The Thought of Heaven

From The Sinner’s Guide
By Venerable Louis de Granada

The Thought of Heaven, the Third of the Four Last Things

A motive no less powerful than those we have enumerated is the thought of Heaven. This is the reward of virtue, and in it we must distinguish two things: the excellence and beauty of the abode promised us, which is no other than the empyreal heavens, and the perfection and beauty of the Sovereign King who reigns there with His elect.

But though no tongue can fully express the splendor and riches of the heavenly kingdom, we will endeavor to describe its beauty as well as our limited capacities will allow. Let us, therefore, first consider the grand end for which it was created, which will enable us to conceive some idea of its magnificence.

God created it to manifest His glory. Though “the Lord hath made all things for himself,” (Prov. 16:4) yet this is particularly true of Heaven, for it is there that His glory and power are most resplendent. We are told in Scripture that Assuerus, whose kingdom included one hundred twenty-seven provinces, gave a great feast, which lasted one hundred eighty days, for the purpose of manifesting his splendor and power. So the Sovereign King of the universe is pleased to celebrate a magnificent feast, which continues, not for one hundred eighty days only, but for all eternity, to manifest the magnificence of His bounty, His power, His riches, His goodness.

It is of this feast that the prophet speaks when he tells us, “The Lord of hosts shall make unto all people in this mountain a feast of fat things, a feast of wine, of fat things full of marrow, of wine purified from the lees.” (Is. 25:6). By this we are to understand that He will lavish upon His elect all the riches of the heavenly country and inebriate them with unutterable delights. Since this feast is prepared to manifest the greatness of God’s glory, which is infinite, what must be the magnificence of this feast and the variety and splendor of the riches He displays to the eyes of His elect?

We will better appreciate the grandeur of Heaven if we consider the infinite power and boundless riches of God Himself. His power is so great that with a single word He created this vast universe, and with a single word He could again reduce it to its original nothingness. A single expression of His will would suffice to create millions of worlds as beautiful as ours, and to destroy them in one instant.

Moreover, His power is exercised without effort or exertion; it costs Him no more to create the most sublime seraphim than to create the smallest insect. With Him, to will is to accomplish. Therefore, if the power of the King who calls us to His kingdom be so great; if such be the glory of His holy Name; if His desire to manifest and communicate this glory be so great, what must be the splendor of the abode where He wills to display, in its fullness, His divine magnificence?

Nothing can be wanting to its perfection, for its Author is the Source of all riches, all power, and all wisdom. What must be the beauty of that creation in the formation of which are combined the almighty power of the Father, the infinite wisdom of the Son, the inexhaustible goodness of the Holy Spirit?

Another consideration no less striking is that God has prepared this magnificence not only for His glory, but for the glory of His elect. “Whosoever shall glorify me, him will I glorify.” (1Kg. 2:30). “Thou hast subjected all things under his feet,” cries out the psalmist (Ps. 8:8); and this we see verified in the most striking manner among the saints. Witness Josue, whose word arrests the sun in its course, thus showing us, as the Scripture says, “God obeying the voice of man.” (Jos. 10:14). Consider the prophet Isaias bidding King Ezechias choose whether he will have the sun go forward or backward in its course, for it was in the power of God’s servant to cause either. (4Kg. 20:9).

Behold Elias closing the heavens, so that there was no rain but at his will and prayer. And not only during life, but even after death, God continues to honor the mortal remains of His elect; for do we not read in Scripture that a dead body which was thrown by highwaymen into the tomb of Eliseus was brought to life by contact with the bones of the prophet? (4Kg. 13:21). Did not God also honor in a marvelous manner the body of St. Clement? On the day that this generous defender of the Faith suffered, the sea was opened for a distance of three miles to allow the people to pass to the place of martyrdom to venerate the sacred remains. Is it not from a like motive that the Church has instituted a feast in honor of St. Peter’s chains, to show us how God wills to honor the bodies of His servants, since we are to reverence their very chains?

A still more marvelous proof of this was the power of healing the sick communicated to the shadow of the same Apostle. Oh! Admirable goodness! God confers upon His Apostle a power which He Himself did not exercise. Of St. Peter alone is this related. But if God be pleased thus to honor the saints on earth, though it is but a place of toil and labor, who can tell the glory which He has reserved for them in His kingdom, where He wills to honor them, and through them to glorify Himself?

