any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames (1 Cor 3:12-15).

So the prescription for us is to let God set us afire now so as to purify us, making us more holy and devout. The fire now of His Holy Spirit is the only thing that can truly prepare us  and permit us to endure the day of His coming and be spared the “wrath to come” (cf 1 Thess 1:10; Matt 3:7; Romans 5:9; 1 Thess 5:9) when God will judge the world and everything in it by fire.

IV. The PERFECTION that is PROMISED – The text says, But according to his promise we await new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

This text presents the possibility that the created world will not so much be destroyed as purified by this fiery judgment of God. While the text may also signify a total destruction of all that now is and a replacement of it by new heavens and earth, it is also argued that the created world will instead be renewed rather than destroyed and replaced. This view would correspond with other texts (e.g., Isaiah 11 and Romans 8). For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God (Rom 8:20-21).

Whatever the answer to the debate, the bottom line is that the new (or renewed) world will be a heaven wedded to earth in which the full righteousness of God will be manifest. Further, we will be without spot or blemish and will be at peace. Yes, God’s gonna set this world on fire one of these days, hallelujah! And God’s fire purifies that which is holy, and burns away all that is lacking or unholy. God will restore all things in Christ!

The Dies Irae was originally written for the Second Sunday of Advent: