When you consider a new recipe, you look at the picture of the finished dish. When you plan a vacation, you look at the photos of the hotel rooms before you book. When you interview for a new job, you meet your prospective co-workers, and ask yourself, “Would I fit into this place?”
We need a vision for whatever we are doing. We are naturally goal-oriented people, and we direct ourselves by some vision of our destination. The harder the goal, the more distant or challenging, the more we need clarity of vision to get there.
So why don’t we ask more about heaven? Perhaps because it’s essentially unknowable. Perhaps we doubt our ability to reach it, or our deservingness. Maybe it’s just too far away, or we’re too busy. Or maybe it’s been diluted by Hollywood’s banal depictions.
But how will we reach our destination if we don’t know more about it? How will we desire it keenly if we have no idea how wonderful it actually is?
For my part, I choose to live the Christian life because I love Jesus and yearn to be with Him now. I must confess, I don’t spend much time thinking about eternity. But if I did, I think my willingness to live the most difficult parts faithfully might be increased, and what a great advantage that would be!
That’s why we wrote The Body and Heaven for fourth graders: to give children the beginnings of a vision of heaven and to create in them the hunger for it.
All the books in The Body Matters series for grades K-8 have presented their own sets of challenges, as we attempt to present authentic theology in an age-appealing way. In preparing to write The Body and Heaven, author Alexis Mausolf spoke with our resident TOB expert, Monica Ashour, for hours upon hours about St. John Paul’s vision of heaven which is in the third chapter of the Theology of the Body. Alexis also consulted books about heaven by Peter Kreeft, Anthony DeStefano, and Msgr. Ronald Knox, in addition to our perennial favorite, Pope Benedict XVI. But part of the challenge was that there just aren’t many books about heaven. TOBET has added to the list.
Perhaps you think that a fourth grade book would be too simplistic for you as an adult. Yet, this book’s colorful vision of the finish line can inspire you to overcome the obstacles we are encountering today in the Church and the world.
The first thing we tell the reader is to “think big!” Heaven is all the best things we’ve ever experienced, times infinity. Since fourth graders are concrete thinkers, we encourage their imaginations with bodily experiences like singing with whales, or riding dinosaurs to the World Series, or spinning melodies into blazing fireworks over their own personal hobbit hole! We know that such things are possibilities because nature will be perfected, and we will dwell there in bodily perfection, after the resurrection at the end of time.
But this is not merely imagination. What we tell the children about heaven is backed up by Scripture and Tradition. Like all our books, The Body and Heaven carries the Imprimatur and Nihil Obstat, assuring parents and teachers that this is good, solid, Catholic theology, in all its wonderment.
To better understand the joys of heaven, it is necessary to grasp what has been lost through sin and division. In heaven, all the sorrows of life on earth will be mended and we will love freely. Broken friendships, envy, rejection and loneliness will all be repaired, better than new. The things about us that are particularly unique will be magnified in heaven, and we will be perfectly ourselves, as God made us to be.
Jesus and Mary show us how this works. The apostles saw Jesus in His glorified body; they walked and spoke and ate with Him. The resurrected Jesus gives us a picture of what is in store for those who stay true to Him. Mary’s Assumption shows us that our bodies belong in heaven, united with our spirits. We need to know that heaven is not merely a spiritual reality; Jesus and Mary teach us that it is a bodily reality, as well.
Hollywood portrayals of heaven have sometimes done well with the beauty of perfected nature, and the joy of reunited friends, but they typically lack any sense of God. The Body and Heaven corrects that. In every chapter, among all the wonderful aspects of Creation perfected, God is emphasized. God will be All in All. As Pope Benedict said in 2012, “The true reality of heaven… is God himself. God is heaven.”
For all the wonderful things we can imagine about heaven (one of my personal favorites involves running with deer on an endless plain of golden, waving grass, never tiring and never slowing down,) it is the total union with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, that truly defines heaven. To try to think of it makes tears spring to my eyes, and that’s a good thing. It means that the hope of heaven is alive in me, beyond the clichéd images of harps and clouds.
To keep that hope alive, God has given us earthly signs that point the way to heaven. This book explains how Christian marriage is the total self-gift that images the love and life of the Trinity, the union of God and His people. Ordained men and consecrated men and women are even more explicit signs to heaven, because of their total self-gift to the Kingdom of God.
Finally, having given readers the reasons for hope in heaven, The Body and Heaven gives instructions, how to reach our destination. In the Church, God has left us all we need to know, and He has given the sacraments to support our journey.
Fourth grade is a good time to present this information to children, around age 10. Friendships are becoming more important, and they will be able to grasp the appeal of perfected relationships in heaven. It’s also a time of rapid cognitive development, and therefore a good time to present a complete and coherent vision of the spiritual life, directed toward heaven.
For adults, it’s a perfect time to hone our vision and desire for heaven. Life in this tumultuous age can have the effect of dulling our spiritual senses. The Body and Heaven will sharpen your hunger for the perfected realm where God will be All-in-All.
Sheryl Collmer, MTS, works with TOBET’s Outreach.