My Aunt Arline was born with cerebral palsy. A good Lutheran couple adopted her. Operations to straighten her arms left long scars on her. Her speech was slurred, and she walked with difficulty. Sometimes her slight body was marked with ugly bruises from falls. Nevertheless she was a delightful person, married to my father’s brother, who had polio. In the seventh grade I wrote an essay about Aunt Arline called “The Abused Handicap.” During the summer my sister and I each took a turn spending a week with Aunt Arline, working jigsaw puzzles and going shopping with her, as she held unto our arm. When my mother called one day to tell me that Aunt Arline had died, instantly I had a vision. In my mind’s eye I saw Aunt Arline in a large green field. She was doing cartwheels!
The Sadducees did not believe in the afterlife like the Pharisees did. One day they set out to ridicule the idea of resurrection and to trick Jesus into looking like a fool. According to Jewish law, if a man died childless, his brother was obliged to marry the widow and have a child in his brother’s name. The Sadducees concocted an absurd situation. Suppose a man dies and one by one his six brothers marry his wife and also die. The Sadducees asked Jesus which of the seven men would be the woman’s husband in heaven. Jesus replies no one because in heaven we will be like angels. The Sadducees are deflated and don’t dare ask him any more questions. There is no marriage in heaven. It isn’t needed. But no doubt married couples who shared their life on earth will enjoy a special bond in heaven.
Unlike the Sadducees, we do believe in heaven. For us, death is just a door that leads to a whole new wonderful world. In the Old Testament, Job says, “I know that my Redeemer lives, . . . and after my skin has been destroyed, in my flesh I shall see God.” The first Maccabee brother to be martyred declared, “The King of the world will raise us up to live again forever.”
Jesus taught that heaven existed. Peter Marshall, a former chaplain of the United States Senate, stated, “Jesus told us that what we had hoped for, was true.” At the Last Supper, Jesus assured the apostles—and us—that he was going to heaven to prepare a place in his Father’s house, which has many rooms. After Jesus died, he rose with new, glorified life. And because he rose from the dead we can believe his promise that we too will rise again and live forever.
What is heaven like? No one knows. Jesus compared heaven to a wedding feast, a joyful celebration. St. Paul had a vision of heaven but couldn’t describe it. It was beyond words. Paul could only say, “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has the heart ever imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” John in the book of Revelation tries to put into words the city of God he saw in a vision. He says it is adorned with every jewel and pearls. The street is pure gold. The water of life flows there and trees of life grow there. There is no need for lamps or the sun because the glory of God is its light.”
A common notion of heaven is that we will all be angels sitting on clouds and playing harps. That seems pretty boring to me. Luckily it isn’t true. For one thing, we will not turn into angels. Angels are pure spirits who have no body. In heaven we human beings will still have our bodies but they will be glorified, like the body of the risen Lord that could pass through matter. Our bodies will be perfect. I look forward to not needing my glasses and hearing aids. And, yes, my Aunt Arline will be able to do cartwheels.
Also, we will be perfectly happy. At times we have a little taste of heaven while we are on earth. We experience something that fills us with joy. That wonderful feeling will never end in heaven. In the Bible’s Book of Revelation we read, “God will wipe every tear from his people’s eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.” Just think: We will no longer need pills and shots and therapy.
Our earth is so beautiful: the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, night skies full of stars, our sunrises and sunsets. If earth is this splendid, surely then heaven will be overwhelmingly gorgeous. Of course, the best thing about heaven is that we will be with God forever. This is the destiny we were created for. All of us long for something more. Someone said it’s as though a piece of our heart is missing and we won’t be complete until we hear the words “Welcome home!” and are united with God. St. Augustine prayed, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” The yearning we have for God will finally be completely satisfied in heaven. We will see God face to face, clearly, in what is called the Beatific Vision. We will be enveloped by his love.
In heaven we will meet Jesus, our Lord and Savior, face to face. We will meet Mary, his mother and ours. The angels will be our companions, those magnificent creatures. We’ll be able to thank our Guardian Angel. We will live with our patron saints, St. Francis, St. Patrick, St. Teresa of Calcutta, and all other holy people. We will be reunited with our loved ones, spouses, children, parents, and grandparents, who have preceded us into heaven. And from heaven, we will be able to pray for our loved ones that we have left behind on earth.
November 2 is All Souls Day when we remember all the faithful departed. It’s comforting to know that whenever we celebrate Mass, these people, our deceased family member and friends, are praying with us and for us. We are all one in the liturgy.
Steve Jobs was the cofounder and CEO of Apple. As he was dying, he looked past the people gathered around his deathbed and uttered his last words: “Oh, wow!” “Oh, wow!” “Oh, wow!” I like to think he was having a vision of heaven. Someday it will be our turn to leave this world and enter the next. May we too be able to declare, “Oh wow!” Although we don’t know what the next life will be like, we do know that it will be fantastic. We can expect nothing less from the good God who created the universe and loved us to death. Thanks to Jesus, our Redeemer, we will enter heaven and live as we’ve never lived before.
What do you think heaven will be like?