Hell Has to Be

If God is Love, why is there Hell? And  why is it eternal? In a word there is Hell because of respect. God has made us free and respects that freedom. Our freedom is absolutely necessary if we are to love. Now suppose a young man wanted a young lady to love him. Suppose again he found a magic potion with which to lace her drink. So she drinks and suddenly, presto., she “loves” him! Is it love? No, it’s chemicals. Love, to be love,  has to be free. The yes of love is only meaningful if we were free to say no. God invites us to love him. Love has to be free. There has to be a hell. Ther has to be a real alternative, a real choice. God will not force us to love him or to come to heaven with him.

But wait a minute, doesn’t everyone want to go to heaven? Yes, but it often a heaven as they define it, not the real heaven. Many people’s understanding of heaven is a very egocentric thing where they will be happy on their terms,  where what pleases merely them will be available in abundance. But the real heaven is the Kingdom of God in all its fullness. Truth be told, while everyone wants to go to a heaven as they define it, NOT everyone wants to live in the Kingdom of God in all its fullness. Consider some of the following examples:

  1. The Kingdom of God is about mercy and forgiveness. But not everyone wants to show mercy or forgive. Some prefer revenge. Some prefer severe justice. Some prefer to cling to their anger and nurse resentments or bigotry. Further, not everyone want to receive mercy and forgiveness. They cannot possibly fathom why anyone would need to forgive them since they are rightand the other person or nation is wrong.
  2. The Kingdom of God is about chastity. God is very clear with us that his Kingdom values chastity. For the unmarried this means no gential sexual contact. For the married this means complete fidelity to one another. Further, things like pornography, lewd conduct, immodesty and so forth are excluded from the Kingdom. But many today do not prefer chastity. They would rather be unchaste and immodest. They like pornography and do not want to limit their sexual conduct.
  3. The Kingdom of God is about Liturgy – all the descriptions of heaven emphasize liturgy. There are hymns being sung, there is the praise of God, standing, sitting, prostrating. There is incense, candles, long robes. There is a scroll or book that is opened, read and appreciated. There is the Lamb on a throne-like altar. It’s all very much like the Mass! But many are not interested in things like the Mass. They stay away from Church because it is “boring.” Perhaps they don’t like hymns and all the praise. Perhaps the scroll (the Lectionary) and its contents do not interest them. Having God at the center rather than themselves or their agenda is also unappealing.

Now my point is this: If heaven isn’t just of our own design but things like these are features of the real heaven, the real Kingdom of God, then doesn’t it seem clear that there actually are many who don’t want to go to heaven? You see everyone wants to go to heaven (the heaven of their own design), but NOT everyone wants to live in the Kingdom, which is what heaven really is. Now God will not force any one to live where they do not want to live. He will not force anyone to love Him or what he loves. We are free to choose his kingdom or not.

Perhaps a brief story will illustrate my point. I once knew a woman in one of my parishes who in many way was very devout. She went to daily Mass and prayed the rosary most days. But there was one thing about her that was very troubling, she couldn’t stand African Americans. She often told me, “I can’t stand Black People! They’re moving into this neighborhood and ruining everything! I wish they’d go away.” I remember scolding her a number of times for this sort of talk. But one day I thought I’d make it plain. I said, “You know you don’t really want to go to heaven.” She said, “Of course I do Father.  God and the Blessed Mother are there. I want to go.” “No you won’t be happy there,” I said. “Why? Want are you talking about Father?” “Well you see there are Black people in heaven and you’ve said you can’t stand to be around them. So I’m afraid you wouldn’t be happy there. And God won’t make you live some place where you are not happy. So I don’t think you want to go to heaven.” I think she go the message because I noticed she started to improve.

