Monthly Archives: September 2015

Queen of Heaven?

Pope Pius XII effectively summarized the core reasons Christians ought to honor Mary with the title of Queen of Heaven and Earth:

According to ancient tradition and the sacred liturgy the main principle on which the royal dignity of Mary rests is without doubt her divine motherhood. In holy writ, concerning the son whom Mary will conceive, we read this sentence: “He shall be called the son of the most high, and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father, and he shall reign in the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end,” and in addition Mary is called “Mother of the Lord,” from this it is easily concluded that she is a queen, since she bore a son who, at the very moment of his conception, because of the hypostatic union of the human nature with the Word, was also as man, king and lord of all things. So with complete justice St. John Damascene could write: “When she became mother of the creator, she truly became queen of every creature.” Likewise, it can be said that the heavenly voice of the Archangel Gabriel was the first to proclaim Mary’s royal office (Ad Caeli Reginam, 34).

In my next blog post, I will give more positive reasons for faith in Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth, but many Protestants I speak to cannot get past one biblical text from the Old Testament that casts a shadow over this topic like none other. In Roman Catholics and Evangelicals—Agreements and Differences, Norman Geisler and Ralph MacKenzie present that text along with their commentary that represents the misguided faith of millions. And that text is Jeremiah 7:18:

Do you not see what they are doing in the streets of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? The children gather wood, the fathers kindle fire, and the women knead dough, to make cakes for the queen of heaven; and they pour out drink offerings to other gods, to provoke me to anger.

Geisler and MacKenzie comment:

 To call Mary “Queen of Heaven,” knowing that this very phrase comes from an old pagan idolatrous cult condemned in the Bible (cf. Jer. 7:18), only invites the charge of Mariolatry. And Mariolatry is idolatry (p. 322).

I can certainly sympathize with their thinking here. I once thought the same. But the truth is: this text has absolutely nothing to do with the Blessed Mother as Queen of Heaven for at least three reasons:

  1. Jeremiah here condemns the adoration of the Mesopotamian goddess Astarte (see Raymond Brown, S.S., Joseph Fitzmeyer, S.J., Roland E. Murphy, editors, The Jerome Biblical Commentary, Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1968, p. 310).  She is in no way related to Mary. In fact, “she” did not and does not exist in reality. Mary, on the other hand, was a real historical person who was—and is—a queen by virtue of the fact that her son was—and is—the king.
  2. Jeremiah condemned offering sacrifice to “the queen of heaven.” In Scripture, we have many examples of the proper way we should honor great members of the kingdom of God. We give “double honor” to “elders who rule well” in the Church (1 Tim. 5:17). St. Paul tells us we should “esteem very highly” those who are “over [us] in the Lord” (1 Thess. 5:12-13). We sing praises to great members of the family of God who have gone before us (Psalm 45:17). We bow down to them with reverence (1 Kings 2:19). We carry out the work of the Lord in their names (Matt. 10:40-42, DRV), and more. But there is one thing we ought never to do: offer sacrifice to them. Offering sacrifice is tantamount to the adoration that is due God alone. And this is precisely what Jeremiah was condemning. The Catholic Church does not teach—and has never taught—that we should adore Mary (see CCC 2110-2114; Lumen Gentium 66-67; CCC 971). Catholics offer sacrifice exclusively to God.
  3. To the Evangelical and Fundamentalist, the mere fact that worshipping someone called “queen of heaven” is condemned in Jeremiah 7 eliminates the possibility of      Mary being the true Queen of Heaven and Earth. This simply does not follow. The existence of a counterfeit queen does not mean there can’t be an authentic one. This reasoning followed to its logical end would lead to abandoning the entire Christian Faith! We could not have a Bible because Hinduism, Islam, and many other false religions have “holy books.” We could not call Jesus Son of God because Zeus and Hera had Apollo, Isis and Osiris had Horus, etc. The fact that there was a false “queen of heaven” worshipped in ancient Mesopotamia does not negate the reality of the true queen who is honored as such in the kingdom of God.

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Is Reincarnation in the Bible?

Recently, I was asked the question: “If you, as a Catholic, believe in the natural immortality of the human soul, why would you not believe in reincarnation? After all, didn’t Jesus indicate John the Baptist was the reincarnation of the prophet Elijah, in Matthew 17:10-13?”