The Holy Scriptures teach us also with what liberality God rewards the services we render Him. We are told that when Abraham was about to sacrifice his son in obedience to God’s command, an angel of the Lord appeared to him and said, “By my own self have I sworn, saith the Lord: because thou hast done this thing, and hast not spared thy only begotten son for my sake, I will bless thee, and I will multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is by the sea shore; thy seed shall possess the gates of their enemies. And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because thou hast obeyed my voice.” (Gen. 22:16-18). Was not this a reward befitting such a Master? God is sovereign in His rewards, as well as in His punishments.

We read also that David, reflecting one night that while he dwelt in a house of cedar, the Ark of the Covenant was kept in a poor tent, resolved to build it a more fitting habitation; and the next day the Lord sent the prophet Nathan to promise, in His name, the following magnificent reward: Because thou hast thought of building me a house, I swear to thee that I will build one for thee and thy posterity which shall have no end, nor will I ever remove my mercies from it. (Cf. 2Kg. 7). We see how faithfully His promise was fulfilled, for the kingdom of Israel was governed by the princes of the house of David until the coming of the Messias, who from that time has reigned, and shall reign for all eternity.

Heaven, then, is that superabundant reward which the faithful will receive for their good works. It is the manifestation of the Divine munificence, and of its greatness and glory we ought to have a lively appreciation. Another consideration which will help us to form some idea of the eternal beatitude promised us is the price which God, who is so liberal, required for it. After we had forfeited Heaven by sin, God, who is so rich and magnificent in His rewards, would restore it to us only at the price of the Blood of His Divine Son. The death of Christ, therefore, gave us life; His sorrows won for us eternal joy; and, that we might enter into the ranks of the celestial choirs, He bore the ignominy of crucifixion between two thieves.

Who, then, can sufficiently value that happiness to obtain which God shed the last drop of His Blood, was bound with ignominious fetters, overwhelmed with outrages, bruised with blows, and nailed to a cross? But besides all these, God asks on our part all that can be required of man. He tells us that we must take up our cross and follow Him; that if our right eye offend us we must pluck it out; that we must renounce father and mother, and every creature that is an obstacle to the Divine will. And after we have faithfully complied with His commands, the Sovereign Remunerator still tells us that the enjoyment of Heaven is a gratuitous gift. “I am Alpha and Omega; the beginning and the end,” He says by the mouth of St. John (Apoc. 21:6); “to him that thirsteth, I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely.”

Since God so liberally bestows His gifts upon the sinner as well as the just in this life, what must be the inexhaustible riches reserved for the just in the life to come? If He be so bountiful in His gratuitous gifts, how munificent will He be in His rewards?

It may further help us to conceive a faint image of this eternal glory to consider the nobility and grandeur of the empyreal Heaven, our future country. It is called in Scripture the land of the living, in contrast, doubtless, to our sad country, which may truly be called the land of the dying. But if, in this land of death inhabited by mortal beings, so much beauty and perfection are found, what must be the splendor and magnificence of that heavenly country whose inhabitants will live forever?

Cast your eyes over the world and behold the wonders and beauties with which it is filled. Observe the immensity of the blue vault of heaven; the dazzling splendor of the sun; the soft radiance of the moon and stars; the verdant beauty of the earth, with its treasures of precious metals and brilliant gems; the rich plumage of the birds; the grandeur of the mountains; the smiling beauty of the valleys; the limpid freshness of the streams; the majesty of the great rivers; the vastness of the sea, with all the wonders it contains; the beauty of the deep lakes, those eyes of the earth, reflecting on their placid bosoms the starry splendor of the heavens; the flower-enameled fields, which seem a counterpart of the starlit firmament above them. If in this land of exile we behold so much beauty to enrapture our soul, what must be the spectacle which awaits us in the haven of eternal rest?

Compare the inhabitants of the two countries, if you would have a still stronger proof of the superiority and finite grandeur of the heavenly country. This earth is the land of death; Heaven is the land of immortality. Ours is the habitation of sinners, Heaven the habitation of the just. Ours is a place of penance, an arena of combat; Heaven is the land of triumph, the throne of the victor, the “city of God.” “Glorious things are said of thee, O city of God.” (Ps. 86:3). Immeasurable is thy greatness, incomparable the beauty of thy structure. Infinite thy price; most noble thy inhabitants, sublime thy employments; most rich art thou in all good, and no evil can penetrate thy sacred walls. Great is thy Author, high the end for which thou wast created, and most noble the blessed citizens who dwell in thee.