But that’s just it, isn’t it? God will not force us to live in the Kingdom if we really don’t want or like what that kingdom is. We can’t just invent our own heaven. Heaven is a real place and has contours and realities of its own that we can’t just brush aside. Either we accept heaven as it is or we ipso facto choose to live apart from it and God. So Hell has to be. It is not a pleasant place but I suppose the saddest thing about the souls in that are there is that they wouldn’t be happy in heaven anyway. A pretty sad and tragic plight, not to be happy anywhere. But understand this too. God has not utterly rejected even the souls in Hell. Somehow he still provides for their basic needs. They continue to exist and thus God continues to sustain them with what ever is required to provide for that existence. He does not anihilate them or snuff them out. He respects their wishes to live apart from the kingdom and its values. He loves them but respects their choice.

But why is Hell eternal? Here I think we encounter a mystery about ourselves. God seems to be teaching us that there comes a day when our decisions are fixed forever. For now we always have the possibility of changing our mind so the idea of a permanent decision seems strange to us. But I think that those of us who are a bit older can testify that as we get older we get a little more set in our ways and it’s harder to change. Perhaps this is a little foretaste of a time when our decisions will be forever fixed and we will never change. The Fathers of the Church used an image of pottery to teach on this. Think of wet clay on a potters wheel. As long as the clay is moist and still on the wheel it can be shaped and reshaped. But once it is put in the kiln, in the fire, its shape is fixed forever. And so it is with us that when we appear before God who is a Holy Fire, our fundamental shape will be forever fixed, our decisions final. For now this is mysterious to us and we only sense it vaguely but since heaven and hell are eternal, it seems this forever fixed state is in our future.

So here is the best I can do on a difficult topic. But Hell has to be. It’s about God’s respect for us. It’s about our freedom and summons to love. It’s about the real heaven. It’s about what we really want in the end. The following video is Fr. Robert Barron’s take on the matter.

Words Matter

As you probably know by now, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals has ruled 5-4 to prohibit the initiative to define marriage in D.C. as between a man and a woman.  What this means is that there cannot be a ballot initiative on the issue which would give the residents of the District of Columbia the opportunity to vote in support of marriage being between one man and one woman. Unlike, thirty-onestates in which people were given the opportunity to weigh whether changing any part of the definition of one of the most fundamental constructs of society is the right step to take, judges ruling against the decision write “even if we assume that the people at large are more likely to discriminate against minorities than are their elected representative…there are numerous checks and balances in place to protect against the tyranny of the majority.”   This comment led to a lively “water cooler” discussion in the office this morning. My colleagues, Peter Murphy, Director of the Family Life Office and Patty Mazariegos, Coordinator of the Hispanic Family Life ministry were stymied by the use of the word “tyranny.”

I wondered what is the dividing line between the will of the people (31 states with constitutional laws against same-sex marriage, 15 with no legislation and only four with laws allowing same-sex marriage) and “tyranny of the majority?”  Peter suggested that it is commonly understood that tyranny is the imposition of something on a people against their will.  It is not a tyranny when people have the opportunity to express their opinion (popular or unpopular) through a vote…that is not tyranny but democracy.

What is so frustrating about our work on this issue is that it has yet to be proven how marriage between a man and woman is discrimination; it is a completely different relationship than the relationship between two men or two women. The very gift of the masculine and feminine is at the heart of what it means to give yourself to another in marriage. It is not discrimination to call two different things, different names.

Even though it may not be fashionable, it is time to stand for truth. Marriage is a unique relationship between a man and a woman with potential to give new life.  It serves a societal benefit that no other relationship does.  Study after study show that having a loving and involved mother and father creates and nurtures the best environment for raising children.  Let’s work to support marriage, not re-define it.  For information on the church’s teaching and to follow the church’s efforts in supporting and sustaining marriage and family life please see MarriageMatters.

With thanks to Peter Murphy for his help on this post!

Demonstrating God’s Existence Through Desire

All of us face many trials and difficulties in this world that serve to remind us that we are really in a foreign land, far from home. The world can bewilder us, and beguile us, disappoint us and demand of us.

But what if our dissatisfaction with this world was not merely a selfishness, or a lack of gratitude for what we have? What if this dissatisfaction is supposed to be there?

Consider for a moment that your desire is infinite. Honestly, it is. When was the last time you were perfectly satisfied and needed nothing? Never happened, did it? We are a vast and limitless sea of desire. Yes, if we are honest, our desires are quite limitless, clearly  infinite.

