The Ascension: Going Home

Sister Wendy Beckett is a Catholic hermit who lives in England. She also had a long-running BBC television show on art, that drew a large and delighted audience. Since today is Ascension Thursday (and still a holy day of obligation in parts of the world), I thought we could listen to Sister Wendy’s thoughts on Duccio’s Appearance on the Mountain in Galilee, the painting that accompanies this blog post.

[The painting] shows Jesus before he makes any movement upward. He is speaking with that unearthly authority that so riveted all who heard him. It is their word that will convert the waiting nations. Is it they, up to now only followers, listeners to Jesus, who are now to take the pulpit and teach others, baptize others, do for them what Jesus has done in their own lives…

Jesus has longed for this day…[there] is the quiet statement, made in prayer to the Father, “I am coming to you.” Coming to the Father has been the driving force of Jesus’ life. That is where he is at home, that is where he belongs.

Those words give us pause. Of course Jesus must have been, in essence, homesick. How weary He must have been of His mortal body, a body that was fully divine, but also fully human. Even more, He was separated for so long from His Father, a Father with whom He is joined in an unimaginable way. Indeed: He wanted to go home!

Now, the Apostles must have left that mountain downcast. Their Lord and Master, who miraculously rose from the dead, was now gone … and not returning. Yes, He promised to send His Spirit upon them, but they must have felt great loss.

However, underneath that very understandable human grief, there was something else: joy.

Yes, joy. Why? Because Christ’s Ascension solidified their belief that Heaven awaited them as well.

In a sermon to commemorate today’s solemnity St. Leo the Great said: “Today we are not only made possessors of Paradise but with Christ we have ascended, mystically but also really, to the highest Heavens and have won through Christ a grace more wonderful than the one we had lost.”

The Ascension strengthens and nourishes our hope of attaining Heaven. It invites us always to lift up our heart, as the preface of the Mass says, and seek the things that are above. Our hope is very great because Christ himself has gone to prepare a dwelling place for us.

Most of us know what it is like to say a final good-bye to someone we love. Our grief can be overwhelming! But when we are assured that our loved one died a holy death, there is also joy. We trust God’s mercy and love; we pray that our loved one is now home with God, free from the pain of this mortal life.

It is hard to imagine the Ascension. It stretches the limits of our imagination as to how Jesus rose from the grass and rocks of that mountain top, enveloped in a cloud that melted into a vast sky. What is not hard to imagine is how the Apostles left that mountain: saddened, but filled with hope and joy. Their Lord, whom they loved, was now home where He belonged, and that home awaited them as well.

Gladden us with holy joys, almighty God,
and make us rejoice with devout thanksgiving,
for the Ascension of Christ your Son
is our exaltation,
and, where the Head has gone before in glory,
the Body is called to follow in hope.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

From Here to Eternity: What do we know about Heaven?

Most people like to think that Heaven exists. Some of us try earnestly to get there. And everyone from Hollywood movie makers to philosophers to theologians have opinions about Heaven. But what do we really know about Heaven?

Anyone who’s opinion is worth anything on the topic will tell you: “We don’t know much about Heaven. It’s sort of like asking us to describe God – any human effort falls so far short as to be comical.” But that doesn’t mean we know nothing about Heaven. Philosopher, author and Boston College professor Peter Kreeft have thankfully given us a Q & A that is helpful here.

Now, some of these questions are quite child-like, but the answers are not. (And remember, Christ told us to be child-like in faith, so this is a good place to start!)

Will Heaven be big?

Yes, but with a different kind of bigness. Now, space contains us, confines us, defines us. But we can transform space into place by humanizing it, spiritualizing it. A house becomes a home, a space becomes a place, by our living in it. Heaven will be both as intimate and as unconfining as our spirits want.

No one will think it too small or too large. In a sense, it will be in us rather than we in it—not in the sense that it will be subjective, but in the sense in which stage settings and props are in a play, or part of a play, rather than the play being in or part of the setting.

Hmmm, that still sounds very … much like a philosopher! Here is how I look at this, and maybe you’ll find it helpful: Imagine that – as good as this life is and can be – Heaven will be like freedom to a prisoner. While we can make a life in a 6×9 cell, and we might even flourish, it is still prison. We are confined, limited. Heaven will be like freedom: no limits, but all good.

