Sunday, June 24, 2007

What do you think heaven is like?

Our diocescan newspaper asked the question, "What do you think heaven is like?" and excerpted answers from the various replies they received. I liked my fellow parishioner Denise Duchesneau's answer and thought I would publish it in whole. Denise and her husband Mike are of the generation following mine. A generation that does not necessarily view life through the lens of irony. The Duchesneau's have three children under kindergarten age, which from experience I can testify is a handful to manage. As busy as Denise's life is, she is active in the parish with a cheerfulness that causes me to smile when I see her at Mass. We are not friends per se, but something else. We are sisters in Christ. As with Doris and Ed, Margaret, Terry, Rita and the others I see at Mass and around the parish, she makes me feel part of an ecclesia. Being in Holy Family parish with its warts and wonders makes St. Paul's epistles come alive to me.

A Taste of Heaven

Denise Duchesneau


“Macaroni and cheese!!” I exclaimed. A picture of an enormous bowl of Kraft’s most popular lunch choice for kids popped into my mind. Fork in hand, I stood staring at that bowl, wide-eyed, as white celestial clouds swirled around me.

“What is Heaven like?” I had asked my Mom. “It’s whatever makes you happy,” she told me.

Although excited about the prospect of a macaroni and cheese heaven, at six years of age I wasn’t yet ready for an eternity with my favorite food. I would miss my parents, grandparents, sister and soon-to-be-born baby brother here on Earth. As I grew up, I was too preoccupied with college and marriage to think much of God’s Eternal Plan. But now, 29 years after my initial cheesy thoughts, I look forward every day to getting to heaven.

What is Heaven really like? Do we know? Can we know?

Jesus gives us glimpses of heaven in the Gospels. There will be no marriage, no tears, no suffering and many rooms, one of which He prepares for us. Those that love God and each other, and care for God by caring for each other, will get to go. And once there, we will be the same yet different, as Jesus was the same yet different after His resurrection.

John’s book of Revelation also gives us this image of the saints that have washed their garments in the blood of the Lamb: they surround His throne singing and praising Him while incense burns at His altar. Catholic author Scott Hahn compares this image to our celebration of mass, which according to Catholic teaching, links the angels and saints in heaven to us here on earth in glorious praise of our Lord and His sacrifice for us. Saints such as the Therese of Liseaux (the Little Flower), St. Jude and Saint Anthony intercede there forever for us as part of the Communion of Saints.

It all sounds both comforting and strange, wonderful but a bit out of reach, and also hard to imagine or understand.

My Medjugore newsletter spoke about one of the visionaries who was privileged to see heaven once when he was just a young boy. He described it as a place of immense light, peace, joy and unending space, where people who were dressed in pink, yellow and gray garments walked around praying. They all knew each other. My Mom, whose favorite color is blue, remarked, “I’m in trouble – but I guess I could settle for pink.”

I hate to admit it, but we both agreed that it didn’t sound that great.

These thoughts and feeling disturbed me. Shouldn’t I desire heaven more that anything? Isn’t Jesus supposed to be the most important thing in my life? Why don’t I feel that way? Perhaps this is why I was afraid of heaven: I needed a priority check.

Thankfully, God always hears and answers those kinds of prayers -- the ones where we want to know Him and His kingdom more. I sat one day at daily Mass, with my three children ages four, two and one. It was around All Soul's Day, 2005. The readings talked about heaven. The visiting priest to our church that day said that although we can’t know for sure, it seemed logical to him that heaven involves a continuation of the relationships that start here on earth, in God’s love. God, who is Love, created us out of Love, to love Him and each other. I thought of Genesis. Adam and Eve messed it up in the Garden of Eden, but God didn’t want that to happen. He wants us to choose Him. Through Jesus, heaven is the perfection of our relationship with God and each other in love.

I was totally excited at hearing that homily. So it starts here!! It’s not something that happens only after we die. We can begin to know heaven now – with each other, and of course, the Lord! I was swept up with the hope that I could take all the good people, friends, relatives, and memories with me to heaven. My childhood fears were abolished, and at that moment I felt relief about the whole thing.

In the months that followed, it seemed like this vision of heaven was confirmed. I knew I had to get to know Jesus more. I turned off Law and Order and began to pray the rosary. I shared my faith with people. I stopped worrying as much about everything as I began to trust Jesus more in my life, for even the small (which are actually the hardest) things.

I began to see heaven every day. It was with me when I looked forward to talking with friends and realized that even though I had to get back to the daily grind, I’d have plenty of time in heaven to continue the conversations. Being seven hours away from my parents and Gram, sister and brother, seemed less burdensome. I trusted that my deceased grandparents could see my kids and were with us. I mourned less the inevitable growing of my children, and the recent loss of one by miscarriage, and kept them in my heart for someday in eternity.

That was just the beginning! God is so good and so eager to shower us with blessings. He is happy to give us a taste of heaven on earth. Scott Hahn is right – mass is an experience of heaven if I let it be -- especially when I can sing the Gloria. How wonderful to praise God with old acquaintances and new friends while our children dance around us! The Community of Saints is found in our Catholic Moms group, where I’m sure Mary intercedes for us. We Moms have found wonderful friendship and healing. Three women were blessed with pregnancies they never thought they’d have, and we hold one of these babies almost every time we meet.

Being a part of God’s kingdom is an honor and responsibility. God’s kingdom involves inviting others to join, and I feel a deep sense of peace and joy when I can do so. As much as I can, I add little moments of joy to my heaven bank: sharing hugs and snuggles with my kids, taking time with my husband, contacting old friends and making new ones, walking at the beach, breathing in the waves and sunset, jogging, giving out Communion, skating on the bay, looking in on my peacefully sleeping children before I go to bed. Jesus is faithful to those who seek Him. If we all understood how much Jesus wants to give us, and not just when we die, I can’t see why everyone wouldn’t want to be starting heaven now.

My two older children, Elizabeth and Daniel, are five and three respectively. They are beginning to ask me about heaven. A couple weeks ago I told them that I used to think it involved a big bowl of macaroni and cheese. But now, I add, I think it really means sharing a humongous pepperoni pizza and Coke fridge pack with Jesus, our family, and the whole bunch of our relatives, friends and people we have yet to meet, including the Baby. There’s probably chocolate of some sort for dessert.

Do you care to join us?

“Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, what God has ready for those who love Him.”

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