These days we do not hear much about the Kingdom of Heaven. We hear a lot about this world-and about "dialogue" with the world. We have a new "respect" for the world and worldly powers. We even heard that the U.N. was our last hope for world peace. As the psalm says, "God in His Heaven laughs." (Psalm 2). But for Jesus, preaching about the Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of God was one of His main concerns. He wants us to know about Heaven, and not just to know about it, but to see to it that we get there.
The Kingdom of Heaven, He told us, is "the pearl of great price;" the Kingdom of Heaven is like "a treasure hidden in a field"; the Kingdom of Heaven is like a fishnet cast into the sea. In today's Gospel, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a King who gave a wedding banquet for his Son.
"In My Father's house there are many mansions," Jesus said. But one must find the straight and narrow way, because the broad way chosen by most of mankind leads only to destruction. And "Unless you become as little children" - innocent of sin, simple and trusting, "you cannot enter into the kingdom of Heaven." We should add that St. Paul says that we must work out our salvation "in fear and trembling."
Well, what is Heaven, then, and where is Heaven? Some have the "eat, drink, and be merry" philosophy. This life is all there is, so enjoy it while you can. Vladimir Lenin said that "religion is the opiate of the people," a way to keep them poor and under control by promising them Heaven, or, "pie in the sky bye and bye." Since this world is all there is, we must work towards an earthly paradise, a classless society in which everyone in the world will be equal and have an equal share in the goods of the earth. Of course, in the actual working out of things, the poor people under the yoke of Communism find out, like the beasts of Animal Farm, that "some are more equal than others."
Heaven is also promised in the Koran - a paradise of sensual delights. This is especially the destiny of those Muslims who become so-called "martyrs" in their suicide missions, by killing the enemies of Islam, especially Christians and Jews.
But the Heaven we believe in and look forward to is the one revealed to us by Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God. And it is nearer than we may suspect. Jesus once said, "The kingdom of God is in your midst." Pope St. Gregory the Great said, "The Kingdom of Heaven is the assembly of the just." And I don't think God will mind if we say that he means this assembly, right here at St. Jude's - the people of God gathered to pray.
What evidence do we have for this? Well, we have the testimony of St. John the Evangelist, from the book of the Apocalypse, the last book in the Bible, sometimes called Revelation, concerning the preparation of the Church so that it might become at last "holy and immaculate," a worthy Bride for her Heavenly Bridegroom, Jesus Christ.
A Heavenly Mass seems to be in progress. There are seven golden candlesticks (the number actually used at a pontifical Mass). The Lamb is seen standing on an altar, as though slain. And the holy angels "do not rest day and night, saying, 'Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God almighty, who was, and who is, and who is coming. The seraphim and the elders fall down before the Lamb, "having each a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints." "And every creature that is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth," John says, breaks out in words of praise: "To Him Who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb, blessing and honor and glory and dominion, forever and ever."
Fr. Faber called the traditional Latin Mass "the most beautiful thing this side of Heaven," but it is more than that. It is our actual participation in the Heavenly Liturgy of praise and worship that is offered to God through Jesus Christ our Lord, now going on, which is describes by St. John in the Apocalypse. The Mass is Heaven on earth!
Then why are we enduring all these trials? Well, the Apocalypse goes on to describe how the Bride of Christ is prepared for her marriage to her Heavenly Spouse - through trials and sufferings - purifications, as gold is tried in the fire.
Should we be surprised that the Church is enduring the greatest trials since her beginning? Today the suffering is not only exterior persecution by the enemies of the Church, but the suffering is interior - a terrible, mortal illness, which has brought the Church down upon her bed of suffering, even to the point of death. This interior suffering is caused by the sin of her members. Yes, unfortunately, we have great responsibility here. But the suffering is also caused by enemies who have infiltrated her ranks and usurped even her highest offices-with the result that the faithful are led into darkness and confusion.
We must expect this. Nothing but the most severe trials will be enough to prepare the spotless Bride of Christ to meet her Spouse. In fact, it would be surprising if the sufferings were only ordinary day-to-day sufferings. Jesus Himself endured countless sufferings and persecutions throughout His life, but in the end He made the supreme sacrifice, and endured the crucifixion and death upon the Cross. Only then came the Resurrection.
We must not be at all surprised that the Church is now being called to imitate her Divine Spouse - to endure the most extreme persecutions, and even crucifixion. "I saw under the altar," says St. John writing about his vision, "the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God, and for the witness that they bore…And they were told to rest a while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who are to be slain, even as they had been, should be complete." ( Apocalypse 6:9, 11) Then will come the glorious Resurrection of the Church.
St. Peter himself, in his second letter, or epistle, sums it up for us in a nutshell:
"Beloved, do not be startled at the trial by fire that is taking place among you to prove you, as if something strange were happening to you; but rejoice, in so far as you are partakers of the sufferings of Christ, that you may also rejoice with exultation in the revelation of his glory." (1Pet. 4:12-13) †