Heaven on Earth

My friend looked radiant as I entered the hospital room. “I found a way to be in heaven while living on earth!” she exclaimed. My open mouth and wide-eyed look gave away my shock; where was the depressed spirit, the monotone voice I heard only days ago, indicating that Carol had given up? She leafed through the book on her bedside table, while paraphrasing what she had read under the heading A little secret for those afraid of dying: “There are three ways to get to heaven without dying: to live fully in the present moment, since in heaven there is no time limit; to allow everything in life to move you and fill you with love, since the measure of love given and received is the only thing we get to take with us in death; and to give away those things that make for treasures in heaven like forgiveness, comfort, blessings, faith, hope and love.”

These words were as much a revelation to me as they were to my friend. For what I heard was another way of saying that the kingdom of God is truly here and now. We do not have to wait until after death to enjoy this kingdom. The more in fact we learn to live in faith, hope and love in this life, the more familiar heaven will feel, the more prepared we will be to meet God face to face. Treasures in heaven are those things we give away on earth. It is God’s greatest wish to give us the kingdom, and it is available here and now in the giving of ourselves, free of charge, without strings attached.

This new insight served as a corrective on my previous understandings that viewed heavenly blessings as “rewards” for living properly and faithfully. I still view the blessings as rewards, but not in some punitive/meritorious system imposed by God. Rather, heavenly blessings are a natural outcome of how we live our lives. If we can live as generously, as forgiving, as foolishly intense, as lovingly as God does, we will feel right at home in heaven once we get there. To the extent that we seem incapable of living and loving as God does, to that extent heaven will feel not only unfamiliar, but even hostile. If loving generously was not a part of our life on earth, then heaven can indeed feel like hell. It is not a vengeful God who chooses to punish. It is us that merely experience the natural consequence of a life filled with inadequate loving. Pope John Paul II said the same thing: ” ‘Eternal damnation’ is not attributed to God’s initiative because in his merciful love he can only desire the salvation of the beings he created. Damnation consists precisely in definitive separation from God, freely chosen by the human person and confirmed with death that seals his choice forever” (Papal Audience, July 28/1999). Seen in this light, God’s desire to honour our human freedom at all times is the fulfillment of God’s foolish loving of creation.

One summer evening a parish priest in a small town in B.C. heard a knock on his door. A young man and his wife were stranded. They had taken a week’s holiday with their old van, camping in the Rockies. Just before heading home to Calgary, their van was robbed – purse, wallet, stereo, belongings – all gone. They filed a police report. They tried to call a brother and a mother in Calgary; everyone was on holidays. They had no way to get home. The priest gave them enough money to make it to Calgary. He gave it to them with the request that when they could pay back, they do so by turning around and giving it to someone else in need. With grateful hearts, they promised they would even increase the amount. Deeply moved and immensely grateful, echoes of the movie Pay it Forward streamed through the couple’s minds and hearts.

This is how treasures in heaven multiply. This is how we train our heart to love as fully as God does. My friend in her hospital bed took this lesson seriously. So did the parish priest in B.C. and the young couple at the receiving end of his generosity. Treasures in heaven, enjoyed while on earth.

It’s heaven all the way to heaven; it’s hell all the way to hell. ~ St. Catherine of Siena & Richard Rohr, OFM

Heaven is a choice we make, not a place we find. ~ Wayne Dyer

It’s not hard, is it?

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