In his encyclical Spe Salvi, Pope Benedict XVI writes that “The present, even if it is arduous, can be lived and accepted if it leads towards a goal, if we can be sure of this goal, and if this goal is great enough to justify the effort of the journey.” Here Benedict lays out three elements which must be present if we are to live and accept our present lives well. Firstly, the present must be leading toward a future goal, for a goal inspires us to act and to live with purpose. Secondly, we must be certain that this goal is real, that we are working toward something that we know can be reached. If the goal were not real, it would be foolish for us to set our hopes and efforts on it. Thirdly, the goal must make the process of seeking it worthwhile––otherwise, it would not be worth the effort that is required to achieve it.
On the flip side of Benedict XVI’s statement lies the implication that if our lives are not oriented toward some goal, if the goal is not something that we are sure of, or if the goal is not great enough to justify the arduous nature of the journey, then the present cannot be lived and accepted well. If the present cannot be lived and accepted, then we fall into a state of hopelessness and desperation, trying to find a way out of our misery, seeking some sort of escape from the harsh supposed reality that the present is meaningless because the future is bleak. As Benedict XVI––then Cardinal Ratzinger––observed in his 1988 lecture at Cambridge, when people do not have a worthwhile goal, the world becomes a “despairing world which is experienced as a prison built of facts in which man cannot long endure.” How do modern men seek to avoid falling into this meaninglessness, and what is the goal upon which they set their hopes and efforts?
In the modern day, the goal of many people is to make their lives on earth into a sort of heaven. Modern man seeks a meaningful present by orienting his life toward an earthly goal––most notably, toward the earthly goal of progress. Placing this observation into Ratzinger’s framework, we realize that modernity thinks of earthly goals as the only goals we can be sure of. Earthly goals, particularly the goals of progress and freedom through science and politics, are the most concrete, material, and real––or so we think. Further, these concrete, earthly goals appear great enough to justify the arduous nature of the journey––for we convince ourselves that it is really possible to create a sort of heaven on earth. Because man thinks that he can build a heaven on earth, he invests his faith, his hopes, and his energy in this earthly “heaven,” and seeks above all else to achieve it.
While earthly goods are tangible, appear possible, and seem capable of justifying the difficulties of the process of seeking them, the Catholic concept of Heaven appears to the modern man as an abstract and uncertain goal in comparison. We do not orient our lives toward Heaven because we are convinced that the realities and promises of Heaven are less real, less certain, than our earthly goals. As C.S. Lewis tells us, though something within us naturally tells us that this world is not all there is, “almost all our modern philosophies have been devised to convince us that the good of man is to be found on this earth.” Since Heaven appears less worthy of our time than earthly goals, since it appears a vague reality if a reality at all, we do not seek Heaven as our ultimate end. This lack of faith and hope in Heaven, coupled with a loss of a sense of sin and a loss of a sense of hell, makes us think that there really is no reason to seek Heaven at all. “If there is a heaven,” most people think, “I will go there, because if there is a God, God does not judge.” Only if there is not a heaven will I not go there. As a result, we live as if our hope were this world, and the idea that there is a place other than this world looms in the minds and hearts of many as a sort of after-thought, or as a sort of wishful thinking when the going gets tough. If Heaven is real, we will get there without trying; if it is not––well then, it probably would have been boring anyway.
- Statement of Purpose
Observing this state of the modern man, this paper will deal with a threefold question: “Why are many Catholics lacking true faith and hope in Heaven today, why is this problematic, and how can we recapture desire for Heaven among Catholics?” In response, I will argue, firstly, that many Catholics lack true desire for Heaven and true faith and hope in Heaven because modern men have placed their desires, faith, and hope in earthly progress. Secondly, I will argue that this is deeply problematic because the ultimate, true, and fulfilling goal of man is beyond this world and this life. Thirdly, I will argue that we can and ought to recapture desire for Heaven ––and prepare the way for deeper faith and hope in Heaven––among Catholics by reemphasizing our creedal belief in the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come, and by seeking to understand these promises through the stories and images of Scripture.
In Part One, appealing to Peter Kreeft, Pope Benedict XVI, and C.S. Lewis, I will demonstrate the ways in which society at large has lost its sense of heavenly glory and has come to place its deepest hopes in progress, specifically in progress toward perfect freedom through the use of science and politics. Further, by examining the outcomes of the philosophy of progress, I will demonstrate how modernity’s promises of a type of heaven-on-earth cannot be fulfilled and cannot fulfill man. In Part Two, I will demonstrate that man’s placing his hope in an earthly heaven is deeply problematic because man has a natural desire for something beyond this world. Man is made for a different homeland, for perfect happiness, and for union with God, and he ought to be seeking this end above all else. Finally, in Part Three, I will argue that we can and ought to recapture a robust desire for Heaven among Catholics by emphasizing our creedal belief in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting––a life infinitely better and more real than this life on earth. Further, drawing upon these creedal truths, I will argue that we ought to use the images and stories contained in Scripture to enkindle desire for Heaven in our hearts and prepare the way for supernatural faith, hope and Christian living.
- Fundamental Terms
Before we begin, I will first define several terms and give several qualifications to my argument that will serve as a necessary foundation to this discussion. Firstly, let us define “faith” and “hope.” To have natural faith in something means to believe something on the authority of another, without first hand proof; to have natural hope means to have a desire for something in the future that is difficult yet possible to achieve. With regard to supernatural faith, The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines it as “the theological virtue by which we believe in God and believe all that he has said and revealed to us, and that the Holy Church proposes for our belief, because he is truth itself.” Supernatural faith is a gift from God, and we believe the truths He reveals on the authority of the most trustworthy source possible, for He is the Truth. Most relevant to the current discussion is the fact that the realities of Heaven are truths revealed to us by God; for this means that if we do not have a robust belief in the true Heaven, we are severely lacking in faith.
With regard to supernatural hope, The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines it as the “theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit.” To have supernatural hope, then, means to desire Heaven as our happiness; the phrase “as our happiness” implies that if we have hope, we will recognize that Heaven is the goal toward which our lives should be oriented. Further, to have hope, we must rely on “the grace of the Holy Spirit” rather than on our own strength. Importantly, this definition of hope makes clear to us that desiring the Kingdom of Heaven and eternal life is one and the same as desiring union with God, and that to place our trust in Christ’s promises is to place our trust in Christ.
It is also important to note that, while faith and hope are defined as distinct virtues, they are so closely united that they are even sometimes used interchangeably in Scripture. Pope Benedict goes so far as to say that “faith is hope,” and he explains that “the self-understanding of the early Christians was shaped by their having received the gift of a trustworthy hope.” In other words, the early Christians realized that to have true faith, one must have robust hope in Heaven as his highest good. We see this demonstrated time and again in the letters of the New Testament, where the theme of hope is abundantly present. This basic understanding of the nature of faith and hope, respectively, and of their unity will prove important in understanding the place of Heaven in the life of the Christian.
In addition to these definitions, I must give several qualifications. Firstly, I am not attempting to give a full diagnosis of the problems of modern man, nor am I suggesting that renewed hope in Heaven is the full solution to modernity’s crisis of faith and hope. Secondly, I am not attempting to paint the improvement of society through science and politics as intrinsically evil; science and politics can achieve legitimately good things. Finally, my intended audience is Catholics, and my thesis presupposes belief in God and belief that Christ is God. While much of the content of this argument could be used by Catholics in approaching people who do not share the Faith, we would need to give other basic apologetical arguments in conjunction with the arguments of this thesis. What I am attempting to do in this paper is to help Catholics be wary of the lures of modern philosophy and to strengthen their conviction that no earthly goal is worthy of man’s ultimate desires nor of his ultimate faith and hope. Seeking to help Catholics rekindle the desire for the true Heaven in their hearts, I will emphasize that the Heaven promised by Catholicism will alone fulfill their deepest longings. My hope is that such an approach will prepare the way for a strengthening of faith and hope among Catholics. With this framework in mind, let us now begin.
Part I: The Vain Hopes of the Modern Man––Causes and Failures
While there are certainly many catalysts to the modern crisis of hope, two interconnected causes seem especially apparent, and it is these that we will engage with in this discussion. The first of these, identified by Peter Kreeft in his book Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Heaven and hinted at by C.S. Lewis and Ratzinger is that man does not have a real sense of heavenly glory. The second fundamental cause identified by Pope Benedict XVI in Spe Salve and by C.S. Lewis in The Abolition of Man, is that the modern man has been captivated by the idea of progress and has placed his hope largely in science and politics. The first of these problems, I will demonstrate, is caused by the second––for in the modern age the glory of Heaven escapes man’s attention, lying in the shadow of the glory man convinces himself he can achieve in the here and now.
Identifying the problem of modernity’s lost sense of heavenly glory, Kreeft argues that “We moderns have lost much of medieval Christendom’s faith in Heaven because we have lost its hope in Heaven, and we have lost its hope of Heaven because we have lost its love of Heaven. And we have lost its love of Heaven because we have lost its sense of Heavenly glory.” Explaining this regression, Kreeft puts forward the observation that, instead of the beautiful images of Heaven painted by the medieval world, modernity produces “Pathetic modern substitutes of fluffy clouds, sexless cherubs, harps and metal halos (not halos of light) presided over by a stuffy chairman of the Board.” Yet another modern substitute for the medieval images of Heaven, Kreeft identifies, is the idea that “Heaven is a comfortable feeling of peace and kindness, sweetness and light.” These cheap images are certainly problematic––for they do not in any way inspire a sense of the glory of Heaven, nor do they inspire a love for Heaven. This leads Peter Kreeft to conclude that aesthetic failures in our pictures of Heaven and of God are a grave threat to faith in the modern-day. While Kreeft’s point is important, and is certainly backed up by our own experiences, his argument begs the question, “What is the cause of this lack of heavenly glory in the first place, and why have we lost the ability to express the glory of Heaven through language and art?” It is this question that an examination of the second, more fundamental cause of peoples’ lack of faith and hope in Heaven will ultimately answer.
