THE FOUR LAST THINGS

PART IV---ON HEAVEN

Chapter 2. On the Joys of Heaven

Now that we have meditated upon the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of God, we will proceed to consider the happiness which the saints who dwell therein enjoy, both in regard to body and soul. It is true as yet they have not their bodies, as a general rule, but at the Last Day they will all have them again, and those bodies will then be so beauteous, that nothing in the world can compare with them. And this will principally be because every member will be endowed with four qualities or attributes, namely: beauty, impassability, agility, and subtlety. By reason of its beauty or glory the body of each one of the elect will shine like a star, yet, as one star differs from another in glory, so the saints will shine with greater or less splendor, according as their lives upon earth have been more or less holy. In these glorified and radiant bodies the blessed will be so inexpressibly beautiful, that if a mortal man were now to behold one of these resplendent beings, he would be dazzled by its brilliance and be ready to expire for joy of heart.

In her revelations to St. Bridget, the Blessed Mother of God once said: "The saints stand around my Son like countless stars, whose glory is not to be compared with any temporal light. Believe me, if the saints could be seen shining with the glory they now possess, no human eye could endure their light; all would turn away, dazzled and blinded."

Think what happiness it will be for thee, when thy body shines like the sun at midday. Everything that lives and moves rejoices in the light and warmth of the sun; it gladdens all the face of nature. In like manner thy body will be a joy and delight to thyself and all around thee in heaven, because of its beauty and its glory.

The second attribute is impassability, for the glorified body is incapable of suffering. It will never be sick or infirm, it will not grow old or unsightly. It will never again be inconvenienced by hunger or thirst, by heat or cold, by draught or dampness. It can nevermore be burned by fire, drowned in water, wounded by the sword or crushed beneath a weight; it will be immortal, unchangeable, eternally endowed with perfect health and unfailing strength. If any one on earth could purchase this gift of impassability, how gladly would he give all he possessed to obtain it!

The third attribute is agility. The glorified body will be able to traverse the greatest distance with the speed of thought. In one moment it can come down from heaven to earth; in one moment it can pass from one end of the heavens to the other, without labor, without fatigue, without difficulty. We often wish that we could fly like the birds, that we could speed on our way like clouds on the wings of the wind, that we could follow thought in its rapid flight. If it were possible to purchase this power, every one would part with all his worldly wealth for it, if only to obtain it for one single year.

How is it, then, that thou dost take so little trouble to ensure for thyself the possession of this gift for all eternity ?

The fourth attribute of the glorified body is subtlety, which consists in the faculty of penetrating all matter, of passing in and out wheresoever it will. No wall is so thick, no iron gate so massive, no mountain so great as to form an obstacle to the glorified body. As the sun's rays pass through glass, so the bodies of the redeemed as they are in heaven, penetrate all matter, however dense and solid it may be. They can also make themselves visible or invisible at will. What wouldst thou not give to become possessed of such a faculty?

How great is Thy bounty, almighty God, towards Thine elect! Thou bestowest upon them precious and sublime gifts, that no amount of this world's riches can purchase. Who would not gladly spend his life in Thy service and suffer afflictions in this world in order to Possess these inestimable gifts to all eternity?

Ask this poor frail body if it would not willingly shine as the light, be exempt from suffering, move with the speed of thought, be unfettered as a spirit? To own such powers would indeed be a joy and a consolation unspeakable.

Wouldst thou not consent to have a hard penance laid on thee for a whole year, if at the end these attributes were bestowed on thee? If so, then do not esteem it a grievance to lead here below a life of penance, in the hope that these fair gifts may be thine during all eternity. See that here on earth thou love the light, the light of good works; bear all pain and tribulation with patience, be prompt and zealous in the service of God; mortify within thyself more and more all sensual desires, and thou wilt assuredly be the happy possessor hereafter of these four attributes of the glorified body.

We will now turn our attention to the pleasure and gratification which the blessed will experience by means of these five senses; and first of all we will inquire what satisfaction they will find in their sight. The power of sight will be so perfect that nothing can be hid from their eyes. They will see what is distant as distinctly as what is near, the smallest object as plainly as the largest, the dark will be to them as clear as the light. Their vision will be so undimmed that they will be able to gaze without flinching at the sun, even were its light a hundredfold more dazzling. Their sight will be so keen that no obstacle will offer a hindrance to it. Now think what delight awaits thy sense of sight, when thy eyes first rest upon the glories of heaven. First they will behold the city itself, with its palaces and mansions, whereof the splendor and majesty is so great that the contemplation of these magnificent structures would afford pleasurable employment for a whole eternity.

