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

Advent reading

5 Books For Advent Reading (And A Bonus Book For Kids)

Advent is a great time to focus on Catholic traditions for the home, and also a great time to work on your own spiritual development. Many parishes offer special prayer services, Scripture studies and talks. We know how easy it is to get caught up in the commercialism that surrounds this time of year, and the busy-ness many of us feel as check things off our Christmas lists. Advent is the perfect time to treat yourself to some spiritual reading and to nourish the soul. Here are 5 suggestions:

  1. The Bad Catholic’s Guide to the Seven Deadly Sins, John Zmirak, author. If you haven’t ever read Zmirak, you’re in for a treat. His sense of humor blasts through every page of the Bad Catholic’s series and will have you laughing out loud. However, Zmirak is not “lite” on catechetics. He takes the teachings of the Church seriously and you’ll learn fabulous things about our faith.
  2. Tears of God, Fr. Benedict Groeschel, author. For many people, the holidays are very difficult. The loss of loved ones, personal illness, loneliness: all of these can make the “happiest time of year” very bleak. This little gem of a book by Fr. Benedict Groeschel addresses how life’s difficulties are not inconsequential to Our Lord. For those crying out, “Lord, where are you? Why has this happened to me, to my family?” this book is balm for the soul.
  3. Parched, Heather King, author. Heather King bares her soul in this memoir. King, a Catholic and an alcoholic, recalls her family’s tepid faith and her chaotic childhood. As an adult, her alcoholism cost her nearly everything and drove her to her knees. King’s writing is both eloquent and utterly humble. Even if you do not suffer from substance abuse yourself, Parched is ultimately about the search for God, that unquenchable thirst we all share.
  4. How to be Holy: First Steps in Becoming A Saint, Peter Kreeft, author. Kreeft is a convert to Catholicism, having been raised a staunch Calvinist. He now teaches philosophy at Boston College. Philosophers can sometimes be daunting to read, but Kreeft has a gift for making heady thoughts manageable. In this book, he reminds us that each of us shares exactly the same destiny: to be a saint. However, we must choose this. So just how does one become a saint? Check out this book and see.
  5. Seeds of the Word, Bishop Robert Barron, author. Bishop Barron, known for his wildly popular “Word On Fire” videos and website, knows that God can show up in the most unexpected places. How can we find God in our culture, especially in a time when our culture is in such upheaval? Barron explores popular media (primarily movies) to show us that since all Truth is of God, then God is in Coen Brothers movies, “True Grit,” “The Giver” and a host of other pop culture offerings. Who knows? Maybe this book will spur you to a reading AND a movie expedition for Advent.

Finally, here is a book the whole family can enjoy together: Saint Francis Celebrates Christmas, Mary Caswell Walsh, author and Helen Caswell, illustrator. This incredibly charming children’s book tells the story of how St. Francis of Assisi brought the birth of Christ to life in order to deepen the faith of the people he served. Out of this grew the tradition of the Nativity set, which so many of us set up in our home for Christmas. With its charming illustrations and touching story, this will surely become a family holiday favorite.

When preparing for Advent, keep in mind this quote from St. Jerome: When we pray we speak to God; but when we read, God speaks to us.

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.

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!


Angel Of God, My Guardian Dear: 6 Fast Facts About Angels

Let’s talk about angels. Angels are sort of a big thing in our culture; we even used to have a tv show about them. We buy angel figurines, decked out with wings and soft features. We tell people, “You’ve got an angel looking out for you!” But what do you really know about angels?

  • Angels are real. God created them. They are as real as you, me, the sun, water and the rest of the created world.
  • Angels are NOT human beings. We do not die and then become angels. Humans are always human and angels are always angels.
  • Angels are “spiritual, non-corporeal beings.” That means they don’t have bodies, but they do have souls.
  • Angels have intelligence and will. They can choose to serve God or not. (The “fallen angels” are one who chose not to serve God, but rather presumed they were greater than God. These beings now serve evil.)
  • Angels are God’s messengers and servants. They glorify God unceasingly.
  • Each and every person has a guardian angel that is unique to him or her, just as every angel is unique.

Angels are not “magical;” they are not fairies or some kind of good luck charm. Nor are they barely-dressed women touting lingerie. They serve God, and God is not about magic or luck. Nor are they chubby babies floating around our heads. They are warriors.