Seeking the contributing causes of the lack of faith and hope in Heaven, we will follow Benedict XVI and C.S. Lewis as our guides. A significant cause identified by Pope Benedict XVI in Spe Salve and by C.S. Lewis in The Abolition of Man is that the modern man has been captivated by the idea of progress and places his faith and hope in the heaven he thinks he can achieve through science and politics. In this section, we will delve into the philosophies underlying modernity’s hope in progress toward freedom through science and politics. First of all, Pope Benedict XVI and C.S. Lewis address the philosophy and impact of Francis Bacon, who upheld progress through scientific advancement as the ultimate end of humanity. Secondly, with a particular focus on Marx and on modern education, respectively, Pope Benedict XVI and C.S. Lewis address the full social dimensions and moral impact of the philosophy of progress. Understanding this philosophy and its effects will lead us to understand that man has lost his sense of heavenly glory because his fascination with the glories of heaven have been replaced by a fascination with the glories promised by progress.
- Pope Benedict XVI on Modernity’s False Hope
As presented by Pope Benedict, Francis Bacon’s philosophy holds that progress toward a sort of heaven on earth is the goal of man, and that this goal can be achieved through science. Bacon’s philosophy, Benedict explains, has as its foundation “the new correlation of experiment and method that enables man to arrive at an interpretation of nature in conformity with its laws and thus finally to achieve ‘the triumph of art over nature.’” In other words, Bacon’s philosophy has at its foundation the idea that man ought to conquer nature through science. As Benedict XVI writes, the novelty of Bacon’s philosophy “lies in a new correlation between science and praxis.” The theological dimension of this novelty, Benedict explains, is the idea that man can reestablish his “dominion over creation––given to man by God and lost through original sin” through scientific advancement. The result of Bacon’s philosophy is that man thinks he can achieve heaven by his own means.
This philosophy poses a troubling problem to the Christian understanding of redemption. Benedict XVI calls us to reflect on the fact that a troubling step has occurred. He writes, “up to that time, the recovery of what man had lost through the expulsion from Paradise was expected from faith in Jesus Christ: herein lay ‘redemption.’” With the dawn of Bacon’s philosophy and the Industrial Revolution, however, man began to place his hope elsewhere; man now expects redemption and paradise from the combined forces of “science and praxis.” A result of this new focus is that faith is placed in the private sphere rather than the public sphere, and Heaven is no longer the goal of society at large. With the dawn of this new emphasis of science, true faith “becomes somehow irrelevant for the world,” and instead we place our faith and hope in “progress.” Ratzinger writes that, “This programmatic vision has determined the trajectory of modern times, and it also shapes the present-day crisis of faith, which is essentially a crisis of Christian hope.” The impact that this philosophy has on Christianity, and specifically on the individual’s understanding of and desire for Heaven, cannot be overstated––for when we set our hopes on earthly progress, we push Heaven to the wayside and simply live our lives as if they are the only lives we will have.
It is important to note that this emphasis on progress is not merely a lack of faith in Heaven––it also leads us to put an active, natural faith in “progress as such.” As Ratzinger explains, “For Bacon, it is clear that the recent spate of discoveries and inventions is just the beginning; through the interplay of science and praxis, totally new discoveries will follow, a totally new world will emerge, the kingdom of man.” This hope in what Benedict calls the “kingdom of man” grows as one sees the project of progress succeed. Bacon foresaw the invention of things like the airplane and the submarine, and as these things and others are built, man’s hopes in progress are confirmed. As man’s hopes in progress are confirmed, “two categories become increasingly central to the idea of progress: reason and freedom.” Reason, he says, is the faculty that allows us to pursue and achieve progress, and progress is aimed at “overcoming all forms of dependency” and at “perfect freedom.” Thus, reason and freedom are seen as absolute goods and are, respectively, the tool and the aim of progress.
Pope Benedict explains the troubling oversight of this view, and how it is neither realistic nor true to human experience. For while the Baconian model, he explains, sees reason as “a force of good and a force for good,” the truth of the matter is that reason can just as easily be used as a force for evil. For example, Pope Benedict references a statement of Theodor W. Adorno, who “formulated the problem of faith in progress quite drastically: he said that progress, seen accurately, is progress from the sling to the atom bomb.” In other words, man has a remarkable ability to make horrific inventions, and this cannot be ignored. As Pope Benedict writes, with inventions like the atom bomb, “the ambiguity of progress becomes evident. Without doubt, it offers new possibilities for good, but it also opens up appalling possibilities for evil––possibilities that formerly did not exist.” While Pope Benedict fully acknowledges that scientific progress can be used for good, what he is primarily concerned with is that reason and progress are not absolute goods, for “progress, in the wrong hands, can become and has indeed become a terrifying progress in evil.” If progress is to be used well, it must be in the hands of good men. Indeed, Pope Benedict tells us that “If technical progress is not matched by corresponding progress in man’s ethical formation, in man’s inner growth (cf. Eph 3:16; 2 Cor 4:16), then it is not progress at all, but a threat for man and for the world.” From this statement, we see that progress through reason can only lead to good and not to evil if man first governs himself and if progress is not seen as the ultimate good. Man must first form himself in moral living, and only when exterior progress is seen as subservient to interior formation is it a force for good.
In addition to viewing reason as only “a force of good and a force for good,” Bacon’s philosophy also views the supposed “perfect freedom” it aims at “purely as a promise, in which man becomes more and more fully himself.” The deceptive nature of this view, Pope Benedict shows us, is especially indicated in the political realm. When a society adopts freedom as its ultimate goal, its members expect that they can attain freedom through reason and progress, and think that they can create a perfect human society in which all men are free. Ratzinger explains that “Reason and freedom seem to guarantee by themselves, by virtue of their intrinsic goodness, a new and perfect human community.” What is most problematic about the political wing of this philosophy, Pope Benedict says, is that it suggests the violent rejection of anything that restricts man’s behavior and his wants in the name of freedom. This is demonstrated by the fact that in the historical context in which this philosophy became prominent, reason and freedom were “interpreted as being in conflict with the shackles of faith and of the Church as well as those of the political structures of the period.” According to Pope Benedict, the rise of the ideology of progress led to great hostility against both the Church and the government and propensity for revolution. The French Revolution and the rise of Communism made this revolt against traditional social and moral structures all too clear.
In Spe Salvi, Benedict XVI stresses the importance of studying the French Revolution, Immanuel Kant’s reflections on the French Revolution, and Communism in order to understand the full implications and effects of progress. These historical examples, Benedict XVI states, “are of great importance for the development of Christian hope, for a proper understanding of it and of the reasons for its persistence.” Precisely because these examples allow us to see alternatives to true Christian hope, they can prepare us to recognize the beauty of the Gospel. Firstly, Pope Benedict explains how the French Revolution exemplifies what “an attempt to establish the rule of reason and freedom as a political reality” looks like. The rest of Europe looked on as the French revolutionaries sought to make Baconian philosophy a political and social reality.
One such European, Pope Benedict XVI points out, was Immanuel Kant, and Kant’s reflections on the French revolution prove interesting and enlightening to the modern dilemma of Christian hope in Heaven. Kant’s 1792 work, “The Victory of the Good over the Evil Principle and the Founding of a Kingdom of God on Earth,” demonstrates that he views the movement away from an ecclesiastical faith and towards a purely rational faith as the true coming of God’s Kingdom, and that he views the revolutionaries as a positive force in speeding this movement along. In Kant’s mind, ecclesiastical faith hindered the coming of God’s Kingdom, for he held that the Kingdom of God must be built on earth by means of a faith that is purely rational. Three years later, however, Kant wrote “The End of All Things,” in which he appears fearful of the realization that each thing has a perverted end in addition to having a natural end. Fearful of what might occur should Christianity no longer be loved, he expresses that this could lead to a perverted end of all things. Kant was recognizing a truth demonstrated by the French Revolution’s worship of reason––the truth that science and reason alone cannot save man, and that they can be used not only for good, but also for great evil.
However great the horrors of the French Revolution may have been, under the influence of Karl Marx’s philosophy, Pope Benedict explains, faith in progress and reason continued into the nineteenth century, as did technological advancement. With the industrialization of society came a stark economic divide between the rich and the poor working class, and the poor lived and worked in dreadful conditions. A change was necessary, and Karl Marx sought to take what he saw as a “definitive step in history towards salvation––toward what Kant had described as the ‘Kingdom of God.’” Karl Marx’s influence on the modern world can hardly be overestimated, for he took the ideas of Francis Bacon and Immanuel Kant to their extreme on the practical level. Progress through reason, with freedom as its end, was his goal, and he sought to bring this idea as fully as possible into the political sphere. As Benedict XVI describes, with Marx “The critique of Heaven is transformed into the critique of earth, the critique of theology into the critique of politics.” Further, in Marx’s philosophy, progress toward a good society comes not simply from science––as was the case in Bacon’s philosophy––but from, as Benedict XVI describes it, “a scientifically conceived politics that recognizes the structure of history and society and thus points out the road towards revolution, towards all-encompassing change.” This tremendous upheaval of the social order envisioned by Marx became a full-fledged reality during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when the Communist Party waged war in Europe––and especially in Russia––against the upper, governing class.
