What is heaven?

In the February 24 entry, “The afterlife and Christ,” I wrote, not based on knowledge of Christian teachings, but on my own experiences and intuitions:

My sense is that this idea of the afterlife [as a a glorious place where we fulfill all our desires and experience happiness] is incorrect. Or, at least, it is not the highest form of the afterlife. What can and should happen after death is that we are united with Jesus Christ, so that he becomes our companion and guide through these super-physical experiences….

Jesus shows us the right way to experience all this. It’s not just “us” raised to a transcendent, heavenly realm and perhaps helped by mysterious angelic beings; it is we accompanied and instructed by Jesus…. I’m not concerned about heavenly scenery and visions. I am concerned with the quality of abiding with him.

Then I wrote:

[Christ] does not eliminate our personal self, but shows us the true, higher way of that self through union with him, a union that does not cancel out our creativity and spontaneity, but increasingly harmonizes it with the divine will.

Last night I was reading in the Catholic Catechism. I’m reading it because I am preparing to enter the Catholic Church. I know, that’s pretty surprising, given my long-time, extremely critical views of the Church, though mainly in its political capacity, not its spiritual capacity. But I have been unchurched for ten years now, ever since the Episcopal Church USA unambiguously ceased to be a Christian body, which was a very painful loss for me. Now that I am facing death, it’s high time for me to become a full Christian again.

In my reading last evening, I came upon Paragraph 1025 of the Catechism:

To live in heaven is to “be with Christ.” The elect live in Christ, but they retain, or rather find, their true identity, their own name.

For life is to be with Christ: where Christ is, there is life, there is the kingdom.

I was startled to see that, though I had never read this part of the Catechism before, my idea of heaven, of the kingdom of heaven, was exactly in tune with that of the Church. First, that the state of heaven is simply to be with and to be in harmony and union with Christ. And second, that the Church says, just as I had said based on my own non-instructed and somewhat idiosyncratic experience, that in union with Christ we do not lose our personal self, our unique individuality, but rather our individuality is fulfilled and completed in the truest sense.

— end of initial entry —

Mike L. from Kansas writes:

Like your many readers, I have been deeply saddened by your deteriorating health and future passing. I will miss your writings and commentary, which have been very instructive for me.

This morning my sadness for you vanished and was replaced by joy and excitement upon reading you are entering the Catholic Church. Certainly, God has willed this to enjoy the union in Christ that will come to pass for you. I am very happy for you.

My continued prayers for your recovery or entrance into Heaven.

LA replies:

I am moving in the direction of entering the Church. But it’s not certain that I will. I need to pass certain requirements, including that I affirm certain doctrines that are required of Catholics. I am in touch with a Catholic priest, who leads a former Episcopalian / Anglo-Catholic parish which entered full communion with Rome four years ago while still keeping the traditional high Anglican liturgy. He extended to me the great privilege of visiting me last week and we had a good conversation.

So far there has not appeared any required belief that I cannot accept. For example, the Immaculate Conception of Mary, meaning that Mary was born without original sin, is a required belief. I have no problem with that. The girl who spoke the Magnificat (Luke 2), a central part of the Christian liturgy, is the summit of humanity. It was her pure act of faith acceptance that made Christ’s advent possible. At the same time, I do not believe in Mary’s perpetual virginity. I think it’s plain from the Gospels that she had other children besides Jesus. (and please no one write to me about; I am familiar with all the argument.) Fortunately Mary’s perpetual virginity is not a required belief, so there’s no problem.

The priest gave me a list of paragraphs in the Catholic Catechism to read. In the past, other than looking up particular issues in the Catechism on the Web, I have never read the Catechism. For Christian beliefs to be spelled out fully and formally, as is done in the Catechism, makes for fascinating and exciting reading.

Jonathan J. writes:

I was very happy to learn of your entry into the Catholic Church. [LA replies: prospective entry.] I am also a convert, and you are correct that there is quite a lot to criticize politically and to be frustrated by. The Church is always in crisis, because it is full of sinners. But it is also divine by the charge of Christ, the protection of the Holy Spirit. However, the most important thing that exists is the Eucharist, which is the Sacramental Love of Christ. This is our connection to Logos, the order and reason of the universe, the Word that St. John preached in his Gospel. The Church offers us the fullness of this worship, which is only a glimpse of the summit of existence.

