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User's Guide to Sunday, Dec. 25.
BY The Editors
Sunday, Dec. 25, is the Solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas!
Isaiah 52:7-10; Psalms 98:1, 2-6; Hebrews 1:1-6; John 1:1-18 or 1:1-5, 9-14
Christmas gives us the answer about heaven.
Heaven is, the Catechism tells us, a “communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed” (1024).
What scene does that remind you of? It’s the Christmas scene: Mary, the angels and our loved ones.
“Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness,” adds the Catechism (1024).
Where do we find that? With our family, focused on God, and in the peak of our expressions of generosity to one another — at Christmas.
Pope Benedict makes three points about heaven. Let’s look at each from beside the crèche, in the glow of the Christmas tree.
Heaven is centered on God — and is full of joy.
He writes in his encyclical Spe Salve that eternity is “not an unending succession of days in the calendar, but something more like the supreme moment of satisfaction, in which totality embraces us and we embrace totality. ... It would be like plunging into the ocean of infinite love, a moment in which time — the before and after — no longer exists. We can only attempt to grasp the idea that such a moment is life in the full sense, a plunging ever anew into the vastness of being, in which we are simply overwhelmed with joy.”
Perhaps the best approximation of that experience available on earth is Christmas joy, which beautifully blends nostalgia from the past, delight for the present and hope for the future into one religious season.
Heaven is never something we can earn.
Wrote the Pope, “We cannot — to use the classical expression — ‘merit’ heaven through our works. Heaven is always more than we could merit, just as being loved is never something ‘merited,’ but always a gift.”
One delight of Christmas is the sheer over-the-top grandeur of it. As children, we are surprised by the sheer number of gifts on Christmas. If we accept them with gratitude, Christmas gifts give us the strong sense that there really is such a thing as love in the world, a love that gives without demanding that we prove we are “worth it.”
Heaven starts now.
As Pope Benedict put it when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger: “Eternal life is there, in the midst of time, wherever we come face to face with God; through the contemplation of the living God, it can become something like the firm base of our soul. Like a great love, it can no longer be taken from us by any change or chance; rather, it is an indestructible heart from which spring the courage and the joy to go on, even when exterior things are painful and hard.”
He is expressing the same thought found in the Catechism: “Heaven is the state of everlasting life in which we see God face to face, are made like unto him in glory, and enjoy eternal happiness.”
If we live our Christmas as an encounter with Christ and pray to be brought into relationship with him, then the “heaven” we find in Christmas can truly be in our soul always — and by “always” we don’t just mean during our lifetime on earth.
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas,
where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.