And the disciples asked him, “Then why do the scribes say that first Eli’jah must come?” He replied, “Eli’jah does come, and he is to restore all things; but I tell you that Eli’jah has already come, and they did not know him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of man will suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.

By “reincarnation,” I do not mean the souls in heaven being “reincarnated,” or being “made flesh” again in the resurrection of the same bodies they possessed in this life. That we simply refer to as “the Resurrection.” By “reincarnation,” I mean it as it is defined in the dictionary as “the rebirth of a soul in a new body, whether another human or animal body.”

The Catholic Answer

First of all, Jesus is not speaking of reincarnation when he speaks of “Elijah [having] already come.” He speaks of St. John the Baptist having the spirit and the power of Elijah. In fact, Luke 1:16-17 helps us to understand Matthew 17:10-13 better when the angel Gabriel gives us further definition, if you will, of what “Elijah [having] already come” actually means. He says to Zechariah, the father of St. John the Baptist, concerning his son who would soon be miraculously conceived:

And he will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Eli’jah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.

Notice, he comes “in the spirit and power of Elijah” as a prophet of God. That is what is meant by “Elijah has already come.”

So What’s the Problem With Reincarnation?

The problem, or more accurately, problem[s] with reincarnation are manifold and very dangerous. CCC 1013 tells us:

Death is the end of man’s earthly pilgrimage, of the time of grace and mercy which God offers him so as to work out his earthly life in keeping with the divine plan, and to decide his ultimate destiny. When “the single course of our earthly life” is completed, we shall not return to other earthly lives: “It is appointed for men to die once.” There is no “reincarnation” after death.

The CCC here quotes Hebrews 9:27 –“Just as it is appointed that human beings die once, and after this the judgment.” Reincarnation implies multiple lives and multiple deaths. That’s a definite no-go.

But reincarnation is not only contradicted in Hebrews 9:27; it is also contradicted by our Lord himself in John 8:23:

You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world.

And St. Paul adds, in I Cor. 15:47:

The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven.

Only Christ is revealed in Scripture to have had a pre-human existence, or to be “from heaven.” Humans are revealed to have come “from the earth,” or “from this world.” Thus, we say Jesus Christ was “incarnated.” But even he was not “reincarnated.” Reincarnation implies a previous bodily existence. Or, as the term indicates, a former “fleshly” existence.

Philosophically speaking, “reincarnation” is impossible because the soul is the form of the body. In other words, it is the soul that “gives form to the body” as it is. A lot of folks confuse the particular “matter” or “the material” our body is made of right now with the essence of the body. The truth is, much of the actual matter of our bodies is changed and renewed over time, but we remain the same person in the process. While some parts of our bodies do not change (for example, we get no new neurons in our brains—if we lose ‘em, they’re gone for good!), the fat cells in our bodies, for example, are completely changed every ten years or so.

Most importantly for our purpose now, not only do we remain the same person throughout the interchange of much of the matter that comprises our bodies, but we still have the same body because it is the soul that forms the matter into the same body through the decades and through the cycling of the matter. Thus, “resurrection” is reasonable, but “reincarnation” is not. The “resurrection” produces the same body and, of course, the same person.

I’ve Got Some Good News and I’ve Got Some Bad News!

The good news first! With what we have already demonstrated, not only can you be certain you will not be reincarnated as a slug, but it would be impossible for you to be reincarnated as a slug!

Bad news for dog lovers! Fido will not be resurrected because he possesses no spiritual soul that could then form the same body he possessed in this life. “Fido” would have to be created ex nihilo and would then be another dog. He would not be “Fido.” You could name him Fido, but he would be a different Fido than the one you knew and loved on earth!

The Problems Continue

Reincarnation is also problematic when we consider the fact that a human person is a body/soul composite. It is not only the soul nor is it only the body that individuates a person—it is both. (By the way, for philosophy buffs, St. Thomas Aquinas was off on this point when he taught the body, or “matter” alone was the individuating principle in human persons. He was influenced by Aristotle’s flawed thinking. Aristotle, though brilliant, was a pantheist who taught there is one collective “person” in which all human persons participate. Only the material or matter would then individuate us. However, when we die, the material body is gone, thus, the individual is no more! St. Thomas, obviously, did not take Aristotle to the point of accepting his final conclusion that led Aristotle to deny the immortality of the human soul as we understand it, but he was influenced by Aristotle to the point of teaching the body, or “matter,” to be the individuating principle of the human person, which is flawed).