I pray you rest in the comfort of Christ.

LA replies:

It was the the traditional Anglican Liturgy of the Eucharist that made me a Christian believer 24 years ago, though I wasn’t baptized until nine years later..

Alan M. writes:

Your experience sounds similar to mine and it was best summed up by G.K. Chesterton:

“I did try to found a little heresy of my own; and when I had put the last touches to it, I discovered that it was orthodoxy.”

Aaron S. writes:

You wrote:

Last night I was reading in the Catholic Catechism. I’m reading it because I am preparing to enter the Catholic Church. I know, that’s pretty surprising, given my long-time, extremely critical views of the Church, though mainly in its political capacity, not its spiritual capacity.

I am not quite sure just how to express the deep and overwhelming sense of joy I felt when I read this. Though you and I have have exchanged emails on a variety of topics since I began reading VFR, Catholicism was not among them. This is for a number of reasons, pre-eminently the fact that though I am a Catholic, I am largely in agreement with most of the criticisms you have leveled at the church over the years.

Still, as you put it here, I have never (at least in my mature adult life) lost an abiding sense that the truth resides in the Catholic tradition, notwithstanding some of its institutional faults.

Welcome, Lawrence, and may God continue to be with you in your suffering.

Michael R. writes:

I appreciate your genuine faith and marvelous ability to express yourself, and like so many others have benefitted from your blog. However, if a blogger maintains secrecy about a major influence on his life, which surely affects what he posts, then readers are not getting the full picture. I don’t feel miffed because we don’t need to know everything [LA replies: why should you even raise the question of being miffed? I only began to think of becoming a Catholic a week and a half ago, now I’m already announcing it.], but the decision to finally announce you are to become a Roman Catholic raises some issues of validity, especially about your criticism of the pope and Roman Catholicism. This is this true in light of the fact that you cannot change the excesses of the papacy nor prevent possible future ones, but have decided you can live with this scenario. It also explains the subtle criticism of the Catholic Church which I have noticed in your writings. [LA replies: there’s been nothing subtle about it.]

The Bishop of Rome is very much in the forefront of globalisation and mass immigration. I find your criticism of various popes and their activities hard to reconcile with submission to him. The separation of the role from the person, which is a common defense of the papacy doesn’t cut it because it places a political spiritual ideology (which is what the papacy is) above accountability, and is at odds with the truth the Church is not an institution but it is life, and this life is found in Jesus Christ. There is only one other religious/political organisation I can think of, and it also has caused the faithful much strife throughout the centuries.

My journey from Anglicanism took me on another path, one which led to the Orthodox Church and so I thank you for explaining where you are coming from. I will continue to enjoy your site as it is so valuable, and will continue to pray for your health.

LA replies:

I entirely reject what you say. It’s perfectly possible and valid to oppose the Church’s political teachings and role while being a good Catholic. Many Catholic VFR readers have said over the years that they agree with my denunciations of the Church, or rather of the popes and bishops in their idiot-liberal political pronouncements, while still obeying the Church insofar as its spiritual function is concerned.

Michael K. writes:

God be praised for your apparent decision to enter the Catholic Church. I have been praying for this for some time now.

The Catholic Church is by no means ideal. The amount of bad leadership is pretty breathtaking, and it is still reeling from the events of the ’60s. The Novus Ordo Mass is in my opinion uninspiring [LA replies: that’s a huge understatement. The Vatican II Mass is the liturgical equivalent of bubble gum stuck on the bottom of a shoe.], and at least where I live, there are no Latin Masses offered nearby. However, I believe that it is the true Church of Christ, and despite its problems, I could not go elsewhere.

