So, then, the Light of glory is a supernatural addition to our mind, which enables it to cross the gulf between the Creator and the creature. I say gulf, because no created intelligence can see God as he is, by its own natural power. Hence, neither St. Augustine, nor St. Thomas, nor any other giant intellect could see God as He is in himself, any better than the man who never could learn his letters. It is in this sense that we must understand St. Paul when, speaking of God, he says: "Who alone hath immortality, and inhabiteth light inaccessible; whom no man hath seen, nor can see."* Evidently he means that no one can see God by the light of nature; for in another place he tells us that when that which is perfect is come, we shall see Him face to face.
1 Tim. vi. 16.
From all this it follows that all men are on a footing of perfect equality, so far as the power of seeing God is concerned. No one has that power in himself by nature, and no one can give it to himself or develop it by study, as we can other powers we have received in the natural order. It is as if we said that no man possesses the natural power to see thorough a stone wall, or thorough the earth. Certainly all men are equal here; for the man whose eagle eye can recognize a friend at the distance of ten miles, is no nearer seeing thorough the earth than another, whose sight is so bad that he can scarcely recognize his own father at a distance of a few steps. So it is with seeing God. No man has the power in himself by nature, and, therefore, no one can develop it by study. Even the angels, who are so vastly superior to us in intelligence, could not see God as he is until they were elevated by the light of glory; and those among them who became reprobates by their sin, never did and never shall see God, although they still retain, even in their fallen state, more intelligence than man.
I have been particular in explaining and insisting upon these things, lest it might be imagined that men of highly cultivated minds, such as philosophers, theologians, poets, and the like, shall see God better, and enjoy more of heaven's happiness than the ignorant, in virtue of their superior natural gifts. They certainly shall not. God does not bestow a supernatural reward upon the natural gifts, or even upon the natural virtues, which are to be found among pagans as well as among Christians. But He does reward the faith, hope, charity, and other supernatural virtues, which his children have practised in this world. Hence, theology teaches that not even the angels, who are so superior to us, see God any better in virtue of their nobler and more perfect intellect. Thus, supposing an angel and a man to be equal in merit, they both receive the same amount of the Light of glory; they both see God in the same degree of perfection; and both, therefore, enjoy the same degree of happiness. If we admit that the angel has a more perfect vision of God, on account of his more perfect natural intellect, then we must also admit that he enjoys a portion of supernatural beatitude, exclusively, in virtue of his natural powers, and not on account of his merits acquired by correspondence to divine grace.* Evidently no such admission can be made; for heaven is a supernatural reward of supernatural virtues, which have been practised, in this world, under the influence of divine grace, and not a reward of natural endowments. If, then, no such doctrine can be admitted when the question is between angels and men, much less can it be admitted when there is question of superior natural intellect among men. Hence, the man who never learned his letters, either for want of natural talent or opportunity, shall undoubtedly see God, as well as the philosopher, if he has led as good a life; and he shall see Him better, and enjoy more of heaven's happiness, if he has lived a holier life.
* . . . Ipsa enim visio est praemium nostrum: ergo ubi paria sunt merita, debet esse par visio: sed in homino et angelo possunt esse paria merita: ergo debet esse par visio. Ergo quantitas visionis debet sumi a lumine gloriae quod datur secundum mensuram meritorum, non autem a perfectione intellectus, quae non datur ex meritis. Et confirmatur, quia ponamus angelum et hominem habere aequalia merita. Vel ergo accipient aequale lumen gloriae vel inaequale. Si inaequale, non respondebit meritis. Si aequale, ergo cum aequali lumine aequaliter Deum videbunt: alioqui si angelus perfectius videret, tunc aliquam partem beatitudinis haberet sine meritis, ex solis naturae viribus. Becan. de Attrib. Divin., quaest. x.
Once more: The light of glory is a supernatural elevation of the mind, which enables man to see God as He is in himself. It is given by God himself to those who have lived a supernatural life of faith, hope, and charity. Moreover, it is given to each in proportion to his personal merits. It therefore becomes the measure of the degree of happiness which each one of the blessed enjoys in the vision of God.
DEGREES OF HAPPINESS IN HEAVEN.
Having seen that the Light of glory is the new power, or medium, through which the blessed see and enjoy God, we must now endeavor to understand how its different degrees of intensity become the source of vastly different degrees of happiness or enjoyment.
In order to understand how the different degrees of mental elevation produce different degrees of happiness in the Beatific Vision, we must first examine in what consist the different degrees of enjoyment in the creatures that now surround us. This will be as a mirror, in which we can see faint, but true, reflections of the vast difference there is between the highest and the lowest in heaven.
In order to receive pleasure from creatures, it is not enough to be surrounded with them, or even to possess them: we must, moreover, be endowed with organs, or faculties, through which we can receive and appropriate to ourselves the pleasures which, according to their nature, they can give. Thus, a grand concert, which pours the most exquisite pleasures into your soul, gives none at all to a deaf man, because he lacks the receiving organ, and hence the pleasure-giving object is, in his regard, as if it had no existence.
But this is not all. Not only does our pleasure depend upon the possession of receiving faculties, but the amount also, or degree, of that pleasure, depends upon the development and perfection of the same receiving organs and faculties. The more highly developed and cultivated they are, the more intense, also, will be the satisfaction and pleasure we shall receive from any given object; while persons of inferior development will receive far less, although the object is the same for all. Let us make this evident by an illustration.
Take the thousands of persons who have read some literary work, say, for instance, the Iliad of Homer. They all had eyes, and all could read; they all possessed the whole book as completely as if it had been written for each one in particular; and, no doubt, they all received pleasure from the perusal of that beautiful poem. But, did they all receive the same amount of pleasure? They certainly did not. Not even two individuals ever received the same degree of pleasure or enjoyment from the perusal of that book. Each one received and appropriated to himself his own pleasure—which was great in proportion to the cultivation and elevation of his mind. Hence, while a superior and highly cultivated mind is entranced at the beauty and sublimity of some particular passage, an inferior one sees neither meaning nor beauty in it, and, perhaps, even casts the book aside in disgust.
It would be easy to multiply illustrations; but this one is sufficient to show that the amount of pleasure we derive from the use of creatures depends upon the degree of development and perfection in our receiving faculties. So it is in heaven, among the blessed. They all see and possess God; they all love and enjoy Him; but it by no means follows that they all enjoy the same amount of happiness from that blessed vision. And why so? Because each one sees and enjoys only in proportion to his individual development and elevation of mind—which is given to him by the Light of glory. And, as that blessed Light is given to each one according to his own personal merits, it follows that each one sees and enjoys God in proportion to the holiness of the life he lived while upon earth.
Hence, they who have practised virtue in a heroic degree—they who have sacrificed the pleasures of this world, honors, wealth, and even life itself, for God, possess the highest elevation of mind, and, consequently, the highest degree of enjoyment. They possess the most intense and perfect vision of the Divine Essence; they soar higher, and penetrate more deeply into the unfathomable being of God. They see more of the divine beauty, wisdom, goodness, and other perfections of God, and partake more largely of the Divine Nature. In a word, their higher elevation of mind, by a more intense Light of glory, is to them the source of the highest and most perfect enjoyment in the Beatific Vision; while persons of very inferior virtue, though perfectly happy too, enjoy a vastly inferior degree of blessedness.
But this is not all. We have seen, in a former chapter, that the Beatific Vision does not consist in merely gazing upon the surpassing beauty of God; and that the mere sight of Him, if it could be separated from the possession of him, could not make any one happy. Wherefore, the sight of God includes the possession of Him. It includes, moreover, the intense love to which that vision gives birth, as well as the consequent enjoyment of Him. Now, it is evident that a more intense light of glory, or a greater elevation of the mind, inflames the soul with a more intense love or God. For, it not only reveals to her more of His surpassing beauty, but it also reveals more of His unspeakable love for her; and her love for Him becomes greater in proportion. And the greater the love between the soul and God, the more perfect and complete also is the union existing between them, and, consequently, the higher is the happiness enjoyed by the soul.
Thus it is that all the blessed see, love, and enjoy God in the Beatific Vision. They are all perfectly happy; and yet, among the countless multitude of God's children, probably not two really enjoy the same degree of happiness. Each one enjoys according to the elevation of his mind, which he has deserved by the holiness of his life. Not only is there a difference in the degrees of enjoyment, but there is a gulf between the highest and the lowest in heaven. It is, moreover, an impassable gulf, which the lowest can never cross so as to reach the highest happiness of heaven. It were far easier for the lowest and most uncouth servant-maid in a king's palace to reach the dignity and glory of a queen, than it is for the lowest in heaven to reach the most intimate degree of union with God. Each one is happy in the degree and sphere which his life has deserved for him; but in that degree each one will and must remain forever.