All that we have hitherto said relates only to the accidental glory of the saints. They possess another glory incomparably superior, which theologians call the essential glory. This is the vision and possession of God Himself. For St. Augustine tells us that the reward of virtue will be God Himself, the Author of all virtue, whom we will untiringly contemplate, love, and praise for all eternity. (City of God, 22, 30). What reward could be greater than this? It is not Heaven, or earth, or any created perfection, but God, the Source of all beauty and all perfection. The blessed inhabitants of Heaven will enjoy in Him all good, each according to the degree of glory he has merited. For since God is the Author of every good that we behold in creatures, it follows that He possesses in Himself all perfection, all goodness, in an infinite degree. He possesses them, because otherwise He could not have bestowed them on creatures. He possesses them in an infinite degree, because as His Being is infinite, so also are His attributes and His perfections.

God, then, will be our sovereign beatitude and the fulfillment of all our desires. In Him we will find the perfections of all creatures exalted and transfigured. In Him we will enjoy the beauty of all the seasons – the balmy freshness of spring, the rich beauty of summer, the luxurious abundance of autumn, and the calm repose of winter. In a word, all that can delight the senses and enrapture the soul will be ours in Heaven. “In God,” says St. Bernard, “our understandings will be filled with the plenitude of light; our wills with an abundance of peace; and our memories with the joys of eternity. In this abode of all perfection, the wisdom of Solomon will appear but ignorance; the beauty of Absolom deformity; the strength of Samson weakness; the longest life of man a brief mortality; the wealth of kings but indigence.”

Why, then, O man, will you seek straws in Egypt? Why will you drink troubled waters from broken cisterns, when inexhaustible treasures, and the fountain of living water springing up into eternal life, await you in Heaven? Why will you seek vain and sensual satisfactions from creatures, when unalterable happiness may be yours? If your heart craves joy, raise it to the contemplation of that Good which contains in Itself all joys. If you are in love with this created life, consider the eternal life which awaits you above. If the beauty of creatures attracts you, live that you may one day possess the Source of all beauty, in whom are life; and strength, and glory, and immortality, and the fullness of all our desires. If you find happiness in friendship and the society of generous hearts, consider the noble beings with whom you will be united by the tenderest ties for all eternity. If your ambition seeks wealth and honors, make the treasures and the glory of Heaven the end of all your efforts. Finally, if you desire freedom from all evil and rest from all labor, in Heaven alone can your desires be gratified.

God, in the Old Law, ordained that children should be circumcised on the eighth day after birth, teaching us thereby that, on the day of the general resurrection which will follow the short space of this life, He will cut off the miseries and sufferings of those who, for love of Him, have circumcised their hearts by cutting off all the sinful affections and pleasures of this world. Now, who can conceive a happier existence than this, which is exempt from every sorrow and every infirmity?

“In Heaven,” says St. Augustine, “we shall cease to feel the trials of want or sickness. Pride or envy will never enter there. The necessity of eating or drinking will there be unknown. The desire for honors will never disturb our calm repose. Death will no longer reach body or soul, united as they will be with the Source of all life, which they will enjoy throughout a blessed immortality.” (Soliloq., 35). Consider, moreover, the glory and happiness of living in the company of the angels, contemplating the beauty of these sublime spirits; admiring the resplendent virtue of the saints, and the rewards with which the obedience of the patriarchs and the hope of the prophets have been crowned; the brilliant diadems of the martyrs, dyed with their own blood; and the dazzling whiteness of the robes with which the virgins are adorned.

But what tongue can describe the beauty and the majesty of the Sovereign Monarch who reigns in their midst? “If by daily enduring fresh torments,” says St. Augustine (Manual., 15), “and even suffering for a time the pains of Hell, we were permitted for one day to contemplate this King in all His glory and enjoy the society of His elect, surely it would be a happiness cheaply purchased.”

What, then, can we say of the happiness of possessing these joys for all eternity? Conceive, if you can, the ravishing harmony of the celestial voices chanting the words heard by St. John: “Benediction, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, honor, and power, and strength to our God for ever and ever. Amen.” (Apoc. 7:12). If the harmony of these voices will cause us such happiness, how we will rejoice at the unity that we will behold between soul and body! And this concord will be still more marked between angels and men, whilst between God and men the union will be so close that we can form no adequate idea of it. What glory, then, will it be for the creature to find himself seated at the banquet of the King of kings, partaking of His table-that is, of His honor and His glory! Oh! Enduring peace of Heaven! Oh! Unalterable joy! Oh! Entrancing harmonies! Oh! Torrents of celestial delight, why are ye not ever present to the minds of those who labor and combat on earth?

