"THY EXCEEDING GREAT REWARD."
By Rev. Henry Brinkmeyer
WE have studied the divine, uncreated love of the Sacred Heart as manifested in the Creation and the Incarnation. We will now consider it as shown in heaven in the rewards of the just. It is true, the magnitude of those rewards is beyond all conception; "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man what things God hath prepared for those that love Him." Still, theology teaches us something concerning the joy of the elect in heaven, and though that knowledge be meagre, obscure and incapable of being fully realized, it is sufficient to inflame our hearts with holy desires, and to give us another glimpse of the fathomless abyss of God's love for man.
The essential happiness of heaven consists in what is called the Beatific Vision. The word beatific comes from two Latin words, which mean to make happy. The Beatific Vision, therefore, is a vision, a sight which makes one happy. That vision is the vision of God. No creature, not even an angel, can by its natural powers see God. God is a spirit whose substance is so pure, so simple, so immaterial, that no created spirit can behold Him. "He dwelleth in light inaccessible." The angels can see and converse with one another, and when our souls are separated from our bodies, we also shall be able to see the angels and kindred spirits: but of our own unassisted natural powers, we can never behold the Spirit of God. To see God, a new supernatural, intellectual power must be infused into our soul; our mind must be supernaturally elevated and expanded, since new power must be added to our intellect: that enlightenment, that elevation, that expansive power which is what is called "lumen gloriae, the light of glory." Consequently, when a soul crosses the threshold of heaven, this light of glory envelops it, as it were, round about; it penetrates the soul through and through, it elevates and expands the intellect communicating to it the divine power of seeing God. In lumine tuo videbimus lumen. "In Thy light we shall see the Light." The soul looks upon God face to face as He is! It sees the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost with the eye of the intellect, infinitely more clearly than we see with the eye of our body the material universe around us. It beholds the Unity and the Trinity of God, yet does not comprehend Him; it beholds the Father engendering the Son, and the Holy Ghost proceeding from both, yet it does not understand. It sees His goodness, His omnipotence, His justice, His mercy, His infinite beauty and holiness, the interminable, incomprehensible oceans of His perfections, if contemplates all before it,—oceans of joy, of peace, of tenderness and love. It sees too, how God has loved from all eternity, how wonderfully His Providence has directed all with wisdom and power to their appointed end, how He blessed us when He made us endure this sorrow and loaded us down with that cross, it sees the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost bending in love towards it, and ready to clasp it eternally to His bosom. What is the immediate consequence of this vision ? When the soul thus sees God in His divine beauty, goodness, and unspeakable love for it, it loves Him with all the power of its being. It cannot help itself. It is set on fire with a seraphic love; it loves Him unselfishly, supremely, above all things. Feeling this intense love for Him, seeing at the same time this mysterious love of God for it, and knowing that it shall now possess Him forever, a new, ineffable joy takes possession of it, and thrills through its every fibre. That joy, that bliss cannot be described; eye hath not seen it, ear hath not heard it, neither hath it entered into the heart of man: it constitutes the essential happiness of heaven.
We must, however, guard against one error, which is very apt to creep into our minds when meditating upon the happiness of seeing God. And it is an error very common even among holy persons. We must not imagine that the sight of God will so absorb our minds as to make us motionless and inactive like statues, or that our happiness will be so exclusively complete, as to make us insensible to every other joy. This is certainly a mistake. It is true, the essential happiness of heaven consists in the vision of God; still the Beatific Vision will not destroy our nature. We are naturally active, we shall be supremely so in heaven. Man is not an angel, he is not complete unless he has a body with its senses. The resurrection of our body shall therefore increase our happiness; all the natural senses shall be gratified; we shall enjoy, for instance, the charms of heavenly music. And there shall be social joys in heaven. We shall know one another there. We shall take with us our natural love for relatives and friends, stripped of everything that was inordinate and imperfect. It may sound strange, yet the Angel of the Schools, St. Thomas, teaches that even in heaven we shall have our preferences as we have them on earth. Yes, in heaven, where all is order, harmony, sanctity, stability and love, even in heaven, I say, those whom we shall have loved here on earth by reason of nature or grace, we shall love for the same reasons still, and incomparably more than we loved them on earth, and the love we shall feel for them, will be more tender, more intense, than that we feel for others, though we should see the latter to be as holy as the seraphim, and as beautiful as the archangels. For God is the author of nature as well as of grace, and grace never destroys, it only elevates and perfects nature.
