We now turn our eyes toward Heaven! But to do so we must also turn our eyes toward the reality of Hell and Purgatory. All of these realities give us a full picture of the perfect plan of God regarding His mercy as well as His justice.
We begin with what it means to be a saint, and we specifically focus on the Communion of Saints. In a real way this chapter goes hand in hand with the previous one on the Church. The Communion of Saints contains the entire Church. So, in fact, this chapter could actually be incorporated into the previous one. But we offer it as a new chapter simply as a way of distinguishing this great communion of all the faithful from the Church only upon Earth. And to understand the Communion of Saints we must also look at the central role of our Blessed Mother as the Queen of All Saints.
What is the Communion of Saints? Properly speaking it refers to three groupings of people:
1) Those on Earth – The Church Militant;
2) The saints in Heaven – The Church Triumphant;
3) The souls in Purgatory – The Church Suffering.
The unique focus of this section is the “communion” aspect. We are called to be in union with each and every member of Christ. There is a spiritual bond with one another insofar as we are each individually united with Christ. Let’s start with those on Earth (the Church Militant) as a continuation of the previous chapter on the Church.
The Church Militant: What brings about our unity more than anything else is the simple but profound fact that we are one with Christ. As explained in the last chapter this union with Christ happens to varying degrees and in various ways. But, ultimately, every person who is in some way in the grace of God is part of His Body, the Church. This forges a deep union not only with Christ but also with one another.
We see this shared communion manifested in various ways:
–Faith: Our shared faith makes us one.
–Sacraments: We are each fed by these precious gifts of God’s presence in our world.
–Charism: Each person is entrusted with unique gifts to be used for the upbuilding of other members of the Church.
–Common possessions: The early Church had common possessions. As members today we see the need for constant charity and generosity with the goods we have been blessed with. We are to use them for the good of the Church first and foremost.
–Charity: In addition to the sharing of material things we more importantly share our love. This is charity and it has the effect of uniting us.
As members of the Church on Earth, then, we are automatically united with each other. This communion with one another goes to the heart of who we are. We were made for unity and experience the good fruit of human fulfillment when we experience unity and share in it.
The Church Triumphant: Those who have gone before us and now share in the glories of Heaven, in the Beatific Vision, are not gone. Sure, we do not see them and we cannot necessarily hear them speak to us in the physical way they did while on Earth. But they are not gone at all. St. Therese of Lisieux said it best when she said, “I want to spend my Heaven doing good on Earth.”
The saints in Heaven are in full union with God and make up the Communion of Saints in Heaven, the Church Triumphant! What’s important to note, however, is that even though they are enjoying their eternal reward, they are still very much concerned about us.
The saints in Heaven are entrusted with the important task of intercession. Sure, God already knows all our needs and He could ask us to go directly to Him in our prayers. But the truth is that God wants to use the intercession, and therefore, the mediation of the saints in our lives. He uses them to bring our prayers to Him and, in return, to bring His grace to us. They become powerful intercessors for us and participators in God’s divine action in the world.
Why is this the case? Again, why doesn’t God just choose to deal with us directly rather than go through intermediaries? Because God wants all of us to share in His good work and to participate in His divine plan. It would be like a dad who buys a nice necklace for his wife. He shows it to his young children and they are excited about this gift. The mom comes in and the dad asks the children to bring the gift to her. Now the gift is from her husband but she will most likely thank her children first for their participation in giving this gift to her. The father wanted the children to be part of this giving and the mother wanted to make the children a part of her receiving and gratitude. So it is with God! God wants the saints to share in the distribution of His manifold gifts. And this act fills His heart with joy!
The saints also give us a model of holiness. The charity they lived on Earth lives on. The witness of their love and sacrifice was not just a onetime act in history. Rather, their charity is a living reality and continues to have an effect for the good. Therefore, the charity and witness of the saints lives on and affects our lives. This charity in their lives creates a bond with us, a communion. It enables us to love them, admire them and want to follow their example. It is this, coupled with their continuing intercession, which establishes a powerful bond of love and union with us.
The Church Suffering: Purgatory is an often misunderstood doctrine of our Church. What is Purgatory? Is it the place we go to be punished for our sins? Is it God’s way of “getting back at us” for the wrong we’ve done? Is it the result of God’s anger? None of these questions really answer the question of Purgatory. Purgatory is nothing other than the burning and purifying love of God in our lives!
When someone dies in God’s grace they are most likely not 100% converted and perfect in every way. Even the greatest of saints would have some imperfection left in their lives. Purgatory is nothing other than that final purification of all remaining attachment to sin in our lives. By analogy, imagine that you had a cup of 100% pure water, pure H2O. This cup will represent Heaven. Now imagine that you want to add to that cup of water but all you have is water that is 99% pure. This will represent the holy person who dies with just some slight attachments to sin. If you add that water to your cup, then the cup will now have at least some impurities in the water as it mixes together. The problem is that Heaven (the original cup of 100% H2O) cannot contain any impurities. Heaven, in this case, cannot have even the slightest attachment to sin in it. Therefore, if this new water (the 99% pure water) is to be added to the cup, it must first be purified even of that last 1% of impurities (attachments to sin). This is ideally done while we are on Earth. This is the process of getting holy. But if we die with any attachment, then we simply say that the process of entering into the final and full vision of God in Heaven will purify us of any remaining attachment to sin. All may already be forgiven, but we may not have detached fully from those sins which were forgiven. Purgatory is the process, after death, of burning out the last of our attachments so that we can enter Heaven 100% freed of everything to do with sin. If, for example, we still have a bad habit of being rude, or sarcastic, even those tendencies and habits must be purged.