When God permits, angels can take on a physical form. After all, Mary was visited by the angel Gabriel: she saw an actual being, not a mirage or a ghost. In the Old Testament, Tobiah (son of Tobit) was accompanied by the angel Raphael on his journey to Media. Most of us will never see an angel, but they stand between us and evil. They protect us, body and soul.

Many of us were taught, as young children, to pray daily to our guardian angel for that angel’s protection, as God sees fit. This is a good practice for all of us, child or adult. If you haven’t spoken to your angel in awhile, now would be a good time.

Angel of God, my Guardian dear, to whom His love commits me here, ever this day be at my side, to light and guard, to rule and guide. Amen.


How To Become Holy: It Ain’t Gonna Be Easy

The one goal every Catholic should have is to be holy. Now, holiness looks very different in different people. God did not create humans to be cookie-cutter images of Himself or each other. Holiness can look like Mother Teresa, or Solanus Casey, or John Paul II, or Elizabeth Lesuer. No matter who we are, what we do for a living, what our situation is, one thing is certain: we are made to be holy.

Peter Kreeft, Catholic philosopher and writer, in his book How To Be Holy: First Steps in Becoming a Saint, says that God can sanctify us in two ways.

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 words, suffering.

This makes perfect sense, of course. It is like the old prayer: “God, make me patient. But not yet.” Our own will and desire are simply not strong enough to overcome the weakness of sin.

How can suffering make us holy? Doesn’t it just make us cantankerous and bitter? Well, it certainly can. But if we recognize that suffering (although not pleasant) comes with gifts, we can allow it to sanctify us.

Illness can make us dependent upon others. If a person is strong-willed, this dependency can be grating. It can also be an opportunity to practice humility and patience and thankfulness. When we grieve the loss of a loved one, we are certainly allowed to be saddened. Yet if we are set upon holiness, we can use that loss to remind ourselves that life is short and precious. Our loss can spur us to be mindful of every moment God allows us.

Being holy is hard. We know this: just look at our world. We recognize holiness so easily because it’s rare; it’s like finding a gem while we are shoveling out the barn. If holiness were easy to achieve, everyone would do it. But holiness is only for those who pray, over and over, in the face of both good times and bad: “Thy will be done. Thy will be done.”


5 Ways Prayer Can Help You Make A Decision

Decisions, decisions. If it seems like you have a lot of decisions to make, it’s because you do. One study says we make 35,000 decisions in a day! Admittedly, many of those decisions are small (Should I have cornflakes or a bagel this morning?), but we are all faced with big decisions in our lives.

Some of us are in positions of leadership at work, and have to make decisions about hiring, firing, budget cuts and other decisions that affect people’s lives greatly. Parents must make difficult decisions regarding children (public school or private?) Any adult in our culture has to make weighty decisions: Do I move to a new state for that great job? Is this the woman I want to marry? Does my elderly parent need to be moved to a nursing facility?

It’s not easy to make decisions like these. As Catholics, we are often told to “pray about it.” Many of us hope that God will take out a billboard on the side of the road that says, “Hey, you! Do this!” but it doesn’t work that way. So how can we use prayer to help us make decisions. Here are some ideas.

  1. Use prayer to help you figure out the situation. Too many times, we ourselves aren’t clear on what it is we are actually trying to decide. Say for instance that your’e trying to decide whether to send your child to public or private school. You’ve been struggling with the cost of private school. But settling down before God, in a quiet place, you begin to sort your thoughts out. Yes, finances are one issue, but you also realize that you had a great education in public schools, and you want the same for your child. Sometimes, prayer can help us figure out not only the decision, but the emotions and facts involved.
  2. Journal your prayers. For many of us, writing out our prayers can help clarify things. Seeing the words on paper, allowing ourselves to think through the decision before us, can often help with the decision. Just make sure that you are really praying as you journal, and not simply making lists or writing down ideas.
  3. Be confident about God’s plan, and ask that He help you discern His will. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that God couldn’t possibly care about whether or not we take a job three states away. He must have far bigger issues to deal with! But Jesus tells us that our Heavenly Father cares for the birds of the air and the flowers of the field, yet cares so much more for us. (Matthew 6) Trust that God deeply loves you, wants the best for you, and is happy to help you make decisions.
  4. Be quiet. This is probably the hardest one for all of us! However, we cannot hear the voice of God if we are bombarded with noise. If that means driving with the radio off, getting up 30 minutes before the kids, or stepping inside a church on your lunch, then do that. Allow yourself this time with God to just listen. Be still. Hear His voice.
  5. God’s will is always good. Now, that doesn’t mean a decision won’t be tough. Telling your 13 year-old that your family is moving likely won’t be a happy moment. Theologian Peter Kreeft says we should look for love, joy and peace. If a particular decision makes us feel angry, unsettled or anxious, we should take that as a sign that we are not moving in a direction God wants.