Of course, for many of us, this life is tough. We bear scars, both physically and emotionally. If we reach old age, our bodies show the wear and tear of life, with stooped shoulders and creaky joints.

What kind of bodies will we have in Heaven?

Gnostics of all kinds (Platonists, Buddhists, Hindus, Spiritualists, Manichaeans) say we will become pure spirits, angels, for they do not know the dogma of Creation. Pagans and Muslims say we will have earthly bodies and harems or happy hunting grounds.

Christians say we will have transformed bodies, but real, physical bodies, as Christ had after his resurrection. His body could be touched and could eat. Yet it could come and go as he pleased, with neither walls nor distance as an obstacle. It was the same body he had before he died, and it was recognized as such by his friends. Yet it was so different that at first they did not recognize him. I think our new resurrection body will be related to the body we have now in the same way that our current body is related to the body we had in our mothers’ wombs. If a fetus saw a picture of itself at the age of twenty, it would at first not recognize itself, so unforeseen and surprisingly new would it be. Yet it is the same self, even the same body, now grown radically more mature.

When we die, we do NOT become angels. Angels are a completely different type of creature from humans, and while we have some things in common, we no more become angels in Heaven than we would become giraffes.

It is nice to know that we will still be ourselves in Heaven, but transformed from our earthly bodies. I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to a transformed body!

Of course, the most important question regarding Heaven is one all of humanity needs to ponder:

How do you get to Heaven?

This is the most important question anyone can ask. The answer has already been given: It is free. “Let him who is thirsty come, let him who desires take the water of life without price” (Rev. 22:17). Faith is the act of taking.

It sounds crazy, too good to be true. But it makes perfect sense. For God is love. Love gives gifts, gives itself. God gives himself, his own life, membership in his family. We are made “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). For God is pure love, and pure love has no admixture of stinginess in it.

Heaven, you see, is ours to lose. God has already granted us life in Him for all eternity. We humans can take it … or leave it. Far too many choose the latter. We refuse the gift. Perhaps, this side of Heaven, it is the poets and saints who will come closest to telling us what Heaven is. St. Robert Southwell, Jesuit priest and martyr, said,

The path to Heaven is narrow, rough and full of wearisome and trying ascents, nor can it be trodden without great toil; and therefore wrong is their way, gross their error, and assured their ruin who, after the testimony of so many thousands of saints, will not learn where to settle their footing.

St. Faustina’s vision of Heaven seems to verify St. Robert Southwell’s thoughts:

I saw two roads. One was broad, covered with sand and flowers, full of joy, music and all sorts of pleasures. People walked along it, dancing and enjoying themselves. They reached the end without realizing it. And at the end of the road there was a horrible precipice; that is, the abyss of hell. The souls fell blindly into it; as they walked, so they fell. And their number was so great that it was impossible to count them. And I saw the other road, or rather, a path, for it was narrow and strewn with thorns and rocks; and the people who walked along it had tears in their eyes, and all kinds of suffering befell them. Some fell down upon the rocks, but stood up immediately and went on. At the end of the road there was a magnificent garden filled with all sorts of happiness and all these souls entered there. At the very first instant they forgot all their sufferings.

St. Faustina went on to say that Heaven was filled with “unconceivable beauties.”

Ultimately, we must trust God, who has promised us Heaven, where we will see God “face to face:

Then the angel showed me the river of life-giving water, sparkling like crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of its street.
On either side of the river grew the tree of life that produces fruit twelve times a year, once each month; the leaves of the trees serve as medicine for the nations.
Nothing accursed will be found there anymore.
The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.
They will look upon his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.
Night will be no more, nor will they need light from lamp or sun, for the Lord God shall give them light, and they shall reign forever and ever.