According to Pope Benedict, Marx and his followers believed that through their revolution they would prepare the way for a heaven to be realized on earth. They believed that when the evil ruling class was overthrown, everything would be as it ought to be, for “everything would belong to everyone and all would desire the best for one another.” The first problem, of course, was that Marx gave no guidelines as to how to build this new society––his philosophy only dealt with the aspect of tearing down the previous one. He thought that the heavenly society would simply fall into place, and so he did not concern himself with building up this new society. His second and more fundamental mistake, Pope Benedict explains, was that “he forgot that man always remains man. He forgot man, and he forgot man’s freedom. He forgot that freedom always remains also freedom for evil.” In other words, Marx forgot that man’s freedom comes with a price, and that man has a tendency to act selfishly and unjustly. Concluding his treatment of Marx, Benedict XVI tells us that Marx’s true error is materialism––for Marx thought that man was “merely the product of economic conditions,” and that economic conditions could save man. The truth, on the contrary, is that man cannot be saved by external political and economic structures.
In the modern day, we observe that what began as a philosophical push for placing one’s hope in science and politics has, in the practical realm, ended not in man’s fulfillment, but in a widespread sense of disillusionment and a desire for escape. In his 1988 lecture entitled “Consumer Materialism and Christian Hope,” Ratzinger points to two ways people in the modern world seek to escape in particular: drugs and terrorism. Ratzinger says that “drug abuse is a form of protest against facts.” It is an attempt to escape the harsh difficulties of the world and to create one’s own sort of mysticism and immortality. Terrorism––in a way similar to Marxism––is likewise a protest against facts, because it seeks to make a “new society” and views anything which “serves the bringing about of this new society” as moral. This same sort of rationale, Ratzinger explains, leads to the justification of murder, freezing of embryos, and abortion; for all of these things are a protest against reality, an attempt to escape from the harsh realities of the present by creating a new morality through modern science. This predicament is not foreign to the Christian, who lives surrounded by philosophies that push him towards placing his hopes in this world and abandoning traditional morals.
- C.S. Lewis on Modernity’s False Hope
Complementary to Pope Benedict XVI’s observations, C.S. Lewis also treats the problems of the philosophy of progress and its effects on man. Noticing the same trends Benedict XVI notices in the modern world, although writing about half a century earlier, in The Abolition of Man, Lewis talks about the principles and outcomes of idolizing progress. Firstly, Lewis addresses the Baconian philosophy, observing that man’s scientific progress is often described as “Man’s conquest of Nature,” and arguing that man’s conquest of nature in reality turns out to be nature’s conquest of man. Lewis questions in what way man has supposedly conquered nature, and he sets out on a series of observations in an attempt to answer this question. He asks us to consider three examples of man’s conquest over nature: “the aeroplane, the wireless, and the contraceptive.” When a man uses any of these inventions, Lewis observes, “it cannot strictly be said that when he does so he is exercising his own proper or individual power over Nature,” for “any or all of the three things I have mentioned can be withheld from some men by other men. . .” In other words, the power of man over nature in all three of these instances is not in the hands of each individual man, but is in the hands of some men. What we think of as man’s power over nature turns out to be, in reality, the power of a few men over other men.
Lewis urges us to notice that, with respect to the airplane and the wireless, “Man is as much the patient or subject as the possessor, since he is the target both for bombs and for propaganda.” In other words, while the airplane and wireless can be used for good, they can also be used for evil. Here Lewis makes a similar point to the one made by Benedict XVI with regard to both Bacon and Marx; for, as mentioned earlier, Benedict emphasizes how both of these men failed to realize that the power achieved by progress could be used just as easily for evil as for good. With regard to contraceptives, Lewis observes how “all possible future generations are the patients or subjects of the power wielded by those already alive.” The impact of the power of those using contraceptives over future generations cannot be overestimated, for “By contraception simply, they are denied existence; by contraception used as a means of selective breeding, they are, without their concurring voice, made to be what one generation, for its own reasons, may choose to prefer.” Emphasizing that his goal is not to complain about the way man has used science thus far, Lewis states, rather, that his purpose is to consider “what the thing called ‘Man’s power over nature’ must always and essentially be.” Men, he argues, do not often realize that what we think of as power over nature is always the power of some men over other men.
Contraception is not the only way in which man conquers other generations; through technological advancement and the abolishing of tradition in the name of progress, man holds tremendous power over previous generations and future generations alike. Lewis describes how, “Each generation exercises power over its successors: and each, in so far as it modifies the environment bequeathed to it and rebels against tradition, resists and limits the power of its predecessors.” Whatever good traditions and ways of life were discovered by past generations are thrown aside in the name of progress, and the goods of past generations do not reach individuals of later generations. Getting rid of tradition and instead focusing entirely on progress changes the very foundations of the society into which future generations will be born. Lewis warns us that “if any one age really attains, by eugenics and scientific education the power to make its descendants what it pleases, all men who live after it are the patients of that power.” If this total control of future generations is reached, it will likely be accompanied by “the age most emancipated from tradition.” With this twofold power of both scientific advancement and the abolishment of tradition, the power of some men will reach into more and more spheres of other men’s lives. Finally, “the last men, far from being the heirs of power, will be of all men most subject to the dead hand of the great planners and conditioners and will themselves exercise least power upon the future.” Ironically, then, while all of progress is believed to be “the overcoming of all forms of dependency” and as “progress towards perfect freedom,” in the end man ends up more a slave than ever before.
Though his entire treatment in The Abolition of Man is a response to Baconian philosophy, Lewis’s explicit discussion of Bacon occurs at the end of his work, where he compares the goal of the scientist to that of magician. Before comparing these men directly, Lewis explains this goal: “For the wise man of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue. For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men.” Thus, rather than viewing the whole of reality as something greater than himself toward which he owes reverence, man instead views reality as subject to his own manipulation. The magician and the scientist alike, Lewis argues, seek their goal through technique, and in practicing their technique both “are ready to do things hitherto regarded as disgusting and impious––such as digging up and mutilating the dead.” Because reality is seen as subject to man’s manipulation, nothing is off limits so long as it serves the wishes of men.
Comparing Bacon to the fictitious magician Faustus, Lewis explains how neither man sought knowledge for its own sake, but rather as a means to fulling his appetite. In Christopher Marlowe’s 16th-century play “Doctor Faustus,” the character of Faustus sells his soul to the devil in exchange for the power of magic. Referencing this play, Lewis states, “You will read in some critics that Faustus has a thirst for knowledge. In reality, he hardly mentions it. It is not the truth he wants from the devils, but gold and guns and girls.” Thus, though Faustus is often presented as a man who desires knowledge for its own sake, he is actually seeking knowledge as a means to power, and power as a means to fulfilling his appetites and lusts.
Drawing a parallel to this in the thought of Bacon, Lewis writes, “In the same spirit Bacon condemns those who value knowledge as an end in itself: this, for him, is to use as a mistress for pleasure what ought to be a spouse for fruit.” In other words, to enjoy knowledge for its own sake would be a shallow waste, and knowledge is only used well if used for praxis. For Bacon, Lewis says, “The true object is to extend Man’s power to the performance of all things possible. He rejects magic because it does not work; but his goal is that of the magician.” Bacon’s view of knowledge certainly led to modernity’s emphasis on what Pope Benedict describes as the combination of science and praxis. In Bacon’s philosophy, knowledge is no longer sought primarily as something beautiful, formative, and good for its own sake. Rather, Bacon, like the magician, seeks to apply knowledge in order to gain power, and in order to bend nature to his own will. Though Lewis admits that many who are captured by the field of modern science are likely lovers of truth over power, he says that there were certainly evil motives mixed into the scientific movement from the start, and that “the presence of the bad elements is not irrelevant to the direction the efficacy takes.” The successes of science, Lewis says, “may have been too rapid and purchased at too high a price,” and he thinks that a reformation of the motives of science is necessary if it is to be used for good.
Ultimately, while Lewis is explicitly focused on science here, his argument merges into a discussion of the resulting moral dilemma that comes about as a result of progress. While primarily addressing Bacon’s scientific philosophy of progress, by moving to the moral implications of Bacon’s philosophy C.S. Lewis addresses issues pertinent to Marx’s philosophy and the political wing of progress as well. His argument takes a turn in this direction when he states:
The final stage is come when Man by eugenics, by prenatal conditioning, and by an education and propaganda based on a perfect applied psychology, has obtained full control over himself. Human nature will be the last part of Nature to surrender to Man. The battle will then be won . . But who, precisely, will have won it?
