[Here are the last four pages of Paradise Hunters, 1946, by William T. Kane, the Jesuit librarian of Loyola University. They sum up the Catholic Christian understanding of the transcendental happiness believed to be possible to human beings.]
So far as the written Gospel shows, Jesus made no attempt to bring home to the Jews the essential character of our happiness in heaven, which consists of a direct, intuitive, supernatural knowledge of God, a consequent love of God that is ecstatic delight, and a union with God described by St Peter as our becoming “partakers of the divine nature.” (II Peter, 1:4)
St Paul was given a revelation of this happiness: “He was caught up into paradise and heard secret words that man may not repeat.” (II Corinthians, 12:4) He does not try to explain this cryptic saying, but contents himself with a paraphrase of Isaias, that men do not understand “what things God hath prepared for them that love Him.” (I Corinthians, 2:9) Yet, farther on in the same epistle, St Paul touches upon the central fact of the beatific vision: “Now I know in part: but then I shall know even as I am known.” (Corinthians, 13:12)
St John has much to say about heaven, a great deal of it in obscure metaphors, in descriptions of a half-material, half-symbolic sort, in comparisons with jasper and sardine stone and chalcedony and emerald and sapphire and gates of pearl and streets paved with gold: all of which is only vaguely glorious to the poor human mind, and not particularly attractive. But St John also utters the central truth of our beatitude: “When He shall appear, we shall be like Him: because we shall see Him as He is.” (I John, 3:2)
To know God face to face, to love God with a love inspired by that intimate knowledge, and through our knowledge and love to become “like to God,” that is full satisfaction, the complete and perfect realization of all our capacities for delight, both natural and supernatural. This is not an empty nirvana, the deadly repose of inactivity. This beatitude is an immense activity, an endless springing from knowledge to knowledge, from love to love. The happiness of heaven is not a mere state, but a perpetual act.
Here on this earth, knowledge comes to us slowly, with much labour on our part; and our advances in knowledge are niggardly and painful. Our present experience of knowledge does not prepare us for the reality to which we shall be lifted, above all our natural capacity, and in which, without effort, we shall penetrate into Truth itself, in endless new discoveries, to our endless and unwearying delight.
But we poor mortals, stumbling half-blinded through this life so far removed from the beatific vision, falter and gasp in the presence of this concept of happiness. We accept it in faith and hope; but it makes little or no impression upon our imaginations and our emotions. A few gifted men know the delight of intellectual discovery, a delight that compensates them for long hard years of mental toil. But for the vast majority of men the notion that knowledge can be a source of happiness just does not make much sense. The deepest desire of our souls is for this fullness of knowledge and love; but this desire is smothered over by a multitude of lesser desires, bubbling frantically on the surface of our lives.
Hence, like children spurning a million dollars in order to prefer a piece of candy, we ask if in heaven we shall enjoy the gratification of these hungry desires of which we are now so conscious, if we shall have pleasures of the senses, of human affection, of vigourous bodily action, of triumph in achievement. All that we have known or imagined of human delight here on our homely earth, shall we have that also amidst the transcendental and incomprehensible joys of the beatific vision?
There is no use in telling us that these lesser delights are as nothing in comparison with the essential happiness of heaven, that they are immeasurably less than a sputtering match-light beside the unclouded sun. Granted all that, and waving it aside as something beyond our experience, these lesser joys are familiar and dear and understandable: and we want to know if we shall have these also.
There are hints even in the Scriptures that we shall enjoy in heaven all the delights of body and mind that are possible to our human nature. Our Lord’s words about eating and drinking at His table, in His kingdom, are not metaphor alone. Then, it is true, we shall have no need of food or drink to repair that wastage of tissue which is our present gradual approach to death; but we shall have the pleasures attached to eating and drinking.
Lionel Johnson, meditating on the sublime chapter twenty-one of the Apocalypse, cried out:
Ah, how the city of our God is fair!
If, without sea, and starless though it be,
For joy of the majestic beauty there,
Men shall not miss the stars, nor mourn the sea.
But we shall not miss created beauty, because we have been given Beauty uncreated: we shall have both. For, as St Thomas Aquinas points out, beatitude does not destroy nature, but only perfects it; hence it does not destroy natural knowledge and love and the enjoyment we can derive from the exercise of our natural powers.
In some preternatural way, these powers of our soul will function even when we are disembodied spirits; but they will function gloriously and delightfully after the general resurrection. St Augustine assures us that our risen and glorified bodies will bring us added accidental happiness in heaven; and St Thomas agrees with him. But St Thomas reminds us, in another passage, that by this added delight our happiness will grow, not in intensity, but only in the extent to which our whole being joins in it. In other words, after the resurrection of our bodies, our human nature will be more adequately present to be filled with this overflow of the happiness of heaven.
In heaven the burden of our mortality will be lifted from us. “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. (Apocalypse, 21:4) . . . They shall no more hunger nor thirst; neither shall the sun fall on them, nor any heat.” (Apocalypse, 7:16) All the heartaches and the frustrations will be gone, all the empty longing will be filled. We shall have the dear company of those we love, unspoiled by petty jealousy or selfishness. We shall have the full perfection of our vigour of soul and body.
The lost paradise, for which we now strive so blindly, so stubbornly, and so futilely, will be given back to us, enriched beyond its first creation, as a minor fragment of that complete and unending happiness which our Lord boldly compared with the joy of God Himself. (Matthew, 25:21,23) To the soul faithful in seeking the eternal paradise, Christ our Redeemer and Judge cries out at the hour of its departure from this life:
which thy child’s mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home:
Rise, clasp My hand, and come!
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