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04/10/16 Third Sunday of Easter - Fr. Reggie

St John paints a picture of heaven for us today. His vision used to be inspiring. But in the last hundred years this image of heaven as filled with choirs of singing angels and throngs of bowing saints has given heaven a bad reputation. It makes people think that heaven is boring.

What happened? Why did the idea of "praising God for all eternity" inspire the first Christians, and why does it turn off many of today's Christians? Because in recent times many Christians have forgotten what "praising God" really means. In the Bible, "praise" means much more than singing songs and clapping our hands.

Let's listen again to St John's description of heavenly praise

He writes, "Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, everything in the universe, cry out: 'To the one who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor, glory and might, forever and ever'."  He says that all creatures, all things in the universe cried out with praise to God. How can they do that? How can rocks and Saturn's rings and mosquitoes cry out with praise to God? Certainly not by singing songs and having a party. That is not the substance of praise. Rather, they praise God by being fully what they were created to be, by reflecting God's wisdom through being true to themselves.

We praise God fully by becoming fully alive

In heaven we praise God fully not because we will float on clouds playing harps, but because we will finally be fully alive

All our capacities for knowledge, love, wisdom, joy, and creativity will be maxed-out in heaven. 

+Heaven is one of the most frustrating things to talk about. How do you describe the happiness of heaven? It's like trying to describe the beauty of a sunset or the flavor of ice cream to a child who is still in the womb. He's incapable of grasping it. Our life here on earth is like the life of a baby in the womb; God is nourishing us through the Church and getting us ready to be born into a new kind of life. We can't describe it completely, but we can get a whiff of it, an inkling of it.

The most profound and enjoyable moments of our lives here on earth are hints of what life in heaven will be like. One priest I know was talking to a very successful businessman about heaven.  The businessman was retired and loved to play golf. He loved the beautiful scenery, the fresh air, spending time with his friends, competing, striving to improve his game. Well, he and the priest were discussing heaven. The priest was trying to explain how praising God in heaven means living our potential to the maximum, so it simply can't be boring. The businessman was looking worried. At one point, he interrupted the priest and asked simply, "Father, tell me one thing: will there be golf in heaven?" Father looked at him, paused, and then said, "Mike, if you need golf to make you truly happy, you can bet your life that there will be golf in heaven."

Heaven is about experiencing the fullness of life that we long for, the happiness we know we were made for, but that we only experience in bits and pieces here on earth.

It's more than clouds and harps.

Understanding what it means to praise God can help stir up our desire for heaven, and that's a good thing. It's what the Christian virtue of hope is all about. It helps keep us on track in life, reminding us where fulfillment and meaning and happiness really can be found.

But understanding what it means to praise God also opens up new horizons for how we can love our neighbor. We were created to praise God, to show forth his goodness by becoming all that he created us to be, by maximizing our potential. And so, when we help others develop their abilities, encouraging them or educating them, we are helping them give glory to God and achieve their purpose in life. When we discourage others, when we stifle their hopes, their dreams, their possibilities, we are hindering them from fulfilling their life's mission. In other words, taking an interest in others and encouraging them grow and develop their talents, both their natural human talents and their supernatural Christian vocation, is one way to obey Christ's command to love our neighbor as he has loved us.

We should all strive to do this.

There is only one danger to watch out for.  Sometimes we encourage others to perform well, to achieve excellence, not because we are really interested in their happiness, but because in the back of our minds we realize that their achievements will reflect well on us. That's when encouragement becomes pressure, and talents meant to be enjoyed become oppressive.

Today, when Christ comes to feed us with the Bread from Heaven, let's thank him for opening for us the gates of his eternal Kingdom, let's stir up our desire for the joys of heaven, and let's promise him that this week we will encourage someone who is hesitant or discouraged, at least one person, so that they too will get a fresh whiff of heaven's joy.


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