If you dig in a dry and barren spot, and happen to strike a vein of living water, it bubbles up, overflows, and moistens the surrounding earth, clothing it with beautiful verdure and smiling flowers. So it is in the resurrection. The life which had been concentrated in the soul alone, overflows to the body, giving to it life, beauty, and glory, and causing it to thrill with inexpressible pleasure. The Beatific Vision, which was the essential happiness of the soul before the resurrection, is now the essential happiness of man.
In our meditations on the life of Christ, we make ourselves present to the mysteries we are contemplating. We do not look upon them as past, but as actually taking place under our eyes. Thus we see Jesus lying in a manger; we see Him flying into Egypt, disputing with the doctors in the temple; we see Him laboring, preaching, and dying upon the cross. We shall endeavor to do the same in our meditations on the life of the blessed.
Let us, then, transport ourselves in spirit to that great day, which St. John saw, when a mighty angel, coming down from heaven, stood upon the land and sea, and, lifting up his hand on high, swore by Him who liveth forever and ever, that "time should be no more." Then, says St. John, "I saw the dead, great and small, standing in the presence of the throne, and the books were opened, and the dead were judged by those things which were written in the books.... And I heard a great voice from the throne, saying: Behold the tabernacle of God with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people; and God himself shall be their God. And He that sat upon the throne said: Behold I make all things new."*
* Apoc. xx.
Here is a new order of things, in a new world -- a world of beauty and perfection inconceivably greater than the one wherein we now live. This is the world in which we are to live the life of the blessed. In this chapter, we shall examine five of its most prominent attributes.
1. First, it is a life of peace. When Jesus was born, the angels sang: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace to men of good will." And when He arose from the dead, his first words to the Apostles were: "Peace be to you." But, though the peace He wished and gave was great; it was not, and, in the existing order of things, could not be perfect. For they still had to battle against the world, the devil, and the flesh. But in heaven that peace is perfect, because it flows immediately from the bosom of God himself. Besides, none of those things which in this world disturb our peace, can ever enter the kingdom of peace.
We now have perfect peace with God, of whose love for us we no longer doubt, as we may have often done when on earth. We also have peace with ourselves; for those unruly passions which formerly disturbed our peace, no longer exist in our glorified bodies. We enjoy perfect peace with our neighbor; for conflicting interests, envies, and jealousies, which gave rise to dissensions and enmities, have not found and never will find their way into heaven. We also have peace from the devil, who no longer "goeth about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour." He has found no admittance into the kingdom of peace. We also have peace from our past life; for the sins which so often made us tremble, are washed away in the blood of Jesus, and are, therefore, no longer a source of trouble. The remembrance of them rather intensifies our love for the God of mercy and therefore increases our happiness. We now, also, have peace from our future. That awful future was formerly shrouded in impenetrable darkness, and often filled us with gloomy forebodings. But now the judgment is over; we have heard the consoling sentence: "Come ye, blessed of my Father, possess the kingdom prepared for you, from the foundation of the world." We now gaze undismayed into that bright outspread eternity, wherein we see nothing that can ever disturb our peace. The wish and prayer of St. Paul, expressed to the first Christians, is now completely fulfilled in us: "And the peace of God which surpasseth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus."*
* Phil. iv.7.
This, then, is the first feature of heavenly life, and, as is evident, this peace is absolutely necessary to enjoy the life itself, and whatever else of happiness is in store for the children of God.
