As I was watching a couple of YouTube videos showing highlights from the recent Euro Cup Final, I could not help agreeing with one of the announcers comparing the advocates of both teams as being in an ecstasy of prayer. Close-ups of the fans during key moments of the match like the final shoot out showed people in the deepest prayer for their teams.
I thought to myself: Who does God listen to? They both want Him to do something for their team. They want God to help them win. But whose jersey does God have on?
Maybe this rather detached view of things is the fruit of my not being a fan of soccer. Do I have the same detachment when the valiant Yankees play the devious Red Sox? I think not. But it brings up a very important point: To what extent does our earthly viewpoint color and even inform our reflections of the next life in Heaven and in Hell?
Our earthly categories are the only ones we know about and the only way we can speak about the world to come. But they are so limited.
I remember a movie that I saw once that tried to show what happens after death. It was very deflating. The writers saw heaven as a giant bureaucracy with lots of waiting and lots of attendants telling people to be patient and get in line! It was like a badly run government agency!
We have to admit that, when left to our own imaginations, the future life does not measure up to our expectations!
This is because we can only color the future vision of what will be with the palette that we are used to here on earth. We do not have the words or the concepts for our future life so when we try to imagine what eternal life with the Lord will be like we can think of only the most wonderful experiences of life here on earth. But when we think of elongating the experience for every day for ever and ever, we want out immediately. We value variety and diversity but nothing we can imagine could possibly interest us for all of eternity! I may love chocolate but eating chocolate all the time would be the quickest way for me to develop an aversion to it!
Therefore, when anyone tries to tell us how wonderful it will be in the afterlife don’t feel bad if it does not attract you! Someone once gave us the picture of saints and angels sitting on marble and playing harps. Well, I can’t even imagine enjoying harp playing for just a few minutes, let alone all the time! And what about my rump! Sitting for centuries on marble? No thanks!
Luckily the same holds true for hell. All those ugly limbs gyrating in flames. I wonder how God feels about His children thinking He is some sort of sadist. Pictures of hell come from the artistic imagination of writers like Dante or from imaginative visions from saints who’ve seen that being separated from the Love of the Father for even a few seconds would be intolerable. They put that horror into images that may keep people from choosing to be separate from that Love.
We do not even know what the experience of timelessness feels like. Or whether the word ‘feel’ is appropriate to use in the next life.
I remember joking with someone that praying to St. Anthony requires a long wait to see the prayer answered. He has devoted people from all over the world asking him for favors and, even though God has given him a huge office with lots of workers, it takes a long time to get to an individual favor! I joked saying, “Better to pray to someone like Saint Marina or Saint Dymphna! Their inbox is always empty!”
I had to quickly say that I was kidding and that God really answers all of our petitions in His own way and time and that the Saints accompany our requests to God. Eternity is not one big bureaucracy!
But this is what I mean to say in the reflection. When dealing with the hereafter we must be very cautious since we really do not know what we are talking about!
Suffice it to say that we need to be direct with God about our needs and to leave everything in His almighty hands since He knows what we need more than we do! As to the how and the when of things: we just don’t know.
This is what faith is: trust in God. Period.
“On God rests my deliverance and my honor; my mighty rock, my refuge is in God. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.” – Psalm 62:7-8