But does this not show forth  God’s existence and that he wrote his name in your heart? Does it not give clear evidence  that you were made for God?

How does this demonstrate the existence of God? Well, consider the following:

1. Nothing can give what it does not have (Nihil dat quod non habet). For me to give you $20, I must first have at least  $20.

2. Hence that which is  finite cannot give what is infinite. That which is limited cannot give something that is unlimited.

3. Our desire is demonstrably infinite, unlimited.

4. But the Material world is finite. It is limited.

5. Thus the Material world did not confer this infinite desire upon us.

6. Hence someone or something infinite must have conferred this infinite desire upon us.

7. That Someone we call, God.

If your desire is infinite and insatiable, unlimited and unremitting, maybe its about God!  Why should this world satisfy you? It is puny and passing compared to your heart’s truest longing. Maybe it’s God you are really longing for! Think about it.

This song has a verse that says, God and God alone, will be the joy of our eternal home. He will be our one desire. Our hearts will never tire, of God and God alone.

Why All This???

Look above you. Why all this?? Why such a large universe, billions of galaxies with billions of stars each?  Perhaps one solar system would have been sufficient. Look around you. Why all this?? Not one species of bird, but thousands.  Tens of thousands of kinds of animals and birds. The sea is filled with a massive variety of fish and other sea life. Billions of people with amazing variety, each with their own story. Why all this???

What if the answer is love? God is love and love seeks to share with others. Love seeks union and manifests beauty. Love is extravagant and ever expansive.

Science can say “what”  and some of the “how”  but it cannot answer “why.”  But God has writ the answer all around us in an extravagant and magnificent cosmos. We and all things exist by his extravagent love.

Why all this? Love! Behold the magnificence of all things and that of your very self. Only love would do all this. Only love.

What if we are surrounded by love?

Here is a nice video from The Life After Sunday Website

Images of the Trinity

God in the Light –  Back in High School we did an experiment in science class wherein we took three slide projectors (more common in those days) and shined three circles on the wall, one Red, one Blue, one Green. As we brought the three circles together on the wall (like the diagram at right), lo and behold, at the intersection the color was white. Somehow, in the one color (white) three colors were mysteriously present. I saw one but knew there were three. (By the way, don’t try it with paint, it only works with light).  It was one but it was three. I saw it but it was still mysterious. In later years, I thought, “This is something of an image of the Trinity: One God yet three persons mysteriously present. One, yet three.”

Ex ore infantium – Not long ago, one of my nephews was showing his smarts when he suddenly declared to his father and my brother, “Hey Dad, you’re a father, and you’re a son, and you’re a brother.” Hmm….thought I, an image of the Trinity. I know, you may say it’s dangerously close to modalism. But it really isn’t modalism, for while my brother is a father he does not cease being a son. While he is my brother he does not cease to be a father. He does not switch modes, he is one at all times and yet three at all times. Not a perfect analogy, no analogy is perfect, otherwise it would not be an analogy. But here too is a glimpse of the Trinity.

Scripture too presents images and pictures of the Trinity. Interestingly enough most of  the pictures I want to present are from the Old Testament. Now I want to say, as a disclaimer, that Scripture Scholars debate the meaning of the texts I am about to present, that’s what they get paid the big bucks to do. Let me be clear to say that I am reading these texts as a New Testament Christian and seeing in them a Doctrine that later became clear. I am not getting in a time machine and trying to understand them as a Jew from the 8th Century BC might have understood them. Why should I? That’s not what I am. Further that is not my job and what I get paid the big bucks to do. I am reading these texts as a Christian in the light of the New Testament, as I have a perfect right to do. You of course, the reader are free to decide if these texts really ARE images or hints of the Trinity from your perspective. Take them or leave them. Here they are:

1.Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…  (Gen 1:26) So God speaks to himself in the plural: “let us….our.”  Some claim this is just an instance of the “Royal We” being used. Perhaps but I see an image of the Trinity. There is one (God said) but there is a plural (us, our). Right at the very beginning in Genesis there is already a hint that God is not all by himself but is in a communion of love.