The Lamb that was Slain

From an Easter homily by Saint Melito of Sardis, bishop

The lamb that was slain has delivered us from death and given us life

There was much proclaimed by the prophets about the mystery of the Passover: that mystery is Christ, and to him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

For the sake of suffering humanity he came down from heaven to earth, clothed himself in that humanity in the Virgin’s womb, and was born a man. Having then a body capable of suffering, he took the pain of fallen man upon himself; he triumphed over the diseases of soul and body that were its cause, and by his Spirit, which was incapable of dying, he dealt man’s destroyer, death, a fatal blow.

He was led forth like a lamb; he was slaughtered like a sheep. He ransomed us from our servitude to the world, as he had ransomed Israel from the land of Egypt; he freed us from our slavery to the devil, as he had freed Israel from the hand of Pharaoh. He sealed our souls with his own Spirit, and the members of our body with his own blood.

He is the One who covered death with shame and cast the devil into mourning, as Moses cast Pharaoh into mourning. He is the One who smote sin and robbed iniquity of offspring. He is the One who brought us out of slavery into freedom, out of darkness into light, out of death into life, out of tyranny into an eternal kingdom; who made us a new priesthood, a people chosen to be his own for ever. He is the Passover that is our salvation.

It is he who endured every kind of suffering in all those who foreshadowed him. In Abel he was slain, in Isaac bound, in Jacob exiled, in Joseph sold, in Moses exposed to die. He was sacrificed in the Passover lamb, persecuted in David, dishonored in the prophets.

It is he who was made man of the Virgin, he who was hung on the tree; it is he who was buried in the earth, raised from the dead, and taken up to the heights of heaven. He is the mute lamb, the slain lamb, the lamb born of Mary, the fair ewe. He was seized from the flock, dragged off to be slaughtered, sacrificed in the evening, and buried at night. On the tree no bone of his was broken; in the earth his body knew no decay. He is the One who rose from the dead, and who raised man from the depths of the tomb.

Hold Fast to God, the One True Good

From the treatise on Flight from the World by Saint Ambrose, bishop

Hold fast to God, the one true good

Where a man’s heart is, there is his treasure also. God is not accustomed to refusing a good gift to those who ask for one. Since he is good, and especially to those who are faithful to him, let us hold fast to him with all our soul, our heart, our strength, and so enjoy his light and see his glory and possess the grace of supernatural joy. Let us reach out with our hearts to possess that good, let us exist in it and live in it, let us hold fast to it, that good which is beyond all we can know or see and is marked by perpetual peace and tranquillity, a peace which is beyond all we can know or understand.

This is the good that permeates creation. In it we all live, on it we all depend. It has nothing above it; it is divine. No one is good but God alone. What is good is therefore divine, what is divine is therefore good. Scripture says: When you open your hand all things will be filled with goodness. It is through God’s goodness that all that is truly good is given us, and in it there is no admixture of evil.

These good things are promised by Scripture to those who are faithful: The good things of the land will be your food.

We have died with Christ. We carry about in our bodies the sign of his death, so that the living Christ may also be revealed in us. The life we live is not now our ordinary life but the life of Christ: a life of sinlessness, of chastity, of simplicity and every other virtue. We have risen with Christ. Let us live in Christ, let us ascend in Christ, so that the serpent may not have the power here below to wound us in the heel.

Let us take refuge from this world. You can do this in spirit, even if you are kept here in the body. You can at the same time be here and present to the Lord. Your soul must hold fast to him, you must follow after him in your thoughts, you must tread his ways by faith, not in outward show. You must take refuge in him. He is your refuge and your strength. David addresses him in these words: I fled to you for refuge, and I was not disappointed.

Since God is our refuge, God who is in heaven and above the heavens, we must take refuge from this world in that place where there is peace, where there is rest from toil, where we can celebrate the great sabbath, as Moses said: The sabbaths of the land will provide you with food. To rest in the Lord and to see his joy is like a banquet, and full of gladness and tranquillity.

Let us take refuge like deer beside the fountain of waters. Let our soul thirst, as David thirsted, for the fountain. What is that fountain? Listen to David: With you is the fountain of life. Let my soul say to this fountain: When shall I come and see you face to face? For the fountain is God himself.

The passion of the Whole Body of Christ

From a commentary on the psalms by Saint Augustine, bishop

The passion of the whole body of Christ

Lord, I have cried to you, hear me. This is a prayer we can all say. This is not my prayer, but that of the whole Christ. Rather, it is said in the name of his body. When Christ was on earth he prayed in his human nature, and prayed to the Father in the name of his body, and when he prayed drops of blood flowed from his whole body. So it is written in the Gospel: Jesus prayed with earnest prayer, and sweated blood. What is this blood streaming from his whole body but the martyrdom of the whole Church?