In the second place, thou wilt gaze with delight upon the fair flowers, the trees, the gardens, and all the other beauteous sights that will arrest the eye in heaven.

Thirdly, it will be an unspeakable pleasure to thee to behold thyself and all the other saints arrayed in beauty, glory, splendor, grace and majesty far surpassing anything seen in this world.

Fourthly, thou wilt see the incomparable beauty of the angels, for it is believed that those celestial spirits will assume bodies of great loveliness formed from the air, in order to render themselves visible to the blessed. This opinion is held by St. Anselm. And if the beauty of an angel immeasurably exceeds all human beauty, wilt thou not rejoice in the contemplation of so many thousands of angelic beings, all of surpassing loveliness, for all eternity?

Fifthly, on nothing will thine eyes rest with such keen delight as on the inexpressible beauty of Jesus and Mary, whose glorified bodies are so irresistibly charming, attractive, beautiful and majestic, that if the damned were permitted to behold them, they would no longer find hell intolerable.

Now consider what a fertile source of delight it will be, to be continually and forever surrounded by sights so enchanting and so sublime. Our natural inclination leads us here below to take long journeys for the sake of seeing some beauteous sight, to expend large sums to obtain some beauteous object, and even to imperil our souls in our eager search after what is beautiful.

Since the love of the beautiful is so deeply rooted in our nature, how strange that we do not yearn for the beauty of heaven. Why do we not close our eyes to the attractions of earth, that we may be found worthy to open them upon the splendors of heaven?

From sight let us pass on to hearing.

It would be unwise were we to attempt to describe the gratification it will be to the ear to hear the canticles of the angels, and the soft music of their harps. The nine choirs of angels will sing the praise of God, and the blessed will join them not only in heart, for they will mingle their voices also in the sweet harmony. Thus the powers of both soul and body will be exercised, and the praises of God will ascend in melodious hymns and celestial songs. For if we mortals are impelled by fervent love and heartfelt joy to lift our voice in song, how much more will the holy angels and blessed saints do so, who are all aflame with the love of God, and filled with joy unspeakable. Their hymns of praise will resound without ceasing through the courts of heaven. In a prophetic spirit the elder Tobias says: "The gates of Jerusalem shall be built of sapphire and of emerald, and all the walls thereof round about with precious stones, all its streets shall be paved with white and clean stones, and alleluia shall be sung in its streets " (Tob. xiii. 21, 22).

These words seem to indicate that the redeemed will walk at their pleasure with one another in the heavenly Jerusalem, their voices uniting in happy alleluias.

In wondrous harmony the angels and saints will praise and magnify their God. What happiness for them, O my God, what sweetness, what joy! If sweet songs rejoice us here, and awaken elevated feelings within our breast, the canticles of the angels and saints will indeed cause us rapture and delight, when we have the happiness to be admitted into their blessed company.

My God and my all! how great is the abundance of the favors Thou hast prepared for them that love Thee! My heart thirsts for the stream of celestial joys. Truly blessed are they that dwell in Thy house, O Lord; they shall praise Thee forever and ever. The saints shall rejoice and be glad in this glory, the high praises of God shall be their mouth. Would that it were even now granted me to join these citizens of heaven and with them to extol Thy name forever! When will the hour come, that happy hour in which I shall be privileged to behold the majesty of Thy house? Until it comes, I shall bear all the sufferings and tribulations of this world with patience, and will brighten my journey through this valley of tears by singing Thy praise; I will bless the Lord at all times, His praise shall be ever in my mouth. Magnify the Lord with me, ye angels and saints; let us extol His name evermore.

From the sense of hearing we will pass on to that of smell. The delicious odors of paradise surpass anything that man can imagine. The fairest lilies, roses, violets, carnations, and other rare and lovely flowers grow in the gardens of the heavenly paradise, and their fragrance is so delightful, that if a man had but a petal of one of those flowers, he would be overcome by the sweetness of the perfume. "Israel [that is the company of the redeemed] shall spring as the lily, and his smell shall be that of Libanus" (Hosea xiv. 6).