Above all, give yourself over to God. Tell Him you seek His will and wish to do want He wants. Remember the Our Father when we pray, Thy will be done? That’s a perfect prayer for making decisions.


Feast of the Annunciation: An Answer That Changed Everything

The Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of the Annunciation on March 25. However, in 2016, that date fell on Good Friday. The Bishops of the United States have declared that the celebration of this feast be moved to Monday, April 4. (By the way, this particular occurrence won’t happen again until 2157!)

The story is a familiar one to most of us:

In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” And the angel said to her in reply, “The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.”Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. – Lk. 1:26-38

It is hard to imagine how frightening this scene is. First, while we like to portray angels as chubby babies with wings floating in mid-air, angels are actually awesome creatures. Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft gives us a clear idea of what angels are:

  • They really exist. Not just in our minds, or our myths, or our symbols, or our culture. They are as real as your dog, or your sister, or electricity.
  • They’re present, right here, right now, right next to you, reading these words with you.
  • They’re not cute, cuddly, comfortable, chummy, or “cool”. They are fearsome and formidable. They are huge. They are warriors.
  • They are the real “extra-terrestrials”, the real “Super-men”, the ultimate aliens. Their powers are far beyond those of all fictional creatures.
  • They are more brilliant minds than Einstein.
  • They can literally move the heavens and the earth if God permits them.
  • There are also evil angels, fallen angels, demons, or devils. These too are not myths. Demon possessions, and exorcisms, are real.
  • Angels are aware of you, even though you can’t usually see or hear them. But you can communicate with them. You can talk to them without even speaking.
  • You really do have your very own “guardian angel”. Everybody does.
  • Angels often come disguised. “Do not neglect hospitality, for some have entertained angels unawares”—that’s a warning from life’s oldest and best instruction manual.
  • We are on a protected part of a great battlefield between angels and devils, extending to eternity.
  • Angels are sentinels standing at the crossroads where life meets death. They work especially at moments of crisis, at the brink of disaster—for bodies, for souls, and for nations.

Imagine a young girl who is suddenly faced with one of these “fearsome” creatures. And this “warrior” tells her she is to become the Mother of God. She has the presence of mind to ask a sensible question and give her undivided “yes” (in Latin, her fiat: “let it be done”) to this request.

It was a request. Mary did not have to answer “yes” to God. She, like all of us, had free will. (She did not have the burden of original sin, however. That is why the angel greets her as “full of grace” or “favored one.”) It is said that God is a gentleman; He never imposes his will on anyone, but waits until we tell him “yes” to His will.

Mary could not see into the future. She could not know the full weight of her answer. She did know that she wished to do God’s will, always and only. She knew she wanted to welcome Christ, the Messiah, the Savior. She said, “Yes.” Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry writes:

We also see through Mary that faith is freedom. In this moment where she says she is the Lord’s handmaid, she is perfectly free. As free as anybody except Christ on the Cross. As said, Mary understood that her choice of the fiat would have negative consequences for her, although she probably did not understand the full ramifications. She could have said no. We have to believe this. She could have said no. She could have said no, and it would have been the total end of salvation history, with no Cross, no Resurrection, no life to come. Creation would have continued galloping into absurdity towards, probably, ultimate dissolution. This is why Mary rightly receives the most esteemed title of Mother of God. Her fiat had to cost Mary, and she could have said no. But if she had said no, it would have been out of fear. Fear of social opprobrium (and who among us has none?), fear of tribulation, fear of the unknown, the totally Unknown, blasting into her life like a torrent and changing everything. Who would not have that fear! We shouldn’t romanticize the Annunciation, we shouldn’t believe that it was easy-peasy; Mary may have been Immaculate, but Jesus sweated blood at Gethsemane. When Luke tells us that she was “greatly troubled”, we have to see it for the tactful understatement that it is. And yet at that moment, Mary is perfectly free, and her perfect freedom caused the salvation of all humanity.

On this Feast of the Annunciation, let us ponder this scene. A young girl, an angel, a question, and how it changed the world.