In order to answer this question, Lewis introduces those whom he calls “the Conditioners.” The Conditioners are those who have power over other men through their power over nature. When the “Conditioners” enter into the field of education, specifically, they will have two things at their disposal which have not been at the disposal of past generations. Firstly, they will have authority in all realms, and will have “an irresistible scientific technique.” Because they have done away with tradition in the name of progress, all traditional aspects of life are seen as morphable––and they will have the power to morph them. Secondly, while educators in the traditional system once saw themselves as bound to the natural law––and saw educating their students in the natural law as their purpose––in the new system, none are seen as subject to the natural law. As a result, in the name of progress, the task of teachers is to “produce conscience and decide what kind of conscience they will produce.” Rather than forming people in accordance with the truth that is outside of and above themselves, these Conditioners form them in whatever way they wish.
What determines how these Conditioners decide to condition their pupils? In the end, they will have nothing outside of themselves toward which they wish to motivate their pupils, or whoever is under their power. Lewis gives us the frightening admonition that, even though there is no objective value to motivate those in positions of power once the natural law has been done away with, “the Conditioners will act.” Yet, “When all that says ‘it is good’ has been debunked, what says ‘I want’ remains. . . The Conditioners, therefore, must come to be motivated simply by their own pleasure.” Though the lovers of progress set out with the goal of reason ruling, the abolishment of tradition and seeking progress for progress’ sake are completely contrary to man’s rule of himself through reason. The appetites have taken over, and man no longer orders himself but instead is enslaved to his appetites. Lewis writes, “At the moment, then, of Man’s victory over Nature, we find the whole human race subjected to some individual men, and those individuals subjected to that in themselves which is purely ‘natural’––to their irrational impulses. Thus, the many will be subject to the irrational impulses of the few who have access to the power gained through “progress.” While the “cardinal problem” for “wise men of old” was to “conform the soul to reality,” the cardinal problem for applied science is “how to subdue reality to the wishes of men: the solution is technique; and both, in the practice of this technique, are ready to do things hitherto regarded as disgusting.” It is no wonder then that, as man becomes more and more invested in progress, he becomes less and less human, and becomes less and less aware of his true end. If man lives like an animal, he becomes more and more convinced that his home is the same as that of the animal––this world.
- The Ultimate Problem with the Philosophy of Progress
The ultimate problem of progress identified by Pope Benedict and Lewis alike is that there is a necessary inability to bring about an earthly paradise, and as a result man’s faith and hope are empty if he places them in progress. Progress ends in empty promises because it cannot save man from the horrors of sin and death. Firstly, man has reason and free will, and in this life there is the ever-present possibility of choosing evil over good. Each man and each generation, Pope Benedict explains, has a choice to “draw upon the moral treasury of the whole of humanity” or to “reject it. . .” They can reject this moral treasury because it is not innately formative, but rather “is present as an appeal to freedom and a possibility for it.” While there is a framework upon which man can know how to use his freedom well, he remains always free to reject this framework and to use his freedom and his reason for that which is not truly good. This proper understanding of man’s freedom leads us to realize that “The right state of human affairs, the moral well-being of the world, can never be guaranteed simply through structures alone, however good they are.” Man is always free, and “his freedom is always fragile.”
The truth of the matter shows that any narrative which suggests otherwise deceives man and turns him toward promises that can never be fulfilled, for “the kingdom of good will never be definitively established in this world.” Thus, to convince others and ourselves that the perfect society can be reached in this world is an act of deception. As Pope Benedict states:
Anyone who promises the better world that is guaranteed to last forever is making a false promise; he is overlooking human freedom. Freedom must constantly be won over for the cause of good. Free assent to the good never exists simply by itself. If there were structures which could irrevocably guarantee a determined––good––state of the world, man’s freedom would be denied, and hence they would not be good structures at all.
Here Pope Benedict emphasizes once again how man’s freedom is constantly tested, and must be constantly won over to the good; further, even if man were forced to appear good by external structures, he would not be truly good because he would not be freely choosing what is good. The simple truth is that “man can never be redeemed simply from outside.” For this reason, “Francis Bacon and those who followed in the intellectual current of modernity that he inspired were wrong to believe that man would be redeemed through science.” The redemption offered by science is a faulty one, and as a result “this kind of hope is deceptive.” Thus, the philosophy of progress gives hope that is merely a mirage.
Not only do progress through politics and science fail to create the perfect human community; they also do not solve the problem that man is subject to death. As Lewis says, even if the happiness promised by the progressive philosophy “could come to man on earth, yet still each generation would lose it by death, including the last generation of all, and the whole story would be nothing, not even a story, forever and ever.” In other words, even if it were possible to create the perfect living conditions and the perfect society on earth––which has already been shown to be impossible––it would come to an end, and so it would ultimately be imperfect. The simple fact is that sin and death can never be fully rooted out in earthly societies, and once again we see that the promises of progress are deceptive.
Observing the ways in which these promises are deceptive allows us to realize that in choosing between progress and Catholicism, man is not merely choosing between reason and faith. Rather, the man captured by progress is a man of faith and hope, in a natural sense. He is merely placing his faith and hope in empty promises. The fact that belief in progress requires placing faith and hope in a deceptive promise is demonstrated by the way in which advocates of progress seek to “convince you that earth is your home.” First of all, as Lewis explains in “The Weight of Glory,” they ask us to have faith and hope in the idea that “earth can be made into heaven, thus giving a sop to your sense of exile in earth as it is.” In doing so, they ask us to ignore our natural sense that earth is a sort of imperfect exile. Next, the believers in progress ask us to have faith and hope that “this fortunate event is still a good way off in the future, thus giving a sop to your knowledge that the fatherland is not here and now.” There is no evidence that a perfect human society will ever come about––in fact there is quite a bit of evidence to the contrary––and yet they ask us to believe that it can and will. Finally, Lewis says, “lest your longing for the transtemporal should awake and spoil the whole affair,” they make use of “any rhetoric that comes to hand” to keep out of our minds the realization that all would be lost by death, even if a perfect earthly society could truly come about. Because the realization of death causes man to wonder if there is something more than this life, the philosophy of progress ignores death by keeping us focussed on what can be achieved on earth. Once again, the advocates of progress ask us to have a faith and hope that ends in nothing, and in doing so they “bear reluctant witness to the truth that our real goal is elsewhere.” Despite the obvious shortcomings of progress, however, the modern world is increasingly captured by the religion of Bacon, Marx, and their followers.
Invested in this endless circle of self-deception, the glory of Heaven escapes modernity’s attention; for it lies in the shadow of the glory we convince ourselves we can achieve in this life. When an earthy utopia becomes the goal of society, desiring and seeking Heaven naturally becomes a secondary, private, and optional affair. In the end, modern men are not free at all, nor do the modern options give them lives with a real goal or a true meaning. According to Lewis, many modern men are not truly men, because they are not living according to universal, moral law. If this life were the only option, if all that modernity taught us was true, then we would simply have to accept it and do the best we could to be happy. As St. Paul tells us in his First Letter to the Corinthians, “If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die’” (1 Cor 15:32). This condition would be tragic, but at least it would be realistic.
What makes the modern man’s condition most problematic, however, is that the idea that this world is all there is is a lie. Deep down, man knows that he is made for something far beyond what any of the earthly models, or the false heavenly models, have to offer. In the following section, we will attempt to uncover the truth that, even on a natural level, man desires something beyond this world and finds proof that there is something beyond this world. In the last section we will turn to Revelation to see, finally, what alternative end to human life God offers man through the Catholic Faith. It is a recognition of man’s natural desire for life after death and a deepening of his supernatural knowledge of his true end that will rekindle his desire for Heaven, prepare the way for deeper faith and hope, and lead to his ultimate happiness.
Part II: The Turning Point––The Deepest Desires of the Human Heart
Pope Benedict XVI and Lewis have shown us the promises offered by modernity, particularly those promises offered through science and politics. Scientific and political achievements are, of course, good in many respects. But, they have shown us that, no matter what great strides man makes in progress, he is incapable of creating a true Heaven on earth. Meanwhile, the fact that man desires a sort of perfection of being that he thinks he can achieve through science and politics points to a great truth. This truth is that man is made for an end that is beyond this life, an end which nothing in this life will allow him to achieve.
We begin to see that man is made for something beyond this life when we realize that man has a natural desire for a perfect state of being––for a goal that is perfect, for a perfection of his own life, for a perfection of nature, for a perfection of society. In many of his works, and especially in “The Weight of Glory,” Lewis demonstrates man’s natural desire for something beyond this world. Likewise, St. Thomas Aquinas explains that man has a natural desire for perfect happiness, perfect happiness that is ultimately achieved when man is united with God, his ultimate end. Preparing the way for a recognition of the true Heaven as the ultimate end of man’s hope, we will look first of all to C.S. Lewis’s treatment of man’s natural desire for something more than this world––and certainly something more than the material achievements of the world partially available through politics and science. Next, we will study St. Thomas Aquinas’s treatment of man’s end and his desire for happiness and union with God, the Ultimate Good. After doing so, we will be prepared to study the truths Catholicism has to offer and to recognize the beauty of God’s supernatural promises.
- C.S. Lewis on Man’s Natural Desire for Something Beyond Earth
Lewis considers man’s desires as a whole and compares the way man seeks to fill them with the way Christ promises to fulfill man. Lewis writes, “if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak.” Lewis continues, “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered to us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at sea.” Lewis finishes this statement with the surprising realization that “We are far too easily pleased.” What Lewis says here relates to an observation made by Benedict XVI in Spe Salvi that “Perhaps many people reject the faith today simply because they do not find the prospect of eternal life attractive. What they desire is not eternal life at all, but this present life. . .” This issue of man placing his desires in earthly things has already been discussed in Part One. These issues serve as the starting point for the argument that it is foolish to place one’s hopes in earth. It is foolish to stifle one’s hopes for something much greater, because there is something much greater. What Lewis and Benedict are both emphasizing is that it is an act of deception to convince others, or ourselves, that our happiness is to be found in this world.
