Awkward Catholic

Living my faith as the awkward man of God that I am.


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The Boredom of Heaven

I’ve made a deal with God that when I get to heaven and all’s said and done, the Secondsong-to-sing Coming is all wrapped up, evil is defeated for good and Christ reigns over all in glory forever, that I’ll get to do a solo song in praise of the his supremely beautiful Mother. This being due to the fact that He gave me such a lousy singing voice here on earth.

But I digress. Tonight some of the teens teens I work with expressed concern over being bored in heaven; an eternity with God, awesome! But that’s going to get kind of repetitive after awhile, isn’t it? Well no, not really… not at all. There will be no boredom in heaven. There simply can’t be.

Boredom

Look at it this way, all creation is an expression of the unending, over-flowing love of God. Every single thing that exists does so as an expression of God. Of course we have twisted many things, if we’re being honest we twist pretty much everything, into something selfish, but in it’s very nature, all things exist for God, in God and through God, which means that all things are designed as an expression of God and his love. Therefor, the enjoyment we receive from any created thing, or person, is in part a reflection of God.

Therefore, it stands to reason that if you love Hot and Now Krispy Kreme Donuts (and who doesn’t?!) then you’ll find that joy in heaven as well. If you love flying down the road with the top down and the wind in your hair, then that joy will be found in heaven. If you love sitting on a mountain top and gazing in wonder at creation then that joy will be there for you. If you love the thrill of jumping from a perfectly good airplane, or the excitement of asking someone out on a date for the first time, or reading a good book on a rainy day with your favorite cup of coffee or tea, then those joys will be there in heaven too!

But in an even fuller, pure, more prefected way. Because in most things we engage with here on earth they are at least tinged with imperfection and sin, even the marital embrace of a loving husband and wife is more often than not tinged with selfishness. But in heaven, the fleeting and imperfect nature of all things will be transformed in glorious beauty. And lest we think of heaven as an earth-less cloud-like existence, remember in Scripture it tells us that the old earth and heaven will pass away and a new earth and a new heaven will come. It will be even more beautiful than Eden. In fact it has to be, just like we will be more glorious than Adam and Eve in the pre-fallen state. This new heaven and earth will be in perfect harmony and perfect and complete union!

Solitude

As I was in the chapel this afternoon praying I imagined that, as it says in Rev. 8:1, “When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.” I imagined what that would be like… all the angels and saints standing in worship around the throne of God and complete in utter silence, gazing in awe… a half hour passes of this collective breathlessness and sheer wonder… then Michael, the chief of the Seraphim begins singing the glorious hymn,

‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom
and thanksgiving and honour
and power and might

And as he nears the last line the entire company of heaven breaks in…

be to our God for ever and ever! Amen.’

And eternity begins as all the joy and goodness on earth find the perfection and fulfillment united to our Glorious God and the unending symphony of praise cascades throughout the new heaven and earth.  And the thrill of being pursued by the Divine Lover, and wonder at being caught up in His arms will continue eternally, ever ancient and ever new.

Let the Spirit and the Bride say, “Come!” (Rev. 22:17)

john-paul-n-mother-mary


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Ascending Hope

That awkward moment when a friend comes to you seeking advice, you can see they’re desperate for hope, for something to hold onto and their faith is holding on by a thread and they look to you to provide that hope. Yet, in your heart, you too are holding on by a thread, confused and hurting and almost lost. You stand next to your friend looking up to the sky wondering, “Lord, why did you leave us?” As a youth minister, I’ve been in that situations more times than I could count.

Like the Apostles at the Ascension, I look to the sky wondering why he’s abandoning us. Lord, if you love us so much why in the heck are you leaving us? Why don’t you stay? We need you! Can’t you see how much we need you?
Ascension

Have you ever pondered, I mean truly meditated on the mystery of the Ascension? I’m 38 years old, I’ve been a youth minister for almost 15 years and yet I’ve never once really pondered the mystery of the Ascension. Until recently it was one of the 6 Holy days of obligation. It is one of the most important feasts in our Church’s calendar of feasts (and we have a lot of feasts). And yet, most Catholics I know have gone more than surface deep into the mystery of the Ascension.

