As I ended my last program, I had commented on the fact that many Christians are being inspired, through songs like Imagine, by the vision of the Secular Humanist rather than their own. The problem, I suspect, is that either we have no vision of our own or that our vision is beyond this world because we do not see ourselves as being called upon to become involved in earthly matters. In other words, we have bought into the idea of “separation of God and state.” Yet Jesus’ prayer was “Thy kingdom come..Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Too many of us are simply involved in taking care of the “hereafter” and acting as though the “here and now” doesn’t matter. Thus, some of our critics have commented, with some justification, that we are so heavenly minded, that we are no earthly good. We are “saved” and that is all that matters. But, as I have suggested in previous programs, that is because we have taken a punitive view of God and sin. Perhaps, this is because we have never grown up as Christians and still view God in the same way that our young children view their parents when they are being punished. The child sees it as the parent taking out his/her anger on the child and as a vindictive act in which the parent is saying, “I’ll teach you not to interfere with my happiness. You hurt or disappointed me and therefore I am going to hurt you.” And, unfortunately, there are some parents who might view it this way. However, “good parents” know that punishing the child really does “hurt them, more than it hurts the child” because no good parent likes to see his child suffer unnecessarily. However, they also know that the child must learn to behave in a certain way for his own good and the good of others. Therefore, what the child sees as a vindictive act of punishment, is really a corrective act designed to steer the child away from self-destructive behavior.
If this is how good parents view it, do we think that God the Father, who is the source of all Fatherhood, sees it any differently. Therefore, may I suggest that the more mature way of looking at salvation is that God, through His love for us, is trying to save us from the “doing of our sins” rather than from the punishment because it is the “doing” of sinful acts that violate His Wisdom that creates the chaotic conditions which undermine our true happiness.
If, as the Bible says, He is trying to lift us from a “natural plane”, which is where the rest of the natural world resides, to a “supernatural plane” where He and His children reside, then it is necessary that we learn how to live our lives by new premises which separates us from the natural world. In the natural world, which is ruled by the “laws of dominance”, the strong dominate the weak. In the natural world “might makes right” and thus issues of truth and justice are always decided in favor of those who have the most power. In the natural world you “do unto others before they do it unto you.” In the natural world, you love your friends and hate your enemies. In the natural world, “whatever gives you pleasure is good and whatever gives you pain is bad.” In the natural world one must be loyal to one’s group and territory rather than to truth and justice and thus if faced with a choice between the Truth and group or family loyalty, group and family loyalty always trumps truth. The attitude is “my family right or wrong! or “my country right or wrong”,” my country, right or wrong!” In the natural world, feelings and impulses takes precedence over knowledge and reflection. In short, in the natural world, human beings, who were meant to be rational beings, “made in the image and likeness of God”, are instead arational animals who use their God-given gift of intelligence to serve the premises of their animal hearts by choosing “cleverness”, which is intelligence without a moral component, over “righteousness, which is intelligence with a moral component.
Thus, unless we change these premises, we can’t escape the natural world because they it is rooted in our hearts. The solutions, says Jesus, is that we must be “born again” to a supernatural level through the waters of Baptism and the Spirit of Truth.
May I suggest that the premises by which we live in this world will come back to haunt us in the next. What makes us think that suddenly our hearts are going to accept some type of heavenly glory that is totally incompatible with the premises by which we lived our lives here? Do we really think that if we were involved in pornography, or violence, here, that suddenly we will lose all interest there? Do we really think that if our favorite viewing on TV is Sex in the City or the World Wresting, that suddenly our interest will shift to documentaries there? If we didn’t share here, why would we suddenly want to share there? If we weren’t faithful here, why would we suddenly become faithful there? If we weren’t concerned with justice here, why would we suddenly become concerned with justice there? In other words, The Logos or Logic of God, who is Jesus, will not judge us. We will judge ourselves according to our own premises. Jesus, who is the source of all logic, will only insist that we must accept the logical conclusions that flow from our own premises. In other words, “as we measured, so shall it be measured unto us” or we will “reap what we sowed.”
If this is true, then salvation begins “here and now” and the world becomes a training ground for shaping and developing the premises which we will need in order to develop a heart that is compatible with God’s Kingdom. In other words, we can’t just “talk the talk”; we have to “walk the walk.” The only way to go to heaven is to develop the vision of heaven in our hearts here and, if we do that, we will discover an increasing incompatibility between our heart and the world. Suddenly, we will start to feel like strangers in a “foreign land” who begin to yearn for the day that we can return “home.”