What man really desires is something beyond this world, but he is taught to silence this desire. C.S. Lewis refers to this desire as a great “secret” hidden inside each one of us. He writes, “In speaking of this desire for our own far-off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency.” The reason he feels this sense of shyness, he says, is because he is “trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you––the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence. . .” We give this “secret” names such as these because we have tricked ourselves into thinking that this secret is not real. We place this secret on the level of feelings, and we see these feelings as somewhat desirable, but irrational and foolish nonetheless. We do not dare to hope that the “secret” is true. Part of the reason many do not let themselves hope in the possibility that there is something beyond this world, Lewis explains, is the tendency in modern education to silence the heart in situations such as these. He writes, “Almost our whole education has been directed to silencing this shy, persistent, inner voice; almost all our modern philosophies have been devised to convince us that the good of man is to be found on this earth.” The philosophies of Bacon and Marx, then, not only direct our attention elsewhere; they also have the power to numb our desire for something beyond this world.
The fact remains, however, that no matter how much we try to quiet our hearts, this secret remains. “Do what they will,” Lewis tells us, “we remain conscious of a desire which no natural happiness will satisfy.” The secret of this desire “pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves.” The very thought of this secret captures our hearts if we let it, yet we are afraid to take it seriously. We try to explain the secret away and, as Lewis writes, “Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter. . .” Doing this, however, is insufficient and “is all a cheat,” because calling the secret “beauty” does not, in fact, settle the matter at all. For, the secret itself is not contained in the beautiful book, or the music, or the sunset; as Lewis writes, “it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing.” This longing is often felt after we experience something beautiful. “We usually notice it,” Lewis observes, “just as the moment of vision dies away, as the music ends, or as the landscape loses the celestial light.” For a little while, “we have had the illusion of belonging to that world. Now we wake to find that it is no such thing.” On such occasions, he says, we are experiencing “the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.” In other words, the beauty of earth is not a tease; it truly points to something beyond this world.
Some will, no doubt, claim that Lewis’s observations on man’s natural desire for happiness beyond this world do not prove anything. Yet, Lewis explains how though a man’s hunger does not prove that he will find food, it does prove “that he comes from a race which repairs its body by eating and inhabits a world where eatable substances exist.” Applying this analogy to man’s desire for Heaven, Lewis writes “though I do not believe (I wish I did) that my desire for Paradise proves that I shall enjoy it, I think it a pretty good indication that such a thing exists and that some men will.” Though this argument is not a scientific proof that Paradise exists, it stems from rational premises and lands upon a highly probable and reasonable conclusion. Ultimately, belief in Heaven requires the supernatural gifts of faith and hope, but sowing the seeds of understanding in man of his natural, hidden desires and of his end prepares him to accept the realities of Heaven on faith. If What Lewis says is true––if every beautiful thing we experience on earth is merely a shadow of Heaven––then there is no reason to place our hopes in this world; in fact, Lewis urges us to realize, there is a very good reason not to.
Perhaps knowing that his poetic language has captured the hearts of his listeners, and that they may be just about to prevent themselves from allowing this captivation to go any further, Lewis asks us, “Do you think I am trying to weave a spell?” and responds:
Perhaps I am; but remember your fairy tales. Spells are used for breaking enchantments as well as for inducing them. And you and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness which has been laid upon us for nearly a hundred years.
Here Lewis compares worldliness to a sort of spell, an evil enchantment that man must be awakened from. Further, he suggests that to awaken ourselves from this enchantment we must find “the strongest spell that can be found.” It is when we find this “spell” that we can actually perceive reality and become free of the entrapments of the modern world––especially from the entrapment of progress. Soon we will discover that the answer to breaking this spell lies in realizing the full truth of the promises of the Church.
- Aquinas on Man’s Desire for Happiness and His Ultimate End
In his Summa Theologica, St. Thomas Aquin writes on man’s natural desire for happiness and on how the ultimate end of man is beyond this world––for it consists in knowledge of the First Cause and the Highest Good, God. Coupled with Lewis’s treatment of man’s desire for something beyond this world, Aquinas’s insights on the purpose and fulfillment of man and the necessity for divine revelation will prepare us to study the Christian promises of Heaven. In the introduction to his translation of Aquinas’s writings on human happiness, John A. Oesterle summarizes the thought of Aquinas and explains that:
The phrase “all human beings seek happiness” points to a truth at once obvious and fundamental. It is obvious in the sense that it is a fact about human nature readily observed in the actions and desires of each one of us. It is fundamental in the sense that no human being can avoid acting in terms of attaining complete well-being so far as possible.
This desire for human happiness, Oesterle suggests here, is self-evident and innate, and it is because of this natural desire that we perform all acts. It is for the fulfilment of this desire that we aim. Further, we recognize to one degree or another that what will allow us to achieve this happiness is the perfection of our nature; this perfect state of happiness that consists in the perfection is what Aquinas calls “beatitude.” As Aquinas writes, “By the name beatitude is understood the ultimate perfection of rational or intellectual nature; and hence it is that it is naturally desired, since everything naturally desires its ultimate perfection.” Thus, while man may not by nature alone know exactly how he ought to achieve this ultimate perfection, he does desire perfection naturally.
Explaining the way in which man’s desire for beatitude can be fulfilled, Aquinas explains that the perfection of a rational nature can come about in a twofold way––the first on the natural level, and the second on the supernatural level. He states that, “The first is one which it can procure of its own natural power; and this is in a measure called beatitude or happiness.” The fact that Aquinas adds that this is “in a measure” hints at the truth that this happiness is imperfect, yet is the most perfect happiness man can have through his natural capacities alone. On the natural level, “man’s ultimate happiness consists in his most perfect contemplation, whereby in this life he can behold the best intelligible object; and that is God.” This natural happiness is achieved through a natural contemplation of God as the highest Good––yet it is still imperfect. It is imperfect because “man is directed to God, as to an end that surpasses the grasp of his reason.” That is, man is directed to God as his end in a way that goes beyond this first, natural happiness, and cannot be grasped by reason alone. As Aquinas explains, “Above this happiness there is still another, which we look forward to in the future, whereby ‘we shall see God as He is.’” Both the knowledge and attainment of this happiness, however, go beyond man’s natural capacities. As Oesterle comments, “While natural happiness remains a realizable end in its own order. . . man in fact is ordered to a more perfect and complete happiness beyond anything the human mind could possibly imagine or conceive.” Thus, while we do naturally desire something beyond the first, we cannot imagine or conceive in what exactly this happiness consists.
Because man cannot naturally know that beholding the face of God is his final end, Aquinas explains that man stands in need of Divine Revelation. As Aquinas explains in the very first article of the Summa Theologica, “the end must first be known by men who are to direct their thoughts and actions to the end,” and thus man can only direct himself toward this end if he knows this is his end. It is for this reason, Aquinas explains, that “it was necessary for the salvation of man that certain truths which exceed human reason should be made known to him by divine revelation.” Further, it was necessary even for truths about God that are accessible by reason alone to be revealed; for even these truths about God “would only be known by a few, and that after a long time, and with the admixture of many errors.” This is extremely problematic, for “man’s whole salvation, which is in God, depends upon the knowledge of this truth.” Aquinas concludes that for this reason, “it was necessary that they should be taught divine truths by divine revelation,” and that “besides philosophical science built up by reason, there should be a sacred science learned through revelation.” Aquinas’s argument and its conclusion are the foundation upon which we can understand how it is through divine revelation that man finds his true happiness and the “secret” beyond death that he naturally desires.
In the Summa Theologica, I-II, q. 3, a. 8, Aquinas explains why exactly it is that man’s ultimate happiness must consist in knowledge of God in His essence. Aquinas states, “Final and perfect happiness can consist in nothing else than the vision of the Divine Essence,” and he says that this conclusion stems from two foundational points. The first of these points is that “man is not perfectly happy, so long as something remains for him to desire and seek.” Just as Lewis explains how man experiences longing and desire for something beyond this world, Aquinas explains in this statement that man will never rest in perfect happiness until he finds the thing which he desires. The second of these points is the principle that “the perfection of any power is determined by the nature of its object.” The object of the intellect, Aquinas explains, is “‘what a thing is,’ i.e. the essence of the thing,” and because the perfection of a power is determined by its object, the intellect is perfected to the extent that it knows the essence of things. If man knows the essence of an effect but does not know the essence of its cause, he can only understand the cause in a complex way, i.e. through knowledge of its effects. So long as his knowledge of the cause is imperfect, Aquinas states, man will have an unfulfilled desire to know the cause in its essence. He writes, “when man knows an effect, and knows that it has a cause, there naturally remains in the man the desire to know about the cause, ‘what it is.’” This desire, he explains further, “is one of wonder, and causes inquiry.” As an example, Aquinas speaks of man’s “knowing the eclipse of the sun.” When man sees an eclipse of the sun, he wonders what is its cause, and he then tries to learn about the nature of its cause. His pursuit of the cause, or at least his desire for knowledge of the cause, will continue until he knows its essence.
