Rejoice because your
names are written in heaven

Readings: Is. 66.10-14; Ps. 60; Gal. 6.14-18; Lk. 10. 1-12, 17-20.

Heaven. Heaven is the last word in today's gospel: "Rejoice because your names are written in heaven." (Lk. 10.20) May I ask and attempt to answer a few questions about heaven, namely, who, what, why, where, when, how about heaven?

Who will be in heaven? The Scriptures tell us heaven is "God's dwelling place." The good angels, but no bad angels, reside in heaven. God decides who enters into heaven. The Book of Revelation speaks about 144,000, but that is simply a scriptural symbolic number: 12 x 12 x 1000, which means countless souls. Who will be in heaven? You and I hope that we will be heaven. My grandfather used to say, "When I die, I hope heaven is real because I've rejected a lot of good temptations to get to heaven." My confidence lies in the last phrase of the Hail Mary: "pray for us now and at the hour of our death. Amen." I trust that the Blessed Mother will be praying for each of us when we reach the Pearly Gates.

What is heaven? Heaven is a state of being, not a physical place. While the Scriptures speak of seven heavens, and mansions in heaven, these structural images are metaphors and not part of a spiritual heaven. Will there be anything physical in heaven? Doesn't Jesus have a glorified body, and aren't we supposed to have glorified bodies? We will have glorified bodies; these are described as luminous, spiritual, incorruptible. Nothing corruptible will be in heaven.

Why is there heaven? In our physical world, which is subject to time and space, all humans are subject to corruptibility. The Scriptures observe that our lives last "seventy or eighty years, if we are strong." Heaven knows no corruptibility, no limitations of time and space; heaven is a state of eternity. We were created by God, in his divine image, and are intended at our creation "to know, love, and serve God and our neighbor in this life, and to be happy with God in eternal life." Heaven is our eternal home.

Where is heaven? We always look up, and point up, to heaven. Culturally and historically, heaven is "up". The Hebrews' cosmology, i.e., study of the cosmos, conceived the universe as existing in three layers: the heavens, earth, and hell. Rain, snow, sleet and sunshine came from the heavens. Because heaven is where God dwells, we look up to heaven.

When did heaven begin? Since God is eternal, His dwelling place also is eternal. The human concept of heaven is associated with Adam and Eve. Their Garden of Eden was Paradise. Heaven is supposed to be the new Paradise. While humankind originated approximately two million years ago, the story of Adam and Eve was not written until 950 BC. Since all the major religions of the world teach, in some cases rather vaguely and in other cases somewhat specifically, about a morality-based blissful afterlife, I suspect that the concept of heaven is as old as humankind. May I ask, who has not gazed at the stars on a clear night, and wondered what lies beyond them? Who has not held an infant in his/her arms and not wondered about the Absolute Creator of human life, and where He dwells?

How will we be in heaven, and what will we do in heaven? We will be in glorified bodies: luminous, spiritual, incorruptible. Because our God is Trinitarian, i.e., three persons in one God, living in community, I suspect that we will live in community. Spiritual writers suggest that we will recognize everyone whom we had ever encountered including those to whom we had done good, and those to whom we had done evil. We will be pray and intervene by prayer for those whom we left behind on earth. Personally, my father was quite gregarious and my mother, quite reflective. In the family we kid that my dad is traveling all over heaven, shaking hands, chatting, and drinking beers with lots of folks; and my mother will wave to my dad as he passes by, and she will continue sitting with just a couple of friends, reading books, drinking cups of tea, and sharing reflections on the profound meanings of life. In conclusion, in heaven, we will lack nothing, suffer nothing; we will enjoy complete happiness. We will be so filled with joy that we will spontaneously and continuously praise God.

Read other homilies by Father O'Malley