Sermon for the Third Sunday of Advent
December 14, 2014
In continuing our Advent reflections on the Four Last Things our topic today is Heaven. And here is the summary of what I have to say about Heaven: unless there is a God, and a Heaven in which to dwell with Him, our lives are absolutely meaningless.
This is a bold claim to make:
-many would scoff at such an idea, saying that it is childish to believe in such things;
-some would call it wishful thinking;
-others, an archaic idea that is only believed by superstitious societies;
-while many others would say they believe in God and Heaven and yet live like this life is all there is.
And yet all of these people, and in fact all of mankind, have something in common which shows the truth of what I have said – unless there is a God and a Heaven, our lives are meaningless. This thing that is common to us all is that we all want to be happy.
Mankind’s desire for happiness is evidenced by the fact that we are always looking for the thing that will make us happy – the thing that will give our lives meaning. We constantly search amongst the finite things of creation to no avail. When we obtain some thing that we desire we eventually come to realize it does not fulfill us. This is because once we have obtained it we see that it is lacking in some way, and then we notice something better that we do not have. And so we pursue it, whatever it is, over and over in a never-ending cycle. But, if every finite thing keeps pointing us to something better, then we must finally come to realize that our need to be happy can be fulfilled by nothing, at least no thing in this world. In this world of finite things you can always go beyond to something better.
Before we go on let me explain what I mean by ‘finite thing’. To all you children, and even the adults, everything that you are hoping to receive for Christmas is a finite thing that cannot bring you the ultimate happiness you truly desire. It is true that the things we receive at Christmas can bring us momentary pleasure but it never lasts, does it? Therefore, we can see that this desire we have within us for happiness cannot be fulfilled through any finite thing, but only through that which is infinite.
This leaves us with two options. The first option is that there is something, or rather some One, that can fulfill this insatiable desire we find within ourselves. If this is true and this desire can be fulfilled, then our lives and the world around us begin to make sense.
The second option is that there is nothing in the universe but finite matter and therefore, nothing that can ever fulfill the infinite desire that we have within us. But if that is the case, then from where does this desire come? If it can never be fulfilled, then this desire within us has no meaning. Our lives would be reduced to a cruel cosmic joke because the universe holds out to us the promise of happiness and yet never fulfills it. The whole universe would then become absurd and unintelligible.
Of these two options the one I choose to believe is the first, obviously. It would be nonsensical to have a Catholic priest – or even a Catholic layman – that did not believe in a God that can fulfill this infinite longing that we find within ourselves. After all, the first option makes the most sense, doesn’t it? And this is where faith comes in – we cannot prove scientifically that God exists, but we can see that without Him nothing makes sense. And it is with God in our lives that we can finally find the fulfillment of the happiness that we desire.
But, there is a problem with our use of the word ‘happy’. Because, when we use this word, it immediately conjures up the idea of something that is only temporary. That is because this word does not define that which we are truly searching for; instead, we are looking for beatitude, or perfect happiness. This is the blessed state for which God created us. That is why we say that the Saints in Heaven have received the Beatific Vision. In seeing God face to face they have received that perfect happiness that mankind constantly tries to find on this earth.
This leads us to our celebration today. Gaudete! Rejoice! This is the first word uttered at the beginning of Mass today. It is joy that we truly desire and not mere happiness. Today’s topic is Heaven and some tend to think of Heaven as the fulfillment of all our desires. But this is not accurate. Instead, Heaven is the fulfillment of the God-given desire that is within you because all of our various ‘desires’ are summed up in that one desire to be with God. But, if we want to receive that beatitude, that perfect happiness that we all desire, then we cannot pursue it as our ultimate goal, because it is not. Our ultimate goal, the reason that we have been created, is to know and love God.
If we would receive the beatitude that He is offering to us, which is nothing less than the fullness of His love, then we must first learn how to fully love Him. How do we do this? The answer is right there: Jesus on the Cross. Our Lord has shown us how to fully love God and others – it is by giving of ourselves completely. This is the path to Heaven and if we walk this path with Christ then our lives will truly have meaning – only then will we have that perfect beatitude that we all desire.