As we continue to consider death, or more properly life-after-death, and before beginning to consider our funeral liturgies, we move to considering the blessed reward of the just in the next life: heaven. Again, the Catechism of the Catholic Church describes this “ultimate end and fulfilment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness” as a perfect and eternal union (art. 1024).
It’s important also to consider that heaven is also within our reach, and not only at the end of our lives. The statement of belief in “the communion of saints” that we recite in the creed at Mass refers to the spiritual connection we who remain on earth have with those who have gone before us in faith: “Some of the Lord’s disciples are pilgrims on earth. Others have died and are being purified, while still others are in glory, contemplating ‘in full light, God Himself triune and one, exactly as He is … So it is that the union of the wayfarers with the brethren who sleep in the peace of Christ is in no way interrupted, but on the contrary, according to the constant faith of the Church, this union is reinforced by an exchange of spiritual goods” (CCC, arts. 954-955).
This “exchange of spiritual goods” consists of the blessings which the saints are able to obtain from God for us who are still alive on earth. The saints too serve as models and inspirations for us. But perhaps most importantly, as the Catechism continues: “Those who dwell in heaven … do not cease to intercede with the Father for us, as they proffer the merits which they acquired on earth through the one mediator between God and humanity, Christ Jesus ... so by their fraternal concern is our weakness greatly helped” (art. 956).
Yet we still do our part: we offer prayers for those who have died but still are undergoing any necessary purification before their entrance into heaven. And I guess you could say we provide a steady stream of new saints by the holiness of our lives.
Although human relationships will change once eternal life begins – think of Jesus’ own words about how once men and women get to heaven “they neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Mk 12:25, and Mt 22:30), all this means is that these will be better! Pope St. John Paul II deduced from these Biblical texts “a spiritualization of man into a completely different dimension from that of earthly life” – a “new mode of existence that transcends and improves upon our experience thus far” (Allocution of December 2, 1981). That is certainly something to look forward to!