Why is that, I wonder? Perhaps because it’s rather simple, Jesus’ time had come to go to heaven and so he went; like our loved ones who’s time have come. But perhaps it’s also because in the depths of our hearts we wonder why he had to leave? A few weeks ago I decided it was time to teach my teens about the Ascension and I quickly realized I had no idea what to talk about to them. Every reason I could think of for the Ascension left me wanting.

He had to leave so that the Holy Spirit could come. Why? If the Father and Jesus are truly one, then so too the Holy Spirit; where One is, so all three are. Wouldn’t this life of faith be so much simpler if Jesus remained on earth and proved his existence and love to us by his mere presence? Imagine, Jesus sitting on a throne in Jerusalem and all the world could see, touch and hear Jesus alive and well. Someone has a question or doubt and they could simply go to Jesus, or better yet, in his glorified body he could bi-locate to them.

But then, where would our joy be? If you were a world class soccer player, would you want to sit and watch the World Cup from the stands or be on the field playing? We are called to be saints, to participate in our own salvation. The joy of evangelization is surpassed by very little in this world.

So what? I would give all that joy to make atheism irrelevant. I would happily lay down any excitement and fulfillment of watching a young person come to know Christ if just one of the terrible wars or violent extremist groups were eradicated because of the presence of Jesus, bodily and irrefutably present on earth.

All of the above is good and right but leave you wanting. It was Fr. Robert Barron who finally provided the answer, one I’m still coming to terms with as I write this post. Quite naturally we perceive heaven and earth as the ancient Greek philosophers did, as two dichotomous realms, completely separate from each other. When Jesus ascended into heaven he left us behind. Sure, he’s still with us spiritually, but what this really means in a practical sense is that he left us behind and sent us his Spirit. He still left us behind.

But praise be to God, he’s not Greek, he’s Jewish; or rather, the Jewish understanding of God is a bit more accurate. You see, as Fr. Robert Baron demonstrates, heaven and earth, while distinct from each other are deeply interlaced into each other. There’s a blending and melding of the two. It isn’t that Jesus left us so much as that he ascended into something more. It’s as if a triangle suddenly became a pyramid (again, a Fr. Baron reference). Those of us who are two-dimensional wouldn’t even begin to comprehend the pyramid.

Heaven and earth are one, or rather, are in the process of becoming one and the Ascension of Christ is what makes that possible. His glorified body is the beginning of the melding of created, human, earthly nature into the spiritual nature of God. It is the adoption of humanity by Divinity. We are sons and daughters of the Father because Jesus not only took upon himself our humanity but because he raised it up into divinity.

2,000 years ago a wise Jewish rabbi was asked by his disciples how to pray and he replied, “Thy kingdom come, the will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” May God’s will be made a reality on earth as it is in heaven. May earth become heaven! The Ascension isn’t the departing of Jesus. It is the reunification of heaven and earth! Jesus didn’t leave us, he merged us into the life of the Trinity!

So what does this mean? It means that when we preach the Gospel, the Good News, we make the kingdom of God truly present; we become the hands and feet of Christ and overlay heaven upon earth. So, as I sit there with my friend, both of us desperate for hope, we look towards the heavens searching for answers and find them in the presence of our faith: his faith, my faith, our oneness of hope. You wouldn’t seek help if you had no hope.

It also means that while we can’t see Jesus without the eyes of faith, he is closer to us than we can possibly imagine. It’s as if the triangle that became a pyramid has enclosed us within his fullness. We are the Body of Christ, not a body severed from its head but still attached! Remember, Jesus is Immanuel, God with us. He isn’t “God with us for 33 years and then God in heaven”, away from us. But he remains God with us because heaven and earth have become mingled and united together and with each act of love we make this union more complete.

For me, this answer satisfies. I don’t fully grasp it, and probably never will until I’m in heaven, but it satisfies. I long for my Beloved, to touch him and hold him, to be consumed by him. And this longing, this “now and not yet” is what keeps me going, hoping for a simple “now”.

Holy Spirit2

http://www.wordonfire.org/resources/video/why-the-ascension-of-the-lord-matters/196/


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No Tears in Heaven (but there might be wings)

The other day in the car, I had a conversation with my five-year old son; he wanted to know if he could get angelWinged Victory wings in heaven. I told him that in heaven God would give him whatever he needed to be happy; if he needed angel wings to be happy then God would find a way to give him wings. (I have it on good authority that Redbull doesn’t exist in heaven so that’s not an option.) I then stressed to my boy who this is one of the most amazing things about heaven… it’s perfect happiness where nobody ever cries or gets hurt. He didn’t believe me.

