We just celebrated the greatest feast of our faith—the Resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday. Without the Resurrection, there would be no Christianity. Jesus would be remembered as a wonderful man, even a prophet. But it is the Resurrection that is the ultimate proof that he is the Son of God. That makes his teachings and actions—and the Gospels themselves—truly divine revelation. He was and is, indeed, the “way, the truth and the life.”
But the Resurrection is also about us as followers of Jesus. “He who believes in me will live forever” (Jn 11:25). You and I know in our hearts that we never believe in eternal life more than when a loved one dies. As a people of faith, for all our tears and sense of loss, we know we will be together again some day. Jesus promised that. But Jesus’ promise of life was not just about some vague existence. It ultimately means eternal life in heaven. But what does heaven mean? Simply, it means complete and perfect union with the God. And we know enough about God from what Jesus told us to be able to reflect on eternal life.
Heaven Is All About Relationships
First, heaven is all about relationship and, most of all, about union with God and with each other. From our own experience on earth, we have a sense of what it means to be in union with others. Just ask anyone who has fallen in love or parents who have first gazed at their newborn baby! And isn’t it true that when a loved one dies, we realize more than ever what the union with them really meant? In fact, we use the expression, “When my beloved died, a part of me died.”
The word heaven is best defined as “complete and total union with God.” Right now on earth, we have, by sanctifying grace, the Lord’s presence within ourselves. We may not “feel” it as such, but God is there. We have that union with Jesus when we receive Eucharist because of our faith in Jesus’ words and promises. But no matter how we try to describe even the most perfect unions we have on earth, they are merely a hint of what heavenly union is and will be.
Now, our experience of perfect union with God in heaven means that we are also in a very special union with each other as God’s family. This union with God means that we and everyone else are completely and totally healed. No sin, imperfection or temptation will be possible because of that union with God. We remain our true selves, our own unique personalities, body and spirit. All of our potential will be realized in that union with God. Therefore, every relationship in heaven is perfect.
In our wounded humanness now on earth, we can’t understand or experience what that perfection really is. There is no sin, no temptation, no imperfection. We are not now perfect, and so we struggle with hurts, feelings, memories, anger and all the effects of original sin. Every relationship in heaven is healed. Marriages that were stressful and, by any standard, very difficult or even complete failures, where spouses were so distant from each other there seemed to be little love, will be completely changed. Spouses will love each other with a love they could not have imagined. They will see each other as God sees them. Spouses who thought they had the perfect marriage on earth have no idea of how much more they will love one another.
Human Relationships Are Perfected
Relationships here on earth have a special place in heaven. Now, some Christian theologies teach that heaven exists just between the person and God. There are no other relationships allowed in heaven, they say, because God deserves all our love. Not true. God is not jealous of our relationships. They were his gifts to us in the first place. Human love, one for another, brings joy to God.
What parents would not be ecstatic to witness their children—brothers and sisters—loving one another? Special relationships on earth—spouses, children and parents, siblings—are perfected in heaven. Heaven means total love shared by all, and special relationships on earth are infinitely more close in heaven. Just imagine Mary and Joseph and the unique relationship they had with each other on earth. What must that be for them in heaven? What about the Franciscan family—friars, sisters, Poor Clares and all the Secular Franciscans? How could there not a special relationship with Saint Francis and Saint Clare?
Complicated relationships on earth are perfected in heaven. Jesus said men and women are not given in marriage in heaven. He did not mean there was no relationship between them. He was saying that earthly marriage cannot compare to what God has prepared for them in heaven. Thus a child who was adopted will love his birth mother and his adopted mother with all the love in his heart. And the two mothers will love each other for the life they cared for and gave to each other. Spouses married more than once love each of their earthly spouses. Remember, unions are perfected in pure love; no more jealousy or fears, no imperfection. There is only perfect love for all and, in a particular way, for all those who played a part in our earthly journey and those special relationships.
So you see, our Catholic doctrine is very much based on the relationship within the Trinity, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Isn’t Mary our Mother also, a gift from Jesus on the cross? Thus, heaven is not a group of isolated people looking at God but not each other. It is one infinitely loving gathering of God’s people…one that will never end.