A Glimpse of Heaven
Is that all there is? Over the past 25 years as a priest, I’ve been asked that question or one like it, many times. The questions take many forms, but they all come back to, “If there is a heaven, what’s it like?” I recall my first week at my first assignment at morning Mass. A mom came out of Mass with a concerned look on her face. As she approached, I could also see the concerned look on the face of her daughter of 8 years old. As they approached the little girl sobbed an important question, “Do turtles go to heaven?” Her pet turtle had died that morning and church was the only appropriate place for some comfort and maybe an answer. So how do you answer such an important question to a child or to an adult whose faith is challenged?
For me, there are different ways to answer. One is by the scriptures. When we recall the love of God through the Son who rose from the dead, we are called to something beyond death. God loves us eternally. God loves us even before we are and beyond who we are. Death can’t stop that kind of love. After Jesus’ resurrection He ate with his friends, comforted those hurt by His death and made clear that we would be joined with Him forever. Isaiah says it will be a place of choice food and wine. Scripture gives us many images of God’s eternal, heavenly love. So what is heaven like?
In 1965, when I was 8 years old, I was in a terrible accident. I was shot through the heart, lungs and stomach. The doctors gave me no chance to live, but here I am today. While in the hospital, the doctors came out to speak with my parents after one of the surgeries. The doctor said that they had lost me for a while but got me back. It was at that time that I became one of those people who encountered a “near death experience”. It wasn’t a common thing to talk about, and seven years later, my mom asked if I believed in “near death experiences.” That was the first time I told anyone that I was one of those people.
If heaven is anything like what I “experienced” it is the place to go. Yes, I saw the light, but the light is nothing compared to the amazing peace, joy, wonder and rightness of where I had gone. I remember asking myself while there, “Where could I be?” It took no time to realize that I was with God, others and creation in heaven. There was the beauty of creation all around. (I could tell the little girl that I believed her turtle was in heaven.) If heaven was a place of all beauty and goodness, why wouldn’t creation be there? There will be clover fields to run through barefooted with my brothers and sisters, surrounded with the sweet aroma of clover and chasing rabbits. I think we all have some heavenly thoughts that will be more than fulfilled in heaven.
In my “experience” I saw lots of people, people I knew and people I didn’t know. And they were experiencing the same wonder that I was. I also saw people on earth and knew, by God’s prompting, that they would be alright also.
And I knew God was there in my “experience.” It just wasn’t God’s goodness being there, but I knew God was there to be my God where nothing could harm or be wrong. All made sense. I believe we get glimpses of the Kingdom here on Earth, but it will be special when it is our time in heaven.
Why did I come back? God knows, and I trust that. I trust Him. Some things are best left up to God. I believe while we are on Earth we serve, enjoy and ponder God’s time that he gives us. But He calls us to life to the full. We should live in that kind of fullness of life here. And that includes loving the best we can until we are loved forever in perfection.