But at any rate, the point to remember here is that man is a body/soul composite. Both contribute to what Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI), in his book, “Eschatology” calls “the mysterious ‘I.’” Thus, again, it would be impossible for a human soul to animate “another body” from two different parents. Ultimately, reincarnation is not only condemned by the Church on a theological level, but it is untenable on a philosophical level!

Danger, Danger!

Some may say at this point, “So what? This is a harmless little error that never hurt anybody, right? You said reincarnation is ‘dangerous,’ but I’m not seeing the danger.”

Are there dangers inherent in believing reincarnation to be true? Actually, there are many. Here are just two of them:

1. It fails to make the essential distinction between men and animals. Human beings alone are created in the image and likeness of God; and therefore, possess rational and spiritual souls. It is the distinctive human soul that is the foundation of his unique dignity. It is the reason why we humans possess “certain unalienable rights” as our founding fathers rightly said in our Declaration of Independence here in the United States. Reincarnation either reduces men to the level of animals, raises animals to the level of humans with “rights,” etc., or it becomes some sort of confused hybrid of the two. But the result is always the same: a dangerous lack of understanding of the unique and inherent dignity of the human being.

2. It tends toward moral laxity because no matter how bad someone is in this life, he gets another shot… and another… and another! This is extremely dangerous! How opposite is this to our Lord’s teaching in the form of his words to the “rich man” in Luke 12:20-21, when God said to him, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you… So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”

“… be ready, for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matt. 24:44) loses not only its effectiveness, but its essential meaning.

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Kim Davis is a Hero!

As most of you now know, Mrs. Kimberly Jean Bailey Davis was elected County Clerk for Rowan County, Kentucky, back in 2014. I’m sure that was a great and momentous day for Mrs. Davis, but that’s not what made national news. The nation was introduced to Mrs. Davis when she refused to issue marriage licenses for same-sex “couples” who applied to be married in Rowan County following Obergefell vs. Hodges, the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 26, 2015 ruling effectively “legalizing” same-sex unions while at the same time overturning the prior SCOTUS decision, Baker vs. Nelson, that dismissed a similar attempt to recognize a “right” to same-sex “marriage.”

And remember: issuing these licenses included Mrs. Davis, as County Clerk, signing her name on the documents. This, in her mind, would be giving tacit approval of something that is intrinsically immoral. That she was not prepared to do.

Mrs. Davis, who by her own admission was married four times in the past, and did not lead a morally upright life back then, had converted to Christ in an “apostolic Pentecostal” community back in 2011 and reformed her life. It would be her faith in Christ and commitment to follow the Bible’s teachings that would lead her to declare she could not issue these licenses to same-sex couples. At least, that would be her main reason. She and her attorney have given two central reasons for her decision, the first of which I will mention here has nothing to do with her new-found faith.

First, her attorney argued SCOTUS did not, and does not make the law; it interprets the law. Because SCOTUS gave an opinion in Obergefell that action in and of itself did not either create or change any existing laws—the creation of laws is the job of legislatures, not SCOTUS. Thus, Mrs. Davis would, in effect, be breaking her oath to faithfully follow the laws of the Commonwealth of Kentucky by signing marriage licenses that have no foundation in any law permitting such a license, regardless of the opinion of SCOTUS.

In other words, the Kentucky governor and legislature would have to present Mrs. Davis with an actual law stating homosexual marriages are valid before she could even consider issuing a marriage license accordingly.

And I must say, there is merit to what Mrs. Davis and her attorney said here. But, I would argue, the real reason for her refusal, and the main point I want to emphasize in this post is the second reason she gave why she would not sign the licenses (and I’m not giving them in the order Mrs. Davis and her attorney brought them forth, mind you): her faith in Jesus Christ that brings with it an obligation to obey God’s law before the laws of men.

Even though, in reality, this issue is not a purely “religious” matter at all, it has certainly become that inasmuch as it has become another in a growing number of cases where the U.S. government has become increasingly hostile to Christians. Marriage as a natural institution was created before there were any formal religions in existence—before there were any nations in existence. At its core, and on a natural level, it is really a truth of natural law that binds all humanity regardless of religion.

