Recently, I had a telephone conversation with my daughter, Kate, who is away at college. We hadn't talked in awhile, so we had a lot of catching up to do. During the conversation Kate asked me how different family members and friends were faring—deeply sensitive to what would ultimately make their hearts sing. She and I have always been able to look at human life together in this way. Finally as she was signing off to go study for a calculus test, Kate said to me wistfully, "I wish I could major in THIS."
I smiled as I got off the phone and pondered her words. THIS! This intimacy. This union. This closeness to each other that becomes deeper and richer as the years go by, even in the midst of geographical distance. But Kate does not want THIS just with me. She wants THIS with friends and other members of our family. She wants to bring THIS to the people with whom she works. In THIS, she finds happiness, security, fulfillment and peace.
"What else do we all want, each one of us, except to love and be loved, in our families, in our work, in all our relationships?" Servant of God Dorothy Day once wrote. "The keenness and intensity of love brings with it suffering, of course, but joy too, because it is a foretaste of heaven."
“What else do we all want, each one of us, except to love and be loved, in our families, in our work, in all our relationships?”
This union, this intimacy, is heaven on earth.
"Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness," teaches the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#1024). While many believers are attracted to heaven as a concept, they don't always experience the truth that heaven can begin on earth—in the depth, beauty and intimacy of human relationships through Jesus Christ in the life of his Church. Yes, "by his death and Resurrection, Jesus Christ has 'opened' heaven to us" (CCC #1026).
Because Christ remains fully present, most especially in the reception of the Blessed Sacrament, we have been given the way through him to "love one another intensely," (1 Peter 1:22) as St. Peter proclaimed to his friends in the early Church. Because Christ remains among us now, we can receive each other in him with all of our differences. We can offer each other his mercy and love in the midst of our frailty and fears. We can comfort, console and support one another through every sorrow and joy. And caught up—through him—into the intimate communion between the three divine Persons of the Trinity, we can pursue this divine intimacy with every person we encounter.
Today, the secular culture is deeply conflicted about union, often proposing a temporary act of the body as the only response to the universal human longing for a permanent bond that never ends. The great cultural lie—that the surface of the body is the only satisfying way of being completely united with another—has caused tremendous heartache for many men and women of every age, race, creed and sexual orientation. Even many believers have had difficulty experiencing the vibrant union for which they still long, perhaps within a marriage or vocation that seems increasingly disconnected from a well-spring of passionate life and love. Who can offer us their counsel and witness of a union that fully satisfies?
The truth about exclusive, infinite union has been best articulated—and experienced—in what for some is a rather surprising place. Paradoxically, it has been the virgins of the Church who have been the greatest witnesses to the divine union possible between persons. By offering the "radical gift of self for love of the Lord Jesus Christ and, in him, of every member of the human family," (John Paul II, Via Consecrata, 3) celibate men and women can live a new way of intimate relationship caught up into the life of God. This very human way of union was perfected by the Lord himself, through his total personal offering—including his Body—to every person. This is the radical path that the world often finds hard to fathom—yet it has provided an astounding experience of infinite union to chosen men and women, ever since the appearance of Christ on earth.
While many believers are attracted to heaven as a concept, they don’t always experience the truth that heaven can begin on earth.
Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, a contemplative 19th century nun, once wrote, "It seems to me that we can begin our heaven even here on earth, since we possess him, and through everything, we can remain in his love." Recognizing this amazing gift, Elizabeth experienced a deeper union with her own sister, who lived outside the cloister walls: "I can feel you in the chapel from noon to one o'clock, it is the fusion of our two souls in him, oh! If you knew how close we are! Continue to live in communion with [God] through everything; that is the center where we meet."
Likewise, St. Paul, while in prison wrote of the startling depth of relationship that had developed between a Greek slave and himself, and how that union was now a gift to be offered and shared for the benefit of the whole community. "I urge you on behalf of my child Onesimus, whose father I have become in my imprisonment, who was once useless to you but is now useful to both you and me. I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you... So if you regard me as a partner, welcome him as you would me." (Philemon 10-12,17).
The union that the people of God are called to in Jesus Christ is a startling new way of loving—a way that people in the culture can recognize and experience. In the Church today, this truth is manifested most radically in a vibrant celibate life lived in union with the living Presence of Christ. From this witness, men and women in religious or consecrated life can offer themselves freely to every person, loving intimately and profoundly "with the freedom of God" (JPII, VC, 88)
It has been the virgins of the Church who have been the greatest witnesses to the divine union possible between persons.
In my own life, I have encountered several religious men and women who have shown me that only Jesus Christ can bring infinite union into finite, human relationships. Only Jesus Christ can bring us the beginning of heaven on earth. THIS is the truth about union that I am asking him to keep bringing into my own intimate relationships. THIS is the gift of a new humanity that I want to keep "majoring in" with my beautiful daughter and the family, friends and strangers who surround us.