Social intercourse with our fellow-beings affords us some of our purest joys in this world; yet they are not, and never can be perfect. They are roses with cruel thorns, that wound and make us bleed, almost as often as they delight us with their delicious perfumes. How often does it not happen that we go into society with a light heart, and return home sad and heavy? And why so? Because our heart has been wounded, perhaps crushed, by some wicked insinuation, or some unkind interpretation of an action performed with the best Of intentions on our part. Even our holiest actions are criticized, and unworthy motives, which never entered our minds, are attributed to us. Then again, they, whom we had considered our best friends, may betray us, and reveal to a cold and cruel world the secrets which, in our simplicity, we had confided to them. In a word, if intercourse with our fellow-creatures is often the source of pure joys, it is not infrequently the occasion of our keenest sufferings. And why? Because in our present state of imperfection we are sinful and selfish. Because we allow ourselves to act toward others through jealousy, envy, natural aversion, and other ungoverned passions of our fallen nature. We do not love all men, and all men do not love us. We see many defects in others, which make them unamiable; and they see as many in us, which make their love for us almost an impossibility. Wherefore, so long as we live in the flesh, our social joys must always be mingled with a certain amount of bitterness.
Let us now raise our eyes to our heavenly home, and there contemplate a life of the purest, and most perfect social pleasures. There, neither selfishness, nor uncharitableness, nor any unruly passion can exist, and, consequently, our social joys will never be mingled with the gall of bitterness. Putting aside, for a moment, all the shortcomings and imperfections that mar our social joys in this world, let us look at their bright side only, and see what it is that makes our social intercourse with others a pleasure. This will be as a mirror wherein we shall behold some faint reflections of social joys as they exist in heaven. What are the personal attributes or qualities in others that make our social intercourse with them a pleasure? They may be reduced to six, which really include all others that could be mentioned. These are virtue, learning, beauty, refinement, mutual love, and the ties of kindred. We shall say a few words on each of these.
1. Virtue is the attribute which gives us our highest similitude to God, and it is this also which imparts to us some of the purest social pleasures we enjoy on earth. Purity of life, or at hast the absence of gross vices, is a condition without which we can enjoy no one's society, unless we ourselves are depraved. Neither beauty, nor learning, nor any other endowment, can replace virtue, while it alone can, to a great extent, supply all other deficiencies. Hence it is, that when depraved persons are in the society of the good, they feel compelled to be guarded in their words and actions. They must put on an exterior appearance, at hast, of virtue, well knowing that otherwise their presence would be extremely offensive, and calculated to mar the pleasures of others.
When we meet with one who is evidently a man of God, one whose every word is instinct with the spirit of God, whose whole exterior betokens the intimate union of his soul with God, in whose very countenance the beauty of angelical purity shines forth, we deem it a happiness to spend a few moments in his society. The pleasures enjoyed in his company are not only exquisite -- they are also sanctifying. If that is so in this world, where all holiness is imperfect, what shall we say of the pleasures of heavenly society? Holiness is an essential attribute of every inhabitant of heaven. They are all pure; for none else can see God. They are all made partakers of the Divine Nature in a far higher degree than is attainable in this world, and consequently they are all clothed with the spotless purity of God himself. Not only are they all pure, but they are, moreover, totally free from those natural defects of character, which, in this world, make many holy persons unamiable, and even repulsive. As nature is not destroyed, but perfected by glory, our natural character will not be destroyed by our union with God. But whatever is faulty in it, or offensive to others, will disappear, leaving it amiable and perfect in its own kind. Hence, our social intercourse with the saints will ever be the source of the purest pleasures.
2. Learning, in those with whom we associate, is another source of pleasure. We can sit for hours listening to the interesting conversation of a learned man, even if he lacks virtue, and only wears its exterior appearance. In such a man's society we drink in, as it were, torrents of pleasures, which are among the most rational we can enjoy in this world. If these pleasures are so exquisite here below, where, after all, the wisest know so little, what shall we say of those same pleasures in heaven? There all are learned, all are filled with knowledge, though all do not possess it in the same degree. Nevertheless, each one's knowledge will be a source of pleasure to others.
3. Personal beauty is also a source of pleasure in this world. Every one knows that perfect personal beauty sweetly but powerfully draws men to itself, and that one endowed therewith gives far greater pleasure than another who does not possess this attribute. It is in heaven, and there only, that every one will possess the attribute of beauty in its fullest perfection. For the soul is clothed with the beauty of God himself, which He communicates to her in the Beatific Vision; while the whole body is beautified and glorified after the likeness of Christ's glorious body. Every saint is therefore clothed with a loveliness far superior to anything we ever can see on earth. If, then, it is so great a pleasure to associate with persons who possess the natural and perishable beauty of this world, what shall we say of the pleasures which must flow from our intercourse with persons who are clothed with the beauty of God himself!