But having said that, I could not agree with Mrs. Davis more because homosexual “marriage” has also become a matter of religious liberty. God has also revealed the truth concerning marriage in Sacred Scripture so that all can know its truth simply and without admixture of error. And beyond Christianity, other world religions also teach homosexual “marriages” to be immoral. Thus, this matter has truly become a point of contact for the persecution of more than just Christians, though there is little doubt as to the main target here.

The Catholic Christian Faith also teaches Christ elevated this natural institution to the level of a sacrament. Thus, this matter is especially grave to Catholics.

So let’s make this clear: Jesus Christ definitively teaches:

“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one”… So they are no longer two but one. What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder (Matt. 19:5-6).

Marriage can only be validly confected between one man and one woman. Period. Moreover, homosexual acts are clearly taught in the New Testament (as well as in the Old Testament) to be gravely immoral, and not only for those who practice these sins, but also for those who “approve those who practice them” (Romans 1:26-32; cf. I Tim. 1:10; I Cor. 6:9-11).   So, here again, Mrs. Davis is absolutely correct. As a Christian, she is bound by the teachings of Christ and the New Testament. St. Peter says it all in Acts 5:29: “We must obey God rather than men.”

Here’s Where the Real Story Begins

Things predictably heated up when just last month (August of 2015) the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky, Justice David L. Bunning presiding, ordered Mrs. Davis to issue licenses as, the judge claimed, is “required by law.” Davis understandably “lawyered up,” as they say, and attempted an emergency application with the Supreme Court seeking a stay of this order while she pursued an appeal.

It was denied.

Mrs. Davis then found herself in a quandary that, I would suggest, thousands of Christians are now facing, or will face in the near future, now that the Court has basically dictated to the entire nation re-defining what marriage is in its essence. In reality, the court has no power to do this; it has acted outside its legitimate boundaries, but there you have it.

The good news is this: Mrs. Davis took a stand. God bless her! She continued to hold her ground and refused to sign. But Judge Bunning would have none of this. Not only did he order her to be taken into custody, but he said she would remain in custody “until she agrees to issue the licenses.”


But Mrs. Davis would not bow. As it stands now, Judge Bunning back peddled, ordering her release on the condition that she not “interfere” with any of the clerks under her in issuing marriage licenses for same-sex “couples.” I personally think he caved under the pressure of the ensuing protests. But Mrs. Davis continues to vow to follow her conscience informed by the teachings of the Bible.

This isn’t over by any means, folks. There’s more to come. Much more!

A Shocking Response… Sort of…

The responses in the “liberal” media and from government officials were predictable. Mrs. Davis has been lambasted every which way but loose. She’s been called everything in the book up to and including “a b_ _ _ _” and “a monster” by the newest member of the television daytime news commentary show, The View, Michelle Collins.

But what has been surprising has been the response from some so-called “conservative” circles and from Christians… even Catholics. I heard one anchor at Fox News call Mrs. Davis “a hater,” and one Catholic Christian commentator say Kim Davis “is no hero;” she is guilty of “dereliction of duty.”

Really? For standing up for moral and biblical principles?

So what is a Catholic response to all of this? There are six points, I argue, we need to understand and consider in evaluating this situation.

1. Mrs. Davis has no obligation whatsoever to sign a document that, in her mind, would be to give tacit approval to homosexual “marriage” that is actually not marriage at all. And she is in no sense derelict in her duties in so refusing to sign, nor is she “a hater.” She is a woman of conscience. As Pope St. John Paul II declared, in his great Encyclical Letter, Evangelium Vitae, 72-73: quoting St. Thomas Aquinas:

“…human law is law inasmuch as it is in conformity with right reason and thus derives from the eternal law. But when a law is contrary to reason, it is called an unjust law; but in this case it ceases to be a law and becomes instead an act of violence”…

There is no obligation in conscience to obey such laws; instead there is a grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection… From the very beginnings of the Church, the apostolic preaching reminded Christians of their duty to obey legitimately constituted public authorities (cf. Rom 13:1-7; 1 Pet 2:13-14), but at the same time it firmly warned that “we must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

2. Though the above reference from Pope St. John Paul II was specifically dealing with the sins of abortion and euthanasia, he expanded the principle of the “obligation” of “conscientious objection” to include all laws that are contrary to the eternal law, or natural law, which is, by definition, human beings’ rational participation in the eternal law of God. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, however, issued a document specific to the situation we are dealing with now in its prophetic 2003 document titled: “Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons:”

In those situations where homosexual unions have been legally recognized or have been given the legal status and rights belonging to marriage, clear and emphatic opposition is a duty. One must refrain from any kind of formal cooperation in the enactment or application of such gravely unjust laws and, as far as possible, from material cooperation on the level of their application. In this area, everyone can exercise the right to conscientious objection.