2. Elohim?? In the quote above, the word used for God is Elohim. Now it is interesting that this word is in a plural form. From the view point of pure grammatical form Elohim means “Gods.”  However, the Jewish people understood the sense of the word to be singular. Now this is a much debated point and you can read something more of it from a Jewish perspective here: Elohim as Plural yet Singular. My point here is not to try and understand it as a Jew from the 8th Century BC or a Jew today might understand it. Rather, what I observing is that it is interesting that one of the main words for God in the Old Testament is plural, yet singular, singular yet plural. It is one, it  is plural. God is one, yet he is three. I say this as a  Christian observing this about one of the main titles of God. I see an image of the Trinity.

3. And the LORD appeared to [Abram] by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day.  He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men stood in front of him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the earth,  and said, “My Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant.  Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree,  while I fetch a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on — since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.”   (Gen 18:1-5).  Now this passage from a purely grammatical point of view is very difficult since we switch back and forth  from singular references to plural. Note first that the Lord (singular) appeared to Abram. (In this case Yahweh  (YHWH) is the name used for God). And yet what Abram sees is three men. Some have wanted to say, this is just God and two angels. But I see the Trinity being imaged or alluded to here. And yet when Abram address “them” he says, “My Lord” (singular). The “tortured” grammar continues as Abram asks that water be fetched so that he can “wash your feet (singular) and that the “LORD” (singular)can  rest yourselves (plural). The same thing happens in the next sentence where Abram wants to fetch bread that you (singular) may refresh yourselves (plural)   In the end the LORD (singular) gives answer but it is rendered: “So they said.”  Plural, singular….. what is it? Both. God is one, God is three. For me, as a Christian,  this is a picture of the Trinity. Since the reality of God cannot be reduced to words we have here a grammatically difficult passage. But I “see” what is going on. God is one and God is three, he is singular and yet is plural.

4.  In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple. 2 Above him stood the seraphim; each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory. (Is 6:1-3)  God is Holy, Holy and yet again, Holy. Some say this is just a Jewish way of saying “very Holy” but as Christian I see more. I see a reference to each of the Three Persons. Perfect praise here requires three “holys”, why? Omni Trinum Perfectum (all things are perfect in threes) why? So, as a Christian I see the angels not just using the superlative but also praising each of the Three persons. God is thee (Holy, Holy, Holy) and God is one and so the text says, Holy  “IS the Lord.”

5. In the New Testament there are obviously many references but let me just refer to three quickly. Jesus says, The Father and I are one (Jn 10:30). He says again, To have seen me is to have seen the Father (Jn. 14:9). And, have you ever noticed that in  the baptismal formula Jesus uses is “bad” grammar? He says, Baptize them in the Name (not names as it grammatically “should” be) of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matt 28:19). God is One (name) and God is three (Father, Son and Holy Spirit).

Feel free to add to this list of  images for the Trinity, both biblical and natural.

This video is longish (22 Minutes) but the priests interviewed present a lot of good material.

On Beauty’s Relation to Truth – A Personal Testimony

When I was a freshmen in High School I had largely lost my faith. I was not an atheist, more of an agnostic. If God existed, I didn’t care. I was in a rather angry stage of my life. And frankly there were some things that I had every right to be angry about, things I need not discuss here.

I still went to Church, commanded there by my mother who did not care to discuss my many reasons for not going (thanks be to God that she did not cave in to my demands).

So there I sat in Church, bored out of my mind. I don’t remember that the priest had much to say and if he did I wasn’t in the mood to listen. But one Sunday, a small choir appeared. It was a choir of High School students. I don’t remember what they sang, I just remember that the girls in that choir were awfully pretty. Later that week in Religious Education (we called it CCD in those days), a man came into class and invited us to sign up for the new choir. “Is that the choir that sang last Sunday?”, I asked. “Indeed it was.”  he said. “Sign me up,”  I said. I remember that my mother laughed a bit because, of all the gifts I had manifested growing up, singing was not one of them.