I trust that you now understand something of the different degrees of happiness in heaven; and that, at the same time, you are filled with a holy ambition to reach a high degree of union with God. If so, thank God. For a high degree of glory in heaven is within the reach of us all, however poor, ignorant, or insignificant we may be here below. Heaven is not as this world, where the mere accident of birth, or the smile of fortune, instead of moral worth, generally determines a man's position in society, as well as the amount of natural happiness he shall enjoy. Hence, no poor girl ever imagines that, if she be very virtuous, some great king will eventually espouse her, and elevate her to the dignity and glory of a queen. No poor boy ever believes that, if he behaves well, and obeys the laws of the land as a good citizen, the king will, in consequence, eventually adopt him as one of his sons, and bestow upon him the honors and pleasures which may be enjoyed by royal children. But even supposing such wild dreams could be realized in this world, these ignorant and uncouth people could not be made happy in their elevated position. And why? Because the king, who has the power to give palaces, wealth, magnificent dresses, and tables loaded with every imaginable luxury, has not the power to bestow the elevation of mind, polish of manners, and other graces which befit queens and royal children. Hence, they would feel out of place, and be unable to enjoy the happiness to which they have been elevated. Besides, they would see themselves despised, and even ridiculed, by those whose birth and education have fitted them for high society. The mere fact, therefore, of their elevation to high honors, would not clothe them with the personal qualities which are necessary to enjoy the highest honors and pleasures of this world.
How different all this is, when there is question of heaven! For, how poor and ignorant soever we may now be, we may reasonably aspire to a very high degree of glory, and to the exquisite delights which come from a more intimate union with God. How insignificant soever we may be, and however low our position in this world, we may aspire to move in the highest society in heaven. And not only may we aspire to all this, and reach it, by the grace of God and the practice of virtue, but, what is more, we shall be made fit for our high position. For the moment the vision of God flashes upon the soul, we become like Him. We shall, therefore, be educated, filled with all knowledge, wisdom, and every other perfection. We shall be clothed with the personal beauty, refinement, and other graces which befit spouses of Jesus Christ and children of God. For you must ever bear in mind that the glory of heaven, besides the elevation of our mind by the Light of glory, implies the elevation of our whole nature to the supernatural state.
Wherefore, not only is our mind elevated far beyond its present powers by the Light of glory, but our body, also, is to be exalted by the resurrection far beyond its present perfection. As we have already seen, all the just are to rise in glory, but each one in his own degree of perfection. "For, one is the glory of the sun, another the glory of the moon, and another the glory of the stars. For star differeth from star in glory. So, also, in the resurrection of the dead." Here the Apostle of the Gentiles teaches us, in the plainest manner possible, that among the saints there is a very great difference in the degrees of personal beauty, grace, and splendor. There is as much difference between the beauty and splendor of the highest and those of the lowest, as we now see between the dazzling splendor of the surf and the pale light of the moon. As the resurrection is a portion of heaven's rewards, it follows that the more completely we have mortified our inordinate passions, and made our life conformable to that of Jesus Christ, the more also of personal beauty and splendor shall we possess in heaven; and, consequently, the more of heaven's happiness we shall enjoy.
These attributes of personal beauty and perfection, and elevation to a high position, in heaven, are the very marks by which we shall immediately recognize those who have been most holy, and who have done most for God, in this world. It will no longer be as now, when the wicked prosper, possess wealth, honors, and power, while the virtuous are not infrequently poor, despised, and even persecuted unto death. Hence, the appearance of a man and his surroundings are not a rule whereby we can rightly judge of his sanctity. Thus, when you see a man of great personal beauty, highly educated, and polished in his manners, surrounded with all the magnificence which the world can give, honored and idolized by his fellows, enjoying a high social position, and all the pleasures of life, you do not, you cannot judge, from all this worldly glory, that he is one of the holiest men living. He may, indeed, be a good man, but the glory which surrounds him is not the standard by which you can judge of the amount of virtue which he possesses.
In heaven, the glory which surrounds the saints is a rule, and an infallible one, by which we can tell the amount of virtue they practised while living in mortal flesh. Thus, when you enter there, you will see some who outshine others in splendor as the sun outshines the moon. You will see them wonderfully transformed into God, shining like the Divinity in His presence; partaking of the Divine Nature in a high degree, and united to Him in the most intimate manner. You will see them elevated far above others in rank, honored and loved in a special manner by the angels and saints. On seeing them, your first thought will be that these are the holiest persons in heaven. You will judge that their dazzling splendor, their wonderful resemblance to God, their intimate union with Him, the high position they occupy, and the exquisite pleasures they enjoy, are all so many proofs that, while on earth, they loved God with their whole heart, and their neighbor as themselves; that they were poor in spirit, humble, pure, patient in adversity, and that perhaps some of them laid down their lives for God, amidst the most excruciating torments. Here is a correct judgment. For it is precisely their heroic virtue, and not the mere accident of birth or the smile of fortune, which gives them the superior beauty, glory, and happiness they now enjoy.
Then, again, you will see others, who, although perfectly happy, are nevertheless far inferior in their degree of union with God and personal splendor. You will immediately infer that these practised virtue in an inferior degree. Your judgment is right again; for, in heaven, the glory which surrounds every saint is a rule by which we can judge of his moral worth, and of the amount of virtue which he practised while living in this world; because there it is all a just reward, and not the result of one's birth, or of any caprice of fortune.
DEGREES OF ENJOYMENT THROUGH THE GLORIFIED SENSES.
The possession and enjoyment of God in the Beatific Vision is not the whole happiness of man in heaven; nor is it the only one in which there are different degrees of enjoyment. Our senses, also, as well as our minds, are to be elevated far beyond their present capacities for enjoyment. They, too, are to receive a supernatural development, an exquisite delicacy of perception, and power of conveying pleasures to the soul, in proportion to the merits we have acquired by the holiness of our lives. They, consequently, who, have led the holiest lives, are not only the most intimately united to God, not only the most completely transformed into Him by partaking more abundantly of the Divine Nature; but their senses, also, are glorified and elevated in power of enjoyment far above theirs who have practised virtue in an inferior degree. Hence the highest in heaven will receive immensely more pleasure thorough their senses, than others whose lives have not been so holy. Any contrary doctrine would savor of heresy.
If you were told, for instance, that a musician, who never served God, but who, nevertheless, received the grace of a death-bed repentance, shall, on account of his cultivated musical ear, enjoy more pleasure from heavenly music than the Blessed Virgin, the apostles, martyrs, and holy virgins, your whole soul would undoubtedly revolt at such a doctrine. You would maintain that if heaven is the reward of supernatural virtue, its whole happiness, its every joy, and its every delight, whether from God himself or from creatures, should be enjoyed in a higher degree by those who have loved and served Him in a more perfect manner, and sacrificed themselves more completely for Him.
You would certainly be right in maintaining all this, for it is certainly so. The highest in heaven will not only possess a greater elevation of mind—which is necessary to enjoy greater pleasure even from creatures—but their senses also will be more refined and acute, and will, therefore, enable them to enjoy more refined pleasures from the objects of sense. It will be as already explained for the Beatific Vision. All shall see, hear, and otherwise enjoy the creatures prepared by the Almighty to rejoice the senses of His children; but all shall not, on that account, enjoy the same amount of pleasure. Each one shall receive his own pleasure, according to the supernatural perfection of his senses which he has deserved by the holiness of his life.
Let us endeavor to understand this, by supposing a grand concert given in a church, where all classes of society are represented. All hear the music, both vocal and instrumental, and all, no doubt, receive pleasure. But do they all receive the same amount of pleasure? They certainly do not. We may, for the sake of illustration, divide that vast assembly into three general classes. The first consists of those who have little or no musical ear, and, therefore, the concert affords them only an inferior pleasure. The next class is composed of those who have a good natural ear for music, but who never have developed and cultivated it by study. These evidently receive a far greater pleasure than the former. But the third class is composed of those who not only possess a natural talent for music, but who have, moreover, developed it by patient and assiduous study. These last receive unbounded pleasure. They follow with ease each instrument and voice into the most intricate harmony; they receive the most exquisite pleasure precisely in those parts where the uneducated perceive little or no beauty, because the music is too scientific for them.
Here you have the same object of pleasure for all. Every one present hears the whole concert as if he were there alone; and yet, what a difference in the pleasure enjoyed by each one! We have divided these persons into three classes, but, in reality, each one forms a class by himself; for there are not two of those present, whether among the educated or the ignorant, who receive precisely the same amount of pleasure. Each one appropriates and enjoys his own individual pleasure, according to the peculiar development of his faculties.
