As the church begins to get ready for Ascension Thursday, we begin reading the "farewell discourse" of Jesus. This is the great speech he made to them on Holy Thursday night at the last supper. In it he makes various promises which more than any other words in scripture show his tender compassion and care. Today he tells us why he is leaving: "I am going to prepare a place for you." There is a spot in heaven just for me! St Therese of Lisieux compares heaven to a garden where every little flower and every huge tree has a place and each are needed to make the garden complete. Somewhere in God's garden there is an exact spot where he wants us to shine. And Jesus is tilling the ground and keeping the weeds from growing where we are meant to be. This shows how much God is involved in our lives. Every detail of our existence, in this world and the next, is catered for.
Thank you Jesus!
So important is Christian doctrine on the Afterlife that for the last two centuries at least, its dogma on Hell has been a major stumbling block for many. Cardinal Newman acknowledged this and worked to alleviate the impact on the modern imagination of this dogma. He suggested ways of understanding the eternity of Hell that alleviated somewhat the thought of its unending and total misery — and he did this to clear away obstacles to belief that can beset the modern mind. Apart from this, the modern Western mind tends to be agnostic, bordering on one or other form of atheism. There is no Supernatural. This world is all that there is. This has been the advancing assumption, and I have known elderly people — the typical neighbour, as it were — who have thought that at the end of life, there will be nothing further for them. Just as any animal, the pet dog or cat, finishes its existence at death, so does man. He is buried, and all that is left of his Self is what is lowered into the grave. Just before John Henry Newman was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI in England, in September of 2010, his coffin was exhumed with a view to placing his relics in the Oratory church of Birmingham where he had lived. All his bodily remains were discovered to have gone because of the dampness of the cemetery. His spirit, of course, lives with Christ in Heaven, but for the agnostic or atheist, this life is all that there definitely is. Talk of the Afterlife is mere fanciful conjecture. But no — we have it on the word of Jesus Christ, confirmed by the powerful Tradition of his Church, that there is a Judgment, then Heaven or Hell. All this brings us to our Gospel today (John 14:1-6), in which our Lord speaks so wonderfully of Heaven. There is nowhere in the Scriptures prior to Jesus Christ any teaching so exalted as is his teaching on Heaven. “In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” Every day of our lives we have something wonderful to look forward to. It is our everlasting homeland of Heaven.
The great Rosary crusader of the second half of the twentieth century, Irish priest Father Patrick Peyton, once said that he was looking forward to death. He was a man full of peace, joy and kindness. The reason why he was looking forward to death was not because he was suffering so much and looked forward to a release from it. He was looking forward to Heaven, and death was the door to Heaven. Heaven, of course, is our meeting with and living forever with Jesus Christ. Father Peyton longed to see the face of Jesus Christ. This alters everything about death. From being a dark black hole into which we must fall, it becomes a door suffused with light. Heaven! Let us never lose sight of it! It will fill all our days with music, music that lasts forever.