Let’s Ask God What He Can Do: A talk to his community by Fr. Stephen of New Melleray Abbey on Baptism and what it might be like to participate fully in the Divine Nature-

During the last three Sundays I talked about the three effects of Baptism: 1, being cleansed from all sin, 2, sharing in God’s divine nature, and 3, making a commitment to renounce Satan and all his works. Then I talked about Original Sin, being deprived of our divine inheritance. And last Sunday I spoke about our participation in the divine nature being restored by the grace of Baptism, by which we share in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ: dying to sin, rising to divine life. Today I want to ask what it will be like to share in God’s nature.

What will it be like: What can we do as sharers in divinity? I used to think of heaven as the happiness of seeing God in a human way, like beholding a beautiful sunset. But we don’t have the human capacity to SEE God. Even angels cannot SEE God by means of their own angelic nature. Like us, they have to be raised up by grace to share God’s nature in order to see the Trinity. Only divinity can see God. In the Catechism we read: “The personal relation of the Son to the Father is something that man cannot conceive, nor the angelic powers even dimly see: and yet, the Spirit of the Son grants a participation in that very relation to us who believe that Jesus is the Christ and that we are born of God.” (2780). “This vocation to eternal life is supernatural. It depends entirely on God’s gratuitous initiative, for he alone can reveal and give himself. It surpasses the power of the human intellect and will, as that of every other creature.” (#1999). “Because of his transcendence, God cannot be seen as he is, unless he himself opens up his mystery… and gives the capacity for it. The Church calls this contemplation of God in his heavenly glory ‘the beatific vision” (# 1028).

St. Paul: When St. Paul writes that “eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor 2:9), he isn’t saying that we can’t know anything about heaven. He’s saying, go ahead and wonder, dream your wildest dreams; heaven will be all of that and much more. Here are a few descriptions of heaven that we can rely on.

Constitution on the Church: “God wishes to make us capable of responding to him, and of knowing him, and of loving him far beyond our own natural capacity” (# 52).

St. Hippolytus: “… we shall be subject to no evil desires or inclinations, or to any affliction of body or soul, for we shall have become divine” (Dec. 30, 6th Day of Christmas Octave).

Catechism: “God wanted to make his creatures share in his being, wisdom, and goodness (#295). God is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and he has destined us to share in that exchange (#221). We shall see God face to face, as he is (#163), with an intuitive vision, without the mediation of any creature (#1023) The promise of seeing God surpasses all beatitude. Whoever sees God has obtained all the goods of which he can conceive (#2548). Heaven is intimacy with God (# 35), friendship with God (#384), personal intimacy with Christ (#921), the bride of Christ (#789), a happiness that will fulfill and surpass all our desires” (#1048). These are very lofty descriptions, but also hard to grasp. I need more concrete images to understand what it means to participate in God’s divine nature.

Human Happiness: First look at human nature. As human beings we can run, play, talk, laugh. We can think and make decisions. Most of all we can love. But human nature is also subject to sickness, suffering and death. We have to work. We make mistakes and cry. We are dumb about so many things, and we often sin. We are dependent on light for sight, heat for warmth, air and food for survival. Our fastest movements are too slow to escape this galaxy, and worst of all even our happiest moments pass by and we recall them only as memories mixed with the pain of nostalgia. My brother died of a brain tumor, and my sister of lymphoma. I miss them as I also miss my parents and others who have died.

Divine Happiness: Being called to share God’s nature changes all this, a little bit like the way electricity changes a copper wire. God gives us bodily immortality. He frees us from all suffering and pain, he gives us the power that angels have to travel with the speed of thought. But all of this is not yet divinity. It’s not yet divine happiness. What makes God happy? What are we called to share? Let’s dream a little and ask what only God can do. What is the glory and the splendor that God enjoys and wants to share with us? The reality will be much greater than anything we can imagine.

We know of three activities that belong only to the divine nature: first, eternal possession all at once of every joy; second, always to be present to all of time; and third, the ability to create from nothing. Think about sharing in these activities.