Lord, I have cried to you, hear me; listen to the sound of my prayer, when I call upon you. Did you imagine that crying was over when you said: I have cried to you? You have cried out, but do not as yet feel free from care. If anguish is at an end, crying is at an end; but if the Church, the body of Christ, must suffer anguish until the end of time, it must not say only: I have cried to you, hear me; it must also say: Listen to the sound of my prayer, when I call upon you.

Let my prayer rise like incense in your sight; let the raising of my hands be an evening sacrifice.

This is generally understood of Christ, the head, as every Christian acknowledges. When day was fading into evening, the Lord laid down his life on the cross, to take it up again; he did not lose his life against his will. Here, too, we are symbolized. What part of him hung on the cross if not the part he had received from us? How could God the Father ever cast off and abandon his only Son, who is indeed one God with him? Yet Christ, nailing our weakness to the cross (where, as the Apostle says: Our old nature was nailed to the cross with him), cried out with the very voice of humanity: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

The evening sacrifice is then the passion of the Lord, the cross of the Lord, the oblation of the victim that brings salvation, the holocaust acceptable to God. In his resurrection he made this evening sacrifice a morning sacrifice. Prayer offered in holiness from a faithful heart rises like incense from a holy altar. Nothing is more fragrant than the fragrance of the Lord. May all who believe share in this fragrance.

Therefore, our old nature, in the words of the Apostle, was nailed to the cross with him, in order, as he says, to destroy our sinful body, so that we may be slaves to sin no longer.

Jesus Christ – Eternal Intercessor

From a commentary on the psalms by Saint Augustine, bishop

Jesus Christ prays for us and in us and is the object of our prayers

God could give no greater gift to men than to make his Word, through whom he created all things, their head and to join them to him as his members, so that the Word might be both Son of God and son of man, one God with the Father, and one man with all men. The result is that when we speak with God in prayer we do not separate the Son from him, and when the body of the Son prays it does not separate its head from itself: it is the one Saviour of his body, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who prays for us and in us and is himself the object of our prayers.
He prays for us as our priest, he prays in us as our head, he is the object of our prayers as our God.
Let us then recognise both our voice in his, and his voice in ours. When something is said, especially in prophecy, about the Lord Jesus Christ that seems to belong to a condition of lowliness unworthy of God, we must not hesitate to ascribe this condition to one who did not hesitate to unite himself with us. Every creature is his servant, for it was through him that every creature came to be.
We contemplate his glory and divinity when we listen to these words: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him nothing was made. Here we gaze on the divinity of the Son of God, something supremely great and surpassing all the greatness of his creatures. Yet in other parts of Scripture we hear him as one sighing, praying, giving praise and thanks.
We hesitate to attribute these words to him because our minds are slow to come down to his humble level when we have just been contemplating him in his divinity. It is as though we were doing him an injustice in acknowledging in a man the words of one with whom we spoke when we prayed to God. We are usually at a loss and try to change the meaning. Yet our minds find nothing in Scripture that does not go back to him, nothing that will allow us to stray from him.
Our thoughts must then be awakened to keep their vigil of faith. We must realise that the one whom we were contemplating a short time before in his nature as God took to himself the nature of a servant; he was made in the likeness of men and found to be a man like others; he humbled himself by being obedient even to accepting death; as he hung on the cross he made the psalmist’s words his own: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
We pray to him as God, he prays for us as a servant. In the first case he is the Creator, in the second a creature. Himself unchanged, he took to himself our created nature in order to change it, and made us one man with himself, head and body. We pray then to him, through him, in him, and we speak along with him and he along with us.

When We Were Dead In Sin

From the book On the Holy Spirit by Saint Basil, bishop

By one death and resurrection the world was saved

When mankind was estranged from him by disobedience, God our Saviour made a plan for raising us from our fall and restoring us to friendship with himself. According to this plan Christ came in the flesh, he showed us the gospel way of life, he suffered, died on the cross, was buried and rose from the dead. He did this so that we could be saved by imitation of him, and recover our original status as sons of God by adoption. Continue reading

Tears For the Feet of Jesus

Drop, drop, slow tears, and bathe those beauteous feet,
which brought from heaven the news and Prince of Peace.

Cease not, wet eyes, his mercies to entreat;
to cry for vengeance sin doth never cease.

In your deep floods drown all my faults and fears;
nor let his eye see sin, but through my tears.

Words: Phineas Fletcher (1582-1650)