So a few days back I was talking with my cousin and somehow the topic of heaven came up. I told him that I want to see what the Saints see when they die: I want the Beatific Vision, which, just to put us all on the same page, is the direct communication of God to the individual person (ie heaven in full). My cousin responded, “ooohhhh no I could never be a saint.” I insisted “anyone can be a saint!” All it takes is the will to be open to Gods love. He countered with, “oohhhhhh no I’ve done too much.” And he said it with such certainty that it made me kind of sad. Because so have I.
It’s true. Everyone assumes that because I’m nice and usually cracking jokes and currently practicing a child-like dependence on God as a way to live out my Catholic faith that I’m somehow immune to struggle. That I’ve never tangoed with the temptations of the world. Most of all that I was simply born this way, the happy Catholic with a nice family whose goodness doesn’t count somehow because it’s easy for me.
These are all lies. Lies that surround a lot of Christians trying to live their faith. Because when you put a genuine faith in God into practice you will bear fruit. God’s love will transform you into the beautiful new creation you were always meant to be. But this process is far from easy.
And the idea that Christianity is something reserved exclusively for “the good” is an extremely dangerous one that echoes the Jansenist heresy (the heresy that claims you have to be perfect for God to love you).
Because the truth is God loves my cousin (let’s call him Tom for the purposes of this post) and I just know that nothing would make God happier than sharing Himself with Tom, after all He’s Tom’s Father. And think about it from a parent’s perspective- is there anything your child can do that would really cause you to stop loving them?
But back to the issue at hand, Tom has realized that he is not worthy of God because of his sins. And Tom might mistakenly think that I somehow am, because I’m religious and all that. But I know my sins better than Tom and trust me I’m not worthy of God either, and certainly not the Beatific Vision I want in heaven. So why is Tom certain he won’t see it while I’m certain that I will?
To explain, I have to tell a story that involves a bicycle (if you were wondering where this post got its title). When I was a little girl I used to like to bike at warp speed down this huge hill into the cul de sac by my house. One day I turned too sharply into the cul de sac and completely wiped out. The bike fell on top of my fifty-pound body (I was a super scrawny kid until the delights of puberty) and I had scrapes all over, especially my knees and elbows. Pretty sure my helmet was askew too.
And I started to cry like little children do, not just from the pain but from the shock of the crash and having no idea what to do next. Fortunately, a kindly neighbor came out, picked up the bike, put me back on my feet, and escorted both myself and the bicycle back to my house where my dad was waiting. I thought he’d be mad, but instead he was compassionate, bandaged me up, and told me I’d get ’em next time.
I think the love of God goes a lot like that. We’re riding along and everything is smooth sailing and suddenly we fall into sin and were lost. I think he’s more than happy to send the right people to come help us, and ready to heal us Himself, if we would only just trust Him enough to let Him do it, to let Him close to us, even though we’re all dirty and scraped up. He’s the last to judge. He doesn’t want anything from us, no expectations or wishing we were just better like our other brothers and sisters. He just wants to love us. Each of us. He is love itself, to the point where He is so selfless that His happiness doesn’t have any self-interest in it, His only desire is to love us and see us completed and totally healed by that love. That’s what satisfies His heart.
And I try to love God, myself, and others not from some twisted, social obligation that comes from our relativistic society right after a recommendation that we buy Nike running wear and eat a holistic diet, but because I want to see the Beatific Vision when I die. And the more I practice living in love, the more I see it now, while here on earth. And my response to that love is why I come off to my cousin the way that I do.
And even though he doubts I know I’ll see Tom in heaven, especially now that he knows my secret. That I don’t deserve the Beatific Vision or any praise at all for anything, but I will accept heaven as a gift from my Father because He is generous and He loves me so much. And by being in His presence, both in my life on earth and long after my earthly death, I hope I learn to love Him too. And I hope the same for my cousin.
And in fact, I hope the same for you, whoever you are.