There is a distinction made here between “formal cooperation” in either the “enactment or application” of these types of unjust laws, and “material” cooperation. Formal cooperation means a person actually takes part in the immoral action of another with the intention of cooperating in that evil act. The formal cooperator is always as guilty as is the one with whom he is cooperating.

This would not apply in the case of Mrs. Davis. However, her cooperation in signing these licenses would involve “material cooperation” in the sin of attempting a homosexual “union.” Material cooperation can be either “proximate” or “remote.” “Proximate” material cooperation means a person is opposed to the sinful act being performed, but is immediately involved in the act. This kind of cooperation is generally understood to be sinful though there are exceptions, such as the case of a hostage being forced to act against his will in, say, a bank robbery. Or, one could argue, in cases where there could be grave consequences if a person were not to materially cooperate, like the loss of livelihood, the inability to care for one’s family, or something akin to this. A deeper discussion than this goes beyond what I can do here, but in short, there must be proportionate reason for there to be proximate material cooperation in an act that is intrinsically evil.

For our purposes here, Mrs. Davis’ case is one of remote material cooperation. This means her action is far enough removed from the actual sinful act that it can possibly be licit. But notice, the Church encourages conscientious objection where possible even when it comes to remote material cooperation with this grave sin of homosexual “unions.” Unlike the case of formal cooperation, the document uses the qualifier, “as far as is possible,” when it comes to material cooperation, but the emphasis is clearly on urging all of us to conscientiously object.

Moreover, and again, very important to the issue at hand, the Church clearly teaches, “In this area” of material cooperation “everyone can exercise the right to conscientious objection.” Thus, I need to emphasize, conscientious objection is in no way dereliction of duty. It is a noble action and a right.

3. I am not arguing that Mrs. Davis has an obligation, from a Catholic and moral perspective (I realize Mrs. Davis is not Catholic, but again, Catholics are now facing the same dilemma as I said above), to refuse to sign. In fact, she had and has at least three options I can think of here, according to Catholic teaching. If there is a proportionate reason, and if Mrs. Davis, or one in her situation, makes it clear that she is opposed to homosexual unions, but is acting merely as an arm of the state in a perfunctory way, without ever giving any indication that she is in agreement with the final end of a homosexual “union,” she could, licitly, sign the document. But again, there would have to be proportionate reason. If, for example, her job, ability to care for her family, etc. is involved, this may well be licit.

She could also resign rather than attach her name in any way to this unjust “law.”

But she also has the right, according to Catholic teaching, to do precisely what she is doing in conscientiously objecting to this unjust “law.” In fact, as a Catholic, and as we have already read from the Magisterium of the Church, she would be encouraged to conscientiously object. This is a legitimate and even praiseworthy act on her part.

4. What about those who argue this: “If she refuses to sign these documents, she is guilty of the ‘injustice’ of receiving a paycheck that includes her obligation to sign these ‘marriage licenses.’ She is both refusing to do her job and taking money under false pretenses.”

The answer is: she is doing her job, as well as keeping her obligations to her God. In Mrs. Davis’ case, she was elected to, among other things, uphold the laws and statutes of the Commonwealth of Kentucky and the United States of America. And she is doing exactly that. A state, a “commonwealth,” a nation, etc. does not have the authority to force its employees to do absolutely anything under the guise of a “law.” The “law” she is being asked to act in accordance with is not a law at all. It is an act of violence that must be opposed using every licit means available.

Granted, she is breaking what the United States of America considers to be a law. And she needs to understand that in so doing she will have to face the consequences. And in her case, Mrs. Davis has truly “counted the cost.” But folks, we have a long history in this country of heroes a la Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., etc. who have been icons of conscientious objection. And we have a much longer list among our Catholic patrimony of martyrs, confessors, and great saints who have also given up to and including the ultimate sacrifice while “obey[ing] God rather than men.”

