What is heaven? And how can man reach it? These are the big questions that man continues to ask year after year, century after century, especially when he takes a deeper view of things.
The feasts of the Church draw us to deeper reflection of these questions. Blessed Newman wrote four short meditations for the solemnity of the Ascension that we have just celebrated. We have commented on the first one which focuses on the glorification of Jesus in his human nature. In that one, Newman recalls that Jesus took the human nature from the Virgin Mary, and that in his body he ascended to the throne of heaven. “This is the triumph. Earth rises to heaven.” After terrible suffering Jesus entered heaven amid the praise of the Cherubim. It is indeed a “triumph” and a “memorable day,” and so the Church rejoices.
In the second meditation for the Ascension, Newman provides a short answer to our question: What is heaven? He begins by putting aside the question in terms of a geographical location because God is outside of time and space:
“To go to heaven is to go to God. God is there and God alone: for perfect bliss is there and nothing else, and none can be blessed who is not bathed and hidden and absorbed in the glory of the Divine Nature.”
Next Newman indicates the only path to heaven: Christ himself. To ascend to Heaven we must call upon the One Name. He invites us to call on Jesus’ Name and to live on the thought of Him alone, and addresses Christ:
“Teach me this, O God; give me Thy supernatural grace to practise it; to have my reason, affections, intentions, aims, all penetrated and possessed by the love of Thee, plunged and drowned in the one Vision of Thee.”
Here are on earth there are numberless goods, but they spoil and cannot fully satisfy. They are often mixed up with sin. St. Augustine reminds us that God alone is the source of life and joy; only he can satisfy the yearnings of the human heart. In his Confessions he wrote: “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you.”
In the same spirit as St. Augustine, Blessed Newman prays:
My God, I acknowledge all this. My Lord Jesu, I confess and know that Thou only art the True, the Beautiful, and the Good. Thou alone canst make me bright and glorious, and canst lead me up after Thee. Thou art the way, the truth, and the life, and none but Thou. Earth will never lead me to heaven. Thou alone art the Way; Thou alone.
Newman brings to mind St. Peter’s reply to Jesus: “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Jn 6:67). And he comments that human station, achievements and reputation are all insufficient to obtain eternal life.
“He who is in heaven can bring me to heaven. What strength have I to scale the high mountain? Though I served the world ever so well, though I did my duty in it (as men speak), what could the world do for me, however hard it tried?”
From personal experience we know that by our strength it is not possible to be faithful and persevere. Thus, when we find it difficult to live as God prescribes or are discouraged by repeated failings, when we are tempted by frequent temptations let us remember that Jesus can bring us to heaven. Let us ask the Holy Spirit to increase in us the virtue of hope and the desire for eternal life.