Does Heaven Exist?

Easter Sunday - reprinted from March 30, 1997

That is the question that is on the cover of Time Magazine, March 24, 1997. The cover story on heaven reports that both popular opinion and modern theology would say "yes" to the question. Belief in eternal life is widespread in our culture. Attention to the time-bound theories like limbo and purgatory have fallen from most conversations. The article also suggests that human attempts to describe the geography and architecture of heaven have also diminished. Theologians Martin Marty and Richard McBrien are quoted as saying that attempts to describe heaven almost turn this hoped-for reality into a caricature or cartoon.

What is the feast of Easter and the popular belief in heaven and eternal life about, then, if we as a culture are becoming almost agnostic in our conversations about eternity? This holy day is about trust in God, hope in God, confidence in God. Our shared trust, hope and confidence centers on God's love and mercy. As Jesus did, we, His disciples believe that God will not allow the apparently victorious forces of evil and death to prevail. No, all in all, God prevails. And God is life itself, eternal love, eternal joy. God and life are eternal, and we believe that we share in that eternity. We cannot and need not program what all the details of that eternity are or will be. Rather, with Jesus, we simply believe that God is in charge, that God will provide, and that God is great and loving. We can say with Jesus, "Father, into your hands, I commend my Spirit." We know, in faith, that God will draw us, lift us, extract us from all crosses to new, fuller, and eventually, everlasting life.

Today is about the paschal mystery, which simply refers to the passage of all life: from life, through death, to everlasting life. The paschal mystery is at work in the painful moments of life which nonetheless contribute to our growth and development. It is present in the little deaths that we choose to improve and enrich our lives and the lives of those we love. We see these dynamics at work in deep love, and also in repentance from sin. The paschal mystery is obviously at work as any of us confront the mystery of the end of our physical lives here on earth. Our model of paschal living is Jesus, who, through the power of God was and is victorious over sin, suffering and death.

Glimmers of Christ's resurrection and ultimately our own, shine in human moments now. The birth of a child after nine months and then hours of acute discomfort, the pushing away from an addiction, recovery from emotional problems, a relationship discovering hope and new life - these and many other human events reflect the power of resurrection and eternal life, as they make Christ's resurrection and ours believable.

Jeffery Burton Russell writes in his new book, "A History of Heaven" that the "space" taken up by heaven is neither the original Eden nor the Kingdom of God within us, nor a paradise at the end of the world. Rather it is all three. Heaven is an enveloping eternity in which Christians already participate through the Eucharist. It is not dull, static, or monochrome. It is an endless dynamic of joy in which one is ever more oneself as one was meant to be. "Heaven,' he writes, "is reality itself; what is not heaven is less real."

Such reflection, the whole event and feast of Easter, flood the human story with hope, purpose and meaning. "We do not die," Roger Troisfontaines wrote some years ago. Human death is but an apparent threshold we pass through on the trajectory of eternal life. Let us rejoice in the Easter way of seeing and doing life. Happy Easter!

In Jesus,
Pat Brennan

Or are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.

For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection. We know that our old self was crucified with him, so that our sinful body might be done away with, that we might no longer be in slavery to sin. For a dead person has been absolved from sin. If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him. As to his death, he died to sin once and for all; as to his life, he lives for God. Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as being dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.
- Romans 6: 3-11

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