EH headshotElise Hilton is an author, blogger and speaker. Her role at Diocesan Publications is Editor & Writer with the Marketing Team. She has worked in parish faith formation and Catholic education for over 30 years. A passionate student of theology, Elise enjoys sharing her thoughts on parish communication, the role of social media in the Church, Franciscan spirituality and Catholic parenting. To enquire about booking her as a speaker, please contact her at


Being A Catholic Is Kind Of Like Being A Panda

I know – that sounds really weird. Catholics and pandas? What in the world do we have in common??

We can start with the basics: we are both part of God’s wildly varied and glorious creation. But there really is a lot more.

It’s All Black and White

Giant pandas, of course, are black and white. Catholicism is black and white, too. That is, we believe that there is an absolute Truth. What is good and right is always good and right, and what is foul and evil is always foul and evil. Truth is Truth regardless of where or when you live, whether you are male or female, teen or octogenarian.

Truth is truth, no matter how much man may rationalize otherwise.  And signing up to follow a set of principles as espoused in the Bible is not “blindly following the Pope”.  Rather, obeying what is true is good and right, and is a virtue, not a vice.  Going off on your own way because you “feel” it’s right is a vice.

Pandas are downright playful animals! They climb and slide and wrestle. They’re curious and funny. We Catholics also love to have fun! Look at all the things we celebrate: feast days and saint days, baptisms and quinceaneras, Christmas (for almost 2 weeks!) and Easter (40 days!)

Modern Catholics don’t know how to incorporate the faith into their daily lives. Celebration is the way to do it. Every day has a designated saint and I really think it’s important to celebrate these, to have the rhythm of fast and feast in our lives.

Giant pandas are absolutely unique. Their fluffy teddy bear appearance and distinct coloring makes them instantly identifiable, like no other bear in God’s created realm. Catholics are downright unique as well. Unlike other Christian sects (whom we love like brothers and sisters!) we trace our lineage right back to Jesus himself, and to St. Peter. We have 2000+ years of Tradition that no other Christians can claim.

This World Is Not Our Home

Unlike so many other animals, pandas have no permanent home. (I think it’s because they sleep 12 hours a day; there just isn’t time to go house hunting.) And Catholics know that this world is not our home. Our home – eternally – is Heaven. We were created by God to know Him, to love Him and to serve Him in this world, and to be eternally happy with Him in Heaven.

It takes giant pandas a rather long time to fully mature. They start out as tiny (3 ounces!), pink, hairless animals that in no way resemble their parents. Male pandas aren’t fully mature until they are 6-7 years old, females at 4-5 years. We can easily say that it takes a Catholic a long time to mature as well. Pope Francis recently told a group of Confirmation students that the sacrament of Confirmation was “not a sacrament of goodbye.” We don’t “graduate” or stop learning our Faith. We can never stop learning more about God, about Scripture, about ourselves and our relationship to God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit.

Tenacity and Fortitude

Pandas have a rather strong tenacious streak. If they want something, they figure a way to go after it. If they want to go somewhere, it’s tough to change their minds.

Catholics call this “fortitude.” It’s one of the seven virtues, and it means that (with the help of the Holy Spirit) that we remain constant and firm in our pursuit of goodness. We fall into the ditch of sin, we seek confession. We offend someone, we beg forgiveness. And we do this over and over and over, in the hope that we will become the person God created us to be.

A Little Fun Never Hurts 

Maybe it seems silly to compare being Catholic to a panda bear. But, as I’ve pointed out: God created us and He gave us a sense of humor. He gave pandas their delightful personalities. If the Creator and Master of the universe sees fit to create pandas and kittens and platypus, then He must enjoy a good laugh once in awhile. Just like us. And pandas.


EH headshotElise Hilton is an author, blogger and speaker. Her role at Diocesan Publications is Editor & Writer with the Marketing Team. She has worked in parish faith formation and Catholic education for over 30 years. A passionate student of theology, Elise enjoys sharing her thoughts on parish communication, the role of social media in the Church, Franciscan spirituality and Catholic parenting. To enquire about booking her as a speaker, please contact her at


All Saints

The Saints Go Marching In: Not Truly Dead, But Alive In Christ

Tomorrow, Catholics celebrate All Saints’ Day and Wednesday is the celebration of All Souls’. The Church knows that there are many holy men, women and children who will never be formally recognized as saints; the celebration of All Saints’ allows us to ponder our own destiny with the multitude of holy souls now enjoying God’s eternal love and presence. All Souls’ Day reminds us that, as Catholics, we never presume that someone is in Heaven, and our prayers for the dead are necessary and good. The Catechism states:

1054 Those who die in God’s grace and friendship imperfectly purified, although they are assured of their eternal salvation, undergo a purification after death, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of God.