First he inquired, “But what about when someone makes you cry?” I said that nobody makes you cry in heaven because everyone wants to share and be kind and love you. I quoted the sage Eric Clapton and told him there are no tears in heaven (I believe this is also found somewhere in that zany book of the Bible called “Revelations”)¹. He simply said in response, “I don’t believe you.”

I. Was. Stunned.

Dads are supposed to know everything for their little boys. There isn’t supposed to be doubt or disbelief! How could this be? Fortunately, I was stopped at a red light otherwise I may have driven off the road. In pondering this conversation the last few days I came to the realization that of all things for him to doubt, this doubt makes sense. He already knows well that this life filled with suffering, selfishness, tears and yellow jackets. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a happy boy and has loads of fun and is loved and knows he is loved, but by the age of five he’s discovered that tears are a part of life. We all know that, don’t we… only too well?

In this world most of us are taught to doubt anything we can’t see or touch or prove empirically. So heaven either can’t be real or, if it is, can’t be all it’s cracked up to be. After all, this world is pretty consistent in one thing… letting you down. After years of adulation you realize that your parents are fallible (apparently that only takes five years or so); everyone around you acts selfishly, especially yourself; the world is full of criminals; and so on. Simply spending a week as a high school student in a public or private school will suffice to teach this lesson. Everything we can see and touch and empirically prove tells us that “life is pain and anyone who says differently is selling something.”² Why should heaven be any different? Because God says so? Just look at him, this God of ours… hanging on a cross, dying the most horrific death possible. And so we say to him, “Whatever you say, Jesus.” But we think in the depths of our hearts, “I don’t believe you.”

Is it any wonder why it’s so difficult to lead teens (or anyone else) closer to Christ?! Everything in the world around them convinces them that heaven is a big sham. And that hypocritical youth minister over there telling me that God loves me and wants to be happy with me in heaven forever? Puh-leaz! I don’t believe him! Who wants eternal life when life is pain?

So how do we respond? Whether you’re a youth minister, a priest, a teen or a parent, what’s the antidote? Honestly, I don’t have one. There’s nothing I can say to absolutely prove that it’s all going to be worth it. I can provide no antidote to the pain of life.

But I don’t have to. It’s not up to me. It’s not up to you. I am nothing more than the sailor sitting next to his friends in a lifeboat trying to find his way to a safe harbor. Ultimately, it’s the Captain’s job to guide us home; he and he alone can do it and while he seems to have gone down with the ship, he somehow rose again from the depths and is with us.

Refugee Boat

The only one who can prove the joy of heaven is Christ himself. He proved it to me many years ago while I was on retreat. He met with me, he encountered me and I have never been the same. I know in the depths of my heart that heaven exists and is more than I could possibly imagine. “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it so much as dawned on man what God has in store for those that love him.”³ This knowledge is a true knowledge. We believe that Saturn exists, not because we can see it but because we trust the astronomers who tell us. That is true knowledge. I believe that heaven is real and is more than a mere absence of suffering because the Word of Truth tells me so.

The only answer, the only antidote, the only proof that exists is Existence itself! The God who’s love is so great that he left the joy of heaven to suffer with his beloved loves you. He. loves. you! That love will not be outdone. His love will not be tainted by suffering, not in the slightest because he suffered for you. He took your sin and suffered in your place because he loves you. Perhaps you haven’t met him yet and don’t know. That’s OK. Call out to him. If your suffering is too great then cry out, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?”4 And he will meet with you. I know him personally (though I’m not the best friend he could ask for) and I tell you, he longs for you like a deer longs for the running stream.

There is nothing I can prove to you or my five-year old son. You can not prove it. It is beyond belief. The Truth of the joy of heaven resides in one place only, one person only (well three Persons if you want to be technical). My job as a dad, youth minister and Christian is to point… to lead others to a place of encounter. Your job is to do the same. Are you helping others encounter Christ? That is your job, your solemn duty, your privilege, your joy.

 

 

1.  Rev 7:17
2.  From the greatest movie ever made: The Princess Bride
3.  1 Cor. 2:9
4.  Matt 27:46