5th Sunday of Easter (Fr. Simham)
Heaven were it is ? How to get it there?
On December 20th 2005 there was a special program on American News channel called ABC News. In that program, Journalist Barbara Walters travels to India, Israel and throughout the United States, interviewing religious leaders, scientists, believers and non-believers alike to get a range of perspectives on heaven and the afterlife. The title of the program and the question she went around asking was “Heaven: where is it? How to get there?” Heaven is an interesting topic to talk about even today. So today I want to discuss with you the same topic “Heaven: where is it and how to get there?” Before that let me ask you what is heaven? In fact our gospel today has an answer for this. (Jn. 14/1-14)
When we read it we often get a pictorial description of what heaven is. We imagine it to be a big city with huge mansion and many rooms. Rooms to accommodate as many as possible. Jesus says “he will go and prepare those rooms for them in his father’s house.” Is it this what he meant when he said “there are many rooms in my Father’s house.” If we accept this pictorial description then we have the difficulty of answering the question “where is it?” Scientists and astronauts will say we have not seen the seventh heaven. No glimpses of it yet.
What then Jesus meant when he said “there are many rooms in my Father’s house”. The word ‘many rooms or dwelling places’ (mone/menein) is “not many mansions in the sky, but spiritual positions in Christ.”(commentary by Raymond E.Brown.p.627). Jesus is on his way to be reunited with the Father in glory and to make it possible for others to be united to the Father-this is how he prepares the places.
This raises the question “what then is the father’s house? Those who know St. John’s gospel will immediate remember the first use of the term “my Father’s house” in the gospel, (which is also its first use in the Bible). At the cleansing of the temple Jesus spoke of the temple as the “Father’s house” and later in the confrontation with the Jews he said “destroy this temple and I will raise it up in three days”. Here he shifts the center of Divine dwelling to himself, in his risen glorified state, according to the interpretation supplied by the narrator. As we read the second part of today’s gospel, Jesus speaks of this union between him and the father. So what is heaven? Look at what Catechism of the catholic church says about heaven :
“This perfect life with the Most Holy trinity- the communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed- is called heaven. (Article 1024)
To live in heaven is to live with Christ. 1025
So Heaven is a life of communion and love. It is wonderfully portrayed in a story I heard a long back:
A devout man was talking with an Angel about Heaven and Hell.
“Come,” said the Angel. “Walk with me, and I will show you Hell.”
And together they walked into a room of cold, rough stone. In the center of the room, atop a low fire, sat a huge pot of quietly simmering stew. The stew smelled delicious, and made the devout man’s mouth water. A group of people sat in a circle around the pot, and each of them had a long-handled spoon tied to their hands. The spoons were long enough to reach the pot; but the handles were so ungainly that every time someone dipped the bowl of their spoon into the pot and tried to maneuver the bowl to their mouth, the stew would spill. The rabbi could hear the grumblings of their bellies. They were cold, hungry, and miserable.
“And now,” the Angel said, “I will show you Heaven.”
Together they walked into another room, almost identical to the first. A second pot of stew simmered in the center; another ring of people sat around it; each person was outfitted with one of the frustratingly long spoons. But this time, the people sat with the spoons across their laps or laid on the stone beside them. They talked, quietly and cheerfully with one another. They were warm, well-fed, and happy.
“Lord, I don’t understand,” said the rabbi. “How was the first room Hell; and this, Heaven?”
God smiled. “It’s simple,” he said. “You see, they have learned to feed each other.”
(Temple Sinai Congregation of Toronto) Charles K. 8/21/06
And where is heaven it can be any where. It can be in the sky, it can be here right now. When can we attain it? It can be now today or after-life. Let me conclude with a short rhyme which we use to sing in our Junior Seminary for our get-togethers.
“Time to be happy is now,
Place to be happy is here,
The way to be happy is to make someone happy
And we’ll have a little heaven right here.”
Fr. Showreelu Simham