We have seen so far that the essential happiness of heaven consists in the Beatific Vision, i. e., in seeing, loving and enjoying God. The souls who already enjoy the Beatific Vision, are consequently happy beyond expression: still as long as they are separated from their bodies their happiness is not yet complete. Then only will their bliss be entire and perfect, when they are reunited to their risen bodies. I do not mean to say, that the least shadow of sadness or discontent rests upon the blessed; they know that new joys are in store for them, and they desire those joys only inasmuch as God wills them: but they desire them, because human nature requires and springs from the union of body and soul. And will these our bodies be changed? Will our bodies become worthy temples of our transformed and beautiful souls? Yes; St. Paul says explicitly: "It is sown in corruption, it shall rise in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, it shall rise in glory. It is sown in weakness, it shall rise in power. It is sown a natural body, it shall rise a spiritual body" (i. Cor. xv). First, "It is sown in corruption, it shall rise in incorruption." That is to say, our bodies at present are corruptible by their very nature, and because corruptible, they have an inexpressible capacity for suffering. Every organ, every member, every nerve of our frame is susceptible of veritable torture. And bodily pain can be so great as to drive us to distraction. But these, our bodies which are sown in corruption, shall rise in incorruption. They shall be no longer subject to sickness and infirmity. There shall be no more disease, no more pain or anguish; no more shall the eyes weep tears of grief. Every sense shall become the source of an abundant, ever-new, and never-dying joy. This first gift is called the gift of impassibility. St. Paul continues: "It is sown in dishonor, it shall rise in glory." Yes, our bodies are sown in dishonor; like seed they are cast into the earth, and become the prey of corruption and worms. Our dearest friends turn away with disgust from that which is but a mass of putrefaction. But these same bodies shall rise in glory. That word glory, in Holy Scripture, means first, perfect beauty and symmetry of form, and secondly, a radiant brilliancy. Our bodies in heaven shall possess both this beauty and brilliancy. The body on earth may have been disfigured by birth, infirmity or accident; it may have been shrivelled with old age, or by sin it may have lost its youthful bloom: but in heaven, all these defects and blemishes of the body shall disappear. It shall be a masterpiece of God's wisdom and power.
Every member, organ and feature shall be exquisitely shaped and proportioned, without defect or imperfection of any kind, with all the loveliness and bloom of youth. The body will also shine with a brilliancy before which all the radiance of a midday sun shall pale, yet with a brilliancy that gladdens, soothes and softens as the light of precious stones. This gift is called the gift of glory. Let us follow St. Paul's revealed words. Thirdly, "It is sown in weakness, it shall rise in power." The soul has not at present perfect control over the body: the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. The soul cannot go where it will, walls and doors impede its desires. The body is a thick, heavy, unwieldy mass of clay,—it is an obstacle to the soul's will. But the body sown in weakness, shall rise in power. Walls and doors, slabs and seals, shall no longer be able to impede its course; it shall run and not be weary, it shall move as if it had the wings of eagles, with such rapidity that its time cannot be noted, with lightning speed, it shall pass from place to place. This third gift is called the gift of agility. Finally, in the fourth place: "It is sown a natural body, it shall rise a spiritual body." St. Paul does not mean to say that our bodies are to be changed into spirits; but this, —that our bodies, though remaining material, shall be clothed with certain properties belonging naturally to spirits. A spirit needs not food, drink or sleep, nor shall our risen bodies need these things. The sense of taste shall be eminently gratified, but not in the carnal way of eating and drinking. A spirit is invisible, in like manner a glorified body is visible or invisible as the soul wills. A spirit is by nature simple; the body shall lose its coarseness of texture, and become so refined and delicately organized as to approach the nature of a spirit. A spirit is immortal; the body likewise shall be immortal; it shall never again feel the sting of death, never again shall it be the victim of the grave. Finally, a spirit cannot become the slave of animal passion; the body also shall be emancipated from the law of sin which is now in its members. It shall war no longer against the spirit, it shall no longer burn with the impure flame of concupiscence, it shall, in a word, be totally subject to the spirit: in consequence, no more temptations, no more dangers, no more struggles, no more inordinate cravings after forbidden pleasure. This fourth gift is called the gift of spirituality.
No wonder St. Paul said so powerfully: "That which is at present momentary and light of our tribulation, worketh for us above measure exceedingly an eternal weight of glory." Behold the love of God, the uncreated love of the Sacred Heart for man ! O Mary, Queen of heaven and Mother of beautiful love, obtain for us the grace of reaching heaven, that home of never-ending happiness and love !