Monday, September 20, 2010

Heaven - is it out of this world?

When I was in my teens, there was a song by the then popular singer Belinda Carlisle called “Heaven is a place on earth”. Someone asked me recently if this is something that the Church teaches, or if it is just some poetic phrasing that gives us all some sort of whimsical hope in the midst of much suffering and pain.

First of all, I suppose we have to ask how we’d define ‘heaven’. Is it a place where there is no suffering or pain, no disappointment or sadness? Is it a state where one is fully in divine union and as it were, seeing God ‘face to face’ and not die? Is it life with no end? If ‘heaven’ is any of these (or all of them), then I suppose it’s not too right to say that heaven is a place on earth.

Secondly, what is ‘place’? If by ‘place’ we mean a physical location, where all those mentioned above are experienced, then certainly, it would be akin to believing in the existence of the fictional Shangri-La featured in James Hilton’s Lost Horizon – a fabled city synonymous with an earthly paradise.

But if by ‘place’ we mean a place in time, a moment, a snatch of reality, then yes, perhaps it is more plausible that heaven is a place on earth.

Jesus himself taught his disciples to pray “your kingdom come”. Many of us don’t stop and linger enough on this phrase when we utter the Lord’s Prayer. Some may even harbour mental images of Armageddon and for this reason, want to gloss over any such thoughts as quickly as possible.

But what are the values and principles of the ‘kingdom of God’? Any of the beatitudes of Christ would be a good description. When one understands what blessedness is; when one embraces (not merely tolerates) poverty that opens one to an abundance; when one truly knows the gift of tears through which one’s own vision of life is cleansed or when one doesn’t stop living just because others are putting down life. These moments don’t last for a long time in this life as we know it. At most, we catch snippets and glimpses of these and are given insights to heaven.

Just taking Matthew 25 to heart, and knowing that in our outreach, we have clothed the naked, fed the hungry, visited the incarcerated allows us to see that the hidden Christ awaits us in these people and gives us a chance to experience a ‘place’ on earth where heaven can be touched.

Richard Rohr said it so well when he said that it is heaven all the way to heaven and hell all the way to hell. There is a certain ability that we have in us to make the choices to give others and ourselves that heavenly experience for albeit a brief moment in time. Conversely, I believe that we too hold in our choices a brief moment of hell every time we are party to the inflicting of suffering, pain, or any form of killing. And eternal extension of this would be hell to the hilt.

Yes, as much as heaven is and can be a place on earth, so too can hell. How real it is, I suppose, has a lot to do with how much I contribute consciously towards it and cooperate with the grace of God.


  1. I do agree that the cultivating of Kingdom values in daily life may allow us ..."snippets...insights to heaven" (para.6)

    However - ' heaven is a place on earth ' - may not be just "a poetic phrasing that gives whimsical hope..." ( intro. para ). Sometimes, poets are like prophets who can finger unerringly to a truth (though fortunately poetic licence may shield them from stoning.. :=) )
    Here's a beautiful poem to share & reflect....

    "Where is heaven? you ask me,
    my child, - the sages tell
    us it is beyond the limits
    of birth and death, unswayed
    by the rhythms of day and night,
    it is not of the earth.

    But your poet knows that its eternal
    hunger is for time and space, and
    it strives evermore to be born in
    the fruitful dust.
    Heaven is fulfilled in your sweet
    body, my child, in your
    palpitating heart.

    The sea is beating its drums in
    joy, the flowers are a-tiptoe to
    kiss you. For heaven is born
    in you, in the arms of mother-
    dust. " R Tagore

    God bless you. tessa

  2. Heaven is not a destination but a place to begin with, within ourselves waiting to be experienced and manifested... but it is difficult to define it with our limited human concepts.

  3. Whatever Heaven may be described as, I love to see it as a place where all my loved ones... especially those who already crossed over, are now at the table of the Lord. I may not know how to go but I definitely long to be there when my turn comes and I pray that Mother Mary would lead me over at the hour of my death.

    Most of all, our faith should not be in vain lest we die and found not Christ, I pray each day that Heaven be my ultimate destination and not a repeat of life on earth called reincarnation or even end up in hell... eternally lost! Lord have mercy!

  4. To be told that heaven is not out of this world but is in this world? “Get outta here!” would be a general response.

    Your last week’s blog got me thinking why we were all ever so ready to ask the devil to help and believing God was busy. I believe we all have an innate guilt that we are unworthy. Secondly, we are conditioned by culture that we are not good enough for heaven. Because of these, we see our actions on Earth as a choice between heaven and hell. Some of us become very “religious-proper”, i.e. following religious practices to the letter, and some of us just live a “to-hell-with-it” life.

    I thank you for highlighting, in your last 2 blogs, that our lives are not a struggle between heaven and hell. And in your previous blogs, you have reiterated our salvation is merited by God’s mercy and grace, nothing else. Suddenly, it dawned on me that our present life is a walk on the borders of heaven and earth. It is a struggle between our holiness and ego. It is not about not doing the evil things (you mentioned that “Evil will hardly present itself as a sinful, iniquitous and nefarious choice”, nor is it about doing “what appears to be” the right things. It is about doing the holy things.

    Matthew 25 is such a powerful reminder to us that the Kingdom is indeed here. Notice how both the “sheep” and the “goats” asked the same question – “when did we do these things?” One group wanted to know how come they didn’t know they were doing the Kingdom-things. Another group wanted to know why they hadn’t been told to do these things to enter the Kingdom. This latter group probably didn’t do evil things and went for every church obligation but it didn’t matter, they didn’t enter the Kingdom as they were too “busy” to stand under the Cross of Christ to be with the poor, the hungry, and the abandoned. They missed out on Christ’s invitation to bring glimpses of heaven to others and hence, in return, missed out on the “it is heaven all the way to heaven” ride.

    Thank you Fr Luke for making it so clear to me now. I am indeed walking along the border of God’s kingdom. And “Heaven is a place on Earth” whenever I become God’s instrument in his plan for salvation.

  5. Fr. Luke,

    I believe that it’s a both/and instead of either/or.

    I am saying that because any baptized person is a tabernacle of the Trinity as long as they are in a state of grace; and since heaven is simply the place where the Triune God is present, can’t we assert that heaven is on earth in me and in you? Isn’t that what the concept of the Divine Indwelling (and here I am thinking of the writings of Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity) refers too? Moreover, at the Mass heaven is also present on earth, etc., etc.

    In fact, Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity wrote: “I have found my heaven on earth, since heaven is God, and God is in my soul. We shall not be purified by looking at our miseries, but by gazing on Him who is all purity and holiness.”

    Of course, we must use our freedom in a way that demonstrates that we this awareness is in the forefront of our consciousness, but that’s another post!