How does this happen? We do not know. We only know it does. But we also know it’s the result of God’s infinite love that frees us of these attachments. Is it painful? Most likely. But it’s painful in the sense that letting go of any disordered attachment is painful. It’s hard to break a bad habit. It’s even painful in the process. But the end result of true freedom is worth any pain we may have experienced. So, yes, Purgatory is painful. But it’s a sort of sweet pain that we need and it produces the end result of a person 100% in union with God.
Now since we are talking about the Communion of Saints we also want to make sure to understand that those going through this final purification are still in communion with God, with those members of the Church on Earth, and with those in Heaven. For example, we are called to pray for those in Purgatory. Our prayers are effective. God uses those prayers, which are acts of our love, as instruments of His grace of purification. He allows us and invites us to participate in their final purification by our prayers and sacrifices. This forges a bond of union with them. And no doubt the saints in Heaven especially offer prayers for those in this final purification as they await full communion with them in Heaven. It’s a glorious thought and a joy to see how God has orchestrated this entire process for the ultimate purpose of the sacred communion we are called to!
Hell is a sad reality. But it can often be misunderstood. Is Hell a place of eternal punishment for those who have turned from God? Well, yes and no. No in the sense that God does not act in a punitive way out of His wrath. He doesn’t want to “get even” with those who reject Him. Rather, Hell is a result of one’s own free choice to turn from God. And God is a gentleman! What I mean is that God will not impose Heaven on someone who rejects it. If someone rejects the love of God then God will allow that person, by his/her own free will, to experience the effects of that rejection. And the effects are Hell.
Hell is a sad place where one is alone with the unholy trinity: me, myself and I. It’s an eternal existence of isolation and a complete loss of communion with God and others. Some popular rock bands misrepresent Hell as a place of partying all night long! It’s as if everyone who goes to Hell is in for a great party with the devil and his minions. But this is so far from the truth. Hell is not a party and people in Hell will not like each other or even share in any form of communion with each other. Hell is a state where there is no love, only hate. There will be complete isolation and self-pity. There will be no friendship and no get togethers. Hell is a sad place and a sad state to be in. It’s a complete loss of God and an eternal existence without that love of God.
Hell is chosen by our actions just as Heaven is chosen by our actions. It’s not enough to simply say, “Jesus, save me!” No, if we say we want to go to Heaven but then choose to turn from God 100% by our actions, we will then remain in this state of 100% loss of God for eternity. Ouch! Don’t let that happen. More will be said about this process of entering eternal damnation in the third book of this series: My Catholic Morals! In that book we will focus on the reality of mortal sin. But for now it’s sufficient to see that Hell is real and to understand what this reality is all about.
In Chapter 5 we reflected upon the effects of Jesus’ death and resurrection. We pondered the reality of the resurrection of the body and the new Heavens and Earth we are called to share in. This section will be a summary of those important points highlighting especially the reality of the new Heavens and Earth that await us!
Heaven and Purgatory, as they now exist, are not the end game for God. Jesus will one day return in all His glory and transform all things into His new and glorious Kingdom. Those in Heaven will be reunited with their new transformed earthly bodies. Those on Earth, who are living in God’s grace, will also instantly be purified of all attachment to sin and receive their glorified bodies. And in this moment, Heaven and Earth will become one. There will be a glorious transformation of both and they will be the one and complete dwelling place of God and all His saints. And we will share in this new life, body and soul forever.
What will this new life look like? No one knows. As mentioned in Chapter 5 there are many symbolic images of this in the Book of Revelation. Read Chapters 21-22 from the Book of Revelation to get a picture of how the Apostle John saw it in his vision. This is mysterious language but it is also true language. True in the sense that it reveals the mystery of this new existence in a veiled, symbolic and glorious way. It is real, we just have a hard time fully grasping what it says. But that’s OK, we will find out one day if we keep on the path of holiness!
This new world will be a place where “there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain…” (Revelation 21:4). All disorder in nature, such as disease and suffering, will be destroyed. Our disordered minds, passions, desires, etc., will be newly ordered and all will be glorious. We will live the human lives God intended for all eternity. We will be fully united with Him and with each other. And we can be assured that we will never get bored!
We must make this our goal and our constant hope. This is why we are here. We are on a journey and the new Heavens and Earth are our final destination. Now is the time we choose the path we are on and now is the time to move continually to this glorious fulfillment of our human lives. Don’t miss out!
