Raising his eyes toward his disciples Jesus said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for the Kingdom of God is yours.
Blessed are you who are now hungry,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who are now weeping,
for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you,
and when they exclude and insult you,
and denounce your name as evil
on account of the Son of Man.
Rejoice and leap for joy on that day!
Behold, your reward will be great in heaven.
For their ancestors treated the prophets
in the same way.
But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
But woe to you who are filled now,
for you will be hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will grieve and weep.
Woe to you when all speak well of you,
for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way.”
– Lk 6:20-26
Surfers, when you read these words what pictures come to mind? When Jesus says your reward will be great in heaven; are we talking about the afterlife with wings and harps? Do we only receive our reward after we die, or are we talking about heaven on Earth? How are we to interpret these words spoken from the figure of Jesus, as expressed by the anonymous evangelists we have chosen to call Luke?
In my life I never really accepted the wings and harps vision of heaven. In our parish we have a traditionalist Pastor who often likes to discuss heaven from the pulpit. His homilies are filled with images of life after death where we all become perfect and all turn age 33. I can’t tell if he really believes what he says, or not. The people in the pews like him. I would like a more honest and frank discussion, and that is one reason I seldom go to mass there, or anywhere.
It is not just the Pastor at my parish that brushes my hair in the wrong direction. I would like to offer you words spoken by our current Pope B16.
“We must give ourselves much exercise both in fraternal correction, which requires a great deal of humility and simplicity of heart, and in prayer, so that what we offer up to God in Heaven might be the prayer of a community truly united in Christ.” These were some of the words Pope Benedict XVI spoke to the faithful gathered in the courtyard of the Papal Summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, for the Sunday Angelus.
– Pope Benedict XVI on fraternal charity
Here we have a message where, in the spirit of humility, we are meant to redirect our neighbors when they are off the path to greater spirituality. Should I remind the Pope that God resides in us, and that offering up our prayers to God in heaven is no longer a valid reference, humbly speaking? Perhaps we are we meant to believe that if our neighbors gain material wealth, eat well, enjoy our happiness and are well thought of by others that they are in danger of not going to heaven, whatever that means? Are we, as alluded to by Pope Benedict XVI, responsible to correct those we see exhibiting these behaviors? In our day and age does this concept of heaven continue to make sense? Is the Pope out of step with life after death as we know it, or does he really believe what he says?
In my search for greater spirituality I read a lot. I read some of the book by B16 on Jesus, but I found that I disagreed with some of what he had to say, thank goodness he explained that we all might not agree with his words in his introduction. I read all the popular atheist diatribes by Dawkins, Hitchins, Harris, and the like. These I completed to various degrees as I disagreed with some of what they had to say also. Other religious books pit their position against their detractors and the three tier [heaven, earth, hell] model is a choice of believe the Bible or science.
Pointing out that religious stories of human purpose fail miserably, Dawkins indicates that science may be able to offer a better explaination for human existance. Starting out with Darwin, he claims that Darwin’s theory of evolution may offer the only explaination for humanity’s raison d’état that we are likely to ever get.
Why Are We Here – Richard Dawkins
What is a person to believe?
What do you believe?
… And we’ve got really in this debate today essentially atheism versus Christian theism, if you like, and that will certainly do us for tonight. There are other worldviews of course. But in the academy, those tend to be the main two. I have a whole series of tests which I run on saying, look, here are these two worldviews, take science itself; with which worldview does it sit more comfortably? Does it sit more comfortably with atheism or with theism?
Richard Dawkins is an Athiest and he claims science to prove his point. John Lennox is a Christian and he claims science to prove his point. Who do we turn to in matters of life after death? How do we understand the words of Jesus and put that into our daily spirituality?
If one side is busily engaged in trying to do artificial respiration on the dead images of our religious past. Images that have no reality any longer. And the other side believes there is nothing beyond these lifeless images, to which they can appeal, then why should any of us bother? So the Christian world is more and more today divided between an irrational hysterical fundamentalism, which comes in both a Catholic and a Protestant form, and which does not like to engage thought on any level that challenges their preconceived notions. And on the other side there is a rising tide of secular humanism that sees no place in it for God. We are either fundamentalists or member of the Church Alumni Association. There seems to be almost nothing in-between that is substantive. And I think both of these responses are sterile. And I think they are both dead and without the possibility of finding themselves being sources of new life… A new possibility… Beyond religion. Beyond Theism. Beyond Heaven and Hell.
– John Shelby Spong
Of all the authors I read Spong makes the most sense. As we march on in our lives (time does not stop) we need to look past those crazy arguments made by people looking to resuscitate old images or toss God out with the proverbial bath water. I feel we need to find a new meaning to the words of Jesus. We need a new image of heaven and life after death.
Reflecting on the Sunday Gospel readings, which focus on fraternal charity in the life of the community, the Holy Father recalled how the brotherly love also involves a “sense of mutual responsibility,” which includes calling a brother who has fallen into sin back to the right path – first personally and then, gradually, at the community level. Pope Benedict went on to note that, in the face of the stubbornness of a brother or sister, this can lead even to separation from the Church community. “All this,” he said, “indicates that there is a sharing of responsibility in the way of Christian life: all of us, aware of our limitations and defects, are called to welcome fraternal correction and to help others with this particular service.”
– Pope Benedict XVI on fraternal charity
Based on the words of B16, and in a spirit of fraternal correction, I would like to say that the stubbornness of my brothers and sisters in the Catholic Church regarding spiritual growth in matters of life after death, heaven and hell, needs to change. As a service to all, because I have a responsibility to be aware of my limitations and in humility to help others, I would like to say that heaven may be holding you back from full communion with God. For our future, let us discuss life after death, as Spong says, in a new way with new possibilities that go beyond religion and heaven.