This is the case with man and God, and for this reason man will never be perfectly happy until he sees God in His essence. The human intellect knows the essence of created effects, but can know no more of God by natural knowledge than “that He is.” Because of this, “the perfection of that intellect does not yet reach simply the First Cause, but here remains in it the natural desire to seek the cause. Wherefore it is not yet perfectly happy.” Here Aquinas recalls the first foundational point of his argument, i.e. that man is not perfectly happy if there is still something for him to seek or desire. The conclusion we must draw from this is that “for perfect happiness the intellect needs to reach the very Essence of the First Cause. Only when man knows the essence of the first cause will he be content. Thus, Aquinas concludes that the intellect “will have its perfection through union with God as with that object, in which alone man’s happiness consists.” Because God is the First Cause of everything good in the world, everything good in the world ultimately causes in man the desire for union with God as the First Cause. It is this union with God, then, that is foundational to attaining the “secret” described by Lewis, and it is this union with God that is the center and cause of the true Heaven, our true homeland. It is union with God in which Catholicism’s promise of Heaven primarily consists, and all other promises of Heaven flow from this union with God as the center.
III. Rekindling Desire for Heaven through the Promises of Catholicism
While the modern world proposes that man is made for this world alone, the Catholic Church holds that man is made by God for a much greater purpose, and that this purpose is to “share in [God’s] own blessed life.” This sharing in God’s own blessed life, the Church teaches, is what will give man perfect happiness. Missing an understanding of the centrality of happiness to the Christian life, modern men often think that the Christian life is all about duty and carrying one’s cross and little about joy and reward. It is the life of progress, moderns think, that is all about human happiness and flourishing. The reality, however, is that the Christian life is centered around happiness, fulfilment, and flourishing––only, while the promises of progress are guaranteed by men like Francis Bacon, the promises of Catholicism are guaranteed by God Himself. Carrying one’s cross, according to Christianity, is the path to this state of perfect happiness, and it was for the ultimate purpose of bringing man to perfect happiness in eternal life that Christ carried His cross. It is the promise of happiness and union with God that gives suffering and duty their meaning. As C.S. Lewis writes, “nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find” if we do take up our crosses and follow Christ “contains an appeal to desire.” Thus, the reality is that the “Good News” of the Resurrection and the promises of Heaven are central and foundational to Christianity and to Christian life, and fundamental to the call to carry one’s cross. This is clear from the last two articles of the Creed, and from the Scriptural truths which serve as the foundation for our creedal profession.
In this section, we will begin by focusing on the last two articles of the Apostles’ Creed, the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come, and on how their full import can rekindle a desire for Heaven among moderns and prepare them to receive supernatural faith and hope. After doing so, we will study the profound centrality of “eternal life” to Christ’s mission in the Gospels and, likewise, the centrality of the Person of Christ to the reality of eternal life. Thirdly, we will examine the specific promises of Scripture with regard to what life in Heaven will be like, and with regard to what glorified man will be like in Heaven. These truths of Scripture, which are encapsulated in the Creed, will ultimately answer the longing of man described by C.S. Lewis in “The Weight of Glory” and by St. Thomas Aquinas in the Summa Theologica. If we truly enter into the “Good News” of our faith through the stories and images of Scripture, we can break the “spell,” as Lewis calls it, that modernity has cast upon us––for the beauty of God’s word has the power to awaken our hearts to desire, above all else, union with God in our true homeland. After completing this study of the promises of the Catholic Faith with regard to Heaven, we will briefly examine the explicit ways in which Heaven is a goal far more worthy, far more real, and far more fulfilling than the modern goal of progress.
- The Creedal Promises of the Faith
In the Apostles’ Creed, after professing our belief in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, we profess, “I believe in the resurrection of the body” and “I believe in life everlasting.” Likewise, in the Nicene Creed, we profess, “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” All of the truths contained in these creeds are at the foundation of our faith, and one cannot have true Catholic faith nor lead a truly Catholic life without firmly believing in each of these truths. Put positively, then, the last two articles of the Creed show that the Christian ought to desire the reward of perfect happiness that is offered to him through resurrection, union with God, and heavenly life, and that––contrary to what the philosophy of progress would have us believe––the Catholic’s life is not merely about duty and restriction of freedom. In fact, to ignore the glorious rewards of the faith would be to cease to have true Catholic faith and hope; for, each time Catholics profess their Faith, we profess Christ’s promise that man will be raised, body and soul, and will be glorified just as He was raised and glorified. Surely, this promise of the Catholic Church offers a greater freedom than the “freedom” offered by progress––for through faith man is promised freedom from all imperfection, including death. It is in this blessed life that man ought to hope, according to Catholicism, and the entire purpose of earthly life and of carrying one’s cross is to prepare us for the life of glory in Heaven.
Teaching on the Apostles’ Creed, the Catechism of the Catholic Church emphasizes the centrality of belief in the resurrection of the dead and life everlasting to the Catholic Faith and life as a whole, and explains how this is demonstrated in the fact that the Creed ends with these two articles. The Catechism states that, “The Christian Creed––the profession of our faith in God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and God’s creative, saving, and sanctifying action––culminates in the proclamation of the resurrection of the dead on the last day and in life everlasting.” Thus, the placement of these articles at the end of the Creed demonstrate that they are the culmination of all other articles. It is because this is our final end that God has revealed all previous articles of the Creed to man, and it is for the sake of attaining our final end that we hold fast to all articles of the Faith. We can conclude, therefore, that it is the truth of resurrection and of life everlasting which gives practical meaning to all other elements of our creedal faith.
Remarkably, the first of these articles give us the promise not only of a resurrection of the soul, but also a resurrection of the body. Acknowledging the difficulty of believing this truth, the Catechism poses the question, “. . . how can we believe that this body, so clearly mortal, could rise again to everlasting life?” In response, the Catechism explains how in death “the human body decays and the soul goes to meet God, while awaiting its reunion with its glorified body.” Thus, though the body does decay in the tomb, we believe by faith that “God, in his almighty power, will definitely grant incorruptible life to our bodies by reuniting them with our souls, through the power of Jesus’ resurrection.” This reunion, we believe, will occur at the end of the world, and is entirely united to Christ’s own resurrection. As the Catechism states “Just as Christ is risen and lives forever, so all of us will rise at the last day.” Further, just as Christ was raised with His very own body and yet it was glorified and spiritualized, in Christ all of the dead will be united with their very own bodies, and their bodies will be transformed like Christ’s glorified body. Thus, according to our Faith, our very bodies that have turned to dust in the grave will be raised and glorified, and will live forever in Heaven. As the Catechism affirms, “We believe in the true resurrection of this flesh we now possess.” This stunning truth of our faith ought to give us great hope, for though man still undergoes suffering, death, and bodily corruption as a result of original sin, the Church teaches definitively that through Jesus Christ death is no longer final, and the possibility of salvation is opened to mankind. Though this truth “exceeds our imagination and understanding,” it is accessible through faith; further, the Church teaches that “our participation in the Eucharist already gives us a foretaste of Christ’s transformation of our bodies.” Through the life of the Holy Spirit given in Baptism and through the life continuously given to us through the Eucharist, we become members of the Body of Christ and participate to an extent in the eternal life of God even here on earth.
The complete transformation of our bodies will occur when our bodies are raised from the dead on the last day, upon which they will join our souls in “life everlasting” and will live forever in union with God and His angels and saints. This last article of the Creed consisting in the belief in “life everlasting,” the Catechism teaches, helps us to understand specifically how the Christian ought to approach his death, and also helps us to understand the communal nature of life in Heaven. We read in number 1020 of the Catechism, “The Christian who unites his own death to that of Jesus views it as a step towards him and an entrance into everlasting life.” The Church expresses this belief in the “Prayer of Commendation,” which is part of the final prayers said for the dying person. This prayer states:
May you live in peace this day, may your home be with God in Zion, with Mary, the virgin Mother of God, with Joseph, and all the angels and saints. . . May you return to [your Creator] who formed you from the dust of the earth. May holy Mary, the angels, and all the saints come to meet you as you go forth from this life. . . May you see your Redeemer face to face. . .
Clearly, this prayer indicates a robust hope in a non-abstract, though spiritual, reality. It also indicates the communal nature of heavenly life––for in Heaven we will be united with God face to face and will also be united with the Blessed Mother and the angels; further, we will be united with all those holy men and women with whom we have lived in our earthly lives, and all those saints who have gone before us. In Heaven, along with all the blessed, the Church promises that those who attain eternal life will receive “the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness.” If the Church’s claims are true, which we affirm by faith, then man ought to put all of his efforts into attaining this reward.
Fascinatingly, it is not only the body that will be raised at the Last Judgement; the Church also teaches that all of Creation will be renewed on the Last Day. The Catechism tells us that “At the end of time, the Kingdom of God will come in its fullness. After the universal judgment, the righteous will reign for ever with Christ, glorified in body and soul. The universe itself will be renewed.” Thus, in addition to the perfection of man’s body and soul, the visible, material universe will be perfected so that, as St. Irenaeus writes, “the world itself, restored to its original state, facing no further obstacles, should be at the service of the just.” While this truth is mysterious, we know by faith that God will restore all things in heaven and on earth under the reign of Christ, and that man will reign forever with Christ over God’s perfected Creation. These foundational truths of the faith, we shall see, are rooted in the truths of the New Testament and foretold in the Old Testament.
