Homily preached on the 2nd Sunday of Lent
Czyszki, Feb. 28, 1914
“Then Peter said to Jesus:
“Lord, it is good that we are here…”
(Mt 17, 4)
The Lord Jesus foresaw, sensed, that the horror of his suffering and death on the cross was approaching. He knew well that his disciples’ faith and love for him would be shaken during this ordeal. He saw clearly how these disciples would abandon Him and not defend him from the attack of the Jews. The Lord Jesus felt all this, and desiring that His apostles would not lose faith, he was transfigured before them on Mount Tabor. He showed them his glory: for his face was bright like the sun, His garments became white as snow, and Christ the Lord showed them that he was not an ordinary man, but truly the Son of God.
The apostles were not able to see all the glory and majesty of the Lord Jesus, but only a small part of it, merely a veiled portion, and yet they felt such joy, pleasure, and elation that St. Peter exclaimed, Lord, it is good for us to be here! What joy would have engulfed them if they had been able to see heavenly glory in all its fullness. Surely this would comfort them and strengthen them in spirit, and they would not have feared anything from then on, they would have gladly endured all, just to attain eternal joy in heaven.
And it would be very useful for all of us to see at least a little bit, albeit a small portion of heaven, the place where holy angels reign with God. But who would reveal heaven to us? With our bodily eyes we are not able to look into the heavenly sanctuaries, but with the help of faith we can see not only a portion of heaven, but fortunately to see all of heaven.
With the help of faith, we look to heaven, that is we ponder heaven, contemplate according to our holy faith and the teachings of the Catholic Church. This reflection on heaven will be particularly useful to us so that in these sad times we can persevere, and that we can valiantly endure all these afflictions as Christians.
With God’s help, let us first think about this, first: What is heaven? And secondly: What heaven is not and what will make us happy forever.
You may be surprised that what I want to talk about first is what heaven is not. And yet I cannot do otherwise, because as St. Augustin writes: “it is easier to say what is not there than what is in heaven.” Moreover, having learned what is not in heaven, we will already have a good idea of eternal happiness.
Well, the chosen in heaven are free from all evil. Here on earth, there are many misfortunes, many various difficulties. Some experience poverty and misery who at times must reach out and ask for alms.
In heaven, everyone is rich, no one suffers poverty. St. John the Apostle likens heaven to a great city: the walls of this city of precious gems, gates of pearls, streets of purest gold and like transparent glass (Rev. 21).
On this earth, the body has many needs, demands for its sustenance, food, drink, rest. Meanwhile, it cannot always have it all, which is why we suffer hunger thirst, fatigue. This year (it was 1914) especially, many find themselves without a piece of bread, many mothers and fathers with heart wrenching grief hear their children crying for food, and even here with not a spoonful of food at home. In heaven it is completely different. The Scriptures say that there: “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Rev 7, 16-17). There is no need for any sustenance in heaven, neither for the soul nor for the body. Moreover, the soul does not use any food in this world, and our body, if it ever gets into heaven, will be spiritual, refined, immortal, so without it will be able to be satisfied any food.
There is also no arduous work in heaven, no diseases, no death. St. John writes: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away”. (Rev 21,4). Here on earth, one suffers from illness, another suffers harm from neighbors, and finally another suffers humiliation and derision from his own wife or children. “In a heavenly homeland,” writes a scholar (Hugo?) – there is life without death, youth without old age, health without weakness, rest without work, joy without sorrow, agreement without dispute, light without darkness, beauty without diminishing, delight without bitterness …, in a word, an ocean of happiness.”
There are so many difficulties on earth because people sin. Sins are the cause of war. Through sin, one another lose their good name, it exposes them to shame and disgrace. Also, from sin come all anger, quarrels and arguments. “This is not in heaven, for there is no sin there,” says St. Augustine – neither temptations nor lusts, there is no punishment or uncertainties.” When someone is doing well and is happy, there are soon to be hostile people, envious, jealous of their joy. So, no one can say that they are doing well in this world, because even if it were so, they the are not entirely happy, because they are envied by others.
There is no jealousy in heaven, although there one’s happiness differs from the other depending on their merits, but there is no jealousy. St. Francis de Sales made this comparison: Two children get a dress from the same material from their father, but the younger child does not envy the older one, because she has a larger dress, and rightly so because the larger one would not be useful to her for anything. It is the same in heaven, where everyone loves each other and everyone is satisfied with their happiness, and does not desire greater joy than the other, because he knows that that joy is inappropriate for him. Earthly happiness is too fragile. It can easily be lost, but whoever gets to heaven no longer has to fear being expelled from there someday. “The righteous will enter into eternal life,” says the Lord Jesus, so they will live forever in happiness, and no one can take away their joy. Great men, princes and kings pay a lifetime of wages to those who have served them for many years, and even reward them when they have ceased to serve them. The Lord God, the most high of all kings, pays even more generously – he gives an eternal reward.
