Recently I received a letter from a lady in Seattle in which she said that when she dies she will miss all the good things of this life. She said that while she wants to go to heaven, she does not want to go to some sterile place. Heaven might not be as interesting as earth. What follows is an adaptation of my response to her. (She gave me permission to publish it as long as I did not use her name.)
With many people you share the notion that heaven and earth are disconnected and that at the end of time the earth will be no more. But the authentic Catholic view is that God will save not only our souls, but also our bodies and, indeed, the whole created order within which human persons exist.
The Constitution on the Church of Vatican II states, “The Church ... will receive her perfection only in the glory of heaven, when will come the time of the renewal of all things. At that time, together with the human race, the universe itself, which is so closely related to man and which attains its destiny through him, will be perfectly re-established in Christ” (no. 48).
The Bible speaks of this renewal of the universe as the coming about of a “new heavens and a new earth” (2Peter 3:13). This will be the complete realization of the glorious end for which humanity and the whole created order are destined.
In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul speaks of a profound unity of all things in heaven: “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God ... in hope because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay. ... We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (8:19-23).
The whole created order is, then, destined to be transformed so that the world will be restored to the original state it had in the Garden of Eden and will therefore be a place without pain, suffering and loss.
In this light, then, heaven will not at all involve the loss of the good things of earth (our families, friends, good works, and arts) but these will be found in a new way in heaven. The Constitution on the Church in the Modern World of Vatican II declares: “When we have spread on earth the fruits of our nature and our enterprise ... according to the command of the Lord and in his Spirit, we will find them once again, cleansed this time from the stain of sin, illuminated and transfigured, when Christ presents to his Father an eternal and universal kingdom” (no. 39).
Christian life, then, is not a preparation that is detached from earth. Rather, it is precisely through the way we shape our lives, build up our relationships, create the human heritage and beautify and conserve the earth – in this way we prepare for heaven.
When Christ comes again in glory he will bring with him the Kingdom of Heaven, which will raise up and transform the earth in all its glorious, magnificent, and joyful aspects.
Msgr. M. Francis Mannion is pastor emeritus of St. Vincent de Paul Parish.