During Advent and Christmas our thoughts should encompass the joy of redemption brought by Jesus to gain us access to Heaven. Another thought should be the coming of our last moments when Jesus comes for us. Will we feel able to enter, would we rather wish to scrub some of our grime off first or would we shrink in horror from ever entering such a holy place?
Most of us want to get into Heaven at the moment of death; well, after reading this view of Heaven by Blessed Cardinal Newman, may we find the humility to realise that we have much work to do first.
PAROCHIAL AND PLAIN SERMONS
By JOHN HENRY NEWMAN, B.D.
London, Oxford and Cambridge
HOLINESS NECESSARY FOR FUTURE BLESSEDNESS.
“Now some one may ask, " Why is it that holiness is a necessary qualification for our being received into heaven? why is it that the Bible enjoins upon us so strictly to love, fear, and obey God, to be just, honest, meek, pure in heart, forgiving, heavenly-minded, self-denying, humble, and resigned ?
Man is confessedly weak and corrupt; why then is he enjoined to be so religious, so unearthly ? why is he required (in the strong language of Scripture) to become ' a new creature ' ? Since he is by nature what he is, would it not be an act of greater mercy in God to save him altogether without this holiness, which it is so difficult, yet (as it appears) so necessary for him to possess ? "
Now we have no right to ask this question. Surely it is quite enough for a sinner to know, that a way has been opened through God's grace for his salvation, with out being informed why that way, and was chosen by Divine Wisdom. Eternal life is "the gift of God." Undoubtedly He may prescribe the terms on which He will give it ; and if He has determined holiness to be the way of life, it is enough; it is not for us to inquire why He has so determined.
Yet the question may be asked reverently, and with a view to enlarge our insight into our own condition and prospects; and in that case the attempt to answer it will be profitable, if it be made soberly.
I proceed, therefore, to state one of the reasons, assigned in Scripture, why present holiness is necessary, as the text declares to us, for future happiness.
To be holy is, in our Church's words, to have "the true circumcision of the Spirit;" that is, to be separate from sin, to hate the works of the world, the flesh, and the devil ; to take pleasure in keeping God's commandments ; to do things as He would have us do them ; to live habitually as in the sight of the world to come, as if we had broken the ties of this life, and were dead already.
Why cannot we be saved without possessing such a frame and temper of mind ? I answer as follows : That, even supposing a man of unholy life were suffered to enter heaven, he would not be happy there; so that it would be no mercy to permit him to enter.
We are apt to deceive ourselves, and to consider heaven a place like this earth; I mean, a place where every one may choose and take his own pleasure. We see that in this world, active men have their own enjoyments, and domestic men have theirs ; men of literature, of science, of political talent, have their respective pursuits and pleasures. Hence we are led to act as if it will be the same in another world.
The only difference we put between this world and the next, is that here, (as we know well,) men are not always sure, but there, we suppose they will be always sure, of obtaining what they seek after. And accordingly we conclude, that any man, whatever his habits, tastes, or manner of life, if once admitted into heaven, would be happy there.
Not that we altogether deny, that some preparation is necessary for the next world; but we do not estimate its real extent and importance. We think we can reconcile ourselves to God when we will; as if nothing were required in the case of men in general, but some temporary attention, more than ordinary, to our religious duties,—some strictness, during our last sickness, in the services of the Church, as men of business arrange their letters and papers on taking a journey or balancing an account.
But an opinion like this, though commonly acted on, is refuted as soon as put into words. For heaven, it is plain from Scripture, is not a place where many different and discordant pursuits can be carried on at once, as is the case in this world. Here every man can do his own pleasure, but there he must do God's pleasure.
It would be presumption to attempt to determine the employments of that eternal life which good men are to pass in God's presence, or to deny that that state which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor mind conceived, may comprise an infinite variety of pursuits occupations. Still so far we are distinctly told, that that future life will be spent in God's presence, in a sense which does not apply to our present life ; so that it may be best described as an endless and uninterrupted worship of the Eternal Father, Son, and Spirit.
" They serve Him day and night in His temple, and He that sits on the throne shall dwell among them .... The Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters." Again, "The city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof. And the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it, and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour into it l." These passages from St. John are sufficient to remind us of many others. Heaven then is not like this world ; I will say what it is much more like,—a church.