1055 By virtue of the “communion of saints,” the Church commends the dead to God’s mercy and offers her prayers, especially the holy sacrifice of the Eucharist, on their behalf.


Catholics are often accused of praying to the dead (Ok, we kinda do that. It’s called “intercession.”) or worshiping the dead (No, we don’t.) While we understand that our earthly bodies with die, we know our soul is eternal. It is that soul which God created and has set in place for all eternity, made to be with Him forever.

At the core of the practice of praying to the saints is the belief that the saints are alive in Christ and full members of the community of believers, the Mystical Body of Christ. As St. Paul proclaims:

“For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:38-39)

When we live a life of grace and virtue, if you “put to death the deeds of the body,” then we will live (Rom 8:13). Yes, every person’s time on this earth must come to an end, but if we die in grace and righteousness, then we’ll live forever with God in heaven. The fact that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – prophets who died a long time ago – can still be declared by Jesus to be the God of the living (cf. Mt 22:32) is proof that the saints are very much alive. [emphasis added]

In 1938, jazz legend Louis Armstrong recorded, “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Like many Gospel and jazz songs, the origins of this song are unclear, and there are several versions of it. However, the jazz version remains the best known. It is a “folk version” of our wish to join in the heavenly “parade” of holy men, women and children:

Oh, when the trumpet sounds its call
Oh, when the trumpet sounds its call
I want to be in that number
When the saints go marching in
Oh, when the horsemen begin to ride
Oh, when the horsemen begin to ride
I want to be in that number
When the saints go marching in
Oh, when the saints go marching in
Oh, when the saints go marching in
I want to be in that number
When the saints go marching in.

We are meant to desire Heaven. Each and every one of us should consider ourselves destined to be saints; it is only our sinful choices that keep us from this. We “want to be in that number:” those who have overcome sin, by the grace of God, and then die in the peace of Christ. Tomorrow, as we begin the month of November, we pause to thank God for the saintly lives we look to imitate, for the men and women we have known personally who strived to be like Christ in their own lives and now have moved on from this world, and to remember to pray for the dead – for we know that they are not truly dead, but alive in Christ.

Below, jazz musician Wynton Marsalis offers his take on the “Saints” hymn. He calls it a song of “revelation and redemption.” It’s not a bad way to kick off the month of November for Catholics, as we pray for our dead, and look forward to joining the saints in Heaven.

shortcut to heaven

Lookin’ For A Shortcut To Heaven?

We hustle through the grocery store and when our carts are full, we scout out the shortest line. Of course, we never make the right choice.

Or we go through the drive-through to grab a quick dinner, and somehow our order gets mangled and we hear those dreaded words: “Could you please pull ahead? We’ll bring that right out.”

We live in a “hurry up” society. We rush to and from work and errands, hustle our kids to appointments and sports. A current car commercial says that adults in our society have an attention span of only 8 seconds, and then touts its car’s safety features: automatic braking and lane correction. Apparently, we just can’t pay attention that long.

In today’s Gospel, from Luke, we recognize this is not a problem in just our culture.

Jesus passed through towns and villages,
teaching as he went and making his way to Jerusalem.
Someone asked him,
“Lord, will only a few people be saved?”
He answered them,
“Strive to enter through the narrow gate,
for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter
but will not be strong enough.

The passage finishes with one of the most memorable lines in the Gospels: For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first will be last. Suddenly, we feel as if we’ve been standing in the check out line for 15 minutes and another lane opens: the people behind you scurry over before you can get there. How fair is that??

It’s a narrow gate, this passage to Heaven. It’s hard to find and even harder to get through. There are no EZ-Passes, no skip-the-line tickets, no shortcuts. Thus, we are left with the question: “Do I want to go this way? This narrow gate – is it worth it to me? Sure, salvation awaits, but this is tough, and there are no shortcuts. Do I want this?”