So it is in heaven. All the blessed hear the magnificent harmony, but all do not, on that account, enjoy the same degree of pleasure. Each one enjoys in proportion to his individual development, which is given him as a portion of his reward. And, as the reward is given in proportion to the holiness of their lives, it follows that the holiest enjoy more pleasure than others from heavenly music. Evidently, this holds true of the other senses, which also are elevated and refined according to each one's holiness of life. Hence, however talented and learned a man may now be in music, astronomy, philosophy, poetry, or any other natural science, and how keen and perfect soever may be his senses, he will not enjoy more pleasure, in virtue of these more perfect natural gifts, unless they have been consecrated to the service of God.
This is a truth which you must never forget. For it is to be feared that there is a half-formed notion in the minds of respectable and highly educated persons, that their superior talents and education will enable them to enjoy more of heaven's happiness than those who either have no great talents or are too poor to have them developed by study. There can be no greater illusion. If it were so, the poor, who, have already suffered so much from their humble position, would seemingly have reason to complain on seeing the educated classes again above them in heaven; and that, too, merely on account of their higher education, and other natural advantages. Remember that God can and will elevate each one in the power of enjoyment, according to the holiness of his life, and not according to the natural advantages he enjoys in this world.
But although it is perfectly true that natural talents, as such, are not rewarded, and, therefore, do not elevate their possessors to a higher glory or power of enjoyment, the case is quite different if these talents have been developed under the influence of grace, and consecrated to God by supernatural motives. In such a supposition, they will most certainly be rewarded with a higher degree of glory, and an increased power of enjoyment. Hence, philosophers, theologians, and other learned men, who study for the glory of God; poets, who sing the praises of God and of his saints; musicians, who devote their talents to the composition of sacred music; the men and the women who consecrate their talents and lives to the education of youth—all these shall undoubtedly have their talents rewarded with an increased power of enjoyment, because they have supernaturalized them by a pure intention, and exercised them for the glory of God and the salvation of souls. The rich man will certainly not be higher in heaven on account of his wealth; but he may increase his glory by making a proper use thereof. He may relieve the necessities of the fatherless and the widow; he may build up houses for the education of the poor; he may increase the beauty and the majesty of God's temples, and thus change his wealth into a means of reaching a very high degree of glory in heaven. So with you, if you be wealthy, talented, and highly educated, although you will not be higher in heaven on account of these natural advantages, you may vastly increase your glory by charity to the poor, by teaching the ignorant, by writing or translating good books, by purchasing and circulating such pious books among the poor, and by otherwise using your social position for the advancement of religion, and glorifying God with the natural advantages He has so liberally bestowed upon you.
But you may, perhaps, ask: Will not these different degrees of glory cause envy and, therefore, unhappiness in the lowest among the blessed? Will not kings and queens, and other great ones of this world, be unhappy if they see the poor above them? when they see those, to whom they imagined they could not even speak without lowering their dignity, shining far above them in splendor? I answer, that if kings, queens, and other great ones of this world have the unspeakable good fortune of being admitted into heaven, they certainly will not be envious of the greater glory they shall behold in those upon whom they formerly looked down.
There is no envy in heaven. If we once admit the possibility of such a thing as envy, then farewell to the happiness of heaven. For in such a supposition no one could be happy. The lowest would envy the happiness of those who are a little higher, and these would envy the happiness of the highest, and these, again, would envy the happiness of the Blessed Virgin; and she, too, would be unhappy, because she does not possess the glory of the Hypostatic Union, which is the privilege of Jesus Christ alone. The absurdity of all this is a sufficient answer to the question. Each one in heaven is satisfied with his own lot, because it suits himself and no one else. As St. Augustine says: When a tall man and a little boy are both dressed in a suit of the same precious cloth, each is suited and fitted to his satisfaction. The little boy is neither envious nor unhappy because the tall man has more cloth than he; and he certainly would not exchange with him. So also in heaven. Every one is there satisfied with his own degree of glory, because it suits himself, and gratifies all the rational cravings of his nature. Not only are the lowest without envy, and perfectly satisfied with their degree of glory, but they even rejoice at the higher glory of others. For they see that those who enjoy the highest glory of heaven have deserved it by the heroic virtues they practised while on earth.
Christian soul, I suppose that now you understand something of the degrees of enjoyment in heaven, and that you are filled with noble ambition to reach a high degree of union with God. You no doubt desire to see your whole nature so elevated as to have the most perfect enjoyment of God himself, and of the creatures in store to rejoice the glorified senses of the just. Set to work in good earnest to live a holy life; for it is by so doing that we deserve the highest powers of enjoyment. A few days of labor and struggle, a few days of self-denial, a few days of suffering, and then, the undisturbed possession and enjoyment Of God himself, and of His beautiful and pure creatures, forever! This is what is in store for them that practise virtue and persevere unto the end.
THE GLORY OF JESUS AND MARY.
Before entering upon the contemplation of the excellent glory which surrounds the blessed in heaven, we must endeavor to form a correct idea of God's grace, which enabled them to perform the great and noble actions we are now to consider. They were all, except Jesus and Mary, conceived in sin, and, therefore, subject to the same temptations that daily assail us. They never could have triumphed and reached the supernatural glory which now surrounds them, had they been left to their own natural strength, or rather, weakness.
When we enter a well-cultivated garden, filled with flowers of every shade of color and every degree of beauty, it never enters into our minds that they grew so of themselves, or gave to themselves their delicate and exquisite perfumes. We know that the skill of the gardener had something to do with their growth and beauty; we know, moreover, that rain and sunshine, the quality of soil, and other natural influences, did what was totally beyond the power of the gardener; and finally we come to God, who is, ultimately, the sole Author of their very life, growth, and perfection.
We are now to enter God's glorious garden to contemplate the beauty of the flowers which He has planted and beautified by His grace. Every saint is like a flower, beautiful in proportion to the amount of grace he received, and in proportion, also, to the amount of his own free co-operation with this grace. Some received the grace of the apostleship, and all, except one, corresponded with that grace. Others received the grace of martyrdom; others received the grace of the priesthood; others the grace of trampling under foot the honors and pleasures of this world, by consecrating themselves to God in religious communities; while others, again, received the grace of becoming saints, while living in the world. Thus every one, by corresponding with his own grace, which gave him a supernatural strength, reached the glory to which he is entitled. No one in the whole of heaven can say that he enjoys its happiness by his own natural endeavors; for, without the grace of God, we cannot even have a good thought, nor pronounce the name of Jesus, so as to deserve a supernatural reward. Hence, the highest in heaven must say, with St. Paul: "By the grace of God I am what I am: and His grace in me hath not been void: but I have labored more abundantly than all they: yet not I, but the grace of God with me."*
* 1 Cor. xv. 10.
It is by the aid of this grace that the blessed have reached the glory of heaven; it is by this all-powerful grace that they have deserved the unfading crown, whereof St. Paul speaks so boldly and confidently, when he says: "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. As to the rest, there is laid up for me a crown of justice, which the Lord, the just Judge, will render to me at that day; and not to me only, but to them also, who love His coming."* This is the glorious crown we are now to consider; and first of all, in Jesus Christ, who, in His human nature, is elevated and glorified far above all, in heaven.
* 2 Tim. iv. 7.
Jesus is the Son of God; but He is also "the Son of Man." As God, His glory is from everlasting to everlasting. It had no beginning, and it shall have no end. As its source is in His very essence, it can neither be increased nor diminished. But it is far different with the glory of the human nature which He assumed. That had a beginning, and could be increased, and, as a matter of fact, was increased, until He exalted it above all that is not God, in heaven. Let us now contemplate His bright glory, and rejoice with him in his surpassing blessedness.
See Him enthroned at the right hand of God his Father, clothed with "great power and majesty." The personal union of the eternal Son of God with the human nature gives Him, as man, undisputed pre-eminence over all, in power, holiness, beauty, and every other attribute communicable to a created nature. He is so completely possessed, embraced, and penetrated by the Divine Nature, that His adorable heart is the throne of the most perfect happiness ever enjoyed by man. That loving heart, which is purer than the sun's brightest rays, is filled to overflowing with the most exquisite joys emanating from the very bosom of the most Holy Trinity.
While on earth, no one ever loved God and man as He did; and now there is none in all the heavens who is equally loved in return, both by God himself and the bright throngs that surround this throne. No man, therefore, ever did, or ever can enjoy a happiness so pure, so exquisite, and in so eminent a degree as He does.
While on earth, His soul was sorrowful even unto death; but now it is inebriated with torrents of joy, too great for poor human language to express. While on earth, He likewise suffered in all his senses. He endured hunger and thirst, cold and heat, fatigue, and the numberless privations which His poverty entailed upon him. But it was especially during His cruel passion that his sight, hearing, taste, and particularly his sense of feeling, were tortured to the utmost; and now His glorified senses have become the avenues of the most exquisite and refined pleasures. He now sees himself surrounded by the thousands whom His precious blood has sanctified and beautified; and he continually hears the sweet harmony of their grateful songs. His sacred body, which had been bruised and mangled, disfigured and dishonored by the filthy spittle of His enemies, is now the most beautiful, perfect, and resplendent in the whole kingdom of heaven. It is the very sun which, by its splendor, gives beauty and life to the whole of heaven. In a word, Jesus, as man, is above all in power, majesty, wisdom, glory, and enjoys the most perfect and complete happiness that ever came from God.
