Some sprawling, unfinished thoughts for today…tomorrow I’ll give you time to recover…
I was reflecting several weeks ago on the words of Pope Francis to the little boy who asked about his dead dog. The Pope’s words were far more measured than so many of the “All Dogs Go to Heaven” headlines that followed his comment. The Pope said,
Holy Scripture teaches us that the fulfillment of this wonderful design also affects everything around us.
In other words, God’s plan to re-create all things in Christ affects not just humanity, but every quark of creation. Bl. Pope Paul VI made a similar point, though he was a bit more specific and daring in his language:
One day, we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.
Peter Kreeft commented on this,
The simplest answer is: Why not? How irrational is the prejudice that would allow plants (green fields and flowers) but not animals in heaven! Would the same animals be in heaven as on earth? “Is my dead cat in heaven?” Again, why not? God can raise up the very grass; why not cats? Though the blessed have better things to do than play with pets, the better does not exclude the lesser. We were meant from the beginning to have stewardship over the animals; we have not fulfilled that divine plan yet on earth; therefore it seems likely that the right relationship with animals will be part of Heaven; proper “petship”. And what better place to begin than with the already petted pets?
And when a friend said to me, what about mosquitoes and predators, I said a bit playfully,
What of mosquitoes?That’s really easy if you take the biblical language at face value.What does God do with viscous and predatory beings in the next life? He tames them.Isaiah 11:6-9:
“Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat;
The calf and the young lion shall browse together,
with a little child to guide them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
together their young shall lie down;
the lion shall eat hay like the ox.
The baby shall play by the viper’s den,
and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair.
They shall not harm or destroy on all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the LORD,
as water covers the sea.”
I find this conversation very exhilarating, not really because I am anxious to see the Church canonize animals, but because of some profound assumptions that stand behind this line of thinking.
“For we are God’s co-workers” — 1 Cor. 3:9
As I have said before in this Blog, I have fallen in love with paragraph 39 in Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes:
For after we have obeyed the Lord, and in His Spirit nurtured on earth the values of human dignity, brotherhood and freedom, and indeed all the good fruits of our nature and enterprise, we will find them again, but freed of stain, burnished and transfigured, when Christ hands over to the Father: “a kingdom eternal and universal, a kingdom of truth and life, of holiness and grace, of justice, love and peace.” On this earth that Kingdom is already present in mystery. When the Lord returns it will be brought into full flower.
Why do I find this so captivating? Because it intimately links our life in this world with that of the next in a way that, for me, opens a fresh and thrilling vantage on the meaning of life here on earth. We are charged by God with stewarding this creation into the New Creation, and the New Creation into this creation. What an exalted vocation and mission! The Council tells us in this paragraph that everything in this life that is “true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy” (Phil 4:8), and the fruit of every virtuous labor and righteous suffering, will endure in God’s everlasting Kingdom. The bread and wine humanity produces, “fruit of the earth and work of human hands,” will serve, in the words of Gaudum et Spes 38, as “raw materials” for the Kingdom the Ascending Christ is ever at work building for us:
Now, the gifts of the Spirit are diverse: while He calls some to give clear witness to the desire for a heavenly home and to keep that desire green among the human family, He summons others to dedicate themselves to the earthly service of men and to make ready the material of the celestial realm by this ministry of theirs…
These “others,” specifically the laity, are those men and women called at their Baptism to consecrate the world to God, gather material and lift it up into the New Creation by living lives dedicated to secular concerns in the key of Christ. Lumen Gentium 31:
…the laity, by their very vocation, seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God. They live in the world, that is, in each and in all of the secular professions and occupations. They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very web of their existence is woven. They are called there by God that by exercising their proper function and led by the spirit of the Gospel they may work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven. In this way they may make Christ known to others, especially by the testimony of a life resplendent in faith, hope and charity. Therefore, since they are tightly bound up in all types of temporal affairs it is their special task to order and to throw light upon these affairs in such a way that they may come into being and then continually increase according to Christ to the praise of the Creator and the Redeemer.
The vocation of the lay faithful! How sublime. Only in heaven will we fully appreciate their all-important mundane task when we see what was, and was not, offered up to God from the streets and offices, gas stations and hospitals, bedrooms and board rooms, theaters and construction sites, soup kitchens and sweat shops. Don’t get me started.
Here I will stop writing and paste an email I sent some fellow theology-nerd friends in December after I read Pope Francis’ words. Though I tried to spruce it up a bit here, it’s still unkempt like an email. That said, I hope it offers you a bit of the fire I felt in my bones when I pondered yet again this magnificent mystery!
This comment by Papa Francesco is related to my argument (which is not really mine!) that the New Creation is “built” of material of the old creation (our present home!) transfigured through the liturgical mediation of priestly humanity — those of us living in Christ — consecrating the world to God and gathering, by their virtuous and arduous labors, “material” for the Coming Kingdom; knitting heaven and earth together as homo liturgicus. This reminds me of a story Peter Kreeft introduced me to: Two men were hauling stones through a muddy medieval street. One was cursing and the other was singing. A traveler asked them what they were doing. The curser replied, “I’m trying to get this damned rock to roll through this damned mud!” The singer replied, “I’m building a cathedral.”