Years ago, I was involved in caring for an elderly neighbor, whose wife had just died and whose nearest relatives lived in Canada. He lived in a downstairs apartment, and above him lived lady, who although she was elderly herself, helped in caring for him. Between the two of us, we saw that he was fed and received medical attention. Eventually, he died and, following the funeral, I spent some time talking to her about his death. Suddenly, her eyes filled with tears and she said to me, “You know Mr. Reilly, when my time comes, I won’t be afraid because I’ve already been there.” “What do you mean?” I exclaimed. She said, “When I was seventy-five, I was hit by a car while crossing the street. I spent three months in intensive care and was declared dead on three different occasions and each time I died I felt that I had been living in a foreign land and was finally going home.” It was the first time that I had ever heard of anyone who had had a “life-after-death” experience.
Contrast this with other people who have had “life-after-death” experiences who claim that they saw a great army of people caught somewhere between “here” and the “here-after” who seemed unable to move on to “heavenly glory” because their hearts were still attached to some person, place, or thing in this world. And that is probably why the Bible advises us to “not to become conformed to things of this world.” Where our heart is that is were we, of necessity, have to be. So we should be very careful as to what we allow our hearts to become attached. In other words, we should consider ourselves pilgrims in a foreign land who, like people in an ethnic ghetto, are still trying to follow the ways of our homeland.
The importance of pull of our heart was brought to my attention when, back in the ‘70’s, while involved in the Catholic Charismatic Movement, strange things started to happen to me and members of my family. My son, Joey, who was about five or six at the time, told me that he had seen God. Now Joey was a good kid but he was “all boy” and he certainly wasn’t the type of kid given to religious visions. When I asked him what he meant, he said, “ I had a dream and in the dream God had created a new earth.” “What do you mean?” I asked. He said, “It came down out of the clouds and it was beautiful” I was flabbergasted because I knew that he had never read the Book of Revelations which says that God would create a New Earth which would descend out of the clouds.
What happened to the old earth?” I asked. “It was still there, Dad, and the people on it were out in the streets fighting and screaming and killing each other.” “Well, where were you?” “I was up in heaven with some of my friend and we were with God.” “What did God look like?” I asked. “He was beautiful and had a real sweet voice,” Then, with some hesitancy, I asked, “Where was your mother and I?” half fearing to hear the answer. “You were on the New Earth?” he said. “Well, what were we doing on the New Earth?” I asked. “You had to live on the New Earth as long as you had lived on the Old Earth in order to get rid of the faults that you had,” he said. I thought to myself, “Where is this kid getting all of this. As fast as I ask the question, he comes back with the answers.”
Then I decided to change my line of questioning. A year before I had had a confrontation with some teenagers who were teasing one of the elderly ladies in the neighborhood who was complaining that every Friday night they stood on her corner screaming, fighting, drinking, and drugging. In addition, they threw their beer cans in her yard. The leader of the group, a guy named Chris, threatened to “get me” when I confronted him and his friends.
“What happened to the kids who hung out on the corner across from where we lived? I asked. Without any hesitation, Joey said, “They went to hell. God went to them one last time and asked them if they wanted to go to the New Earth, but they refused because they wanted to get even with the people who had attacked them.” “They all went to hell?” I asked. “Well, yes, that is, except for Chris. He decided to go to the New Earth but when he got there he started to “punch out” anyone who made him angry but they just “turned the other cheek” and wouldn’t hit him back. Eventually, he got tired of hitting them, and decided to stay.”
Three months later, there was knock one night on my door. It was Chris, the kid who had threatened to get me. He said, “I’ve come to apologize, Mr. Reilly. I just got out of Army boot camp and I now realize that you were right.”
I don’t know where Joey got this story and I can’t guarantee that it was divinely inspired but it certainly didn’t sound like something that a five or six-years-old child could make up. I have meditated on its meaning many times and it certainly is consistent with portions of the Gospel. What impresses me most is that the other boys on the corner were not willing to try to give up the premises of the natural world. “Vengeance is ours!” they said and heaven can wait until we get even. Chris, on the other hand, was willing to give it a try and, even though he continued his old ways for a while, it was the behavior and example of those on the New Earth that eventually changed his premises from the natural to the supernatural. In other words, they retrained his heart. Once that happened, he was able to stay on the New Earth and say in the words of that great Gospel hymn, I got a home in glory land that outshines the sun I got a home in glory land that outshines the sun.