Moreover, her act of civil disobedience is also a witness to her employer and to the world of the injustice that is homosexual “marriage.” Not only is she just in receiving her paycheck even though she is refusing to perform what she perceives to be an immoral act required by her superiors, but she should get a raise for being a prophetic voice crying in the wilderness! Though, somehow, I don’t think that will happen…

5. What about those who say: “She is an elected official who was elected to uphold all of the laws of the United States and of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, not just the ones she likes.”

This takes us back to the definition of what a “law” is. But consider this as well. I will grant that there are cases where conscientious objection is not allowable. Marines in the heat of battle are not at liberty to take up picket signs on the battle field, endangering the lives of their brothers-at-arms. The common good must always be considered when considering both the law and our obedience to the law. In this case, those Marines could legitimately be arrested and charged with treason in wartime. But the onus is on the state to demonstrate that the common good is at stake and that conscientious objection would result in grave danger to the common good.

This case doesn’t even come close. The government could very easily make accommodations for Christians or people of good will who understand the truth of the moral law in this matter.

Generally speaking, an elected official does not give up his or her conscience and obligations to God when elected to office.

6A Final Thought

In reading through tons of responses to the actions of this courageous Christian woman in the small town of Rowan, Kentucky, one of the first things that came to my mind was this: “Could this be our ‘Rosa Parks’?”

My gut tells me no. It’s no because in our case, we have the White House against us, the United States government in general, the Supreme Court in particular, the media, the popular culture, and more. Let’s face it. Christianity—and Catholicism in particular—is hated in the United States, and is under attack by the powers that be.

Don’t get me wrong, there are good people in high places as well. But they are quickly becoming the Bishop Fishers and Thomas Mores of history in comparison to the masses who will sell their souls for a mess of pottage.

What we need today are a few thousand Kim Davises. We need people who will take the hoses, the dogs, imprisonment, and more, if necessary, in order to stand up for the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and for the truth of the moral law.

God bless Kim Davis. In my book, she’s a hero! May she inspire heroics in all of us!

What Can We Know About Heaven?

With the advent of multiple movies in recent years about Heaven from the perspective of alleged eyewitness accounts (people who have died, gone to heaven–again, allegedly–and lived to tell about it), people often ask the question: “What can we really know about heaven?” As Catholics, we do not get our theology from private revelations, even if they are approved by the Church, much less from alleged experiences of well-meaning people who’ve had some sort of encounter that they may consider real.

So what can we know? Here we go!

Then Cardinal Ratzinger, in his book, Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life, published in 1988, warns against depicting heaven as an extension of this life prettied up with depictions of “wolves laying down with lambs,” and eternal picnics. Not only do we have the real problem with the fact that most of the world lives in abject misery, materially speaking—we forget that living in our modern United States of America where “the poor” often means not being able to afford all 2,000 cable channels—but we also must remember that wolves, lambs, and picnics get boring after a few million years. These depictions just don’t cut it for the modern, thinking man.

On the other hand, I Cor. 2:9 is overused as well. “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard,” with regard to heaven is often used as a cop out. Yes, it is true. Heaven is ultimately beyond what has ever “entered into the heart of man.” But there are certain things we can know about heaven even if now we “see in a mirror dimly” what will only be revealed fully in eternity (I Cor. 13:12). If we are going to excite people about the prospects of heaven, Ratzinger says, and if there is going to be a healthy sense of fearing the “loss of heaven” as we enter the confessional, a biblical and traditional understanding of the nature of heaven is essential.

What the Church Teaches

CCC 1023:

Those who die in God’s grace and friendship and are perfectly purified [whether in this life, or in the next life in Purgatory] live forever with Christ. They are like God forever, for they “see him as he is,” face to face.

The Catechism then quotes the infallible definition given by Pope Benedict XII in his Apostolic Constitution, Benedictus Deus, of Jan. 29, 1336:

By virtue of our apostolic authority, we define the following: According to the general disposition of God, the souls of all the saints . . . and other faithful who died after receiving Christ’s holy Baptism (provided they were not in need of purification when they died, . . . or, if they then did need or will need some purification, when they have been purified after death, . . .) already before they take up their bodies again and before the general judgment – and this since the Ascension of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ into heaven – have been, are and will be in heaven, in the heavenly Kingdom and celestial paradise with Christ, joined to the company of the holy angels. Since the Passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ, these souls have seen and do see the divine essence with an intuitive vision, and even face to face, without the mediation of any creature.