But there it was. Beauty had hooked me. I will not promise you there was not lust admixed in my attraction. I will simply say that beauty drew me. And through that beauty the Lord would restore me to the truth. The Lord had my attention and my presence through that beauty and now the truth would gently permeate my unbelieving soul.

As luck would have it we sang a lot of traditional music in that choir. We weren’t the typical youth choir which sang a steady diet of folk music. I had never liked folk music, sacred or secular. It just didn’t impress me (just my personal opinion, I don’t say you have to agree). But the classical compositions of Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Marcello, and the like impressed me. Here too, (remember I was a teenager)  it was related to girls 🙂  You see, folk music, at least the Church stuff,  has very little of a bass line to sing. But classical music used a lot of counter-point and hence the basses were kept busy and we got to sing a lot of low notes! Are you getting the picture?  Young teenager me, wanted to impress the girls in the choir with my deep voice. Classical music gave me the opportunity to do that. Hence,  my preference for the classical, simple as that.

But here too beauty was on the way. It was not as quickly appreciated as the beauty of the young ladies. It was a slowly discovered beauty. At first the music was just fun to sing, but slowly its beauty infused my soul. And as it’s beauty attracted me, the message of faith contained in that sacred music also became attractive. We would study not just the notes but also the words. I remember once singing a section of a Beethoven Credo (by then I was in my first year of college and we were preparing for a concert). The choir director explained  that the steady beating of the bass notes was to represent the hammer blows of  Christ being nailed to the cross as we sang “crucifixus etiam pro nobis.” (and he was also crucified for us). It was powerful to sing those notes. So the message began to sink in.

I need not say much more. My point is that God used beauty to draw me:  the immediate beauty of the girls in the Choir,  and the discovered beauty of the music. But it was through these beauties that I discovered the beauty of Truth. I joined the choir to meet my bride. In the end I did meet my bride. For it was through my deepening involvement with the Church through music that I discovered my Bride was the Church herself. My bride is beautiful and she is true.

This video is an excerpt from the film The Mission. Fr. Gabriel has gone deep into the rain forest were an untrusting and often violent people fear his arrival and hide preparing to stalk and kill him. But he takes out his oboe and plays a beautiful song (my first girlfriend played the oboe). The beauty draws them out of hiding and helps them accept him into their village. Beauty opened the door for truth and Fr. Gabriel begins to preach Christ.

Eternity is Not A Long Time, it is All Time.

In yesterday’s blog (I Don’t See Ghosts. But God Does) I mentioned eternity and that it was the fullness of time wherein the past present and future were all at once for God. God does not have to wait for things to happen nor does he have to reminisce about the past. It is all before him as one moment.

I would like to say a little more about this. First, I would like to attempt to better define eternity. And then I’d like to ponder some possible implications and see what you think.

“Defining” The Mystery of Eternity  – I have put the word “defining” in quotes purposefully since,  simply defining eternity is quite impossible. By analogy, what if I were to ask you to “Define the universe and give three examples.”  Such a request would be silly since the universe cannot simply be defined. It is just too big to be contained by words. And so it is with eternity. Ultimately eternity is a mystery in that,  whatever we  can say about it, more remains un-sayable. So, in proposing to “define” eternity I am not arrogantly thinking I can contain the concept in the mere confines of words. But since we need some parameters for our discussion, some definitions, (parameters) really are needed.

What Do we mean by Eternity?  Most people misunderstand the word eternity simply to mean “a long, long, time.”  But that is not what is meant by the word. When the Greeks coined the word eternity, (Aeon) they meant by it “the fullness of time.”   That is to say, Eternity is the past, present and future all being experienced at once.

I cannot tell you what this is like, but I can illustrate it. Look at the clock to the upper right. The time is 1:15 in the afternoon. That means that 10:00 AM is in the past and 6:00 PM is in the future. But consider the dot at the center of the clock and see that, at that spot,  10 AM, 1:15 PM, and 6 PM are all the same, they are equally present to the dot in the center. In fact every possible time that can be registered on the outer edges of the clock is equally present to the center dot. At the center dot there is no substantial difference to any outer edge time indication. There is no future, no past, all is present, all is equally accessible to the center dot. This is eternity and this is where God lives.