2. The life of heaven is one of rest. St. John says: "And I heard a voice from heaven, saying to me, Write: Blessed are they that die in the Lord. From henceforth now, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors."* This is one of the most captivating features of heavenly life for the poor, and for all others who labored much in this world. It also gives the most exquisite consolation to those who, on account of peculiar difficulties in the practice of virtue, have been fatigued and wearied almost unto death. Their whole spiritual life was one of continual labor and struggle, which at times so disheartened them, that they felt strongly tempted to give up all further attempt at Christian perfection, and to seek consolation and rest in the pleasures of this world. Oh, how happy they now are! How grateful to God, who gave them the grace of final perseverance! They now enter into their rest, which shall never more be disturbed by toil or struggle. They now live a life of everlasting rest, though not one of inactivity. For, as we have already seen, the life of heaven is not one of inactivity, but one in which every energy of mind and body has its full and free action. As our life in heaven is a participation of the life of God himself, it must resemble that Divine Life, which, while it is ineffable rest, is ever active and operative in the creation, conservation, and government, not only of our own world, but of those millions of other worlds that shine above our heads. Nevertheless, this continual exercise of our manifold faculties in heaven, does not, as in this world, generate fatigue, weariness, or disgust; but is the never-failing source of the highest and most rational pleasure.
* Apoc. xiv.
What a consoling thought this is for the poor! They labor much, and for scanty wages, which, in many instances, scarcely suffice to keep themselves and families from starvation. What a consolation also for persons who have devoted themselves to God in religious communities! By their vows they became poor for Christ's sake, and, like Him, they labored much. The wear and tear of the religious life deprived many of their health and strength; and yet they continue to labor as if they were in full vigor. Their day of rest has come at last. Their beloved Spouse has called them to himself, that they might rest from their labors. The last words of the Church over them is a solemn prayer for that heavenly rest: "Eternal rest give unto them, O Lord. And let everlasting light shine upon them. May they rest in peace." Here is the end of all labor, struggle, and fatigue. Here is the beginning of a life of eternal, undisturbed repose.
3. The life of heaven is also one of intellectual pleasure. We saw, in a former chapter, that man's intellect is filled to overflowing with all knowledge in the vision of God. We must now say a few words on the exquisite and pure pleasures which this knowledge produces.
Intellectual pleasures are, perhaps, the hast generally known of all those which our nature can enjoy. For the great majority of the human race is made up of the poor, who are compelled to spend their lives in toiling for food and raiment. They are, in consequence, unable to develop their mental faculties and to enjoy high intellectual pleasures. And yet these pleasures are the highest, the most rational and satisfying which man can enjoy; because they are produced by the exercise of the intellect, which is the noblest faculty of the soul.
Men of highly cultivated minds, such as theologians, philosophers, astronomers, mathematicians, and literary men, separate themselves from the world and its pleasures; they spend the day, and a great part of the night, in study, in the contemplation of the truth; they even forget to eat and drink, and must be compelled by their friends to attend to the necessities of nature. Many of them have completely ruined their health by study; and some of them, as Democritus the philosopher, are reported to have even plucked out their eyes, that they might have less distraction, and thereby be enabled to meditate more profoundly upon the truths of their respective sciences. Now, I ask, is it in our nature to go through such terrible self-denials without compensation? Surely it is not. Therefore, the natural inference is that knowledge is a source of the most exquisite pleasures.
If it is so, in this world, where the curse of sin has darkened the mind, and where knowledge is so limited, and so mingled with error and doubt, what shall we say of those pleasures in heaven? There the intellect of man receives a supernatural light; it is elevated far above itself by the light of glory; it is purified, strengthened, enlarged, and enabled to see God as He is in His very essence. It is enabled to contemplate, face to face, Him who is the first essential Truth. It gazes undazzled upon the first infinite beauty, wisdom, and goodness, from whom flow all limited wisdom, beauty, and goodness found in creatures. Who can fathom the exquisite pleasures of the human intellect when it thus sees all truth as it is in itself? This is one of heaven's secrets which we shall never fully understand, except when united to God in the Beatific Vision. Nevertheless, if ever we have enjoyed the pleasures produced by the perusal of a highly intellectual work, or felt the irresistible fascinations of some favorite science, we can, it seems, form some distant conception of intellectual pleasures in heaven.