Catholic philosopher and teacher Peter Kreeft in his lovely little book How to be Holy, outlines the map to this narrow gate:

God makes us holy in two opposite ways, in the two parts of our lives. First, He makes us holy through our own will, our own free choice of faith and hope and love. (For divine grace does not turn off human free will; it turns it on.) And second, He also sanctifies us against our will, through suffering, because the other way of sanctifying us, through our own will’s choices, is not strong enough, because our faith and hope and love are not strong enough. So He sanctifies us also through what He allows to happen to us against our will, in other word, suffering.

There you go. If you choose the path to salvation, it’s going to be tough. It requires super-human strength (we Catholics call this “grace“) and we will suffer. We will need to, first, choose this path of our own free will, and then, turn aside from our will and allow God’s will to permeate us.

No shortcuts. No express lane. No drive-through window. But we have the most Perfect Guide, Christ Himself. “Come, follow me and you will have treasure in Heaven.”

Line forms right here. No pushing, please. If you choose this line, you’ll need to be patient.

church triumphant

The Church Triumphant: “Holy, holy, holy”

We’ve spent a few days examining the three states of the Church: militant, suffering, triumphant. The Church Triumphant is not our triumph, a victory of our own doing. No, the Church Triumphant is the triumph of Christ over sin and death. The Church Triumphant is the eternal glory of God. The Church Triumphant is the eternal fellowship of those whom Christ has saved and who have given over their lives to Him. These souls become, in essence, citizens of Heaven.

A citizen of Heaven is a saint. Some of them have been given the title “Saint” by the Church, but others go unrecognized by the Church Militant. Peter Kreeft:

Saints are not freaks or exceptions.  They are the standard operating model for human beings.  In fact, in the biblical sense of the word, all believers are saints.  “Sanctity” means holiness.  All men, women and children, born or unborn, beautiful or ugly, straight or gay, are holy, for they bear the image of God.

Saints are not the opposite of sinners.  There are no opposites of sinners in this world.  There are only saved sinners and unsaved sinners.  Thus holy does not mean “sinless” but “set-apart:” called out of the world to the destiny of eternal ecstasy with God.

You are called to be a saint, meant to be set apart and holy for God. You have a passport to Heaven, should you decide to use it. Yes: you. Your eternal soul, now embodied, is meant for a life before the throne of God, in His company and the company of all the angels and saints forever. That is the Church Triumphant.

Impossible, you may say. I am no saint. Saints are people like nuns who spend their whole lives praying the Rosary. (There are not any nuns who do this, by the way.) Okay then; a saint is a Jesus freak, talking about Him all the time to the point of annoying others. (Well, a saint may be annoying, but every saint was at some point a person who had to get up in the morning, make the coffee, go about his or her daily business, whether as a parent, a spouse, an accountant, a priest, a truck driver, a teacher. Nothing freakish about that.)

Yes. You are meant for sainthood. Your sainthood will lead you, should you put all your energy into sainthood, to the Church Triumphant. Your sainthood will not look like anyone else’s, because you are unlike anyone else. God created you in a unique manner, for a unique task. Yet ultimately, He created you to be a saint.

At Mass, just after the Eucharistic prayer, we pray the Sanctus:

Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts.
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.

That is the hymn of Heaven. In Revelation 4, John gives an account of his vision of Heaven. Those before the throne of God sing this hymn. That means that, during the Mass, at that moment when we sing this hymn, we are joined with all the angels and saints. This is our destiny. This tiny little glimpse of Heaven that we have during the Mass is meant to be our home forever.

So many of us stumble about, searching for our heart’s deepest longing. Some look for it in sex or drugs or work. We search obsessively for it. We may not even know what we are looking for, but God made our hearts for Him and for Heaven. So, what is the “secret” of the Church Triumphant? Thankfully, it is no secret at all; again, Peter Kreeft:

The existence of heaven, the desire for heaven, the nature of heaven, and the relevance of heaven are all important questions. But there is only one question that’s absolutely essential, one question compared with which how we might save the world from a nuclear holocaust is trivial: “What must I do to be saved?” When I’m honest enough to look through the door of death, infinite joy or infinite joylessness loom up as my only two possible destinies. What decides for joy? What is heaven’s entrance ticket? What is the Way, the Truth and the Life?