Home is where the heart is! And the heart is the source of all the premises which guide our daily behavior.
But how can we know where our heart is? Simple. Just ask ourselves where our treasure is because, as the Scriptures say, wherever our treasure is that is where our heart is. When Tip O’Neill said, “I am a Democrat first; Irish second, and Catholic third” he was revealing the value structure of his heart. How would we rank the areas of our heart?
Does this mean that, in order to go to heaven, we have to spend all of our time in church, reading scriptures and singing hymns? I don’t think so. Allow me to digress here to tell you about Swedenborg and what he had to say about the nature of the spiritual world which follows death.
Years ago, I read some of the writings of Emmanuel Swedenborg, a 18th Century Protestant theologian, philosopher, scientist, and all-around Renaissance Man. I became interested in him when Helen Keller, whom I greatly respected, said that she was greatly impressed by him because his writings closely matched her own insights. Now let me say first that I was not as totally impressed as she was and I would not subscribe to everything that he wrote. However, I did find some things he said to be very interesting.
Swedenborg claimed that during a near-death-experience in his early fifties that he had seen the spiritual world. He said that when we die that we don’t go to either heaven or hell. Rather, we go to a spiritual world that is between the two. Although, he didn’t believe in Purgatory, his description of the spiritual world sounds very similar to the Catholic concept of it.
He said that when we first die, we enter a spiritual world where we meet our relatives, friends, and contemporaries who had died. However, as time passes, everyone goes through a transformation in their appearance because, in the “hereafter” every thing is based on Truth because no lies are allowed.
While we are on this earth, we are all mixed bags that, like the Normal Curve, contain a central norm with degrees of deviations moving away from it. The central norm in our soul is our “core being or real self” which most of us deviate from time to time. For example, I am basically in my “core being” an honest person. However, on occasion, I have been dishonest and when it happens my conscience really bothers me because I know that I am behaving in a way that is inconsistent with whom I really am or want to be. Thus, I vow to repent and reform in the future. However, there are other people who in their “core beings” are pathological liars. Occasionally, they deviate from their “real selves” by telling the truth. Thus, on this earth, truth is mixed with lies, and good is mixed with evil. However, according to Swedenborg, this is not permitted in the spiritual world where everything has to be exactly what it really is. In other words, hypocrisy is not permitted.
Thus, as time passes in the spiritual world, each person begins to eliminate and lose those qualities that deviate from his “core being.” People with good “core beings” begin to lose their sins that were deviations that were inconsistent with their “real selves.” People with evil “core beings” begin to lose the minor virtues that were inconsistent with their “real selves” and, as each person loses the deviations from their “core beings”, their outward appearances begin to change to reflect their “real selves.” Those with good “core beings” become more handsome and beautiful, thereby reflecting the “goodness within.” Those with evil “core beings” become more ugly and grotesque, thereby reflecting the “evil within.”
Therefore, with the passage of time, every one starts to resemble and reflect their own “heart”, and, as this takes place, people, who had once recognized each other when they first arrived, no longer do, that is, unless they shared the same “core being” or “heart.” Parents and children, who had different “core beings”, no longer recognize each other.
When the transformation is complete, everybody gravitates and unites with spiritual beings who share the same “core being” and this is when they enter the “heaven or hell” which is related to their “heart.” As they form communities based on their “shared hearts”, each community begins to project an external environment which symbolizes the inner state of the group. Those with “good core beings” project beautiful landscapes filled with mountains, streams, trees, flowers etc... Those with “evil core beings” project swamps, dungeons, cesspools, garbage heaps etc..
In a sense, the spiritual world that Swedenborg describes is a judgment process in which each person is stripped of all those qualities that were non-essential in their lives and are left with only those qualities that were essential. However, the judgment isn’t God’s. Rather it is a judgment that comes from the premises within the person’s heart. It sounds very much like the lyrics of the Battle Hymn of the Republic that say:
He has sounded forth a trumpet that will never call retreat
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat…
According to Swedenborg, there are three levels of heaven and hell. The first level is the Natural inhabited by those people who weren’t too good or too bad. The second level in heaven is Wisdom and, its counterpart in hell, is Ignorance. The third and highest level in heaven is Love, and it counterpart in hell, is Hate. The higher the level, the more beautiful and handsome its inhabitants; the lower the level the more ugly and grotesque. However, each level perceives itself as normal and thus those in the lowest depths of hell do not see themselves as grotesque. It is only those who are above them that really perceive just how ugly they are.