God Lives in eternity – We live our life in serial time, on the outer edge of the clock. But God does not. God lives in eternity. God lives in the fullness of time. For God, past, and future are the same as the present. God is not “waiting” for things to happen. All things just are. God is not waiting and wondering if you or I will get to heaven. He is not watching history unfold like a movie. In eternity, 10,000 years ago is just as present as 10,000 years from now. Eternity includes all pasts and futures in the living present.

[If you wish to read more on this you might read Peter Kreeft’s Book Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Heaven (esp. pp. 151-171)].

Scripture hints at God’s eternity in numerous passages. For example,

  1. But 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. (2 Peter 3:8).
  2. Psalm 139 says, Your eyes foresaw my actions; in your book all are written down; my days were shaped, before one came to be. (Ps 139, 15).
  3. Psalm 90 says, For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night. (Ps 90:4).
  4. And then there is simply the God’s name: “I AM” In this Name, there is no past, no future, just an eternal now, the present tense.
  5. Jesus declared to the crowds, “Before Abraham ever was, I AM.” (John 8:58).

So here is the most awesome mystery of time, the fullness of time, eternity. Some implications from this are interesting to ponder.

1. God is not waiting for anything. He did not wait for you or me to be born, he is not waiting for us to die. He is not waiting to judge us. He is not waiting for us to enter heaven (or Hell!). He is not waiting for us to emerge from purgatory. He is not waiting for the end of the world. Everything is accomplished. Everything is done. And yet every thing is also underway. The day of my birth is present to God. They day of my death is present to him. The full sweep of history is before God in one glance, one comprehensive NOW. We may say, “Why is God taking so long to answer my prayer?” The fact is he has already provided. The Lord answers prayers, sooner than right now, faster than immediately.

2. This does not mean that everything is predetermined in such a way as to make our freedom meaningless. That God already knows and and has always known every decision we make does not mean that we do not in fact freely make it. God’s knowledge does not cancel our freedom.

3. At some point we will move to the eternal center with God. It does not seem likely that we will ever comprehend time and things as comprehensively as God. And yet the fact that we move to eternity, to the fullness of time, would suggest that the whole course of our life will somehow, mysteriously be present to us. I say “suggest,”  since none of this is perfectly laid out for us to know here. This is speculation based on what eternity seems to be. Since, by definition the past will be present, some how it would seem that the whole of our past life will be present and available to us in heaven. Somehow my high school graduation, my first date 🙂 , my ordination, even this typing session will be present. How and it what manner or mode it is experienced is not clear. Sometimes people ask if their pets will be in heaven. If the past is accessible it would seem that pets somehow are with us there. How and to what degree we would want to go back and “visit” the past is not possible to say. Saying what eternity seems to include is one thing, describing how it is experienced there is something altogether different and beyond the realm of what we can likely know here.

4. Why bother praying? Some my say if everything already is, what difference does prayer make? But this question presumes that God has not always known you would pray and already set forth the answer based on that. For us, time and decisions must unfold. Though God has always known what we would do or not do, we are NOT in that position and thus must decide to pray. That God has always known what we would do is beside the point from our perspective. We must decide to pray and know that God has always known if we would pray and had already acted accordingly.

5.  Are the Souls in heaven waiting for anything?  – If eternity is the fullness of time and if past and future are contained in a perfect now it would seem they are not waiting. My parents, who have both died are not likely waiting for me to join them since the future is already present to them. They are not waiting for their bodies to rise for in eternity that is accomplished. From our perspective these things are not accomplished and must unfold, but in eternity it would seem that they are already present. Or so it would seem.