At the very heart of this definition of heaven is the idea of the “beatific vision,” i.e. the blessed in heaven “see God, face to face.” But what does it mean that the saints in heaven “see God, face to face?” This would seem to contradict I Tim. 6:14-16 that says:

I charge you to keep the commandments unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ; and this will be made manifest at the proper time by the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.

Is this a contradiction? Not at all! I Tim. 6 must be understood to mean either that man unaided by grace cannot see God, or that man can never “see” God with his physical powers of sight using his eyeballs. In other words, man cannot see God in any sense with his natural powers. The saints and all of the blessed can be said to have “seen” and that they do “see” the divine essence with a directly intuited, intellectual vision. There are multiple biblical texts that bear this out:

Rev. 22:4 – “And there shall be no curse any more, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and his servants shall serve him. And they shall see his face: and his name shall be on their foreheads.”

I Cor. 13:12 – “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood.”

Matt. 5:8 – “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

I John 3:2 – “Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”

This “vision” of God, again, is not to be understood as “seeing” God with human eyeballs. God is pure spirit and as such cannot be “seen.” This “vision of God” is a directly intuited and intellectual vision. Think about it this way: Matthew 18:10 tells us that the angels “behold the face of God,” yet they don’t have eyes at all. They are pure spirits. So how do they “see God?” They “see” him with an intellectual and directly intuited “vision.”

We use the verb “to see” like this in modern parlance. When someone comes to understand a physics problem he had been struggling with, for example, he may say, “Now I see it!” That doesn’t mean he “sees” it with his eyes; rather, it means he now understands it with his mind. This is analogous to the beatific vision. The faithful who endure to the end and so are saved will “see God,” but with an intellectual “vision” or comprehension of God. Each person will “see” or comprehend God in the beatific vision in accordance with his own capacity dictated to him by his state of grace at the moment of death. And this state of grace is determined by both the gift of God and the degree to which the blessed cooperated with that grace during his earthly sojourn.

The example par excellence of this truth is found in the Mother of God. No member of the body of Christ will “see” or “comprehend” God to the degree Mary does because she was given the greatest gift of grace among all of mankind; while, at the same time, no human person ever cooperated with the grace of God as perfectly as Mary did.

With this understanding, we can understand why the Church teaches heaven to be primarily a state rather than a place. You can’t travel “up there” to heaven. And the beatific vision cannot be understood as people being in heaven and “looking over there” and seeing God. And then if they look away from “over there” they don’t see God anymore. The blessed will be in a state of comprehension of God that is constant. They can’t leave heaven and then go back to heaven precisely because heaven is principally a state of being.

However, having said that, heaven can also be said to be a place, but in a qualified sense. In as much as in the end of time the blessed will have bodies in the resurrection; they can then be said to have location.

Okay, Fine, So What is Heaven?

Heaven is principally a state of utter and absolute fulfillment. In the possession of God in the beatific vision the blessed will experience what cannot be put into words; a radical union with God that transcends anything we could envisage. And it is precisely because of that radical union with God in Christ, the blessed will also experience a union with the other members of the Body of Christ that transcends our ability to imagine as well. The image of the mystical “body of Christ” that St. Paul gives us in I Cor. 12 and Romans 12 gives us some inkling of this union, but again, it can only pale in relation to the full truth of the matter. To use St. Paul’s image, the union of the members of Christ is more radical than the union of my finger here with my hand because it is Christ who makes the members of Christ one! This is truly incredible to think about, but in the end, we can only imagine.

We’ve already spoken of the beatific vision which is the most important component of what heaven is: as we saw in I John 3:2. It says we will be “like him for we shall see him as he is.” St. Thomas Aquinas helps us to get a sense of the glory of this “vision of God” by showing us some of its rammifications. According to “the angelic Doctor,” our intellects will be so illuminated by God to empower us to be able to “see God” in the beatific vision that an ancillary effect of this empowering will be the comprehension of “the whole order of the universe.”

Does anyone want to pause to say “wow” with me?