In a place of public worship no language of this world is heard ; there are no schemes brought forward for temporal objects, great or small ; no information how to strengthen our worldly interests, extend our influence, or establish our credit. These things indeed may be right in their way, so that we do not set our hearts upon them; still (I repeat), it is certain that we hear nothing of them in a church.
In church we hear solely and entirely of God. We praise Him, worship Him, sing to Him, thank His blessing. And therefore, a church is like heaven ; viz. because both in the one and the other, there is one single sovereign subject—religion—brought before us.
Supposing, then, instead of it being said that no irreligious man could serve and attend on God in heaven (or see Him, as the text expresses it), we were told that no irreligious man could worship, or spiritually see Him in church ; should we not at once perceive the meaning of the doctrine ? viz. that, were a man to come hither, who had suffered his mind to grow up in its own way, as nature or chance determined, without any deliberate habitual effort after truth and purity, he would find no real pleasure here, but would soon get weary of the place ; because, in this house of God, he would hear only of that one subject which he cared little or nothing about, and nothing at all of those things which excited his hopes and fears, his sympathies and energies.
If then a man without religion (supposing it possible) were admitted into heaven, doubtless he would sustain a great disappointment. Before, indeed, he fancied that he could be happy there ; but will find no discourse but that which he had shunned on earth, no pursuits but those he had disliked and made him feel at home, nothing which he could enter into and rest upon. He would perceive himself to be an isolated being, cut away by Supreme Power from those objects which were still entwined around his heart.
He would be in the presence of that Supreme Power, whom he never on earth could bring himself steadily to think upon, and whom now he regarded only as the destroyer of all that was precious and dear to him. Ah ! he could not bear the face of the Living God ; the Holy God would be no object of joy to him. "Let us alone! What have we to do with thee ? " is the sole thought and desire of unclean souls, even while they acknowledge His majesty. None but the holy can look upon the Holy One ; without holiness no man can endure to see the Lord.
When, then, we think to take part in the joys of heaven without holiness, we are as inconsiderate as if we supposed we could take an interest in the worship of Christians here below without possessing it in our measure.
A careless, a sensual, an unbelieving mind, a mind destitute of the love and fear of God, with narrow views and earthly aims, a low standard of duty, and a benighted conscience, a mind contented with itself, and not resigned to God's will, would feel as little pleasure, at the last day, at the words, " Enter into the joy of thy Lord," as it does now at the words, " Let us pray." Nay, much less, because, while we are in a church, we may turn our thoughts to other subjects, and contrive to forget that God is looking on us ; but that will not be possible in heaven.
"We see, then, that holiness, or inward separation from the world, is necessary to our admission into heaven, because heaven is not heaven, is not a place of happiness except to the holy. There are bodily indispositions which affect the taste, so that the sweetest flavours become ungrateful to the palate ; and indispositions which impair the sight, tainting the fair face of nature with some sickly hue. In like manner, there is a moral malady which disorders the inward sight and taste ; and no man labouring under it is in a condition to enjoy what Scripture calls " the fullness of joy in God's presence, and pleasures at His right hand for evermore."
Nay, I will venture to say more than this;—it is fearful, but it is right to say it ;—that if we wished to imagine a punishment for an unholy, reprobate soul, we perhaps could not fancy a greater than to summon it to heaven. Heaven would be hell to an irreligious man.
We know how unhappy we are apt to feel at present, when alone in the midst of strangers, or of men of different tastes and habits from ourselves. How miserable, for example, would it be to have to live in a foreign land, among a people whose faces we never saw before, and whose language we could not learn. And this is but a faint illustration of the loneliness of a man of earthly dispositions and tastes, thrust into the society of saints nnd angels. How forlorn would he wander through the courts of heaven ! He would find no one like himself; he would see in every direction the marks of God's holiness, and these would make him shudder.
He would feel himself always in His presence. He could no longer turn his thoughts another way, as he does now, when conscience reproaches him. He would know that the Eternal Eye was ever upon him ; and that Eye of holiness, which is joy and life to holy creatures, would seem to him an Eye of wrath and punishment.
God cannot change His nature. Holy He must ever be. But while He is holy, no unholy soul can be happy in heaven. Fire does not inflame iron, hut it inflames straw. It would cease to be fire if it did not. And so heaven itself would be fire to those, who would fain escape across the great gulf from the torments of hell”.
To some having to attend a Traditional High Mass for Eternity would be hell indeed!