Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A
Is 55:6-9, Ps 145:2-3, 8-9, 17-18, Phil 1:20c-24, 27a, Mt 20:1-16a
During the Spanish Civil War, which took place from 1936 through 1939, thirteen bishops, over four thousand priests, two thousand male religious, three hundred sisters, and thousands upon thousands of lay people were martyred. Among them, we have Blessed Florentino Asensio Barroso, who was then bishop of the diocese of Barbastro. He hadn’t even been bishop there five months when he was imprisoned, tortured, and killed for his faith. As they led him to the place where they would kill him, one of his captors asked, mockingly, if he knew where he was going. Blessed Florentino calmly replied, “I’m going to heaven.” “I’m going to heaven.”
Today’s readings all give us a glimpse into the reward that awaits us if we remain faithful to God’s commandments. Through the prophet Isaiah, we’re told God is waiting for us to call on His mercy. He wants to forgive us, and the reward He has for us far exceeds what we can fully understand. Likewise, we all know people who are afraid of dying, and yet in his letter Saint Paul tells us that he “long[s] to depart this life and be with Christ, for that is far better.” In the Gospel parable, Jesus tells us that the reward of heaven requires work; it requires effort on our part. In His mercy, God generously offers that reward even to those who come late to a life of holiness.
Thinking about heaven not only encourages us to try with all our hearts and souls to reach it, but it also helps us to overcome the difficulties and challenges that we face in this life. Saint Joseph Cafasso used to say, “O Heaven, whoever thinks on you will never suffer from weariness!” So then, let’s consider just two points: first, what heaven is, and, second, how it should affect my daily life. What is heaven, and how does it affect me in my daily routine?
Regarding the first, the Catechism tells us that “Those who die in God’s grace and friendship and are perfectly purified live forever with Christ. They are like God for ever, for they ‘see Him as He is,’ face to face.” Those phrases, “as He is” and “face to face” are taken from the Bible, but we shouldn’t understand them as though it were the sort of seeing I do now, with my physical eyes. Rather, it’s a seeing with my mind, as, for example, when we say, “Oh, I see!” because we’ve understood something. It is a vision of God’s essence, and seeing it makes us so happy that it’s called the beatific vision. In her diary, Saint Faustina describes the happiness of heaven in a vision she had. She writes: “Today I was in heaven, in spirit, and I saw its unconceivable beauties and the happiness that awaits us after death. I saw how all creatures give ceaseless praise and glory to God. I saw how great is happiness in God, which spreads to all creatures, making them happy; and then all the glory and praise which springs from this happiness returns to its source; and they enter into the depths of God, contemplating the inner life of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, whom they will never comprehend or fathom. This source of happiness is unchanging in its essence, but it is always new, gushing forth happiness for all creatures.”
The Catechism continues saying: “This perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity – this communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed – is called ‘heaven.’ Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness.” Think of those words: the fulfillment of the deepest human longings, to be supremely happy, without the possibility of losing that happiness, to be free from all anxiety and sadness. Here on earth, we know that any happiness or pleasure we experience is passing; in heaven, though, the happiness is permanent, and at each moment it becomes deeper and greater. At the end of one of his novels, the English author C. S. Lewis describes the happiness of those heaven. He says: “We can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world . . . had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
The Catechism continues: “This mystery of blessed communion with God and all who are in Christ is beyond all understanding and description. Scripture speaks of it in images: life, light, peace, wedding feast, wine of the kingdom, the Father’s house, the heavenly Jerusalem, paradise: ‘no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.’”
If heaven is a place of such great happiness, so much joy and peace, then it has to affect my daily life, which is our second point. We can point out three effects: conversion, hope, and confidence. First, if I really believe in heaven, and I really think it’s worthwhile to get there, I must change my life. I have to leave behind sin and everything that leads me to sin, and I must begin to follow God’s ways. Saint Ignatius of Loyola gives us the guiding principle of our lives at the beginning of the Spiritual Exercises. He writes: “Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul. And the other things on the face of the earth are created for man and that they may help him in obtaining the end for which he is created. From this it follows that man is to use them as much as they help him on to his end, and ought to rid himself of them so far as they hinder him as to it.” We can ask ourselves: what is there in my life that doesn’t let me follow God? What is there that won’t help me get to heaven?
Another important effect that heaven has on my life is that it gives me hope. If I’m really convinced that this world is not the end of everything, then I have the hope that whatever happens here, really isn’t that important. The things that sometimes fill us with anxiety, anger, or sadness, really aren’t that great or important. The martyrs, like Blessed Florentino, could give their lives because they were convinced of the truth of heaven. As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote: “The one who has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of a new life.”
Lastly, thinking of heaven gives us confidence in God who, as a good father, has arranged everything for our good. Everything is done or permitted for our eternal salvation: Saint Edith Stein speaks of this in her masterpiece when she writes: “what did not lie in my plan lay in God’s plans. And the more often such things happen to me the more lively becomes in me the conviction of my faith that — from God’s point of view — nothing is accidental, that my entire life, even in the most minute details, was pre-designed in the plans of divine providence and is thus for the all-seeing eye of God a perfect coherence of meaning. From God’s point of view — nothing is accidental, my entire life, even in the most minute details, was pre-designed in the plans of divine providence and is thus for the all-seeing eye of God a perfect coherence of meaning. Once I begin to realize this, my heart rejoices in anticipation of the light of glory in whose sheen this coherence of meaning will be fully unveiled to me.” That light of glory is heaven, when all will be made bright and clear.
Today, then, let us ask, through the intercession of Mary, Queen of Heaven, for the grace to truly set our sights on heaven, and, in this way, obtain the graces of conversion, hope, and confidence.