But you will, perhaps, say: Does not Jesus enjoy all this unspeakable glory, simply and exclusively in virtue of His high privileges? Is it not on account of the Hypostatic Union that He is thus exalted above all in glory? I answer: Although the Hypostatic Union, by its very nature, gives Him the right to the first place in heaven, it gives him neither the glory nor the rewards which are due to Him as the Redeemer of mankind. The Hypostatic Union is a high privilege, a free gift of God, which He did not merit; for that privilege, in the designs of his Father, involved the office of Redeemer. This was His vocation in this world, and he corresponded to it faithfully. He taught the world, first by example, next by His heavenly doctrines. Then He submitted willingly, and even cheerfully, to all the indignities of his bitter passion, and finally consummated the great work of man's redemption by expiring upon the cross.
It is for all this life of poverty, suffering, and humiliation, that He is rewarded, and so wonderfully glorified, and not exclusively on account of the Hypostatic Union. Listen to St. Paul, and he will tell you why Jesus is exalted above all in heaven: "He humbled Himself, becoming obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. For which cause God hath also exalted Him, and hath given Him a name which is above all names, that in the name of Jesus, every knee should bow of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth."* Surely this is far from saying that Jesus enjoys the highest glory of heaven, exclusively on account of the Hypostatic Union. It is given Him by his Father as a "crown of justice," which he really deserved by his sufferings and obedience unto the death of the Cross.
* Phil. ii. 8.
It is, moreover, the beautiful canticle which forever resounds through the vaults of heaven. Listen to it: "Thou art worthy, O Lord, to take the book, and open the seals thereof: because Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us in Thy blood, out of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation."* It is evident, then, that Jesus is rewarded in His human nature with the highest glory of heaven, on account of his own individual merits.
* Apoc. v. 9.
Let us now spend a few moments in contemplating the glory of the Blessed Virgin. Jesus is the King of heaven; Mary is the Queen. She certainly comes next to Jesus in dignity and merit, and her glory is, therefore, next to His in splendor and magnificence. She is the woman of whom the beloved disciple speaks when he says: "And a great wonder appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars."* This certainly expresses the highest glory and splendor imaginable. Human words can say nothing more; for our highest ideas of glory are borrowed from those beautiful worlds that shine above us in the blue ether. On her bosom she wears a jewel of unsurpassed splendor, whereon are written her three singular privileges. These are Immaculate, Mother of God, Virgin. These are high privileges which she alone enjoys, and which single her out at once as the Queen of angels and of men. The Eternal, by assuming flesh from her, united her to Himself by a bond of intimacy which is second only to that of the Hypostatic Union. He shed His own bright glory around her, and enthroned her at the right hand of Jesus. The Almighty Father looks upon her with complacency, as his own beloved daughter, faultless in beauty and every other perfection. The Holy Ghost calls her His own spotless and faithful Spouse, over whom the breath of sin never passed; while Jesus who, in all His glory, is still flesh of her flesh, and bone of her bone, calls her his own sweet and loving Mother. Can we conceive any greater glory unless it be that of the Hypostatic Union?
* Apoc. xii. 1.
In this world, a great king may see with grief that many other women surpass his own mother, daughter, or spouse, in beauty, intelligence, virtue, and other perfections; but, however grieved he may be, he is totally powerless to remedy the evil, and he must continue to see others outshining those who are the dearest to his heart. Not so in heaven. Never shall it be said there that there are women holier, purer, more intelligent, or more beautiful than the Blessed Virgin. For God has the power to clothe her with attributes that will forever make her superior to any mere creature. Not only has He the power, but, as a matter of fact, he has adorned her by bestowing upon her every gift of nature, grace, and glory, in an eminent degree. She, above all saints, is "full of grace," and is made a partaker of the Divulge Nature, and, therefore, her Immaculate Heart, which is purer than crystal, is the home of the most perfect happiness ever enjoyed by woman.
But, remember well, she does not enjoy all this excellent glory exclusively on account of her glorious privileges. These are, like those of Jesus, free gifts of God, which she did not merit. But she freely and generously corresponded to all the designs of God, and, therefore, she is rewarded with the highest glory of heaven. She too, as well as Jesus, was obedient unto death. She too was submissive to the most trying dispensations of Providence. She too suffered patiently from every manner of privation; for she was poor. She too endured the most bitter anguish during the passion of her beloved Son, and had her pure soul overwhelmed with agonies whereof we can form no adequate conception. Hence, God hath also exalted her, and given her a name which is above every name except that of Jesus.
Thus we see that even Jesus and Mary, the bright King and Queen of heaven, are exalted above all angels and men in glory, on account of the heroic virtue they both practised in this world, and not exclusively in virtue of their dignity and high privileges. They both labored for it, both suffered for it, and both deserved it as a "crown of justice," which a just Judge bestowed upon them as a reward of merit.
It is impossible to think of Jesus and Mary without, at the same time, thinking of the illustrious St. Joseph. He is so intimately bound up with them, that we can neither forget him nor separate him from them. He was emphatically a hidden saint. He was truly "a just man," as the Holy Ghost calls him. He was so humble, so pure, so unspeakably charitable to the Blessed Virgin. Then, too, he loved Jesus so much, so tenderly, and took so great a care of Him during his infancy. Whenever he received a command, he always obeyed so promptly, without excuse or murmur, though at times the commands involved great privations and sufferings. In a word, St. Joseph, too, corresponded with the grace of his sublime vocation; and he now shines with exceeding glory near Jesus and Mary. He too is glorified on account of His tender love for God, for Jesus and Mary, and for his neighbor, and not exclusively in virtue of the glorious privilege of having been the guardian of Mary's purity, and the foster-father of Jesus. Therefore, His exceeding glory is also "a crown of justice," wherewith a just Judge has encircled his brow.
THE GLORY OF THE MARTYRS.
We shall now contemplate the glory of the vast multitude of the blessed, who surround the thrones of Jesus and Mary. I quote from the Apocalypse: "After this, I saw a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and tribes, and peoples, and tongues: standing before the throne, and in the sight of the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands."* This glorious multitude represents all the blessed. They may be divided into eight classes, namely, the martyrs, the doctors and confessors, the virgins, the religious, the penitents, the pious people, those of inferior virtue, and the baptized infants. In this chapter we shall consider the glory of the Martyrs.
* Apoc. vii. 9.
See that beautiful army of martyrs—these brave soldiers of Jesus Christ—who died or Him, and like him, in the midst of the most cruel torments. Theirs is truly "a crown of justice." They are represented as holding palms in their hands, in token of the victory which they gained over the world. Their intimate union with God, the dazzling splendor of their personal appearance, the high honors conferred upon them, single them out at once as those champions of the faith who, while on earth, served God in a heroic degree. And they certainly served Him with distinction; for they proved their love by laying down their lives for Him. Laying down one's life for God has always been looked upon as the most perfect act of love possible; for "Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends."* Hence, the martyrs, as a class, have always been considered as deserving the highest honors of heaven.
* John xv. 18.
The beautiful words of the Holy Ghost in reference to all the just apply with peculiar force to the martyrs: "But the souls of the just are in the hand of God: and the torment of death shall not touch them. In the sight of the unwise they seemed to die: and their departure was taken for misery: and their going away from us for utter destruction; but they are in peace. And though in the sight of men they suffered torments, their hope is full of immortality. Afflicted in a few things, in many they shall be rewarded: because God hath tried them, and found them worthy of himself. As gold in the furnace, He hath proved them; and as the victim of a holocaust, he hath received them."*
* Wis. iii.
What a bright and beautiful crowd they are! As a garden is beautified by flowers, so is heaven made more beautiful by the radiant crimson-clad army of martyrs. Here is St. John the Baptist, the fearless precursor of Jesus. Here is the glorious St. Stephen, the first who laid down his life after the ascension of Jesus. Here are the holy Apostles, those intrepid soldiers of Christ, who went forth from the council, rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus. The prediction of their Divine Master was verified in them: "For they shall deliver you up in councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues. And you shall be brought before governors, and before kings for my sake. . . . And you shall be hated by all men for my sake."* . . . "Yea, the hour cometh that whosoever killeth you, will think that he doeth a service to God."+
* Matt. x. + John xvi.