The best way to conclude this volume is to reflect upon the final and glorious role of our Blessed Mother as the Queen and Mother of all the saints in this new age to come. She already played an essential role in the salvation of the world, but her work is not over. By her Immaculate Conception she became the perfect instrument of the Savior and, as a result, the new Mother of all the living. As this new mother she undoes the disobedience of Eve by her continual free choice of perfect cooperation with and obedience to God’s divine plan. At the Cross, Jesus gave His mother to John which is a symbol of the fact that He gave her to all of us as our new mother. Therefore, insofar as we are members of the Body of Christ, members of the Body of her Son, we are also, by the necessity of God’s plan, children of this one mother.
One of the Dogmas of our faith is that upon the completion of her life on Earth, our Blessed Mother was taken body and soul into Heaven to be with her Son for all eternity. And now, from her place in Heaven, she is given the unique and singular title of Queen of All the Living! She is the Queen of the Kingdom of God now, and she will be Queen of this Kingdom for all eternity!
As Queen, she also enjoys the unique and singular gift of being the mediatrix and distributor of grace. It’s best understood like this:
–She was preserved from all sin at the moment of her Immaculate Conception;
–As a result, she was the only fitting human instrument by which God could take on flesh;
–God the Son did take on flesh through her by the power and working of the Holy Spirit;
–Through this one divine Son, now in the flesh, the salvation of the world came about;
–This gift of salvation is transmitted to us through grace. Grace comes primarily through prayer and the sacraments;
–THEREFORE, since Mary was the instrument through which God entered our world, she is also the instrument through which ALL grace comes. She is the instrument of all that resulted from the Incarnation. Therefore, she is the Mediatrix of Grace!
In other words, Mary’s act of mediation for the Incarnation was not just some historical act that took place long ago. Rather, her motherhood is something that is continuous and eternal. It is a perpetual motherhood of the Savior of the world and is a perpetual instrumentality of all that comes to us from this Savior.
God is the source, but Mary is the instrument. And she is the instrument because God wanted it this way. She can do nothing by herself, but she doesn’t have to do it by herself. She is not the Savior. She is the instrument.
As a result of this, we must see her role as glorious and essential in the eternal plan of salvation. Devotion to her is a way of simply acknowledging what is true. It’s not just some honor we bestow upon her by thanking her for cooperating with God’s plan. Rather, it’s an acknowledgment of her continual role of mediation of grace in our world and in our lives.
From Heaven, God does not take this from her. Rather, she is made our Mother and our Queen. And a worthy Mother and Queen she is!
Let us conclude this volume by quoting at length from St. Louis de Montfort. This comes from the beginning of Chapter One of his book “Treatise on True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin.” It sums up her role perfectly! If you have not done so already, I highly recommend this book and consecration to you.
With the whole Church I acknowledge that Mary, being a mere creature fashioned by the hands of God is, compared to his infinite majesty, less than an atom, or rather is simply nothing, since he alone can say, “I am he who is”. Consequently, this great Lord, who is ever independent and self-sufficient, never had and does not now have any absolute need of the Blessed Virgin for the accomplishment of his will and the manifestation of his glory. To do all things he has only to will them.
However, I declare that, considering things as they are, because God has decided to begin and accomplish his greatest works through the Blessed Virgin ever since he created her, we can safely believe that he will not change his plan in the time to come, for he is God and therefore does not change in his thoughts or his way of acting.
God the Father gave his only Son to the world only through Mary. Whatever desires the patriarchs may have cherished, whatever entreaties the prophets and saints of the Old Law may have had for 4,000 years to obtain that treasure, it was Mary alone who merited it and found grace before God by the power of her prayers and the perfection of her virtues. “The world being unworthy,” said Saint Augustine, “to receive the Son of God directly from the hands of the Father, he gave his Son to Mary for the world to receive him from her.”
The Son of God became man for our salvation but only in Mary and through Mary.
God the Holy Spirit formed Jesus Christ in Mary but only after having asked her consent through one of the chief ministers of his court.
God the Father imparted to Mary his fruitfulness as far as a mere creature was capable of receiving it, to enable her to bring forth his Son and all the members of his mystical body.
God the Son came into her virginal womb as a new Adam into his earthly paradise, to take his delight there and produce hidden wonders of grace.
God-made-man found freedom in imprisoning himself in her womb. He displayed power in allowing himself to be borne by this young maiden. He found his glory and that of his Father in hiding his splendours from all creatures here below and revealing them only to Mary. He glorified his independence and his majesty in depending upon this lovable virgin in his conception, his birth, his presentation in the temple, and in the thirty years of his hidden life. Even at his death she had to be present so that he might be united with her in one sacrifice and be immolated with her consent to the eternal Father, just as formerly Isaac was offered in sacrifice by Abraham when he accepted the will of God. It was Mary who nursed him, fed him, cared for him, reared him, and sacrificed him for us.
The Holy Spirit could not leave such wonderful and inconceivable dependence of God unmentioned in the Gospel, though he concealed almost all the wonderful things that Wisdom Incarnate did during his hidden life in order to bring home to us its infinite value and glory. Jesus gave more glory to God his Father by submitting to his Mother for thirty years than he would have given him had he converted the whole world by working the greatest miracles. How highly then do we glorify God when to please him we submit ourselves to Mary, taking Jesus as our sole model. (click here to read more)
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