We are called to sing as we gather living stones, dripping our sweaty sacrifices in our prayer and work. In Christ, God-made-human-laborer, humanity has been empowered to co-construct the New Creation, making, as St. Therese said so simply, even the picking up of a pin with love into immortal treasures. And so nothing-nothing-nothing of our lives that is good – or even the bad material if it’s sunk in divine mercy – will be wasted in building this immortal Cathedral of Paradise for the joy of all creation and the glory of God.
This stunning perspective transforms our view of this world from that of a mere “testing ground” or a “holding tank” where we await release into a “part two” better world. It prevents us from utterly disconnecting this world from what constitutes the Age to Come and reveals our lives lived “on earth as it is in heaven” to be quarrying of “material” gathered by collaborators with God. Our mission is to join Christ in building the Kingdom that is to come by lives that mend the breach, bridge the chasm. We are consecrated by the Spirit to con-celebrate with Christ the wedding of heaven to earth and extending the fruits of the Incarnation to the whole material universe in a living epiclesis [calling down the Spirit].
The Offertory at Mass thus becomes a crucial moment in this mystical transaction as we bind our personal oblation to that of all God’s People united in Christ and lift it up to the Lord with upright hearts. In the Consecration of bread and wine the Spirit seals this mystic transaction by “passing over” the material of this world into that of the Kingdom, causing the substances of bread and wine to collapse into absolute transparency, i.e. transubstantiation. Eucharistic transubstantiation does not imply the bread/wine’s substance is somehow invisibly “siphoned out” and replaced with Christ’s substance, leaving only a shell of accidents, but rather that the very being of those substances (which, as sacramental symbols, also contain in themselves all that we have offered of ourselves to God in the Mass) has passed-over into the new order of being that is the New Creation, i.e. they no longer belong to this order of existence, even though their material characteristics remain in this old creation. Wow, we get to consume that passed-over Food and Drink, the “medicine of immortality” as St. Ignatius of Antioch calls it.
This old-new tension is much like the utterly new Risen Body of Jesus that remained materially accessible for a short time before passing over wholly into the Kingdom, the New Creation, in the Ascension. For 40 days his Body was still tangible and visible, though elusive and difficult to identify even for close friends and clearly no longer obeying the laws of physics. St. Leo the Great says, “what was visible in our Savior has passed over into his mysteries.” Mysteries for him means Sacraments. The Sacraments, and all that is taken up into them, share in these sacramentalized characteristics of Christ’s Risen and Ascending Body that is ever at work drawing the whole of creation, via man, into the Kingdom of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
A related thought: all of the supposedly “nature law-breaking” signs and wonders – including the celestial Tilma of Our Lady of Guadalupe, acheiropoieta, “not made with hands” — are actually signs of the passing of this world over into the Next. In miracles, the being of this world, with its constitutive “natural” laws, is giving way to those that rule the Next. So miracles are not violations or suspensions of nature’s laws, but their transformation, transubstantiation, transfiguration and glorious perfection in the coming Kingdom of Christ for which all things were destined. In this sense, all miracles are “liturgical” in character, are boundary-events that tear at the Temple veil and transgress the boundary that, prior to the Parousia, still divides the two Creations.
Getting eschatology right is exceptionally important as it makes clear precisely why this life is so crucial and why the Paschal Mystery is the crown of God’s plan from the beginning. And why secular life, life in this world, possesses an essential role in God’s creative and redemptive plans. What extraordinary grandeur there is in knowing that God established this world so that humanity could participate in the (co)creation of the everlasting Age that we were destined to share with Him from the foundation of the world — “a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love, and peace.” And ever life lived in this world, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, possesses eternal value and worth that will be known fully only in that Coming Kingdom prepared for those who love.
I also think here of St. Isaac of Syria’s beautiful comments on the God-loved dignity of this creation appreciated by those saints who already belong to the Next:
“What is a merciful heart? It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons, and for all that exists. By the recollection of them the eyes of a merciful person pour forth tears in abundance. By the strong and vehement mercy that grips such a person’s heart, and by such great compassion, the heart is humbled and one cannot bear to hear or to see any injury or slight sorrow in any in creation. For this reason, such a person offers up tearful prayer continually even for irrational beasts, for the enemies of the truth, and for those who harm her or him, that they be protected and receive mercy. And in like manner such a person prays for the family of reptiles because of the great compassion that burns without measure in a heart that is in the likeness of God.”
Or that unspeakably beautiful liturgical Akathist hymn, Glory to God for all things, written by Fr. Petrov in 1940 as he sat rotting in a Soviet Gulag, that sings this world into the Next — here is just a sample:
Glory to Thee for the Feast Day of life
Glory to Thee for the perfume of lilies and roses
Glory to Thee for each different taste of berry and fruit
Glory to Thee for the sparkling silver of early morning dew
Glory to Thee for the joy of dawn’s awakening
Glory to Thee for the new life each day brings
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age
That’s all for today. Thanks for enduring my esoteric prose. Let’s together, today, tomorrow, and to the end sursum corda, lift up our hearts, and with our hearts lift the whole of creation into that heavenly Kingdom that awaits those who live in hope of its certain coming.
In other words, let’s be like the bodily risen Virgin Mary, God-bearer, icon of all that we hope to be…