VATICAN CITY-- Heaven is not a place, but an intimate relationship with God that can be experienced partially on earth, Pope John Paul II said.
Heaven “is not an abstraction nor a physical place amid the clouds, but a living and personal relationship with the Holy Trinity,” the Pope said at his July 21 general audience.
The audience was held the day after the Pope returned from a two-week vacation in the Italian Alps. After the audience, he was scheduled to go to the papal villa at Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome. Until September, he will stay at the villa, returning briefly on Wednesdays for the audience.
The Pope's last audience talk before vacation had focused on God's judgment and mercy which, he said, is so great that the only people who will be condemned to hell are those who actively turn away from God.
Picking up where he had left off, the Pope said, “When this world has passed away, those who accepted God in their lives and were sincerely open to his love, at least at the moment of death, will enjoy that fullness of communion with God which is the goal of human existence.”
It is possible to get a taste of heaven on earth, he said.
Through the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, and through acts of self-giving in charity, the Pope said, one can experience some of the happiness and peace which will reach its culmination in final, complete communion with God.
“If we are able to enjoy properly the good things that the Lord showers upon us every day of our earthly lives, then we have begun to experience the joy which will be completely ours in the next life,” the Pope said.
Pope John Paul said the idea of heaven as a place in the sky came from metaphorical biblical language contrasting the dwelling place of humanity and the dwelling place of God.
But the Old Testament makes it clear that God “cannot be enclosed in heaven,” that he hears human prayers, intervenes in human history and that, “through grace, believers can ascend” to God's presence, the Pope said.
The New Testament teaches that Jesus is the way to heaven for all men and women. Through his death and resurrection, all who believe in him were made “citizens of heaven,” he said.
“Therefore, after the journey of our earthly life, participation in complete intimacy with the Father passes through the Pascal mystery of Christ,” the Pope said.
Pope John Paul told visitors at the audience that care must be taken when trying to describe heaven because whatever descriptions people come up with “always remain inadequate.” (From combined wire services)