I am horrified to report that I’ve asked this question of hundreds of Catholic college students, and far fewer than half have known the answer. This means that the Church’s religious education has been not a failure but an inexcusable disaster. Most reply either “God is good to everybody” or “I’m basically a good person.”

If anyone out there is unsure of the correct answer, then for the love of God get out your Bible and study for your finals! To save you time—since you may die while reaching for your Bible—I will quote God’s scandalously simple answer to the most important question in the world, how to get to heaven: “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).

Lift your voice and sing, with all the angels and saints: Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of Hosts. And then, set about today on the road to Heaven.

three states

Our Church: Suffering, Militant, Triumphant

When most of us think of “Church,” we tend to think of a physical building or place. Perhaps it is our parish church or the church where we grew up. Maybe we see soaring spires or stained glass windows donated by immigrant families a century and a half ago. Perhaps it is St. Peter’s we envision, with the pope on the balcony addressing the crowds.

Yes, indeed. All of these are “church.” But since Church is also the Mystical Body of Christ, we cannot say that any of those places are only Church. Jesus said that where two or three are gathered in His name, He is present. That is Church as well.  Our homes, where prayers are taught, forgiveness and mercy are learned, and the covenant of marriage lived out is the domestic church.

Beyond this even, we belong to a Church that defies both time and space, because God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – defy all laws of physics. We have been given mortal bodies but immortal souls, souls marked with the sign of the cross at our baptism and that sign is eternal.

Theologians have long taught that the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, has three states: suffering, militant and triumphant. 

The Church, the Mystical Body, exists on this earth, and is called the Church militant, because its members struggle against the world, the flesh and the devil. The Church suffering means the souls in Purgatory. The Church triumphant is the Church in heaven. The unity and cooperation of the members of the Church on earth, in Purgatory, in Heaven is also called the Communion of Saints.

If you are reading this, you are part of the church militant. That’s a strong phrase, isn’t it? We think of soldiers in dress uniform, parading by officers. Worse, it conjures up images of soldiers in trenches, with explosions and noise and peril.

But if you think of these images in spiritual terms, they are quite accurate. We work hard to do our very best for God, to not only look good on the outside, but the inside as well. This takes training and practice, and leadership . Further, in our world today, we are surrounded by violence, attacks on our faith and families; we must fight for our faith and our freedom.

While our souls are immortal, our bodies are not; it hurts to lose our loved ones, but we rest assured in faith that their souls – should we care for them properly – will enter into the glory of Heaven. Some souls are not prepared at the time of death to face God, not because He is mean or angry or vengeful, but because we must be purified in order to stand in front of His awesome glory. We truly must be cleansed.

In very simple terms, it’s like the little boy who has been outside playing all day. He has dug hols to find worms, inspected mushrooms on his hands and knees, snuck over to the neighbor’s orchard to steal an apple or two, caught tadpoles and frogs, teased the neighbor girl with a snake. When he arrives home for dinner, his mother tells him they are going to have dinner with Father’s boss, and the boy needs to be cleaned up. He is subjected to Mother’s scrubbing: behind the ears, under the nails. literally cleaned from head to toe. When he is done, the boy is fairly glowing (maybe even a bit raw) from his “purification.” And so it is with Purgatory.

The Church triumphant consists of saints: those known to us and those known only to God. This should be the goal of every Christian: to have lived a life worthy, so that when it comes to an end, we may to stand in front of Almighty God with a soul as pure as it was the day we were baptized.

Monday, we’ll continue discussing t he three parts of the living Church, the Body of Christ.

cosmic river

Jump Into That River!

When you open your heart and soul and life to God, you enter another life, another bloodstream, another cosmic river. This river takes all who swim in it to the sea of Heaven. But not everyone jumps into that river. It’s a free choice. – Peter Kreeft, How to be Holy: First Steps in Becoming a Saint

If you’re not familiar with Peter Kreeft, my suggestion would be that you find any or all of his books and begin reading. Despite the fact that he is a philosopher (and philosophers can be incredibly difficult to read or listen to or understand), Kreeft (who teaches at the Catholic-Boston College) is quite understandable and – even more important – greatly helpful in helping us understand the Catholic Faith.

