Let us suppose, for the sake of illustration, that on the last day, God should thus speak to the blessed: "Dearly beloved children, you are now happy, and you shall continue so for a very long time, but not forever. When I promised you eternal life, I did not really mean a life without end, I alone can live forever. I have created a little bird whose office it is, every thousand years, to take away from the earth one grain of sand, or a drop of water, and carry it to the place I have appointed. And when it will have thus removed the whole earth, all the oceans, rivers, and lakes, you shall all die a second death, and be no more forever."
How many ages do you think it would take, at that rate, to remove this whole world to another place? Of course, you cannot even form a conception of the countless ages it would require. The most gifted mind is bewildered and lost in those millions and billions of ages. It seems as if that little bird never would come to the last atom; and to us, children of time, that vast duration seems like an eternity. And yet, if such a revelation were made to the blessed, they would again sorrow and mourn: the tears would again flow from their eyes, because the canker-worm that eats away all earthly happiness would have found entrance into heaven.
Evidently, then, the eternity of heaven is essential to complete the happiness of God's children.
Among the many defects which mar our happiness in this world, there are three capital ones, which we shall consider for a few moments. The happiness of this world is not and cannot be permanent, because we are changeable, because the objects of our happiness are also subject to change, and finally, because death must eventually tear us away from this world.
1. We ourselves are changeable by nature. This is a defect which must cling to us as long as we remain pilgrims here below. The objects which made us so happy in our childhood are no longer able to give us any pleasure. Our growth to mature age has completely changed us in their regard. Where is the man that could now spend the day with the playthings of his childhood? Where is the woman that could spend her time in dressing and adorning a doll? We are changed, and other objects have become necessary. But, in our mature years, we still continue to change, and those objects which make us happy to-day, may, in a few days, be a source of annoyance to us, and even of wretchedness. The changes of the weather, our passions, our health, our associations, a want of success in our undertakings, an unkind word or look -- all these, and a thousand other things, influence us and change our dispositions at times so completely, that nothing in the whole world can make us feel happy. We are disgusted with everything that only yesterday made us as happy as we could expect to be in this world.
So great is our natural fickleness, that we are continually exposed to change, even in regard to God, and thus lose the only happiness worth possessing -- His friendship. For, after having, in all sincerity, promised and even sworn fidelity to Him, we may, at any moment, give way to our passions, and, like Peter, deny Him; or, like Judas, sell Him for a temporary gratification.
This fickleness, which so stubbornly clings to us in our present state of existence, and which puts an end to so many of our joys, is entirely removed by our union with God in the Beatific Vision. "We shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as he is." One of the essential attributes of God is immutability, or the total absence of change, or even of the power to change. He is the selfsame forever. He is, as St. James beautifully expresses it, "The Father of lights, with whom there is no change nor shadow of alteration."* By our union with Him we are "made partakers of the Divine Nature," and consequently, of the divine immutability. Our natural fickleness will die in our temporal death, never to rise again, and our whole nature will be clothed with immutability, and remain the selfsame forever.
* James i.17.
Hence, we shall no longer be tossed to and fro by every wind of passion, nor by the vicissitudes of present time. We shall no longer, as now, be joyful one day, and then be cast down and sorrowful on the next; in the enjoyment of perfect health one day, and racked with the pangs of disease on the next; enjoying the society of our fellow-beings one day, and finding it intolerable on the next; overflowing now with devotion and the love of God, and then ready to abandon His service in disgust. We shall become immutable, and therefore when millions of ages have rolled by, we shall still be enjoying the same happiness as we did when the vision of God first flashed upon tour souls.
2. But there is a second defect which, even if we were immutable ourselves, would prevent our earthly happiness front being permanent, and it is this: the objects from which we derive our happiness are also subject to change. Their beauty fades away; they lose their freshness, and along with it the power of making us happy. It was this defect which marred the happiness of Solomon. His position and circumstances placed within his reach all the pleasures which the heart of man can enjoy here below. He was a king, a husband, and a father; he was filled with a wisdom greater than ever was vouchsafed to any other man. He built temples and cities; he was visited by kings and queens, admired and almost worshipped as a god, on account of the magnificence with which he was surrounded; and yet he was not happy. But listen to his own confession, and ponder it well: "I heaped together for myself silver and gold, and the wealth of kings and provinces; . . . and I surpassed in riches all that were before me in Jerusalem; my wisdom also remained with me. And whatever my eyes desired, I refused them not: and I withheld not my heart from enjoying every pleasure, and delighting itself in all the things I had prepared. And when I turned myself to all the works which my hands had wrought, and the labors wherein I had labored in vain, I saw in all things vanity, and vexation of mind, and that nothing was lasting under the sun."*
* Eccl. ii.
Here is the confession of the wisest of men -- a man who tasted more of this world's happiness than any other; and he found it imperfect, and even vexatious, because "nothing was lasting under the sun."
But this is not all. Creatures not only change, fade away, and lose their power of giving us pleasure, but they may even turn against us, and, after having been almost a heaven to us, become a very hell, by the addictions and woes they bring upon us. This is especially the case if the object of our happiness is a human creature. Look at the dissensions and quarrels among friends and relatives, who once loved each other so well. Look at the almost incredible number of divorces which take place nearly every day. They tell us that the happiness which comes to us from human creatures is not lasting, because man is mutable. Take the virtuous and unfortunate Catherine of Aragon as an illustrious example. When Henry married her, he certainly made her happy at first. But as time rolled on, he changed in her regard. His love grew cold; he gradually despised her, took away from her the title of queen, banished her from his presence, and married another woman! What a terrible reverse of fortune! He, who at first had been her joy, changed and became the cause of her deepest sorrow and wretchedness.