Experience has abundantly shown that the bodies of the saints whilst in their graves already emit a fragrant smell; how much more powerful will that fragrance be when they are again raised to life and glorified. Above all the bodies of Christ and of His Blessed Mother will exhale so sweet a perfume that all heaven will be pervaded by it.

How lovely are Thy tabernacles, O Lord, wherein we shall be invigorated by the aromatic odors that surround us! For if sweet odors refresh and revive us here below, the odors of paradise will surely give strength and refreshment to the blessed.

Even the sense of taste will be gratified in heaven, not, it is true, by the consumption of ordinary food, but in a manner whereof we can as yet form no opinion. The blessed will taste a sweet sustenance which will satisfy them, as we learn from the words of the Royal Psalmist: "They shall be inebriated with the plenty of Thy house; Thou shalt make them drink of the rain of Thy pleasure" (Ps. xxxv. 9).

The sense of touch will have its own peculiar enjoyment. The more one has mortified himself here on earth, the greater will be his bodily well-being hereafter. St. Anselm says: "In the future life the saints will experience a feeling of untold comfort and ease. This pleasurable sensation will pervade every member, producing a wondrous sense of peace and contentment."

In fact, what can be wanting, to the glorified body in heaven? It is in the enjoyment of perpetual health, perpetual rest, perpetual happiness, so that in the superabundance of joy and satisfaction it can scarce realize how enviable is its condition.

Finally, the redeemed will take very great pleasure in beholding one another, in conversing with one another, in kindly and friendly communication. Think how beautiful a sight it will be to see hundreds of thousands of beings in all the splendor of their glorified state. If on earth we esteem it a pleasure to look upon a handsome face, we can appreciate in some slight degree what it will be in heaven, the lowliest of whose inhabitants is possessed of a beauty far exceeding the personal attractions of any mortal man.

Moreover, the redeemed are united together by the bond of mutual charity, for they love one another more dearly than the most affectionate of brothers and sisters. If they have never met on earth, yet they know one another better than if they had been brought up together. Each one will know the incidents of his earthly career.

Each one will be able to see into the other's heart, and know how great is the affection he feels for him. Each one will rejoice in the other's glory as much as if it were his own; and the lowliest in the kingdom of heaven exults as much in the glory of highest as the latter can possibly do. This was explained to St. Augustine by St. John the Baptist in a vision. "Know," he said to him, "that on account of the inexpressible charity that the blessed have towards one another, that each takes no less pleasure in the exaltation of another than if it were his own. Nay, more, he who is greater wishes that the lower were equal to him, and even more honored than himself; for in his triumph he, too, would triumph.

"In like manner those who are in a lowly place rejoice in the glory of those who are in the highest place; they do not envy them, far from it. They would not desire the high position if the others had it not; they would rather give them a part of their own glory, were this possible." Hence it may be seen that the saints take pleasure in the splendor wherewith their fellows are crowned, and entertain for each and all of them a heartfelt affection. More especially do they love one who has, by word or example, helped them on their way to heaven; to such a one they know not how they can sufficiently testify their gratitude.

Each one will also feel a particular affection for the saint whom he chose as his patron upon earth, and whom he honored with a special devotion; and this affection will be reciprocated by the object of it. Those who stood in this relation to one another will meet together more often; they will converse on holy subjects, and mutually relate their experiences on earth, telling how marvelously the providence of God saved them from eternal damnation. In a word, the pleasures afforded to the redeemed by this contact will be innumerable, and they will do everything in their power to gratify and show kindness to one another.

O God of all mercies! who would not desire to enter into this land of eternal peace, where are joys beyond all that mortal man can conceive, joys so many and so wondrous and so sweet! Sometimes the pleasures of this world have such a fascination for a man, that he cannot renounce them, even though he sees hell open before him. And yet those pleasures are less than nothing in comparison with the joys of heaven; in fact, all the joys one can picture to one's self or desire for one's self cannot equal the least and the lowest of the joys that will be ours to all eternity! O my God, how unspeakable will be the bliss of heaven! May it be my happy lot to share in that elegance!

Urged by this desire, I will give Thee no rest, every day I will implore Thee to take me to Thyself. I will detach my heart from this world, I will entirely renounce all earthly pleasures; all my aspirations, all my affections shall be fixed upon the heavenly treasures, and I will hold myself ready every day to quit this earthly scene. The sooner death comes to fetch me hence, the more welcome will it be, for I shall leave this land of exile and enter into my true country. God grant that so it may be. Amen.

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