Sunday, May 24, 2009

'We're in heaven' (Sunday homily)

(This homily was from notes, and I've tried to recreate more or less what I said, although it was somewhat different each time.)
One of the sayings from the early Church Fathers goes like this:
"What is not assumed, is not redeemed."*

What does that mean?

It refers to the Incarnation--God becoming man--
and it means that everything God took to himself in becoming human, was redeemed.
The Son of God, in becoming man, not only took on our same human nature,
he also took on the suffering and pain that is part of our experience,
and he even embraced death.

These things too are redeemed--
meaning, they are no longer of no value, but of infinite value.

So, it isn't just our souls that are saved; our bodies are part of salvation as well.
This means our bodies matter; this is why we care for them.
The choices we make, with our bodies, are bound up with our eternal destiny for good or ill.
And our goal isn't to "escape" our bodies once they wear out.

This leads to something else, and it may startle you, but it's true:
Heaven is not our final destiny!

Heaven is where our souls go--if saved--
while we await the "new creation"
which we heard mentioned in the opening prayer:
a new heavens and a new earth.
We will wait for the Resurrection, when we get our bodies back, new and improved.

We might wonder, what is this new creation? What will it be like? What will we be like?

We don't know. But we do have a glimpse: Jesus rose from the dead in his human body.
He still has his body; it lives forever.
He ate and drank food with the disciples; they could touch him.
His body had remarkable qualities, such as his ability to pass through walls--
and he didn't look exactly the same.

Also: he still had his wounds.
Which I take to mean that what trials we face in this life,
will not be left out of the new creation, forgotten, as if they didn't happen;
rather, they will be transformed.
I find that comforting; because if something has been a part of our lives here on earth,
would we like to be told, when we arrive in heaven, none of that has any meaning anymore?
Instead, they will be transformed--redeemed--
and turned into something beautiful, like the Cross.

In view of all that, we are, on this feast, looking up to heaven with the Apostles
as the Lord ascends to his throne. But we're not saying goodbye.

Remember, what is assumed, is redeemed!
Our humanity ascends to heaven--it's the same humanity, his and ours, Saint Augustine said.
We are one with him: he is the head, and we are the body.
Not only that, Saint Augustine said, we are in heaven! We are already in heaven!

Does that mean we're already saved? It's all done?
No--we still have to wake up to this reality and that's not certain.

Let me give you an example.

Some years back, before I was a priest, I went on a vacation
with my sister and my brother and my sister's daughters.
We were at the beach, and one night we went out to a restaurant,
one of those places with a band that plays Jimmy Buffet tunes.

Well, my niece was in sixth grade--she's a grown woman now--
and she was at that age when--anything unusual adults do is infinitely embarrassing!
So, when we went to dance, and my niece buried her face in her arms on the table.
"Kara, do you want to dance?" "No!"
"Kara, the food is here" "Leave me alone!"

She stayed like that the entire time we were there!
So, we danced and ate and had a good time.
An hour and a half later or so, she finally looked up. "What's going on?"
"I'm sorry, honey--we're going home!"

She'd missed the entire party!

So: you and I still have to wake up to the reality of heaven around us.

Are we awake to it?

I'm going to say something here, it may get me in trouble, but...

We have something of a tug-of-war about the Mass.

If Mass goes five minutes too long, "Father, what's wrong with you?"
If we try to add something to make Mass more special--
if I sing the prayers, or if we use incense--
"Father, why are you making such a big thing about it?"

We're in heaven!
This--the Mass--is the most important thing we will do;
it's the most important thing that happens, in Piqua, in the universe!
And I confess this "tug of war" is frustrating to me.

Let me show you something that we do in the Mass that expresses this reality.
In a moment, the servers will bring me the chalice, I'll pour wine in it,
and then I'll add a drop of water. And I'll say this prayer silently:
"By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ,
who humbled himself to share in our humanity."

The wine represents Christ's divinity; the water, our humanity.
When the water joins the wine, the wine does not become water;
symbolically, the water becomes wine!
That's our destiny: to be joined to God!

What an awesome thing to say! Words fail me at the thought of it!

This is why the martyrs die!
This is why Saint Isaac Jogues, who went to preach to the Huron Indians,
and they** sawed off two of his fingers, and after he went back to France to recuperate,
went back to those same Indians to continue sharing the Gospel!
This is why, in so many places around the world, they don't drive to Mass, they walk;
and they don't walk a few blocks, they walk many miles, to get to Mass!

Are we awake to this reality--what we have?

If it seems I'm reproaching you--I'm reproaching myself.
Please pray for me that I will never go through the motions,
or see the Mass as just part of my job! It's the easiest thing to do!

Later on, as we receive communion--or if we make a spiritual communion--
maybe we can offer our communion for each other:
That we'll wake up to the reality that we are in heaven.

* Saint Gregory of Nazianzus; when I jotted down my notes in the confessional, I didn't remember who said it.
** It was actually a rival tribe of Mohawks, not the Hurons.

1 comment:

madame evangelista said...

A week late with thanks - but thank you for this homily.