Oh, how differently shall we fare in our heavenly home! For the objects of our love there are not mutable, as in this world. He who is the very source of our exceeding happiness, is the eternal, immutable God. When He shall have united us to himself, and made us "partakers of the Divine Nature," he never will change in our regard, tire of us, despise us, and cast us away from him, as creatures do. No, never, never. The bare thought of such a misfortune would spread a shade of gloom on the bright faces of the blessed. Once united to Him in the Beatific Vision, he will love us forever more. Never can there come a day when He will frown upon us, and make us feel that his love for us has grown cold. No, never, never. Never will there come a day when His divine beauty will fade away, or when he will lose his power of making us happy, as is the case with the creatures that now surround us; and therefore we shall never see the day when our happiness will change, or cease to exist.
But there is still more. Not only is God immutable, and therefore unable to change in our regard, but all the companions of our bliss have also become immutable in their love for us. Hence, there never will come a day then we shall see ourselves despised and even hated by our fellow-creatures, as so often happens in this world. All those defects which now make us so unamiable will be totally removed by our union with God, and no one will ever see anything in us but what is good and deserving of love. From this it follows, that even the happiness which comes to the blessed from creatures is permanent -- eternal.
3. Let us now pass to the third defect of all earthly happiness. Even if both we and the objects which make us happy were immutable, our blessedness could not be lasting, because death, inexorable death, must eventually tear us away from them, or tear them away frown us. All earthly happiness, glory, and greatness end in death. "And as it is appointed unto men once to die,"* it follows that all, both great and small, must eventually see the end of all that makes life bright and desirable according to nature. All must die, and no one can take along with him his glory or earthly happiness; for, as the Holy Ghost tells us: "Be thou not afraid, when a man shall be made rich, and when the glory of his house shall be increased. For when he shall die, he shall take nothing away; nor will his glory descend with him."+
* Heb. ix.27.
Where is now the happiness and the glory of those mighty kings and queens who were once surrounded with all the magnificence of this world? The grave answers: "It is no more." Where is now the glory of those mighty conquerors, who placed their supreme happiness in subjugating nations to their sway, in making widows and orphans, and in spreading devastation and ruin wherever they went? It is no more! We can say of them, in the words of the royal Prophet: "I have seen the wicked highly exalted, and lifted up like the cedars of Libanus. And I passed by, and lo! he was not: and I sought him: and his place was not found."* Death laid its cold hand upon them, and put an end to their earthly happiness.
* Ps. xxxvi.
In heaven, that awful death shall be no more. We have the word of the Living God for it: "And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes: and death shall be no more, nor mourning, nor crying, nor sorrow shall be any more, for the former things are passed away."* In very deed, "the former things have passed away" -- sorrow, mourning, poverty, labor, the vicissitudes of time, temptations to sin -- all these things have passed away, never more to return. The children of God have entered into the enjoyment of their inheritance, which shall never be torn from them, because "death shall be no more." Never shall they see the dawn of a day when father and mother must bid farewell -- a long and sad farewell -- to their heart-broken children, because "death shall be no more." Nevermore will there come a day upon which affectionate children must print the last kiss upon the cold and pallid cheek of their dying parents, because "death shall be no more." Never more shall we see our kindred and friends slowly descending into the grave, nor hear the cold and cruel clods of earth falling upon them, because "death shall be no more." "Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?"+ This is the joyful song of triumph which ever resounds through the vaults of heaven, because "The just shall live forever more: and their reward is with the Lord, and the care of them with the Most High. Therefore shall they receive a kingdom of glory, and a crown of beauty at the hand of the Lord."**
* Apoc. xxi. + 1 Cor. xv. ** Wis. v.
In conclusion, let me exhort you, Christian soul, to meditate often and seriously on the happiness of heaven. Such meditations, besides deepening our knowledge of God, and of the things He has prepared for them that love him, have a wonderful power of detaching our hearts from the transitory pleasures and honors of this world. They, moreover, create in our soul an unquenchable thirst for the vision and possession of God, while they infuse into us a new courage to battle manfully against all the obstacles which beset our path in the practice of virtue.
Such meditations fill us, moreover, with a laudable and noble ambition of reaching a high degree of union with God. This was the ambition of the saints, and it should be ours also. It was this desire of a most intimate union with God, that caused them to deny themselves even the most innocent pleasures of this world, and to undergo sufferings, the bare recital of which makes our poor nature shudder. They knew that "our present tribulation, which is momentary and light, worketh for us above measure exceedingly an eternal weight of glory."* Their meditations on eternal truths had convinced them "that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come, that shall be revealed in us."+
* 2 Cor. iv.17. + Rom. viii.18.
In the thirty-seventh chapter of her life, St. Theresa speaks thus: "I would not lose, through any fault of mine, the least degree of further enjoyment. I even go so far as to declare that, if the choice were offered to me, whether I would rather remain subject to all the afflictions of the world, even to the end of it, and then ascend, by that means, to the possession of a little more glory in heaven; or else, without any affliction at all, enjoy a little less glory, I would most willingly accept of all the troubles and afflictions for a little more enjoyment, that so I might understand a little more of the greatness of God; because I see that he who understands more of Him, loves and praises Him so much the more." Here is the ambition of a great saint. It is not after crowns or sceptres, or the glory of this world, that she sighs, but after a single degree of higher enjoyment in heaven; and to obtain that, she is willing to remain suffering in this wretched world till the end of time.
Let such be your ambition in the future. If not in so sublime a degree, let it, at least, be directed only to the acquisition of "treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consume, and where thieves do not break through and steal."* Labor incessantly for that "inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, that cannot fade, reserved in heaven for you."+ "Be faithful until death," says our Lord Jesus Christ, "and I will give thee the Crown of Life."**
* Matt. vi.19. + 1 Pet. i.4. ** Apoc. ii.10.