My wife and I started the process to enter the Church in 2009, and we were fully received in 2010. I had gone through a period of intense interest in Eastern Orthodoxy after having visited the monasteries on Mount Athos, but ultimately could not get over its ethnic divisions (and, being a typical American of British descent, there are few parishes in which I would have fully fit in). We went to an Anglican church for a time (continuing Anglican—not associated with the Episcopal “church”), and I loved the liturgy. However, I considered the formation of the church scandalous (Henry VIII and all of that), and there are few orthodox Anglican churches in existence in the USA. There were almost no children in the parish we attended, and I saw the future prospects for a truly Christian Anglican church as dim.

Having studied the Bible intensely, and having researched the history of the Church and Christianity, I became convinced that the Catholic Church, for all its faults, is the true Church of God. The biblical support for the primacy of Peter is strong, and all of the problems I had when I was a Protestant with certain Bible passages disappeared when I understood them through proper Catholic doctrine. I also came to the conclusion that the Catholic Church is probably the only organization that has a chance of holding fast against liberalism in the long term, and is one of the few Christian bodies that I am confident will still exist in 200 years (I am doubtful that most Protestant denominations will make it another 100). We have thrown our lot in with the Church, and are using whatever small influence we may have to help nudge it back to tradition.

I would recommend reading the Baltimore Catechism rather than the new Catechism. I find the Baltimore Catechism striking in its simplicity, clarity, and at the same time, exceptional depth. It is written in such a way that it is understandable and challenging to both children and adults. I have found the new Catechism to be unnecessarily vague and confusing. I wish you great luck in your journey, and God willing, I hope to meet you someday in heaven.

Joseph A. writes:

Every time I see a new post on View from the Right, I thank the Lord that you remain with us, even if for a little while longer. I am grateful that you have enough strength to continue to order your affairs and to read. May you long be able to take advantage of good companionship, sound rest, and delicious food. I hope that your physicians have not reduced your diet to Jello!

I also wish to send you congratulations about your (possible) entry into the Roman Church. Many Orthodox Christians, myself included, consider it a true Church of God. I wish you well in your spiritual journey.

LA writes:

While I am thankful for readers’ good wishes and joy regarding my present direction, I want to point out that my report that I am considering entering the Catholic Church was a passing point in this entry (not, of course, that it was insignificant; I knew it would be big news to many readers), made in order to explain why I was reading the Catechism. The topic of the entry, which is more appropriate for public discussion at this site than my personal prospective entrance into the Church, is the nature of the kingdom of heaven.

Sage McLaughlin writes:

When I read your blog entry I recalled the legend of St. Thomas Aquinas’s answer to the question Christ posed of him toward the end of his life, “What will you have of me as a reward?”

“Only yourself, Lord,” Aquinas said.

It has only been in recent years that I have given even a little thought to the question of what the afterlife consists in. Your guess at that mystery rhymes with Aquinas’s reply. Today I prayed the rosary on the way to work, and while meditating on the Passion of our Lord, I asked that you might find joy and rest in the bosom of Christ. I believe that you will, and it gives me great encouragement.

Hannon writes:

Rejoicing in Christ seems to be conspicuous in these recent weeks, both here in our home and elsewhere. I think our spiritual goal is to align with the Holy Spirit and give ourselves over to our Savior. As they say, the choice to do so marks the point where things become more challenging, not less. That is certainly true in my case.

As my pastor reminds me, the church is wherever two or more gather in His name.The collective power of small groups may even be greater in perilous times.

March 7

Sam writes:

This is very exciting for me to hear, Lawrence. I converted to Catholicism about three years ago, from the Episcopal Church. My experience of first encountering the teachings of the Catholic Church was extremely powerful; I described my experience as coming at last to see Christianity in “technicolor” rather than in “black and white.” I have been praying for you, not as diligently as I should, but this has been one of my intentions. And, I must also say, I cannot count the number of times that, as a Protestant, I thought I had come up with some deep new insight into the Bible or into the spiritual life with Christ, only to find it expressed, in more detail and nuance, right there in the Catechism when I decided to investigate Catholicism for the first time. God bless you, Lawrence.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at March 06, 2013 11:43 AM | Send

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