With this basic creedal and doctrinal understanding as our basis, we will now study how the images and stories of Scripture teach us of Christ as the Way to Heaven. After doing so, we will discuss some of the specific images and promises of Scripture with regard to life in the Land of the Living. Coupled with the basic doctrinal understanding of the last two articles of the Creed, such a study of the glorious promises of Scripture will deepen our understanding of the promises of Catholicism, will rekindle our desire for Heaven, and will open us to deeper faith and hope.
Jesus Christ––The Way to the True Heaven
Throughout the New Testament, we learn that “eternal life” is central to Christ’s mission in the Gospels and, likewise, that the Person of Jesus Christ is central to the reality of eternal life. The stories and images of Scripture bring us deeper into the creedal promises of the faith, and serve as their foundation. We see through Scripture that belief in Christ requires belief in the resurrection of the dead, and that the resurrection of the dead depends entirely on Christ. Further, we learn that Jesus’ entire purpose in coming into the world is to unite us to Him in the Holy Spirit, so that we might share in eternal life. All of the promises of God concerning Heaven are made manifest in the person of Jesus Christ, through whom we can come to have eternal life. For this reason, we must understand the unity of Christ and eternal life if we are to look forward to the promises of the Catholic Faith properly. While it is impossible to exhaust the verses of Scripture which speak of these truths, a selection of examples will make the Scriptural foundation of the truths concerning Heaven clear.
One of the most powerful examples of the unity of belief in the resurrection of the dead and belief in Christ is contained in Chapter 15 of St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. In this passage, St. Paul makes the connection between our resurrection and belief in Christ explicit, emphasizing the centrality of the resurrection of the dead to the Christian Faith and demonstrating the way in which all truths of the Gospel hinge upon belief in the resurrection. Addressing members of the Corinthian faithful who claim to believe that Christ is raised from the dead and yet do not believe in the resurrection of the dead, Paul argues that it is impossible for both of these propositions to be true. If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not raised from the dead (1 Cor 15:13). If Christ is not raised from the dead, Paul stresses, then “our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor 15:14). Further, if Christ is not raised, the Corinthians are still in their sins and they are “of all men most to be pitied” (1 Cor 15:17, 19). By bringing the Corinthians’ error to its necessary conclusion in this fashion, St. Paul highlights both the gravity of denying the resurrection of the dead and the importance of this doctrine to the entire Christian Faith. From Paul’s argument, we realize that man’s union with God in Heaven––body and soul––is a truth of our faith that we must hold with the utmost conviction.
Many vivid examples of the unity between belief in Christ and belief in the resurrection of the dead into eternal life are also contained in the Gospels, and we will look to several examples from the Gospel of John in particular. From the very beginning of John’s Gospel, Christ’s mission of bringing man to eternal life is made clear, especially through the theme of baptism. To begin with, John the Baptist distinguishes Jesus as the one who “baptizes with the Holy Spirit” (Jn 1:33), and through Nicodemus’ encounter with Jesus in Chapter 3 we learn the significance of Jesus’ baptizing with the Holy Spirit. When Nicodemus comes to Jesus late one night and professes his faith in Christ, Jesus tells him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (Jn 3:3). This statement confuses Nicodemus, and Jesus explains further that “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (Jn 3:5). The birth Jesus speaks of here is baptism, the baptism of the Holy Spirit of which John the Baptist spoke. The power of this baptism flows from Christ’s perfect sacrifice; for, as Christ Himself tells Nicodemus, “. . . as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (Jn 3:14-15). Later on in the Gospel, when Jesus once again states that he will be “lifted up,” John explicitly states that with these words Christ is indicating the kind of death He will experience (Jn 12:33).
If we connect all of Jesus’ statements to Nicodemus, we come to see the implicit connection between the Son being “lifted up” and the new birth through “water and the Spirit.” Both are necessary for eternal life in the kingdom of God, and the efficacy of the latter must flow from the former; otherwise, it would not be necessary for the Son of man to be “lifted up.” After implying this connection, Jesus makes his mission explicit, stating, “For God so loved the word that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Here we see the complete centrality of man’s sharing eternal life to the mission of the Son, and we also see the importance of belief in man’s having eternal life. Faith in the Son, then––along with Christ’s sacrificial death and our baptism by the Holy Spirit––is also essential to eternal life and essential to our entering the Kingdom of Heaven. This truth is explicitly indicated by John, who writes in Chapter 3, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life. . .” (Jn 3:36). Thus, belief in the Son and hope for eternal life cannot be compartmentalized; they are one and the same reality. If we truly believe in the Son, we must also believe in His promise of eternal life.
The centrality of eternal life to Christ’s mission is expressed by Jesus further when He proclaims Himself to be the source of life-giving water in Chapters 4 and 7 of John’s Gospel, and also in the Bread of Life discourse in Chapter 6. After Jesus encounters the Samaritan woman, asks for a drink, and speaks with her, He tells her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (Jn 4:13-14). Here Jesus proclaims Himself to be the source of life-giving water, and the meaning of Jesus’ words to the Samaritan woman are clarified in Chapter 7 of John’s Gospel. In Chapter 7, Jesus makes a similar promise: “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:38). Immediately following this verse, John explains to us, “Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:39). Once again, as in Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, we realize that the Spirit which will be given in Baptism, and any gifts of the Holy Spirit, are merited by Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection.
In Chapter 6 of John’s Gospel, Jesus speaks specifically of how it is the Father’s will that those who believe in Christ have eternal life, and He tells us that He will give us life by giving us His flesh and blood to eat and drink. Firstly, Jesus tells us that He has “come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me” (Jn 6:38). He then says, “. . . this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (Jn 6:40). Once again, Jesus states explicitly that His purpose in coming into the world is to bring those who believe in Him to eternal life––for bringing those who believe in Him to eternal life is one and the same as fulfilling His Father’s will. Jesus then shows the central importance of the Eucharist to fulfilling this mission, stating that, “. . . unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. . .” (Jn 6:53-44). Thus, we see that the purpose of the Eucharist is to accomplish the mission of Christ, i.e. to give eternal life to those who believe in Him. When many of Jesus’ disciples leave Him after he proclaims this teaching, Jesus asks the twelve if they also want to leave him. Peter responds, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (Jn 6:68). Peter’s answer manifests the unity of belief in Christ and fulfillment in eternal life. Peter, speaking for the twelve, recognizes Christ is the source of eternal life, and thus that He is “the Holy One of God” (Jn 6:68).
Not only is Christ the source of eternal life; Christ is the resurrection and the life. When Christ arrives in Bethany after Lazarus has died, in conversing with Martha He tells her “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (Jn 11:25-26). This statement demonstrates just how united the reality of Christ Himself and the reality of the resurrection of the dead are. His statement makes clear that resurrection is found only in Him, for it is in Christ that we are raised. The connection between Christ’s living and our living is further emphasized in Chapter 14, where Christ declares, “Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you” (Jn 14:20). In this passage, Christ reveals that eternal life flows from unity with Him; it is because Christ lives that we have life, and our supernatural life is a participation in the very life of Christ.
The revelation of the unity of Christ’s life and our eternal life reaches a high point in the “High Priestly Prayer” of John 17. In this prayer, just before His agony in the garden, Jesus looks up to heaven and prays to the Father:
Father, the hour has come; glory your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. . . Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world (John 17:1-3, 24).
In this prayer, Christ shows both His profound love for the Father and His profound love for man. Christ reveals in this prayer that He has been given “authority over all flesh,” and that He has been given authority to give eternal life to all those who have been given to Him by the Father. Further, He reveals that eternal life first and foremost consists in knowledge of the one, true God, and of the Son of God. In verse 24, Jesus says that He desires to bring His followers “where I am,” and that He wants them to look upon His glory. In this prayer, all that Christ has said thus far in John’s Gospel culminates in a beautiful profession of love, and this prayer is certainly cause for great hope. It reveals that Christ Himself truly desires to bring each person of faith to live with Him in Heaven.
- Life in the Land of the Living
Recognizing that all heavenly promises flow from the person of Jesus Christ, we will now study some of the specific promises of Scripture with regard to what life in Heaven will be like, and with regard to what glorified man will be like in Heaven. We will begin by looking to examples of Scriptural promises of union with God. Secondly, we will study several examples of the Scriptural promises concerning the state of man in Heaven. Thirdly, we will look to some of the promises of Scripture which concern man’s new homeland, the New Heaven and the New Earth. While the scope of this paper will not allow us to enter deeply into these promises, even an introduction to these promises has the power to inspire desire for Heaven and a deepening faith and hope.
First of all, the overarching promise of Scripture regarding life after death is union with God, and the vision of God face to face. Several New Testament examples of this promise are found in John 14 and 17 and in 1 Corinthians 13. In Chapter 14 of John’s Gospel, Jesus tells His disciples at the Last Supper, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. . . And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may also be” (Jn 14:2-4). In this passage, Jesus promises to come and take His disciples to himself, to bring them to be with Him. Likewise, in the High Priestly Prayer, Jesus says, “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (Jn 17:3). Thus, Jesus promises that in eternal life we will truly come to know the one true God, and will know the Son of God perfectly. Relating the same truth, In 1 Corinthians 13:12, St. Paul tells us that “now we see in a mirror, dimly but then we will see face to face.” Thus, while we do not know God in His essence in this life, we will come to know Him in the closest way possible––“face to face”––in Heaven. In these promises of Scripture, we see the fulfillment of what St. Thomas Aquinas says is the ultimate happiness of man––union with God and beholding Him in His essence.