According to Swedenborg, people arrive in the spiritual world with misconceptions. First of all, Christians, who believe in a Trinitarian God, expect to see the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as separate beings, but they are not because God, like ourselves, is a blending of three separate persons into one being. If you met me, you would see only one person, but modern psychology has demonstrated that this is an illusion because I am really made up of an artistic, creative right lobe, a logical left lobe, and a frontal lobe that is a blending of the two. Thus, when one of His apostles said to Jesus, “Show us the Father!” Jesus responded by saying, “Have I been with you this long and you still don’t understand that I and the Father are one and if you see me, you are seeing the Father.” Or, as another scripture says, “He was the visible sign of the invisible God.” So, according to Swedenborg, one of the major adjustments that Christians have to make when they enter the spiritual world is getting use to the reality of what they always said they believed. There is only one God, even though He consists of Three Persons.
Another adjustment people have to make is based on their preconception of what heaven is about. People arrive with different preconceptions. Muslim men, for example, are expecting a hedonistic paradise in which each man has at his disposal forty virgins. Of course this raises two questions. What was the reward of the forty virgins and why is the ratio of women to men in Muslim heaven 40 to 1? Others arrive expecting heaven to be one eternal prayer meeting consisting of great sermons and wonderful songs. Still others think that they will be in the company of great philosophers and they will be able to hear them discuss the great issues of the universe. Within my own family, I heard one relative say upon the death of my aunt, that she would fill out the foursome in the card game that she and my other deceased aunts had played while upon earth. And, of course, there is that classical idea that we will sit on clouds and play harps for eternity.
God, says Swedenborg, allows each person to experience his misconception of heaven and, as time passes, they suddenly come to the conclusion that this is really hell. An eternity servicing forty women and that’s it? A prayer meeting and card game that never ends? Philosophical discussions that never come to a conclusion? Sitting on clouds playing harps?
Once they realize this, God then shows them the true nature of heaven which is the productive use of ones talents and skills. God has a universe to run and, although we are inclined to think of Him as doing this solo and effortlessly, the Bible indicates that He is a great delegater who is always sending His agents to accomplish His will. Thus heaven, thank God, is not an eternity of idle amusement but rather an eternity of useful occupation. As St. Ireaneas once said, “The glory of God is man fully alive!”
So to my own question as to whether, in order to get to heaven, must we spend all our time in church, reading scriptures, and singing hymns, my answer is “No!” We go to church to create and associate with a community of like minded-people who share our vision of the world. We read scriptures so that we can become familiarized with the mind of God. And we sing hymns because, as one hymns states, “Now that I know that God is Love, how can I keep from singing.” These activities are to recharge our batteries, but once they are recharged, we must take that energy and impact the world. As St. Ignatius said, “Pray like everything depended on God, and work like everything depended on you.”
Thus, if Christianity, as some are beginning to think, is losing in its Cultural War with Secular Humanism, it must be because they have a vision for which they are willing to work and we don’t.
The Bible says that “without a vision, the people perish” and it appears that many Christians today are without a vision. The only answer to a vision is a counter-vision. Thus, it is not enough for us Christians to be “nay sayers” who are always rejecting the solutions proposed by others. We have to have a vision of our own which contains our answers to the problems that are raised by our opponents.
There is a New World Order coming whether we like it or not. The only question is whose vision it will reflect. Professor Billington says that Christianity will win, as is has in the past, because it will respond the challenge by providing its own answer to the problems raised by their opposition.
But in order for this to happen, we have to know how our vision differs from their vision. In my next program, I will address this issue. The one thing in our favor is that the two visions are very similar in ends but they differ greatly in means. The Humanists’ success, so far, is their ability to present themselves as a counterfeit form of Christianity without Christ. Therefore, our task is take what is counterfeit and replace it with what is real. As the scriptures say, “The harvest is great but the workers are few. Pray that the Lord of the harvest will send more workers.”
I like to end with a song that was written as the theme for one of the Olympics. It is called “The Power of the Dream.” It illustrates that even when it doesn’t know it, the world is slowly adopting the vision of Christianity.
Whether we realize it or not, that is our song and the whole world is starting to sing it. If we don’t realize that this is our song, then someone has failed to pass the dream on to us. Jesus, said, “I am the Good Shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me.” In other words, those who belong to His flock recognize His voice when they hear it. Never before in history has it been so necessary for Christian to know His voice because we live in an age of many imitators. Pray for the power of discernment.
Well I see that my time is up. Here’s Dom.