Heaven, earth and colonizing

Fr. Michael Champagne. i.vimeocdn.com

I taught an adult faith formation class recently, and I asked them what “being saved” meant. Lots of good answers, mostly revolving around “getting to heaven.” I then talked about what it means in the New Testament and in Catholic tradition to “be saved.” I said something like this (cobbled together here from my notes and memory), which, at the end, you will likely feel sorry for those poor folks (and yourselves) subject to such a lengthy monologue. I began with a quote from Anglican biblical scholar, NT Wright, that I had brought with me:

“We could cope — the world could cope — with a Jesus who ultimately remains a wonderful idea inside his disciples’ minds and hearts. The world cannot cope with a Jesus who comes out of the tomb, who inaugurates God’s new creation right in the middle of the old one.” Being saved for Christians does not primarily mean receiving a “get out of jail free card,” a gratuitous release from God’s just punishments in Hell. It’s far more. Being saved for Catholic Christians means allowing God to stoop down to salve us, to put healing oil on our wounds, to pick us up off the ground where we lay bloody and beaten, and bring us into what Pope Francis calls the “Field Hospital” of the Church. There God does brain and heart surgery on us to align our thinking and loving with the thinking and loving of His Son, who is Himself the one and only “man fully alive.” Being saved means being made well as God sees “well.” But not just for ourselves. We are made well so we can exit [Ite! Go!] the Field Hospital and go out onto the dangerous highways and byways that lead to Jericho and rescue others felled by human malice or life’s misfortunes. Let’s read the Good Samaritan story now [Luke 10:25-37] to see what Jesus means by salvation …

You know, there’s this amazing priest in Lafayette, Louisiana that I nearly idolize — Fr. Michael Champagne — who for the Year of Mercy bought an ambulance and ‘tricked it out’ to serve as a portable Confessional, to bring God’s mercy out into the highways and byways of a broken world [see here]. This is what every Christian is called to do in their own way, wherever they are: saving others by giving mercy precisely because they’ve been saved by mercy. We pray in the Our Father that we ourselves will become “earth as in heaven.” Heaven isn’t just a state of being we “get to” one day, it’s what we are called to become now in this world. St. Paul tells us that our bodies are “temples of the Spirit” [1 Cor. 6:19]. In Judaism, a Temple is where heaven meets earth, where the borderlands between the two nearly collapse and heaven overwhelms earth, claiming it for itself. At Mass, we quote the Seraphim who sang in front of Isaiah in the Temple (Isaiah 6:3): “Heaven and earth are full of your glory!” AND! Isaiah was in the Jerusalem Temple when he heard this hymn, and where he was standing — the Holy of holies — the borderlands were dangerously thin. In speaking of our body, Paul uses the Greek word naos, which means we are the Holy of holines now …

Think here also of the holy Eucharist. That’s really what transubstantiation means. We Christians, by means of our “saved” lives, gather, like ex-leper Naaman the Syrian [2 Kings 5:17], a portion of the “substance” of this world and carry it to God in worship as bread and wine. The bread and wine at Mass represent earth claimed for heaven by our heavenly lives on earth, and we give it back to be claimed by God for heaven. Claimed=consecrated. And note we don’t call the Eucharistic change neosubstantiation, as if we’re swapping the neo-new substance of the Risen Jesus out in place of an old, discarded world. No! It’s trans-, which means change, carry across, take up into, even metabolize this creation into the new creation … Look, there is no mistaking why Jesus commands us to eat the transubstantiated eucharistic Food and Drink: So we, and the world we have claimed by our God-claimed lives, can be metabolized, taken up, carried across or passed-over into the new creation in the Risen Jesus. Do you feel the mind-blowing here? …

But really, what does heaven look like when it arrives here? Is it some ethereal glowing light or celestial music? The Our Father tells us clearly that heaven is where God’s will is done, and when God’s will is done things look really, really good. In Jesus’ ministry, as all those healings and liberations were happening, and there we began to see around Jesus what it looks like when God’s will breaks into our God-rejecting, fallen world. This is super-good stuff! St. Paul says that “the kingdom of God [which is where God’s will is done] is not a matter of food and drink but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit; he who thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” Righteousness [which means doing justice God’s way], peace, joy, service, upbuilding. All sounds fabulous to me! So this is what being saved looks like and means. Not simply “going to heaven” but becoming heaven. Read Romans 12 tonight — there St. Paul says to offer your bodies to God, and then describes what that looks like in practice. The new creation is very practical, making of the heavenly minded the most earthly good.

The whole moral life for Christians is really about being human God’s way, which is what Christ is, and “being in Christ” really means giving Him permission to re-create us that way by means of grace Sacraments and prayer; means letting the Master Craftsman carve us into a crucifix … We are to, as NT Wright says again, “colonize earth with heaven,” and not just wait for a post-mortem heaven when we finally get to leave this crappy world behind and bid it good riddance … 1 John 5:13 tells us, “I write this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.” Not will have, but do have eternal life now. The rest of the Letter of John tells us what that means, what it looks like; and it means, of course, to love others God’s way, now. Today is the day of salvation. To love like God, with the very love of God in your heart, is to make God present in the world. And when God’s present, He consecrates everything around Him. He can’t help it. God always brings heaven along with Him when he is welcomed. Mother Teresa said that a saint (who’s the supremely ‘saved’ person) is “someone in whose presence it’s easy to believe in God.” … A Latin hymn says it so beautifully: Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est, “Where charity and love are, there is God.” So next time someone asks you if you’ve been saved, take inventory of how much of your earth has been claimed by heaven … Echo Belinda Carlisle and make heaven a place on earth, where love comes first…

I then shared a story I had read that day about the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Jeffrey Tucker, who is a research fellow at the Acton Institute, spied Scalia one day after Mass engaging in heaven’s colonizing work. I will leave you with his example to ponder and imitate:

It was a spring afternoon some years ago, and he was attending church services, sitting in a back pew, holding his prayer book in his hands. The Mass had ended and most people had gone. He was still saying prayers, alone in the back pew.

He finally got up and began to walk out. There were no reporters, nobody watching. There was only a woman who had been attending the same services. She had no idea who he was. I was a bystander, and I’m certain he didn’t know I was there.

What was a bit unusual about this woman: she had lashing sores on her face and hands. They were open sores. There was some disease, and not just physically. She behaved strangely, a troubled person that you meet in large cities and quickly walk away from. A person to avoid and certainly never touch.

For whatever reason, she walked up to Justice Scalia, who was alone. He took her hands, though they were full of sores. She leaned in to say something, and she began to cry.

He held her face next to his, and she talked beneath her tears that were now streaming down his suit. He didn’t flinch. He didn’t try to get away. He just held her while she spoke. This lasted for perhaps more than 5 minutes. He closed his eyes while she spoke, gripping her back with his hand.

He didn’t recoil. He stood there with conviction. And love.

One comment on “Heaven, earth and colonizing

  1. Jennifer says:

    “Do you feel the mind-blowing here?” Yes, yes I do. This gives me goosebumps. It’s like Heaven invading/outpouring/inside-outing/bursting forth from the cracks in the jars of clay….It makes me think of secret agents sprinkling enemy territory with the little seeds of God-and-other-loving deeds and when those seeds germinate (this biological love-fare) what blooms is Heaven.

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