In the Summa Contra Gentiles, Bk. III, chapter 59, St. Thomas says, “the natural appetite is to know the genera, species and powers of all things, and the whole order of the universe,” it makes sense that this capacity would be filled in God in heaven. If you add to this the fact that the beatific vision will empower the intellects of the saints in heaven to be able to see God, which is far above the natural capacity, it only makes sense that, as St. Thomas again says, that after having come to know “the infinite,” or God himself, it would seem to follow that the lesser would be easily known. To quote St. Thomas: “The intellect which is elevated by divine light in order to see God’s substance is much more perfected by this same light, so that it may understand all other objects that exist in the nature of things.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church seems to concur with St. Thomas. In paragraph 2040, the Church speaks to this notion of the perfection and elevation of the intellectual powers in heaven. Talk about intellectually sharp! The Catechism says, “We shall know the ultimate meaning of the whole work of creation and of the entire economy of salvation and understand the marvelous ways by which [God’s] Providence led everything toward its final end.”

What a comfort to know that every single person among the faithful who has lost a love one, a child, or suffered terribly in this life, will know how “all things work together for good to those who love God” as St. Paul says in Romans 8:28. We will see all of this in God, in heaven.

Doesn’t this sound a lot better than simply falling back on “eye has not seen,” or picking fruit and picnicking for all eternity?

Four Bodily Gifts That Await Us in Heaven

The principal gift of heaven—the beatific vision—could be the subject of a veritable library of books without ever plumbing its depths, but the Catechism of the Council of Trent, referring back to St. Thomas Aquinas, gave us four characteristics of heaven relating to the body that have been revealed to us in Scripture and tradition that can serve to give us a glimpse, however imperfectly, of the glory of heaven in a bodily sense.

I remember teaching this some time ago to a group of Southern California teens where I got the ultimate compliment: “Dude… that is very cool!” I think the “dude” part coupled with the “cool” was telling. Two thumbs up!

But at any rate, the Catechism of the Council of Trent, referencing the Summa Theologiae of St. Thomas Aquinas, lists these four “characteristics” or “gifts” that will be communicated to the blessed in heaven:

1) Subtility – This gift entails the absolute subordination of the body to the soul. So radical is this subordination that it will empower the blessed to be able to pass through a wall as Jesus did in the Upper Room in John 20:19-20, while possessing flesh and bone just as he did as well. Remember: the disciples were gathered together in fear behind locked doors, after the resurrection of Christ, and before they had seen the risen Lord. Jesus suddenly appeared in their midst, though the doors remained locked. He passed right through the doors! Yet, as is revealed in Luke 24:39, in a parallel account of this same event, also after the resurrection, Jesus said to the apostles, “… handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have.”

2) Agility – In Acts 1:9, Jesus ascended up to heaven right before the very eyes of the apostles. And he didn’t even need rockets like R2D2! In fact, according to St. Thomas, the blessed in heaven, even after receiving their bodies in the resurrection, will be able to travel at the speed of thought, or in the “wink of an eye,” as St. Thomas says it, to any distance. Star Wars ain’t got nothin’ that can even compare with what awaits those who are faithful to Christ!

3) Impassibility – In simple terms, this means the blessed in heaven cannot suffer and cannot die (see Rev. 21:4). Indeed the bodies of the blessed will not only be immortal, but no sickness or any imperfection will be possible. They will not even so much as be able to stub a toe, even if they wanted to! Not that we would want to! But you get my drift!

4) Glory (or as the Roman Catechism calls it: “Brightness”) – The blessed in heaven will be glorified like Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. Rooted in Jesus’ own words, “… the righteous will shine like the sun,” in Matthew 13:43, the Church teaches the blessed will shine with the glory of God so brilliant that it is believed by some that we on earth could not stand to even behold one of the blessed in heaven if he were revealed in all of his glory!

If you take the Marian apparitions as an example of this, our Lady never appears to the various seers she appears to in all of her glory. She appears in a form they can handle and relate to.

But at any rate, we do catch a glimpse of the glory that awaits us in the Transfiguration where Jesus’ face “shone like the sun” (Matt. 17:2). This text not only reveals Christ’s divinity, but the glory of humanity transformed by divinity! It reveals, in that sense, what awaits our humanity. “The just shall shine like the sun.”

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