But in spite of all this hatred and persecution, they sowed the seed of the word of God in the hearts of men, and watered it with their own blood. They now enjoy a peculiar glory in heaven; for, besides the glory which belongs to them as martyrs, they also enjoy that which belongs to them as Apostles, promised to them in these words of our blessed Lord: "Amen, I say to you, that you, who have followed me, in the regeneration, when the Son of Man shall sit on the seat of His majesty, you shall also sit on twelve seats, judging the twelve tribes of Israel."*
* Matt. xix. 28.
Here are also so many holy Popes, and bishops, and priests, the worthy successors of the Apostles, who, like them, joyfully laid down their lives for the love of Jesus Christ. Here is also that countless multitude of holy missionaries, who, like the Apostles, went forth into all nations to preach the gospel. They, too, were "brought before governors, and before kings," and sealed their faith with their blood. Here, too, are holy virgins, who preferred death, in all its horrid shapes, rather than stain their souls, or have another spouse besides Jesus, to whom they had consecrated themselves. The grace of God changed them from timid, retiring virgins, into dauntless heroines, and enabled them to suffer death with superhuman courage and constancy. Here are also married men and women, fathers and mothers, who loved God more than they loved their children. Here, even, are little children, who astounded the heartless tyrants by the admirable patience and heroism which they displayed amidst the most refined cruelties. Here, too, are venerable old men and women, who, in spite of the infirmities of age, ascended the scaffold with a firm step, and suffered death with undaunted constancy. All these, like St. Paul, have fought a good fight, and all, without exception, have received a "crown of justice" at the hands of a just Judge. They all enjoy the high rewards which Jesus promised to His heroic followers, when he said: "Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake: rejoice, and be exceeding glad: because your reward is very great in heaven."*
* Matt. v.
But, before leaving these to consider the glory of others, we must remark that, although they are all martyrs, they do not, on that account, all enjoy the same degree of glory. They are all stars; but "star differeth from star in glory." Each martyr is clothed in his own brightness, which is great in proportion to the intensity of his love for God, and the amount of suffering endured for Him. Some were simply put to death, without any additional torture. Others were imprisoned, scourged, and then put to death; while others again were tortured for days, weeks, and even months, with the most frightful torments. Again, some came to their martyrdom totally devoid of any previous virtue; some even loaded with sin, and unbaptized: but they received a baptism of blood—which made them pure, and deserved for them the high honors of heaven. Nevertheless, the glory that surrounds such is far inferior to that which surrounds those who, like St. John the Baptist, St. Peter, St. Paul, St. Andrew, and a host of others, came to their martyrdom loaded with the merits of a life spent in the practice of heroic virtue.
THE GLORY OF THE DOCTORS AND CONFESSORS.
Let us now turn our eyes to another bright throng. It is composed of the Doctors and Confessors of the Church. These too, as well as the martyrs, enjoy the high honors of haven. Here we meet again the Apostles, who were filled with the Holy Ghost, and instructed the infant Church in all truth. There, too, are their worthy successors in the ministry—such men as St. John Chrysostom, St. Augustine, St. Gregory, St. Thomas, and a multitude of others—whose vast intellects were stored with the knowledge of God. They gained a signal victory over the devil—who is the father of lies. By their eloquence, and by their writings, they enlightened the Church, not only in their day, but for all time to come. They are now crowned with the peculiar glory which is promised to all such: "They that are learned shall shine as the brightness of the firmament: and they that instruct many unto justice, as the stars for all eternity."*
* Dan. xii. 3.
But you must not imagine that the great lights of Christianity, such as the Apostles, or a St. Augustine, a St. Thomas, and others, who have been proclaimed doctors of the Church, are alone in their glory. This class also includes the glorious confessors of the Church—all holy Popes, bishops, and priests, who have zealously and faithfully preached the gospel to their flocks. It comprises also all those holy missionaries who, like the Apostles, preached Jesus crucified to the heathens, and brought them into the one true fold. These holy confessors, though not proclaimed doctors by the Church, nevertheless shine "as the stars for all eternity."
But, besides these glorious confessors, there are still others who partake of the peculiar glory promised to them "that instruct many unto justice." These are the innumerable multitudes of men and women who compose the different religious orders of the Church—who spend their lives in the education of youth. There are, moreover, the writers, translators, and publishers of good books, and others, who, though not bound by any vows, devote themselves to the diffusion of religious knowledge. Among these, particular mention must be made of good parents, whose first care is to teach the knowledge and love of God to their children. In a word, all they who have, in any way, instructed others unto justice, partake of the peculiar glory of the doctors and confessors of the Church, though, no doubt, in an inferior degree. For the promise of a special reward is not made exclusively to a few gifted intellects, but to all, without any exception. "They that shall teach many unto justice, shall shine as the stars for all eternity."
Yet, although it is true that instructing others unto justice deserves a peculiar reward, we must not forget that the preaching of the gospel will not, of itself, glorify any one, unless it is accompanied by a pure intention, and the practice of virtue. Even if Judas, as an apostle, instructed many unto justice, he certainly does not now shine as a star on that account. Evidently, then, holiness of life must accompany our teaching of others. This is what our Blessed Lord tells us in the most positive manner, when he says: "He that shall do and teach, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven."* Hence, you must ever remember that, how gifted soever you may be, however eloquent, and how many soever you may have taught unto justice, you never can shine as a star in heaven, unless you at the same time lead a Christian life. Without this, your preaching will profit you nothing, even if others are saved by your eloquence.
* Matt. v. 19.
THE GLORY OF THE VIRGINS AND RELIGIOUS.
Here are two other bright throngs that present themselves. They are the holy Virgins and the Religious. Let us first contemplate the bright glory of the virgins. I quote again from the Apocalypse: "And I heard a great voice from heaven. . . . And the voice which I heard was as the voice of harpers, harping upon their harps. And they sang as it were a new canticle before the throne. . . . And no man could say that canticle but those hundred and forty-four thousand. These are they who were not defiled with women: for they are virgins. These follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth."*
* Apoc. xiv.
These evidently form a distinct class in heaven. It is composed of both men and women who never married, nor lost their virtue by actual sin. I speak here of such as these, and not of any others. Hence, we must exclude from this class all little children, who died before they could be responsible for their deeds; for, though they all died virgins, their virginity, which was a gift of nature, does not deserve a "crown of justice." Wherefore, in this place we shall consider the excellent glory of those only, who, having grown to the age of discretion, led a life of purity, and died virgins. Evidently these alone have purchased the glory promised to virgins. Many of them led holy lives while living in the world—either with or without vow; while the great majority were so enraptured with the beauty and purity of Jesus, that they cheerfully gave up all the lawful pleasures of the world, and consecrated themselves to Him by the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. In this life of suffering and self-denial they persevered unto the end.
Their day of trial and suffering is now over, and they are rewarded with exceeding glory. Clad in their white robes, which denote the spotless purity of their lives, they enjoy a peculiar and intimate union with Jesus, their beloved Spouse. While on earth, they would have no other spouse but Him. They consecrated themselves to Him, and he accepted the noble sacrifice. By His grace he sanctified and beautified them, and made them worthy of the special glory they now enjoy. How beautiful they are! How glorious! They are the lilies of heaven. In the words of the Holy Ghost, we may exclaim: "O how beautiful is the chaste generation with glory! for the memory thereof is immortal: because it is known both with God and with men. When it is present, they imitate it: and they desire it when it hath withdrawn itself: and it triumpheth forever, winning the reward of undefiled conflicts."*
* Wis. iv.
Yet, while it is true that those who die virgins are rewarded with a peculiar glory, we must not forget that virginity alone can neither deserve the high honors of heaven, nor even save any one, unless it is accompanied by the virtues which befit a spouse of Christ. There are many foolish virgins, who are not even admitted to the wedding—feast, because they are not adorned with charity, and other virtues which belong to their state.
We must ever remember that the crown worn by the virgins in heaven is only an accidental glory; for if it were essential, no one except virgins could be happy there. Virginity is, therefore, far from being the greatest of virtues, or the most necessary to reach the high honors of heaven. For, to use the strong language of the Apostle, if you could speak with the tongues of angels and men; and if you knew all mysteries, and had all knowledge; and if you had faith, so as to remove mountains, and have not charity—even though you be a virgin—you are become as sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal. Neither will your virginity, nor all other gifts, profit you anything without charity.
See, therefore, that you endeavor to clothe your soul with those virtues which befit a spouse of Jesus Christ. Love God above all things. Be extremely charitable to all. Be humble, modest, reserved. Lead a life of mortification, silence, and prayer. For unless you lead such a life as your vocation requires, you expose yourself to hear the terrible words spoken to the foolish virgins. When they came to the wedding, they stood at the door, and said, "Lord, Lord, open to us. But He answering, said: Amen, I say to you, I know you not."*
* Matt. xxv. 11.
