Thursday, May 2, 2013

Why the Heavenly Jerusalem is Important

It seems to me that we live in a time when Christians think less about heaven than in any other time in the Church’s history. So often we humans are always going from one extreme to the other. There have been times in the Church’s history when heaven was so emphasized as to discount and disregard our life on earth. If Christians suffered in this life, they would be compensated in the next. This is true enough, but that doesn’t mean we have no responsibility to eliminate suffering, especially from human oppression, wherever we can.
However, our proper concern for the life we live on earth should not exclude our awareness of the "life of the world to come," which will include heaven and earth ( a new heaven and earth) symbolized in the New and Heavenly Jerusalem mentioned in our Sunday Second Readings from the Book of Revelation during the Easter Season.
Christ does not save us only for this world, but also for the world to come, which we profess in the Nicene Creed. It occurred to me at some point in my learning about the Catholic Faith that it really means something when we pray in the Our Father, "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." If for no other reason, we should be interested in what goes on in heaven so as to know how to do God’s Kingdom on earth. I like very much this quote from an essay I read by Daniel Tappenier about the Second Coming of Christ and the result of his Coming:
"What, in fact, is presented as the final result of the great drama of creation and history? We look to a renewed heaven, a renewed earth, and a Spirit-filled creation totally under the dominion of the will of God, so that the kingdom of God manifests itself perfectly in every sphere and every aspect of existence. In the Spirit-filled creation we find a Spirit-filled people, walking, serving, loving, worshiping, and rejoicing in God. God becomes humanity's God fully and truly, and humanity becomes God's people, wholly redeemed."

This corresponds to the spirit of Isaiah 25:6-8:
           "The LORD of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples on this mountain;
            A banquet of aged wine, choice juicy meats,
           And refined, aged wine.
          "And on this mountain He will swallow up the covering which is over all peoples,
          Even the veil which is stretched over all nations.
          "He will swallow up death for all time,
           And the Lord GOD will wipe tears away from all faces,
           And He will remove the reproach of His people from all the earth;
           For the LORD has spoken."
The Heavenly Jerusalem
(Notice all are feasting together)
This passage is used a great deal in our funerals at Holy Faith. And as I point out, this passage refers to the End of Time, when Christ comes again, and thus the destiny of the world is to become a Feast. This destiny is already being fulfilled in heaven and awaits fulfillment here on earth.
What makes a feast a feast is not only the abundant food, but the people at the feast. The Feast of Heaven consists of a Community of the Blessed who totally love one another with the love Christ has for us. When he commands us to love one another as he loved us (John 13:34) this is already fulfilled in the Church in heaven.
So, basing how we do God’s will here on earth on how it is done in heaven, we can ask ourselves "What prevents people on earth from experiencing life now as a feast?" All we have to do is look at the newspaper and read about poverty, hunger, ignorance, domestic abuse, greed, racism, loneliness, etc. to see that these and other problems bring no joy to others. But we can help alleviate some of this suffering and make life more like a feast than a burden. Isaiah promises: "the Lord GOD will wipe tears away from all faces."
Once again, heaven models for us the superabundant love of God by which all our actions will be judged. It is a communion of love in the life of Christ:
"This mystery of blessed communion with God and all who are in Christ is beyond all understanding and description. Scripture speaks of it in images: life, light, peace, wedding feast, wine of the kingdom, the Father's house, the heavenly Jerusalem, paradise: ‘no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.’" (Catechism#1027)
The Catechism also says that in the Final Age: "Then all those he has redeemed and made ‘holy and blameless before him in love,’ will be gathered together as the one People of God, the ‘Bride of the Lamb,’ ‘the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God.’ (#865)
This "gathering" is the nature of God’s salvation and the reality of the Church. It is why we must gather together on Sunday: we must witness visibly by our gathering for the Mass on Sunday what the Church is all about and the Kingdom of God. Someone may claim to be closer to God in solitude on a mountaintop or by the ocean. This may be very true. But it is the duty of the members of the Church to gather on Sunday to be the Body of Christ visible to the world. No one can do this alone.
Dance of the Blessed outside the Heavenly Jerusalem
Moreover, the Liturgy of the Church (the Church’s public worship) is a foretaste and image of the Heavenly Liturgy. While we are reminded at the Sunday Mass about how we should live in this life, we are also reminded of "the life of the world to come":
"[T]he Church on earth shows that she is united with the liturgy of heaven. She gives glory to Christ for having accomplished his salvation in his glorified members [in heaven]; their example encourages her on her way to the Father." (#1195)
So these are some of the reasons I am inspired by the Heavenly Jerusalem and why it makes a difference in how we live on earth. (For more go HERE to: "What Difference Does Heaven Make?" by Dr. Peter Kreeft.)
When Christ comes again and "the kingdom of this world will become the Kingdom of our God and of his Christ," surely this song or something equally "heavenly" will be sung:
Handel’s "Hallelujah Chorus" HERE