Please note  that I offer these implications (speculations really) very humbly. Note how often I have used the word “seem.” That is intentional. Eternity is a very deep mystery. We can define it (sort of) but grasping how it is experienced is quite another matter. I’d like to know what you think. Analogies are always appreciated and large doses of humility are necessary. We must remember that we are talking about something we have never experienced. Further we are using mere words to describe what cannot really be reduced to words. Words are necessary, but remember, they are inadequate.

This song says, “God don’t ever change.”

Developing the Desire For All that Really Matters

We live in an age where our comforts are many: air conditioning, electricity, running water, cars,  many of us have large house compared to fifty years ago, consumer products are abundant, cheap and easy to find, medical advances have staved off many diseases and improved the quality of life.

But comfort can confuse us and rob from us the one thing most necessary, the desire for God and to be with Him in heaven. This desire is our most essential desire and should be the focus of our whole life. It is to direct us to our proper end which is God and the things waiting for us in heaven. Jesus rebuked Martha for her focus on worldly concerns and told her that Mary, who preferred communion with him had “chosen the better part” and the “one thing necessary.” (cf Luke 10:38-42)

Creature comforts, when available to us in abundance as they are here and now have a way of misdirecting us. We are fooled into thinking that they are the source of our happiness and so we are always looking for the next worldly trinket or charm instead of God.

Even the way Church going Catholics and other Christians pray is alarming. Very often verbal prayers are heavily steeped in requests for better health, better finances, a new and more lucrative job, a more cooperative spouse, the success of some project and so forth. It is not wrong to pray for these things but when they so dominate our prayer it is almost as though we were saying to God, “Make this world a better place for me. Give me enough health, friends, and creature comforts and I’ll just stay here forever.”  Pretty sad really, but even our prayers can become too focused on this world and manifest that we have become forgetful that the greatest gift is God himself.

Our more recent fore-bearers saw things differently. A little as the 1oo years ago, most people in this world experienced life as brutal and short. Long hard days of physical labor, food supplies that were less sure, disease and poor medicine all led to lives that were  far less comfortable and more suddenly brief that what we in the west usually experience today. Some of the prayers of that time expressed that life was a vale (or valley) of tears and longing for heaven was a more common focus of  prayer.

We understandably have a natural fear of death, but as Christians we should increasingly long to be with God. With strong faith we can come to see our approaching death not as something to loathe but as the fulfillment of all our longings, for death opens the door toward God. The early Christians had an expression as recorded in the Didache Let grace come and this world pass away. Maranatha (Lord come). Amen (Did, 10)

Getting There – There’s an old Gospel Song that says, “I heard my mother say, ‘Give me Jesus. You may have all this world; just give me Jesus.’”  In my own life I heard people get to the mature point in their life when they could really say those words without any simulation or exaggeration. In particular I have in mind those I’ve been privileged to accompany toward death. For many of them these words become very real. My own mother died suddenly so I did not have the privilege of making that journey with her along the way. But My Father died after a year-long illness and my Grandmother too. I was able to walk with them in their final stages and I heard them say these words. And I knew it was time because only God can get you ready to say those words in a true and authentic way. I knew they really meant it and God was getting them ready for the great journey over to the other shore.

In the end, we have to desire heaven more  than this world and only God can cause this change and purge us from the many attachments we have to this world. It usually takes the dying process to get us there, though I suppose it shouldn’t have to. But, painful though it is to see, there is something quite beautiful about the  approach to death. I often see a letting go in those who approach death;  perhaps it is of worldly glories, old grudges, preoccupations and many worries. Little by little these things fall away and the “one thing necessary” replaces them. It is merely this:  that we sit at the feet of Jesus and wait for him to bring us over. There comes a moment when those who are dying with faith can truly saying the words of Psalm 27 : There is only one thing I ask of the LORD; this alone I seek: That I  may dwell in the LORD’S house all the days of my life and gaze upon his  beauty.

What do you want? What do you long for? Maybe it’s God! I know, its probably a lot of other things too. But if you’re faithful God can get you to the point where you can truly say: Give me Jesus. You may have all this world. Just Give me Jesus.

Pray to desire God above every thing and everyone. Pray along with this beautiful rendition of the Old Song: Give Me Jesus