First: Eternal possession of every joy: God possesses all joys all at once and forever. Time gives a joy and then takes it away. But there can be no past joys, no nostalgia in God’s happiness because God possesses every joy eternally. By sharing in this power, we will have the ability to keep eternal possession of every joy that comes to us in heaven. Each new joy becomes permanent, continuous, enduring. No joy ever becomes a past event, no joy ever passes away in divinity. Will the first moment in heaven be with us forever? Will it continue in all its fresh pristine beauty, never to be lost? Is Mary enjoying her Assumption into heaven right now exactly as it happened nearly two thousand years ago? Is it hers forever? Just as God loses nothing, so, too, we will lose nothing when sharing in God’s nature. As each new happiness comes to us it will be added to the joys already possessed, and we will have an infinite future of new joys never to be exhausted. Human nature can’t do this, it even finds this burdensome because we are incapable of enjoying something like a movie and a banquet at the same time. But for God it would be a deprivation to have his joys one by one, or to have any of them become past events. He has them all forever. While his are infinite ours are unlimited. God has them all, we grow in our joys without limit. But we are alike in this: that none of the joys we experience is ever lost. If you travel to a distant cluster of galaxies and explore all their beauties, that adventure will never become a past event, it’s yours forever. When you enter heaven and experience reunion with someone you love, that meeting will continue without ever passing away. If you hear a rapturous symphony, or embrace a friend, these joys all stay with you as they are without any change caused by times’ tarnishing ticking. Eternity is the enduring and complete possession of every happiness that comes to us. Here is an example of how this can sometimes happen even in human nature.

Mozart: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart writes about his compositions: “Provided I am not disturbed, the whole ensemble, even though it be long, stands almost complete and finished in my mind so that I can survey it like a fine picture or a beautiful statue at a glance. Nor do I hear in my imagination the parts successively, but I hear them, as it were, all at once. What a delight this is I cannot tell. … What has been thus produced I do not easily forget, and this is perhaps the best gift I have my Divine Maker to thank for” (Ben Alex, Best Regards, Recovering the Art of Soulful Letter Writing, p. 30-31).

Second: Presence to all of time: Another power unique to God’s divinity is his presence to all of time: past, present and future. In a book on relativity, Einstein described eternity as God’s presence to all of time all at once and forever. He used this image. Take a roll of movie film and cut each frame into a series of columns, so that the whole movie with all its individual frames looks like a large cube. One corner of the cube is the beginning of the movie, or the beginning of time. The opposite corner at the bottom is the end of the movie, or the end of time. Every frame within the cube has a past, the frame underneath it, and a future, the frame above it. But God is outside the cube, present to the whole cube all at once. For God the first frame is as present as the last frame. God does not foresee the future, God is present to it. All of time is present to God for eternity. He is as present to the creation of the universe right now, just as he is present to this moment of time we are in. Will we be able to be present to time as God is? Will we be able to watch the creation of the world? Why not? That’s what God can do. I want to see the big bang! I want to watch the mystery of the dinosaurs’ birth and extinction, and even watch my own life, all the good I have done, and all the bad.

One joy God can’t give: If we can do what God does, we can be present as he is to the way we lived, and find joy in all the moments when we lived in ways pleasing to God. The one joy God can’t give us in heaven are the times we sinned. We will have joy in seeing God’s forgiveness, but we will not have the joy of seeing that we served him well. In this way our sins on earth can diminish or limit the joy we will experience in heaven. Can you imagine the joy martyrs must experience when watching their own willingness to suffer and die rather than deny God? On the other hand, St. Peter can find no joy in his triple denial of Jesus, except the joy of being forgiven. I imagine that some of the foolish things we have done will make us shake our heads and laugh. Like the man who told his doctor that he wasn’t able to do all the things around the house that he used to do. When the examination was complete, he said, “Now, Doc, I can take it. Tell me in plain English what is wrong with me.” “Well, in plain English,” the doctor replied, “you’re just lazy.” “Okay,” said the man. “Now give me the medical term so I can tell my wife.” In heaven his earthly laziness won’t be pleasing to him.

Third: Creation: Another divine happiness is God’s power to create from nothing. That belongs to divinity. Will we be able to share in God’s ability to create things? We already share in the creation of new life by….