2001-12-16 Fondly do I hope that we may sometime not too far off be able to purchase hymnals...

December 16, 2001

Fondly do I hope that we may sometime not too far off be able to purchase hymnals that have a wider range of congregational singing, including more of the great hymns of the Church. Any such collection has to include St. Bernard's magnificent verses on Heaven. My most beloved relatives and friends have been buried to strains of Bernard's lines:

Jerusalem the Golden with milk and honey blest,
Beneath thy contemplation, sink heart and mind
at rest. I know not, O I know not what joys await
us there, What radiancy of glory, what bliss
beyond compare.
On the third Sunday of Advent, the Church preaches about Heaven. The liturgical antiphon of the day, "Laetare, Ierusalem" (Rejoice, Jerusalem), refers to the Heavenly Kingdom, of which earthly Jerusalem is the type. Every Christian doctrine is a way of speaking about Heaven. The Creed is like a spectrum which refracts the light of Heaven into primary colors, and these colors are what we call the doctrines of the Church. Heaven is invisible to us now, yet it is more solid and permanent than anything seen in time and space. As humans, we have a foot in both camps earthly and heavenly. The Fourth Lateran Council (1215) teaches that God "from the beginning of time made at once out of nothing both orders of creatures, the spiritual and the corporeal, that is, the angelic and the earthly, and then the human creature, who as it were shares in both orders, being composed of spirit and body."

This causes both our joy and frustration, for as St. Augustine says, "I am caught up to Thee by thy love only to be swept back by my own weight." In Heaven the tension is resolved: our bodies are "glorified" that is, they are more "bodily" in heaven than they are on earth because they are free of sin and death. Only a cynic would think that diminishes our reality.

Heaven is where God is. Belief in Heaven explains what we are supposed to be on earth. Continuing the tradition of Lateran IV, Vatican II teaches: "When God is forgotten the creature itself grows unintelligible." God came to earth in Christ to show us how to get to Heaven. It was the most "worldly" thing that ever happened because He reconciled the world to himself. Nothing is more unworldly in an impractical sense than to reject all that Christ told the world about Heaven.

Fr. George W. Rutler
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