Will I See My Relatives in Heaven?

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DEAR FATHER: 

Several years ago we lost our son. I am questioning the concept of one heaven, with all the people who have lived from the beginning of mankind being together in one place — trillions of people. Will it be like a dream? (For instance, if you want to see someone, you just think of them.) Are families reunited in heaven?  — Pete

DEAR Pete: 

I was sorry to learn of your son’s death. I can understand why, faced with such a significant loss, you would want to know more about God and the mystery of heaven. While I can’t give you concrete answers, I can assure you that our faith does provide us with clues that can guide us on our journey to God.

Our God is all loving, all powerful, unfathomable, generous, and merciful. There are no limits in God as there are in us. We’re confined by our bodies, space, and time. We should be aware of our limitations but not attribute them to God. Just because we can’t do some things doesn’t mean that God can’t do them. Therefore, we should strive to see God as a Father who loves us and has the power to help us. By establishing a deeper relationship with our Father, we’ll learn to trust even more in his merciful love for us.

How inadequate and unsatisfactory is our language when we speak about God! Nevertheless, we can say that because we’ll all be united to God in heaven, we’ll also be united to our loved ones. You will be with your son again. This earthly life is just the first stage of our eternal life. As members of Christ’s mystical body, our daily task consists in maintaining and developing a loving relationship with our heavenly Father and with one another. We can achieve this goal only by praying — that is, by dialoguing with God and listening to what he is telling us.

No one has ever come back from heaven and given us a description of it. The closest we have of such an experience is St. Paul’s mystical experience of being “caught up into Paradise,” where he “heard ineffable things, which no onemay utter” (2 Corinthians 12:4). He also wrote in 1 Corinthians 2:9-10:

‘What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him,’ this God has revealed to us through the Spirit.

Heaven, therefore, is not a physical place that can be measured or located in a part of the universe. All its human residents are resurrected bodies. Jesus says that we’ll be like angels, or spiritual beings, and so we won’t occupy any physical space. There’ll be no need to stack us up one on top of the other. If this sounds strange, remember that on the first Easter morning, St. Mary Magdalene and the disciples on the road to Emmaus did not recognize Jesus. We can’t describe now that way of being, but we’ll experience it throughout eternity.

So, what is heaven? St. John Paul II says it is “a living, personal relationship with the Holy Trinity. It is our meeting with the Father which takes place in the risen Christ through the communion of the Holy Spirit” (General Audience, July 21, 1999).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “this perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity — this communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed — is called ‘heaven.’ Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness” (1024).

St. Augustine says it simply and beautifully with these words: “Our hearts are restless, Lord, until they rest in you.” Heaven is where we’ll rest totally and perpetually in God.

The teachings of Christ give us the foundation for our belief in heaven. On this score, chapter 6 of St. John’s Gospel couldn’t be clearer:

For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him [on] the last day (v. 40). …

I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world (v. 51)

There are many other passages in the New Testament that identify our union in Christ as also a union with the Father in the Holy Spirit. Being one with Christ begins with our Baptism and continues in this life with our efforts to avoid sin and especially to love our neighbor in words and in deeds. Our incorporation will become stronger and more loving and intimate as we strive to remain faithful to his will. It will reach its perfect state only in heaven.

God wishes to gather to himself all his sons and daughters scattered throughout the world and history. By revealing himself to us as merciful love, he invites us to open wide our hearts to receive his gift of eternal life.

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