In his book, How to be Holy, Kreeft lays out a rather simple plan in a rather small book. He bases many of his comments here on the writings of Jean-Pierre de Caussade (1675-1751), a Jesuit priest.

I know what you’re thinking. I can tell what your objections may be. Let’s examine them.

  1. Objection 1: A 17th century priest? Really?? How relevant could this stuff be to MY life? If we were talking about cooking or medicine, this objection would be well-founded. However, the matters of faith are constant whether you just got off the Ark, are being chased by a saber-toothed tiger or fondly remembering your acid-washed jeans. Both practically and theologically, the truths of faith remain the same. What Cain and Abel struggled with is exactly the same as what you and I struggle with. The only difference is that we have Christ. (And yes, we acknowledge that this is a tremendous difference.)
  2. Objection 2: I don’t have any time to read! That’s too bad. First of all, reading good quality books is far better for the soul than an evening spent watching reruns of sitcoms. Padre Pio, the saintly Italian priest, said, “If the reading of holy books had the power to convert worldly men into spiritual persons, how very powerful must not such reading be in leading spiritual men and women to greater perfection?” If you are serious about your faith, you should read about your faith.
  3. Objection 3: Um, I don’t really want another “life” or jump into some “cosmic river.” I’m happy just where I’m at, thanks. There is no doubt you are happy. But happiness is not the same as joy, which is a point all the saints understand. As one writer puts it:

Happiness is easily taken away when the “state of well-being” ceases; in times of hardship, trial, or need, happiness seems elusive. Something more satisfying is needed than the mere pleasure or contentment associated with happiness.
Joy, in contrast, is defined as an intense and especially ecstatic or exultant happiness or the expression of such feelings. The antonym of joy is “sorrow.” “Enjoying” (related to happiness) is not the same thing as “rejoicing.” Joy has several deeper meanings than happiness, which are further clarified in Holy Scriptures.

Kreeft goes on to say that choosing not to swim in this “cosmic river” is an insane choice. Yep: insane. Why? Because that choice leads to Hell.

In order to choose Hell, you must be insane: you must choose misery over joy. Why would you do that? Because you can understand and control misery but not joy. This is insane. But it is what we all do in some degree whenever we sin. For all sin is choosing misery over joy. We are all insane. That is what Original Sin means. But God deeply loves His severely brain-damaged children. If He did not, we would have no hope. But He does, and therefore we do.

  1. Objection 4: I don’t want to jump in that river. I just don’t want to. And no one can make me. On this last point, you are right. Not even Almighty, Eternal God Who Is Love can make you. He won’t sneak up behind you and push you. He won’t spend all of His time trying to cajole you into just sticking your big toe in. Nope.And no one else can do that either. If someone who loves you, thinking this is the best for you, tries to yank you in, it won’t matter. It only matters if we enter the river of our own free will.Now, that doesn’t mean we might still have doubts. Or that we might climb out and some point (stupidly) and then get back in again (smartly). But we all must understand: this cosmic river of truth and love and joy and peace and unity with God is the only way to Heaven. To not get in is to choose Hell, which is eternal misery.

    What are you waiting for? Go jump in that river!

hearts long for

What Does Your Heart Long For?

Our daily walk through this world can be tedious. We have to-do lists, calendar items, agendas: everything we must get accomplished in a day. Our walk can be lonely: friends drift apart, children grow up, people die. We have more things now to entertain us than at any other time in history, and yet boredom sets in.

We are not made to do things. We are made for Christ, and Him alone. Our purpose here is to become saints. Our hearts do not long for another meeting or another chore. Our hearts do not long for television shows or video games. Our hearts long for God.

The German poet Rainer Maria Rilke knew this. His parents wished that he join the military but his heart was for something else. He loved language and poetry. In 1899, at the age of about 24, Rilke traveled to Russia and there met the great writer Lev (Leo) Tolstoy, whose work explores the deepest desires of the human heart. Tolstoy’s influence on Rilke’s work is clear to see.