“Lord, it is good for us to be here,” says St. Peter to the Lord Jesus on Mount Tabor. How much more rightly can the blessed in heaven cry out to God: “Lord, it is good for us to be here.” It must be very good in heaven, for there is neither poverty nor hunger, nor any suffering, nor death, nor jealousy, nor anxiety or fear.
How greatly then should we crave heaven! When we have pondered how good it is in heaven, we should not follow earthly pleasures. Thus, one should distain every sinful pleasure, for in every sinful pleasure there will be only a drop of sweetness, and a whole river of poison. Every sin is like a forbidden fruit in paradise, it seems nice, but as soon as you taste it, a guilty conscience, shame and worries come.
So happy is this soul, who avoids the bitter delights of the world, and longs for heaven, where there is no trace of evil but goodness and happiness itself.
A wealthy Englishman promised the famous painter a great reward if he painted the sun. The painter took a long time to think about it, selected various paints and finally painted the sun. But when the painter brought the painting to this rich man, he said to him, “This is the sun? What did you paint? It’s not like the sun in the sky at all. I can look straight at your sun, but if I looked at the sun in the sky, I would be blinded. Paint again, but brighter, let the canvas shine as it does in the sky.” The painter knew the eccentricity of the man, so he said to him, “Well, lord, I will paint it, but I must soak my brush in sunlight, if you give me such paint, I will paint you the real sun. But in the meantime, unfortunately, you need to accept this painting, painted with earthly paints.
Just as this painter could not paint the sun, so I cannot describe what is in heaven. Any human description of heaven can similarly be compared to the sun being painted. For you must be in heaven to say what is there.
What is in heaven? What makes angels and saints happy? We can only have an indistinct idea of this, when we look at how beautiful the earth is in the summer, the brightness, serene day, flowers blooming in meadows, flourishing gardens and forests. How beautiful it must be in heaven! The Saints will not need the light of candles or the sun: “And night shall be no more; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they shall reign for ever and ever.” (Rev 22, 5). Moreover, Jesus himself says, “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” (Mt 13, 43). The bodies of the saints will be extremely beautiful, and they will be able to move quickly and easily moving from one place to another. The ears which here on earth hear so many languages and grumblings will be filled, beyond any notion, with the beautiful and soothing singing of angels, and the blissful smell of holiness will surround everyone as the air surrounds us. And so writes St. John in Revelation: “After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying, “Alleluia! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God,” (Rev 19, 1), and the sound was like the voice of a multitude and the holy city was filled with the aroma of the most precious flowers.
From this beauty that we see on earth we can have some notion of heaven, but this concept is very inaccurate and weak. If, for example, cows could think, they would probably think that their master must eat particularly good hay, because it looks so good. Often, we exiles of this earth determine heavenly happiness on the basis of earthly happiness and pleasure, and sometimes we are like this cow, the delight we see in very good hay. Meanwhile, there is a great difference between earthly and heavenly happiness, as well as between human food and hay. Saint Paul the Apostle, who had the revelation of eternal happiness, could not explain it to the people: “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor. 2, 9).
Happiness in heaven is all the greater because we will not be there alone, but in the company of the angels and saints. There we will find those dear to us who have passed on before us. Parents will meet there their child, whom they now bitterly mourn on earth, children will connect with their parents, the husband will find his wife, a friend of a friend.
In this world, although we live among the best and most beloved friends and family, we will never, without exception find perfect love, for we all have our flaws that weaken and dampen our love for one another. There are no defects or imperfections in heaven, which is why everyone always loves each other fervently, and as a certain holy monk said, in our heavenly homeland even complete strangers love each other more than parents tenderly love their children.
Everything I have said so far does not truly present heaven. The essence of the happiness of the blessed is contained, according to St. John. Alphonse in this one short word: God. I experience great pleasure at times looking at creation, for that which will be we must look to its Creator. If it is enjoyable to interact with good and pleasant people, how much more enjoyable it will be in the company of the best, and most holy Father, our God. Think of any pleasures and enjoyments, and you will find each to some degree infinite perfection. God is an ocean of happiness. So, we will be able, in the words of the sacred scriptures, to delight in the generosity of God’s house, the generosity of heaven, and to be immersed into streams of delight. God introduces us to heaven with the words he once said to Abraham, “I am you’re your shield and your great reward”, and gives us possession of this forever.