But if you do lead the charitable life of a true spouse of Christ, you shall undoubtedly reach a high degree of glory in heaven; and, besides, you will wear the virgins' crown, and enjoy the special intimate union with Jesus which is promised to all those who, despising the short-lived pleasures of this world, have consecrated themselves to His divine service.
Let us now spend a few moments in contemplating the high glory of the religious. This class is composed exclusively of men and women who, while on earth, consecrated themselves to God by the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Many of them—perhaps the great majority are virgins, while other are not. For many of them, like a St. Francis Borgia, were widowers; and others, like a St. Frances of Rome, were widows. Others again, there are, who, when young and foolish, committed sin, by which they may have ceased to be virgins, but who nevertheless received a most marked vocation to the religious life. All these, as well as virgins, enjoy a peculiar glory in heaven, which is due to them as a "crown of justice," on account of the great sacrifices they made to God by the vows of religion.
By the vow of poverty, they not only stripped themselves of all their possessions—they, moreover, gave up the natural right which all men have to possess property. By the vow of chastity, they gave up the natural right which all men have to enjoy the lawful pleasures of the body. By the vow of obedience, they not only relinquished forever the right to dispose of themselves, but they also placed themselves in the hands of their superiors, to be ruled and governed by them as if they were little children. Thus, by one single act, religious persons abandon all that is dearest to the heart of man according to nature; for they not only give up all their possessions—the world, with its honors and pleasures—they not only sacrifice their liberty—they also abandon father and mother, brother and sister, friends and relatives. In a word, they cut themselves away from the world, and all that makes life bright and desirable, according to nature. And what is more, they embrace a life of continual mortification and self-denial.
It is true, the grace of God, which enables men and women to make such sacrifices, makes the life of religious tolerable; but this does not prevent it from being a life of a continual and painful struggle against the inclinations and cravings of nature. From all this, it follows that religious, as such, whether virgins or not, enjoy an exceeding glory in heaven on account of the sublime sacrifice of themselves they have made to God by the three vows of religion. This is what our Blessed Lord promises, when he says: "And every one that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands for my name's sake, shall receive a hundred-fold, and shall possess life everlasting."
In speaking of the three vows, theologians compare them to martyrdom. They maintain that, as a man who lays down his life for the faith enters heaven immediately, without any detention in purgatory, so also does a religious who dies immediately after taking his vows. Whatever temporal punishment was due to him on account of His sins, is entirely cancelled by that one act. And the reason they give is, that the act of sacrificing one's self to God by the vows of religion is, like martyrdom, one of the noblest and most heroic acts that man can perform.
If then, virgins, as such, are rewarded with a peculiar glory in heaven, what shall we say of the glory and splendor which surrounds religious? For virgins make only one great sacrifice, by the practice of perfect chastity, while religious, who make the same sacrifice, add to this two others, namely, poverty and obedience. And experience teaches that these two additional vows are, for most persons, far more difficult, because they involve far more suffering and self-denial than the mere practice of chastity. From all this it follows, that virgins who are religious, enjoy a far higher degree of glory in heaven than those who are not religious. It follows, also, that religious, as such, whether virgins or not, enjoy an exceeding glory in heaven, in virtue of the great sacrifices they have made for God by the three vows of religion. Like Jesus, they were poor, chaste, and obedient unto death; and like Him also, they are exalted to the high honors of heaven.
But, although it is true that religious, as such, enjoy a high glory in heaven, it must not be inferred that they all enjoy the same degree of glory. There is, perhaps, not a class in heaven in which the degrees of glory are so various. Some of them died only a few days after taking their vows; others, on the day itself; while others lived half a century, and more, in the practice of the most heroic virtue. Some were called by the grace of God after a life of worldliness and sin; while others had already reached a high degree of sanctity when they offered their sacrifice to God. Others again, after their consecration to God, were extremely faithful to grace, and gave all the energies of their nature to the acquirement of greater perfection; while others were sadly wanting in generosity to God, and aimed at only an inferior degree of holiness. Again, some had few or no temptations from the day upon which they took their vows; while for others that act seemed to be a declaration of war, for they began to be assailed by every manner of temptation to violate their vows and go back into the world. But, aided by the all-powerful grace of God, they resisted manfully, and fought the good fight unto the end.
These, and a thousand other differences, give rise to various degrees of glory among the religious, who, having finished their course, have received the crown of life. They who, like a St. Aloysius, a St. Stanislaus, a St. Theresa, and many others, practised every virtue in a heroic degree, are among the brightest and the highest in glory; while they who led less perfect lives are far inferior. Nevertheless, all, without exception, enjoy a peculiar glory, which is due to them as a "crown of justice" for the great sacrifice they made to God by the three vows of religion.
THE GLORY OF PENITENTS AND PIOUS PEOPLE.
Who are they that compose yonder bright multitude? They are headed by a queen who does not wear a virgin's crown; and yet, she is so beautiful, and enjoys so intimate a union with Jesus. Who is she? She is Mary Magdalen, the bright queen of Penitents, and the star of hope to all who have grievously sinned in this world.
She was once a sinner, and such a sinner! Her soul was the home of seven devils! She was a hireling of Satan, to catch the souls of men. But a flash of light came forth from the Heart of Jesus, and in that light she saw herself sinful and hateful in the eyes of God. His grace filled her heart with a deep and crushing sorrow for her many sins. Prostrate at the feet of Jesus, she kissed them, and washed them with the tears of true repentance. Jesus, who never despised or rejected repentant sinners, commanded the devils to depart from her; He then washed her soul, and made her clean as an angel. Her many sins were forgiven her, because she loved much; for her deep contrition was not dictated by servile fear, but by pure love. After the ascension of Jesus, she shut herself up in a grotto, where she wept and did bitter penance during the remainder of her days. When her last hour was come, the angels descended from heaven, and took her pure soul to the bosom of Jesus. Her intense love and her penitential tears deserved for her a "crown of justice." They beautified and glorified her far above many a one who never sinned grievously; for she is crowned with the high honors of heaven, and enjoys a union with Jesus far more intimate than many who never offended God.
Nor is she alone in this exceeding glory wherewith an ardent love and penance clothe sinners. Thousands of others who sinned grievously, and imitated her penance, are now shining in glory far above others who never sinned. Think you that St. Peter, who denied his Lord, is below all those who preserved their innocence, and even below all the baptized infants in heaven? Think you that St. Paul, who once persecuted the Church, is now below all on that account? Think you that the great St. Augustine, St. Mary of Egypt, St. Pelagia, and a host of other illustrious penitents, are all below mere babes on account of their sins? They certainly are not. Their intense love for God, their sorrow, and their tears atoned for their sins, and placed them far, very far above many who, though they never sinned grievously, never performed an act of heroic virtue in their whole lives.
Remember that charity, by which is meant love for God and for our neighbor, is the greatest of virtues, and has the power of elevating the greatest sinners to the highest glory of heaven. Mary Magdalen, therefore, though once a great sinner, is, at this moment, enjoying a most intimate union with Jesus, and shines like a very star, in the presence of God.
Even in this world she is glorified far above many who were not sinners. When Jesus sat at the table of Simon the Leper, Mary Magdalen anointed Him with precious ointment. Some of the Apostles complained of the waste; but Jesus defended her conduct, and added: "Amen, I say to you, wheresoever this gospel shall be preached, that also which she hath done, shall be told for a memorial of her."* Again, we read in the Gospel of St. Mark, that Jesus, "rising early the first day of the week, appeared first to Mary Magdalen, from whom He had cast out seven devils."+ Again, in the Litany of the Saints, the Church places the name of Mary Magdalen before all the virgins. This is certainly a high honor. Her feast, also, is one of a higher order than that of Martha her virgin sister, and above that of many other virgins; for she is the only woman, besides the Blessed Virgin Mary, who, in her mass, enjoys the privilege of the Credo. No other woman, whether a virgin-saint or not, enjoys that privilege, unless she is the patroness of a particular church. In that case, the Credo is said in her own church, but nowhere else; while for Mary Magdalen it is said in every church of the world. There is, moreover, a congregation of Magdalens, whereof she is the model and patroness. It is attached to the order of the Good-Shepherd, and is filled, not only with women who have sinned, but with virgins, too, who have fallen in love with the beautiful penitential spirit of Mary Magdalen.
* Matt. xiv. 9. + Mark xvi. 9.
All this must certainly be very consoling to those who have sinned grievously, and who have, perhaps, thought that, on account of their sins, they have lost all right to a high place in heaven. Mary Magdalen, St. Peter, St. Augustine, and a host of other illustrious penitents, teach us that a high degree of glory is ours, no matter what sins we have committed, if we love ardently, lead a penitential life, and practise other virtues in an eminent degree.