4. Refinement is another attribute which makes our social intercourse with others pleasurable. A great personal beauty that might at first attract others to itself, would soon repel and even disgust them, should they perceive in its possessor unpolished manners, coarseness, and stupidity. A cultivated intellect, refined feelings, and elegant manners are necessary to adorn personal beauty, and make it a source of pleasure to those who are attracted thereby. It is very certain that in heaven, where our whole nature is to be elevated and perfected, this refinement of mind and heart, as well as the elegance of personal bearing which flows from both, will exist in its highest perfection, and ever be the source Of exquisite pleasures in our social intercourse with the blessed.
5. Another source of social joys is mutual love. The four personal attributes we have been considering, make up an amiable character; that is, one which we love spontaneously, and whose love we are certain to have in return for ours. It is this love which crowns and perfects a character of this kind, and produces a very large share of the pure pleasures we enjoy in the society of such persons. But, however pure human love may be, even when elevated by grace to the virtue of charity, it never can produce unalloyed social pleasures; because it never reaches its full perfection in this world.
It is in heaven only that charity is perfect. There we shall love every one with a most tender charity, and see ourselves loved as tenderly and as purely in return. Our charity will be mutual, and, therefore, our intercourse with the blessed will produce joys and pleasures second only to the unspeakable happiness of the Beatific Vision. Meditate well, Christian soul, on these exquisite delights. Think what an unspeakable pleasure that mutual and perfect charity must be to the inhabitants of heaven. That feature alone would almost change for any one of us this cold world into a heaven.
Suppose you could say, with truth, "Every one of my acquaintances loves me with the purest charity; and every stranger who is introduced to me, loves me immediately with the purest affection. I have no enemies; no, not one. No one is ever envious or jealous of me; no one ever says an unkind word of me, nor has any one even an unkind thought of me. All seem to take a singular pleasure in speaking well of me, and in doing me all manner of kind services; and, in return, I sincerely love all, and take a singular delight in doing good to all." Surely, such language never was spoken by any one in this world of imperfection. If, therefore, you could speak it with truth, you would have reached a blessedness which neither our Blessed Lord nor any of his saints ever reached on earth. Every one would look upon you, and with reason, as the most highly-favored person that ever lived in this world.
Now, this is precisely the blessedness which awaits us in our heavenly home. There we shall love every one with the most perfect charity, and every one will return our love. There we shall have no enemies; no one to think uncharitably of us; no one to criticize our sayings and conduct; no one to spread reports injurious to our character; no one to put an unfavorable construction upon our most innocent actions. "God is charity," and as "we shall be like Him because we shall see him as he is," it follows that we, too, shall possess that divine charity, in a far higher degree than is attainable here below. Our social intercourse with the blessed will, therefore, ever be the source of the purest and sweetest joy.
6. Besides the things already enumerated, there is one more which is to be the source of still greater joy. And what may that be? It is the meeting, in heaven, of them whom we loved so well here, because they were bound to us by the sacred ties of kindred, or of true friendship. It is the meeting of parent and child, of husband and wife, of brother and sister, of relatives and friends -- with whom we were united by the bonds of the purest love. As glory does not destroy our nature, neither does it destroy our natural virtues, but perfects them. Hence, we shall take along with us our natural love for our relatives and friends. Thus Jesus Christ, our Model, now loves His Blessed Mother with the natural love of a dutiful son. He loves her, not only because she is so pure and holy, but also because she is His own mother. The elevation of His human nature above everything that is not God, has neither destroyed nor diminished in him that natural love which every child has for its mother. Thus, again, Mary now loves Jesus most tenderly, not only because he is her God, but also because he is her own son -- flesh of her flesh, and bone of her bone. Her elevation to the highest glory, after that of Jesus, has neither destroyed nor diminished in her the natural love which every mother has for her child. If anything, it has made her love more ardent even than it was in this world.
So we, also, shall enter heaven with the natural love we now have for our kindred and friends; but in us it will be purified from everything inordinate or imperfect. What a delight that meeting must be for the blessed! We can even now form some faint idea of that heavenly joy, by reflecting on what takes place when a beloved father returns home from a long and perilous Voyage, or from some cruel war, where he was daily exposed to captivity and death. What outbursts of gladness among the members of his family! How happy they are to see him and embrace him! If these joys are so great in this world, what must they be in heaven! Especially since there they are coupled with the thought that there is no more separation. No, no more separation! What delightful music there is in that short sentence! Death shall be no more, and therefore we shall never more be torn away from the society of our kindred and friends.
However, it seems to me I hear you say, "There is no difficulty in believing that the meeting of our own in heaven is an unspeakable joy; but suppose we do not meet them there -- what then? Suppose that on entering heaven we learn that our father, our mother, or some other loved one is lost forever; shall we still be happy? Will there not be in such a case an essential element wanting to complete our happiness?" We shall devote the next chapter to answering this difficulty, which is a lifelong torture to many a pious mind.