Raised as a Catholic, Rilke rejected the faith. However, his poems are full of Christian references and imagery, leading one to think that Rilke, too, longed for more than what this world has to offer. His entire life he struggled with light and dark, God and man, faith and despair.

Despite his struggles with faith and his avowed atheism, one cannot reject his poetry merely because he could not find faith and hope himself.  Who among us does not doubt? Who among us has not cried out to God in anger? Who among us has not turned his face to Heaven and said, “I want you, Lord. I need you. What I have is not enough; I long for more”? Even those who do not believe have searched the heavens, knowing that there is more, yet not being able to grasp it.

What does your heart long for?

Here is Rainer Mariaa Rilke’s Go To the Limits of Your Longing.”

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

Flare up like flame
and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.


The Ascension Of The Lord: Signpost Of Faith

Today marks the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord. In many U.S. dioceses, the celebration of the Ascension is moved to the Seventh Sunday of Easter, but today marks the traditional celebration. Forty days after the Resurrection, the Lord gathers His Apostles for one last bit of instruction: that He will send the Holy Spirit so that they can witness on behalf of Christ “to the ends of the earth.”

Then, as we are told in the Acts of the Apostles, Jesus is lifted up and vanishes from their sight in a cloud. Despite all the miracles that the Apostles had seen Christ perform, what must they have thought? How incredible! What could this possibly mean?

Monsignor Romano Guardini, a German priest born in Italy in 1885, has some thoughts on this. While Guardini is well-known in some circles, he still seems to be in the background in many places. This is too bad, as he had a profound impact on the spiritual formation of Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI, and Guardini’s book, The Lord, is truly a classic of theological writings.

Guardini said this about today’s Solemnity:

Perhaps we will experience that the Ascension was not simply a unique occurrence in the life of Jesus, but rather above all, the manner in which He is given to us: as one vanishing into heaven, into the Unconditional which is God. However, if that is the case, then these bare sketches are most precious: They are sign-posts pointing us to the ‘stepping beyond’ of faith; and insofar as they go beyond our vision, in fact, precisely because they go beyond our vision, they teach us to worship.

What Guardini seems to be saying here is that in Christ’s last bodily act on Earth, He creates a situation where faith must be relied upon. He is now “beyond our vision” – returning to His Father. With that, we (along with the Apostles) must rely on faith. St. Paul would later write, Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)

The Ascension is a reminder to us that we have a Heavenly home, one prepared for us by the Lord Himself. Today, of all days, we should acknowledge our longing to follow Christ, here and into eternity.


Hoisting The World To Heaven

As easy as it is to become discouraged about the state of the world, we must remember that saints walk among us. Saints are just ordinary people who dutifully accept God’s grace, hoisting themselves and the world to heaven.

Madeleine Delbrel, a French Catholic writer and mystic, knew this. Delbrel was raised Catholic, but as a teen, lost her faith, proclaiming that “God is dead.” Later, she claimed to have re-discovered her faith in God by praying that she could believe.

Delbrel wrote:

If some have to leave the world in order to find it and raise it to heaven, others have to plunge into it so as to hoist themselves with the world to the same heaven.

I take that to mean that a few souls are called to live a monastic life: a life apart from the world, rooted in prayer and work. Their lives are continuous prayer for the salvation of all. It is a rigorous life, and not one that God calls many to.

The rest of us are “plunged” into this world. We must deal with the sins of ourselves and others writ large: provocative “entertainment,” poverty and hunger, politicians and leaders who scandalize, the complete lack of charity for those with whom we work and live, those strangers on the street. Our lives are filled with distractions; how often do we “visit” with friends and family, only to have everyone stare at their phone screens?

It is into this world we are plunged. Delbrel is reminding us that it is our calling as Catholics to hoist ourselves above all this, and bring others with us. When we lift ourselves above this world, heaven becomes more and more clear, and more and more desirable. We may wish sometimes that this was not our calling, but here is where God placed us: in this time, in this place, with these people. How will you hoist them to heaven today?