This Sunday Tells Us Christmas Is Heaven
If you want to know what heaven is like, look at Christmas.
Heaven, the Catechism tells us, is a “communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed” (1024).
What scene does that remind you of? It’s the Christmas scene: Mary, the angels and those who gather around the Christ child. At Christmas, that includes us and our loved ones.
“Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness,” adds the Catechism (1024).
What time of the year comes closes to that? When we are with our family, focused on God, and in the peak of our expressions of generosity to one another — at Christmas.
Pope Benedict’s last encyclical was about hope, and so it was also about heaven. It’s helpful to re-read his explanations of heaven as we sit beside the crèche, in the glow of the Christmas tree.
First: Heaven is centered on God — and is full of joy.
Benedict writes in Spe Salve that if we think of eternity as boring — as the same old thing over and over — we’re thinking of it wrong. It isn’t “an unending succession of days in the calendar, but something more like the supreme moment of satisfaction, in which totality embraces us and we embrace totality.”
He explains: “ It would be like plunging into the ocean of infinite love, a moment in which time — the before and after — no longer exists. We can only attempt to grasp the idea that such a moment is life in the full sense, a plunging ever anew into the vastness of being, in which we are simply overwhelmed with joy.”
Christmas is perhaps the best approximation of that experience available on earth. At Christmas joy beautifully blends nostalgia from the past, delight for the present and hope for the future into one day. When we sit beside the Christmas tree, we can feel the us from our childhood and the us from our old age there with us. Heaven will be a heightened, purer version of the same thing as time collapses into a bright unity.
Second: Heaven is never something we can earn.
Wrote Pope Benedict: “We cannot — to use the classical expression — ‘merit’ heaven through our works. Heaven is always more than we could merit, just as being loved is never something ‘merited,’ but always a gift.”
We experience Christmas the same way: It is an unmerited explosion of joy into our lives. It isn’t like a graduation party, that comes after hard work. It isn’t even like Easter, that Our Lord earned for us on Good Friday. Christmas comes whether we deserve it or not. For some, this means that we get Christmas presents that we didn’t earn. But for everyone, the Christ child comes as a gift we didn’t earn, the beauty and simplicity of Christmas give us the strong sense that there really is such a thing as love in the world, a love that gives without demanding that we prove we are “worth it.”
Third: Heaven starts now.
Pope Benedict said that the communion with God that we look forward to in the future starts now.
“Faith is not merely a personal reaching out towards things to come that are still totally absent: it gives us something. It gives us even now something of the reality we are waiting for. … Faith draws the future into the present, so that it is no longer simply a ‘not yet’. The fact that this future exists changes the present; the present is touched by the future reality, and thus the things of the future spill over into those of the present and those of the present into those of the future.”
If we live our Christmas as an encounter with Christ — if we really and truly and have faith —then the “heaven” we sense at Christmas can truly be in our soul always.
So this Christmas, enjoy the joys of heaven — and make the kind of conscious commitment to faith, hope and love for Christ that will make the joy last all year … and forever.
Photo: Douglas Scortegagna, Flickr Creative Commons
The Gregorian Institute is Benedictine College’s initiative to promote Catholic identity in public life by equipping leaders (the Gregorian speech digest), training leaders (the Gregorian Fellows), defending the faith (the Memorare Army for Religious Freedom), and celebrating Catholic identity (the Catholic Hall of Fame).