The Old Testament also gives us glimpses of hope in this union with God, two instances of which are found in Isaiah 15, in Psalm 17, and in Isaiah 65. In the book of Isaiah, we are told that on His holy mountain––i.e. Heaven––God “will swallow up. . . the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations” (Is 25:6-9). There will no longer be anything dividing man from God, for the veil will be removed. The Psalms, likewise, promise unity with God after death. In Psalm 17, the psalmist states, “As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness” (Ps 17:15). Thus, even in the Old Testament, we see that many of God’s people hoped to dwell in the presence of God after death. God expresses this unity further in the book of Isaiah, promising, “Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear” (Is 65:25). From this combination of New Testament and Old Testament examples, we see clearly that the fundamental promise of Heaven is union with God through Jesus Christ.
This union with God, Scripture further promises, will be one of both body and soul. Some of the many instances in which we see Christ’s promise of this life after death illustrated are in John 5, Psalms 16 and 17, and 2 Maccabees 7. In the Gospel of John, Jesus indicates the future nature of the resurrection in a striking fashion, declaring, “. . . the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his [the Son of Man’s] voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” (Jn 5:28-29). It is the body of the dead person that is laid in the tomb, and therefore Jesus must be speaking of bodily resurrection when he refers to “all who are in the tombs” being raised (Jn 5:28). Parts of the Old Testament, likewise, boldly hint at the resurrection of the body that will be made manifest through Christ. In Psalm 16:7, for example, the psalmist declares “. . . my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption” (Ps 16:7). Interpreted in light of the New Testament, this seems to be a direct reference to hope in the resurrection of the body, for the psalmist expresses trust in God that his flesh “dwells secure.” Likewise, in Psalm 71, we read a similarly explicit reference to resurrection of the body: “You . . . will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again. You will increase my greatness and comfort me again” (Ps 71:20). This statement would not make sense if applied only to the soul; it must apply to the whole person, body and soul.
One of the most powerful witnesses to the resurrection of the body is the example of the seven Maccabean brothers and their mother, who willingly give up their lives to keep God’s Law and in doing so foreshadow the sacrifices of the martyrs of the Church. As the second brother is being tortured and killed, he declares to his torturer, “. . . you dismiss us from this present life, but the King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life, because we have died for his laws” (2 Mac 7:9). Following two of his brothers’ heroic deaths, the third brother willingly “put out his tongue and courageously stretched forth his hands” (2 Mac 7:10) when the torturers demanded this of him. As he did so, he said, “I got these from heaven, and because of his laws I disdain them, and from him I hope to get them back again” (2 Mac 7:11). This brother certainly expresses explicit belief in the resurrection of the body, for he has hope that he will receive the very tongue and the very hands which he is willingly offering to his torturers out of love for God’s law. When all but one of her sons have been tortured and killed, the mother encourages her last son to offer his life like his brothers, and she proclaims that “the Creator of the world. . . will in his mercy give life and breath back to you again, since you now forget yourselves for the sake of his laws” (2 Mac 7:23). We see from these witness of the mother and her sons that, even among some of the Jewish people, there was a robust hope in the resurrection of the whole person––body and soul. This hope is fulfilled through Jesus Christ.
The promises of union with God and the resurrection of the body are accompanied with many promises about the state of the souls and bodies of the resurrected in Heaven. Firstly, all those in Heaven have been perfected in virtue and have humbled themselves like little children. In the Gospels, Christ reveals that it is those who will enter the Kingdom of Heaven and who will be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. This is especially evident in chapters 18 and 19 of Matthew’s Gospel, as well as in the Beatitudes. In Matthew 18, Jesus declares, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 18:3-4). Once again, in chapter 19, Jesus tells his apostles, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs” (Mat 19:14). Jesus’ words certainly teach us a fundamental truth as to how we ought to live as Christians on earth; they also teach us a fundamental truth about what people will be like once they are purified and enter into Heaven. All those who enter Heaven will be perfectly humbled before God, like simple and trusting children.
Similar promises are given by Christ in the Beatitudes. In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells us “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:3). In the remaining Beatitudes, Jesus tells us that those who mourn will be comforted, that those who are meek will “inherit the earth” (Matt 5:5), and that those “who hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matt 5:6) will be satisfied. Further, He tells us that the merciful will receive mercy, that the pure of heart will “see God” (Matt 5:8), that the peacemakers “shall be called sons of God” (Matt 5:9). Finally, He declares that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to “those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake” (Matt 5:10), and that those who are persecuted for Christ’s sake ought to rejoice, “for [their] reward is great in heaven” (Matt 5:12). Thus, we see here that there is an intrinsic connection between the way in which we live on earth and the rewards of Heaven. Further, Christ implies that these promised rewards ought to give those who live in this way hope and strength while on their earthly journey.
Christ’s promise of comfort to those who mourn, righteousness for those who thirst for righteousness, and reward for those who suffer for His sake are linked to God’s promises of freedom from sin, sadness, pain, suffering, and death throughout the Old and New Testaments; further, suffering will be replaced with perfect joy and glory. One clear instance of this promise appears in Revelation 2, which reveals that at the end of time, “God himself will be with them [men]; 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” (Rev 21:3-4). Similarly, in the book of Isiah, we are promised that God “will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from the earth” (Isaiah 25:6-9). In these passages, God promises perfect contentment and freedom from every sort of pain and suffering. Further, those in Heaven, free from all sadness, will be filled with perfect happiness and will share in the glory of God. As Psalm 34 tells us, “Those who look at him [God] are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed. . . those who seek the Lord lack no good thing” (Ps 34:5, 10). Christ makes a similar promise in Matthew’s Gospel, where He promises that “the righteous shall shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matt 13:34). Thus, we see those who are will God are perfectly content, and they even “shine like the sun” in their glorified state.
Finally, now that we have seen God’s promises through Scripture concerning man’s union with God in body and soul and man’s glorified state in Heaven, we will briefly look to the promises in Scripture concerning Heaven itself. Scripture speaks of the place in which we will be united with God––that is, Heaven––through a wide range of imagery. The Psalms speak of this place in descriptive words, such as “the house of the Lord,” (Ps 23:6), “the land of the living” (Ps 116:10), the “holy mountain” of the Lord (Ps 48:1), “a feast of rich food” (Is 25:6-9, Matt 8:11, Ps 36:7-9), and a “wedding banquet” (Matt 22:2, Rev 19:9). Further, in Isaiah 65 and in Revelations 21, we are told of the coming of “new heavens and a new earth” (Is 65:17), and that the “first heaven and the first earth” will pass away (Rev 21:1). With the coming of this New Heaven and the New Earth, all of Creation will be glorified along with the bodies of men. The unity of the glorified state of Creation and of man is expressed beautifully in the book of Isaiah, in which God promises, “For as the new heavens and the new earth that I make shall remain before me, says the Lord, so shall your offspring and your name remain. From new moon to new moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me, declares the Lord (Is 66:22-23). Thus, in addition to man living with the glorious vision of God and in a glorified state of resurrection, freedom from suffering, and perfect happiness, man will also live in the most beautiful land possible. For our Faith promises us that, at the end of time, God will renew the entire visible universe, and we will live with Him in His perfect Creation forever and ever.
By studying the Creedal promises of the Catholic Faith and their Scriptural foundation, we come to see that the goal offered to man by the Catholic Faith is far greater than the goal offered to man by progress. Applying Pope Benedict XVI’s framework once again, we realize that Catholicism offers man a goal, that this goal is certain, and that this goal is worthy to justify the arduous journey. Firstly, according to the Catholic Faith, the present is leading toward the future goal of the Kingdom of Heaven, and this goal inspires Christians to act and to live with purpose. This goal, unlike the goal of progress through science and politics, is a goal above this world and is a goal that fulfills man’s desire for happiness through union with the First Cause.
Secondly, this goal fulfills the second principle of Pope Benedict’s framework––i.e., it is certain. We can be certain of this goal through supernatural faith in the Truth Himself, and through hope we can trust that we are working toward something that we know can be reached; no matter how difficult the journey is, we can trust that the goal can be reached. Further, through faith and hope in revelation we can trust that the goal of Heaven is actually much more real than the goals of progress, which have already been shown to be deceptive. God, who is certainly more trustworthy than Bacon and Marx, tells us that our true goal is a Heaven beyond this world and a life beyond death.
Thirdly, the goal of Heaven certainly makes the process of seeking it worthwhile––it fulfills the deepest longings of the human heart and ends in perfect happiness and everlasting life. In Heaven, the Church teaches, those who have served God in this life will be united in body and soul with God Himself, the source of all goodness and beatitude. As John tells us, “When He shall appear, we shall be like Him; because we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). It is for this reason that Benedict XVI writes that a distinguishing mark of faithful Christians is “the fact that they have a future. . . they know . . .that their life will not end in emptiness.” It is this goal that allows Christians to live well in the present and to do what is truly good on earth, for they know that the present life has a goal that makes all present trials and all present joys deeply meaningful. As Benedict XVI writes, “Only when the future is certain as a positive reality does it become possible to live the present well.” Because the future of those who believe in Christ and live according to this belief is certain, we can live the present well, always with the ultimate goal and the ultimate hope of perfect happiness with the perfect God.
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