There is one more beautiful throng standing around the throne of God, and enjoying a high degree of glory in heaven. It is made up of the vast multitude of men and women who sanctified themselves while living in the world. They are known as the Pious people. They lived in the world, but were not of it. They did not live according to its spirit; for its spirit is the sworn enemy of God. Many of them, while surrounded with the wealth and magnificence of this world, practised the virtues of the cloister. Others belonged to the middle classes of society; and others, again, to the poorer classes. But in whatever class their lot was cast, they all sanctified themselves by loving God and their neighbor, and by acquitting themselves of their respective duties. What a beautiful and glorious throng they are!
Here are kings and queens who, in their exalted position, knew how to be humble, and who used their wealth and position for the benefit of their subjects. Here are representatives of all professions and trades in society—lawyers, physicians, soldiers, tradesmen, and cultivators of the soil. Here, too, are the servants of the rich, who thought it a kindness to be allowed to do all drudgery, in order to have wherewith to live. Here are good husbands and wives, who truly loved each other, and were faithful unto death. Here are those good parents whose first care was to teach their children the knowledge and love of God. Here, too, are the good children who honored their parents, and cared for them with a tender charity, when age and infirmity had rendered them helpless. Here, too, are young men, and young women, who, though they had no call to consecrate their virginity to Jesus Christ, led the lives of angels amid the fascinations of the world.
All these have led pious lives. They mortified their passions; they were given to prayer; they frequented the sacraments; they performed acts of charity according to their means; and practised the virtues of their rank and calling. All these have, therefore, reached the honors and distinctions which God distributes among them who have served Him with fidelity. Though they are neither martyrs, nor doctors, nor religious, they all led holy lives; they all have received a "crown of justice," which was due to them as a reward for their love of God, and for the virtues they practised while on earth. Many of them were great saints, such as a St. Louis, king of France; a St. Elizabeth, queen of Portugal; a St. Monica, widow; a St. Genevieve, the virgin-shepherdess; a St. Zita, the angelic servant-girl; and many others, whom the Church has placed upon her altars, and proposed to our imitation.
You see, then, that the high honors of heaven do not belong, exclusively, to any privileged classes, as you might imagine the martyrs, doctors, virgins, and religious to be. A high degree of glory is offered to all, and by the grace of God is attainable by all, without any exception. If, therefore, you have hitherto looked upon it as a presumption to aim at a high degree of glory, because you were neither a consecrated virgin nor a religious, banish such a thought from your mind. For, instead of being a presumption, it is a virtue to aspire to a high sanctity, and, consequently, to a high degree of union with God in heaven. Therefore, whether you are married or single, rich or poor, learned or ignorant, you are called upon by your Lord Jesus to fight the good fight unto the end, with a solemn assurance that, when you have finished your course, a just Judge will encircle your brow with a "crown of justice," and admit you into the society of those who signalized themselves in His service.
Before closing this chapter, we must say a few words, at least, about the two remaining classes of the blessed, and, probably, by far the most numerous in heaven. The one is composed of those who were not pious, nor generous to God. Many of them sinned often, and grievously, and did very little to atone for their sins; and the virtues they practised were few, and never brought to any perfection. This class also includes all those who spent their whole lives in sin, and who were saved, like the thief on the cross, by the grace of a death-bed repentance. Evidently, neither these, nor others who practised scarcely any virtue, are crowned with the high honors of heaven, which are the reward of a virtuous life. They are, nevertheless, perfectly happy, in their own degree, and sing the mercies of God, who saved many of them almost in spite of themselves. Theirs may be called a crown of mercy, rather than one of justice.
The other class is composed of baptized infants, and of children who died before they were responsible for their deeds. These form by far the most numerous class in heaven, if it be true that one-half of all the children that are born die before the age of seven. But in heaven they are no longer children; for their elevation to glory has developed them into men and women. They therefore enjoy the full perfection of human nature, as well as those who died adults. They are, moreover, admitted to the Beatific Vision, and, consequently, they see, love, and enjoy God, and partake of the additional pleasures of heaven, as well as they who lived longer on earth. They, and they alone, enjoy the happiness of heaven entirely as a free gift of God, without any co-operation of their own. They are in heaven in virtue of their adoption as children of God, and through the merits of Jesus Christ.
Whatever may be their degree of glory, we certainly can never place them on a level with the Apostles, martyrs, confessors, virgins, religious, and pious people who have fought a good fight against the world, the devil, and the flesh. They never sinned, it is true, but neither did they ever make an act of faith, of hope, of charity, or perform any other act of virtue. Hence, theirs may be called a crown of liberality; for they enjoy their beatitude as a free gift of God's unspeakable liberality. Their never-ending song is, therefore, one of gratitude to God for taking them out of the world before their souls could be defiled by sin, or their little hearts turned away from virtue by the fascinations of the world.
Here, then, kind reader, we have the whole multitude that we saw standing around the throne of God. Though we have divided them into different classes, and considered their glory separately, you must not infer from this that the blessed are really separated from each other in heaven. For how greatly soever the glory of the highest may differ from that of the lowest, they all, nevertheless, compose one great family of brothers and sisters, of whom God is the Father, Jesus Christ the Elder Brother as well as the King, and Mary the Mother as well as the Queen. They all mingle together, converse, and otherwise enjoy each other's society; for they are all united by the bond of the purest charity. They all exclaim, with the royal Prophet: "to Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity. . . . For there, the Lord hath commanded blessing, and life for evermore."* They all are happy, because they all see, love, and enjoy God, as well as the additional pleasures with which He perfects and completes the happiness of His beloved children. They are all filled to overflowing with the happiness of which the royal Prophet speaks, when he says: "They shall be inebriated with the plenty of Thy house: and thou shalt make them drink of the torrent of Thy pleasure. For with Thee is the fountain of life."+ By their union with the Fountain of Life, which is God himself, the blessed see all their desires fulfilled, and, knowing not what more to crave, they rest in God as their last end, and enjoy him forever.
* Ps. cxxxli. + Ps. xxiv.
THE ETERNITY OF HEAVEN'S HAPPINESS.
Having endeavored, in the foregoing pages, to form to ourselves some idea of the glorious happiness reserved for us in heaven, there still remains to say something of its crowning glory—the eternity of its duration. This is not only its crowning glory, but it is, moreover, an essential constituent of that unspeakable joy which now inebriates the souls of the blessed. A moment's reflection will make this evident.
Let us suppose, for the sake of illustration, that on the last day, God should thus speak to the blessed: "Dearly beloved children, you are now happy, and you shall continue so for a very long time, but not forever. When I promised you eternal life, I did not really mean a life without end, I alone can live forever. I have created a little bird whose office it is, every thousand years, to take away from the earth one grain of sand, or a drop of water, and carry it to the place I have appointed. And when it will have thus removed the whole earth, all the oceans, rivers, and lakes, you shall all die a second death, and be no more forever."
How many ages do you think it would take, at that rate, to remove this whole world to another place? Of course, you cannot even form a conception of the countless ages it would require. The most gifted mind is bewildered and lost in those millions and billions of ages. It seems as if that little bird never would come to the last atom; and to us, children of time, that vast duration seems like an eternity. And yet, if such a revelation were made to the blessed, they would again sorrow and mourn: the tears would again flow from their eyes, because the canker-worm that eats away all earthly happiness would have found entrance into heaven.
Evidently, then, the eternity of heaven is essential to complete the happiness of God's children.
Among the many defects which mar our happiness in this world, there are three capital ones, which we shall consider for a few moments. The happiness of this world is not and cannot be permanent, because we are changeable, because the objects of our happiness are also subject to change, and finally, because death must eventually tear us away from this world.
1. We ourselves are changeable by nature. This is a defect which must cling to us as long as we remain pilgrims here below. The objects which made us so happy in our childhood are no longer able to give us any pleasure. Our growth to mature age has completely changed us in their regard. Where is the man that could now spend the day with the playthings of his childhood? Where is the woman that could spend her time in dressing and adorning a doll? We are changed, and other objects have become necessary. But, in our mature years, we still continue to change, and those objects which make us happy to-day, may, in a few days, be a source of annoyance to us, and even of wretchedness. The changes of the weather, our passions, our health, our associations, a want of success in our undertakings, an unkind word or look—all these, and a thousand other things, influence us and change our dispositions at times so completely, that nothing in the whole world can make us feel happy. We are disgusted with everything that only yesterday made us as happy as we could expect to be in this world.
So great is our natural fickleness, that we are continually exposed to change, even in regard to God, and thus lose the only happiness worth possessing—His friendship. For, after having, in all sincerity, promised and even sworn fidelity to Him, we may, at any moment, give way to our passions, and, like Peter, deny Him; or, like Judas, sell Him for a temporary gratification.