4. The life of heaven is also one of love. As we have seen before, man cannot rest satisfied with the mere contemplation of truth and beauty, however pleasurable and satisfying such a contemplation may be. His will immediately seizes upon the truth and beauty presented by the intellect, and loves with an intensity proportioned to the perfection of the object presented. Now, as God himself, in This unveiled majesty, is the object presented to the will, and as He is the most perfect of all beings, it follows that the will loves, in heaven, with an ardor, an intensity whereof we can form but a faint conception in our present state of trial.
There, at last, do the blessed fulfil to perfection the law which commands us to love God with our whole heart, with our whole soul, with all our strength, with all our mind -- and our neighbor as ourselves. Not only does each one of the blessed love, but he sees himself loved in return both by the Almighty and by every one of the saints. This makes heaven a life of love, and consequently one of perfect happiness.
Think of this, ye mortals, who crave after human love. You desire to love and to be loved. Love is the sunshine of your lives. But, do what you will, it can never give you perfect happiness here below; for when you have, at last, succeeded in possessing the object after which you so ardently sighed, you discover in it imperfections which you had not suspected before; and these lessen your happiness. But suppose, even, that you are of the few who are as happy as they expected to be, how long will your blessedness last? A few years, at most. Then, death, with a merciless hand, tears away from you the objects of your love. Is not this the end of all earthly happiness?
Look up to heaven, and there see the blessed in the presence of God. They are as happy to-day in their love as they were hundreds of years ago; and when millions of ages have rolled by, they shall still possess the object of their love, which is the Eternal God. Thus the blessed live a life of love, and, consequently, one of perfect happiness.
5. The life of heaven is, moreover, one of perfect enjoyment. In this world, there can be no perfect and lasting enjoyment; and this not only because creatures have not the power of giving perfect happiness, but also because our powers of enjoyment are imperfect in themselves, and because also our bosom swarms with ungoverned passions, which spread the gall of bitterness over our joys. How many thousands are there not, for whom fortune smiles in vain! How many are there not, who, though surrounded with untold wealth, are nevertheless more wretched than the tattered beggar! One, for instance, is always suffering from bad health, and hence he cannot enjoy the pleasures which fortune has placed within his reach. Another is not only wealthy, but is, moreover, elevated to some honorable position, and one would think he must enjoy the honors with which he is surrounded; but there is in his bosom an ungoverned passion, which, like a canker-worm, eats away his joys one by one.
Holy Scripture gives us a striking instance of this in the person of Haman. He had been highly exalted by King Assuerus; and the servants of the king bent the knee before him, and worshipped him, "only Mardochai did not bend the knee nor worship him." This apparent slight so wounded the pride of Haman, that he could enjoy neither peace nor happiness so long as Mardochai, the Jew, sat at the king's gate. Listen to his own confession: "He called together his friends and Zares his wife, and he declared to them the greatness of his riches, and the multitude of his children, and with how great glory the king had advanced him above all his princes and servants. And after this he said: Queen Esther also hath invited no other to the banquet with the king, but me: and with her I am also to dine to-morrow with the king. And whereas I have all these things, I think I have nothing, so long as I see Mardochai, the Jew, sitting at the king's gate."* What a revelation this is! How little it takes to destroy our powers of enjoyment! It is only a small worm that eats away the very core of the most delicious fruit, leaving it tasteless and rotten.
* Esther v.
In heaven only shall we live a life of perfect enjoyment; not merely because all the objects of happiness exist there in their highest perfection, but because we shall also be made perfect by our union with God. "We shall be like Him, because we shall see him as He is." Wherefore, no inordinate passion will ever lurk in our bosom, and spread bitterness over our joys. No torturing disease ever will enervate or prostrate the energies of our glorified bodies, and render them incapable of enjoyment. All the powers of enjoyment which belong to the glorified state will ever remain fresh and unimpaired. It follows from this, that our life in heaven will be one of continued, undisturbed enjoyment of God himself, of the society of the saints, and of all other creatures that He has prepared to perfect and complete the beatitude of man.