“Are we there yet?” “Are we there yet?” “ARE WE THERE YET???” This is the most common question that children ask their parents on when they are on long car rides on summer vacation. Annoying as this question might be to parents (especially if it is continuous) it does imply a certain excitement, wonder and awe: “we are heading towards somewhere fun, exciting and I WANT TO BE THERE NOW!!!”
Indeed, as Christians we know that where we are heading is the destination where we will find true joy and true fulfillment, more than we could ever imagine!! Heaven is eternal beatitude with God where we are totally embraced by love itself!! We cannot even begin to imagine what that is like!!! The Scripture tells us “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9) We need to embrace the HOPE that one day we will be with God for all eternity!! Jesus says, “In my Father’s house are many rooms!” A house with many rooms…that must be a MANSION!!!!! I went in a mansion once… it was HUGE!! I went in and I thought to myself, “oooh… a game of hide and seek would be so fun in here!!!” Imagine, Jesus says that His Father’s house has many mansions and that He goes to prepare a place for us!!! (John 14:2). That is awesome!!
Do I take enough time to think about heaven? Am I excited about heaven?
Do I make acts of hope throughout the day? Am I often discouraged, worried and stressed…do I turn to God in these moments?
So, what is hope? Hope is the theological virtue (remember we receive three at Baptism: Faith, Hope and Charity) infused in our will which we desire God as our beatitude (true happiness) and trusting in his mercy we are confident in reaching union with God!! To have hope requires a two-fold act of our will. God purifies us of our desires and helps us to see all our desires in relation to him. For example, I desire ice cream and pie for dessert today. This desire can bring my mind to God and make me desire God more: “God knew what he was doing when he inspired someone to make apple pie and ice cream!!” Apple pie and ice cream is so good, but it does not even compare to the infinite and loving goodness of God!! When we grow in hope, everything begins to be put back in right order (God first, persons second, things third) and we begin to see everything as God sees. Secondly, trust and confidence in God grows as self-reliance diminishes. What does that mean? Well, sometimes we believe the lie that we can merit heaven without God. This is not true!! Our redemption is through Christ. “In [Christ] we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which he lavished upon us” (Ephesians 1:7).
Indeed when we are beginning the spiritual life, we see that our hope is not yet perfect. In the beginning, the purgative way, we have a desire for God and salvation…along with many other things. In other words, our hearts are divided, and our desires for things need to be purified which means putting them in right order. This is done through prayer and acts of self-denial and mortification. When our hearts are focused on things, we worry more. Padre Pio says, “Pray, Hope and Don’t Worry! Worry is useless. God is merciful and he will hear your prayers!” Secondly, in the purgative way, beginners’ trust in God is very imperfect so we sway between despair (taking eyes off of the mercy of God and just focusing on His justice) and presumption (focusing just on God’s mercy and not enough on His justice). Despair is basically saying, “All is lost! I will never be a saint! I will never get to heaven!” Presumption is “I am saved already! I’ve got my ticket to heaven, I don’t need to grow in my relationship with God, I am a good person and so I am saved already!” Despair and presumption are indeed the two great sins against hope. In order to combat them, we need HOPE and a pure belief in God who is both merciful and just.
A person who is a bit more advanced in the spiritual life, souls in the illuminative way, desire God alone and their own personal sanctification. They trust only in the merits of Christ and are confident that God will eventually make them saints. St. Therese the Little Flower once said, “God would never inspire me with desires which cannot be realized; so in spite of my littleness, I can hope to be a saint.” They rely consciously on the merits of Christ and not on themselves. One of the nice things about a person in the illuminative way is that they are not shocked or surprised when they fall into temptation or even sin. They just simply seek pardon and reconciliation through the Sacraments and continue on.
Perfect souls, those who have reached the unitive way, have a great hope and confidence in God, so great that they desire to be united to Christ crucified for the salvation of the world. They desire universal salvation and are willing to offer everything in order for souls to enter eternal life!! What an amazing gift!! These souls have grown in charity to such a high degree that the glory of God and salvation of souls is everything!! A quote that is attributed to St. James the Apostle is, “let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” (James 5:20) These are souls who have great peace, because their hope is so great that even in the midst of ridicule, calumny, injury, misfortune, nothing takes away their peace and nothing discourages them!!! Their heaven begins on earth because their hearts are already in heaven!! This is interior freedom…we all want this and we must pray for it!!
So the next time you are on a family trip and your child asks a billion times: “Are we there yet?,” remember the virtue of hope. Perhaps in that moment make an act of hope!! There are so many things that we hope for everyday: that our family members would come back to the faith, that we would hear from that person that we have not seen or heard from in a long time. We can hope for a new beginning in relationships, meaning that instead of them being based on selfishness and the unholy trinity “me, myself, and I” they can be based on trust, humility, openness and transparency. We can hope for a new beginning!! Everyday is a new beginning and that should give us tremendous hope! I think our lives would not look as dark and grey and stormy if we would all, myself included, take more time to ponder heaven!! Our greatest hope must be eternal union with God and to hear the words of Jesus, “Well done good and faithful servant…enter into the joy of your master!” (Matthew 25:21).