This fickleness, which so stubbornly clings to us in our present state of existence, and which puts an end to so many of our joys, is entirely removed by our union with God in the Beatific Vision. "We shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as he is." One of the essential attributes of God is immutability, or the total absence of change, or even of the power to change. He is the selfsame forever. He is, as St. James beautifully expresses it, "The Father of lights, with whom there is no change nor shadow of alteration."* By our union with Him we are "made partakers of the Divine Nature," and consequently, of the divine immutability. Our natural fickleness will die in our temporal death, never to rise again, and our whole nature will be clothed with immutability, and remain the selfsame forever.
* James i. 17.
Hence, we shall no longer be tossed to and fro by every wind of passion, nor by the vicissitudes of present time. We shall no longer, as now, be joyful one day, and then be cast down and sorrowful on the next; in the enjoyment of perfect health one day, and racked with the pangs of disease on the next; enjoying the society of our fellow-beings one day, and finding it intolerable on the next; overflowing now with devotion and the love of God, and then ready to abandon His service in disgust. We shall become immutable, and therefore when millions of ages have rolled by, we shall still be enjoying the same happiness as we did when the vision of God first flashed upon tour souls.
2. But there is a second defect which, even if we were immutable ourselves, would prevent our earthly happiness front being permanent, and it is this: the objects from which we derive our happiness are also subject to change. Their beauty fades away; they lose their freshness, and along with it the power of making us happy. It was this defect which marred the happiness of Solomon. His position and circumstances placed within his reach all the pleasures which the heart of man can enjoy here below. He was a king, a husband, and a father; he was filled with a wisdom greater than ever was vouchsafed to any other man. He built temples and cities; he was visited by kings and queens, admired and almost worshipped as a god, on account of the magnificence with which he was surrounded; and yet he was not happy. But listen to his own confession, and ponder it well: "I heaped together for myself silver and gold, and the wealth of kings and provinces; . . . and I surpassed in riches all that were before me in Jerusalem; my wisdom also remained with me. And whatever my eyes desired, I refused them not: and I withheld not my heart from enjoying every pleasure, and delighting itself in all the things I had prepared. And when I turned myself to all the works which my hands had wrought, and the labors wherein I had labored in vain, I saw in all things vanity, and vexation of mind, and that nothing was lasting under the sun."*
* Eccl. ii.
Here is the confession of the wisest of men—a man who tasted more of this world's happiness than any other; and he found it imperfect, and even vexatious, because "nothing was lasting under the sun."
But this is not all. Creatures not only change, fade away, and lose their power of giving us pleasure, but they may even turn against us, and, after having been almost a heaven to us, become a very hell, by the addictions and woes they bring upon us. This is especially the case if the object of our happiness is a human creature. Look at the dissensions and quarrels among friends and relatives, who once loved each other so well. Look at the almost incredible number of divorces which take place nearly every day. They tell us that the happiness which comes to us from human creatures is not lasting, because man is mutable. Take the virtuous and unfortunate Catherine of Aragon as an illustrious example. When Henry married her, he certainly made her happy at first. But as time rolled on, he changed in her regard. His love grew cold; he gradually despised her, took away from her the title of queen, banished her from his presence, and married another woman! What a terrible reverse of fortune! He, who at first had been her joy, changed and became the cause of her deepest sorrow and wretchedness.
Oh, how differently shall we fare in our heavenly home! For the objects of our love there are not mutable, as in this world. He who is the very source of our exceeding happiness, is the eternal, immutable God. When He shall have united us to himself, and made us "partakers of the Divine Nature," he never will change in our regard, tire of us, despise us, and cast us away from him, as creatures do. No, never, never. The bare thought of such a misfortune would spread a shade of gloom on the bright faces of the blessed. Once united to Him in the Beatific Vision, he will love us forever more. Never can there come a day when He will frown upon us, and make us feel that his love for us has grown cold. No, never, never. Never will there come a day when His divine beauty will fade away, or when he will lose his power of making us happy, as is the case with the creatures that now surround us; and therefore we shall never see the day when our happiness will change, or cease to exist.
But there is still more. Not only is God immutable, and therefore unable to change in our regard, but all the companions of our bliss have also become immutable in their love for us. Hence, there never will come a day then we shall see ourselves despised and even hated by our fellow-creatures, as so often happens in this world. All those defects which now make us so unamiable will be totally removed by our union with God, and no one will ever see anything in us but what is good and deserving of love. From this it follows, that even the happiness which comes to the blessed from creatures is permanent—eternal.
3. Let us now pass to the third defect of all earthly happiness. Even if both we and the objects which make us happy were immutable, our blessedness could not be lasting, because death, inexorable death, must eventually tear us away from them, or tear them away frown us. All earthly happiness, glory, and greatness end in death. "And as it is appointed unto men once to die,"* it follows that all, both great and small, must eventually see the end of all that makes life bright and desirable according to nature. All must die, and no one can take along with him his glory or earthly happiness; for, as the Holy Ghost tells us: "Be thou not afraid, when a man shall be made rich, and when the glory of his house shall be increased. For when he shall die, he shall take nothing away; nor will his glory descend with him."+
* Heb. ix. 27. + Ps. xlviii.
Where is now the happiness and the glory of those mighty kings and queens who were once surrounded with all the magnificence of this world? The grave answers: "It is no more." Where is now the glory of those mighty conquerors, who placed their supreme happiness in subjugating nations to their sway, in making widows and orphans, and in spreading devastation and ruin wherever they went? It is no more! We can say of them, in the words of the royal Prophet: "I have seen the wicked highly exalted, and lifted up like the cedars of Libanus. And I passed by, and lo! he was not: and I sought him: and his place was not found."* Death laid its cold hand upon them, and put an end to their earthly happiness.
* Ps. xxxvi.
In heaven, that awful death shall be no more. We have the word of the Living God for it: "And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes: and death shall be no more, nor mourning, nor crying, nor sorrow shall be any more, for the former things are passed away."* In very deed, "the former things have passed away"—sorrow, mourning, poverty, labor, the vicissitudes of time, temptations to sin—all these things have passed away, never more to return. The children of God have entered into the enjoyment of their inheritance, which shall never be torn from them, because "death shall be no more." Never shall they see the dawn of a day when father and mother must bid farewell—a long and sad farewell—to their heart-broken children, because "death shall be no more." Nevermore will there come a day upon which affectionate children must print the last kiss upon the cold and pallid cheek of their dying parents, because "death shall be no more." Never more shall we see our kindred and friends slowly descending into the grave, nor hear the cold and cruel clods of earth falling upon them, because "death shall be no more." "Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?"+ This is the joyful song of triumph which ever resounds through the vaults of heaven, because "The just shall live forever more: and their reward is with the Lord, and the care of them with the Most High. Therefore shall they receive a kingdom of glory, and a crown of beauty at the hand of the Lord."**
* Apoc. xxi. + 1 Cor. xv. ** Wis. v.
In conclusion, let me exhort you, Christian soul, to meditate often and seriously on the happiness of heaven. Such meditations, besides deepening our knowledge of God, and of the things He has prepared for them that love him, have a wonderful power of detaching our hearts from the transitory pleasures and honors of this world. They, moreover, create in our soul an unquenchable thirst for the vision and possession of God, while they infuse into us a new courage to battle manfully against all the obstacles which beset our path in the practice of virtue.
Such meditations fill us, moreover, with a laudable and noble ambition of reaching a high degree of union with God. This was the ambition of the saints, and it should be ours also. It was this desire of a most intimate union with God, that caused them to deny themselves even the most innocent pleasures of this world, and to undergo sufferings, the bare recital of which makes our poor nature shudder. They knew that "our present tribulation, which is momentary and light, worketh for us above measure exceedingly an eternal weight of glory."* Their meditations on eternal truths had convinced them "that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come, that shall be revealed in us."+
* 2 Cor. iv. 17. + Rom. viii. 18.
In the thirty-seventh chapter of her life, St. Theresa speaks thus: "I would not lose, through any fault of mine, the least degree of further enjoyment. I even go so far as to declare that, if the choice were offered to me, whether I would rather remain subject to all the afflictions of the world, even to the end of it, and then ascend, by that means, to the possession of a little more glory in heaven; or else, without any affliction at all, enjoy a little less glory, I would most willingly accept of all the troubles and afflictions for a little more enjoyment, that so I might understand a little more of the greatness of God; because I see that he who understands more of Him, loves and praises Him so much the more." Here is the ambition of a great saint. It is not after crowns or sceptres, or the glory of this world, that she sighs, but after a single degree of higher enjoyment in heaven; and to obtain that, she is willing to remain suffering in this wretched world till the end of time.
Let such be your ambition in the future. If not in so sublime a degree, let it, at least, be directed only to the acquisition of "treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consume, and where thieves do not break through and steal."* Labor incessantly for that "inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, that cannot fade, reserved in heaven for you."+ "Be faithful until death," says our Lord Jesus Christ, "and I will give thee the Crown of Life."**
* Matt. vi. 19. + 1 Pet. i. 4. ** Apoc. ii. 10.