Every single human being wants to be happy. To be happy means to have all the good things we desire. The advertising industry is expert at creating desires.
We feel it is necessary to upgrade our iPhones, buy more clothes, enjoy as many good things as possible. The lavish display of goods in shops produces unknown needs, entices us to buy.
Happiness is associated with possession. To be happy, we have to own the things we desire. It is also necessary to know that we are not going to lose it. We have to be certain that we shall keep it forever or we become anxious in case it is taken away from us.
Material goods can never make us completely happy. That is why we look for the perfect good, the good which never becomes stale, or out of date.
The ancient philosophers knew this. Aristotle referred to "the perfect possession of the perfect good." The possession of this good must be perfect, last forever, eternally.
And what is a perfect good? It is "the good that excludes every evil and fulfils every desire." In other words, it is a good which is infinite in its perfection. Every heart yearns for this good.
God alone is the perfect good. St Augustine knew this when he exclaimed: "You have made us for yourself, O God, and our hearts are not at rest until they rest in you". The Psalms often express our desire for happiness: "My soul is yearning for the living God."
The idea of Heaven is associated with the concept of enduring happiness. This is a thought which we express when we make the act of hope: "O my God, relying on your promises and through the infinite merits of Jesus Christ, we hope to obtain the graces necessary in this life and eternal happiness in the next."
We all want to go to heaven: the young prefer it not to be in the near future, the old look forward to the time when they'll get there.
Heaven means being with God. It means having God, possessing him in such as way that we cannot lose him, possessing him perfectly, eternally. St. John says: "This is eternal life...to know you, the one true God, and Jesus Christ (17:3)
St. Paul had a glimpse of heaven but was unable to describe it except in such terms as "eye has not seen nor ear heard. Nor has it entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love him."(1Cor.2:9)
"We shall see him face to face". (1Cor.13:12) How can we see God face to face when he is a pure spirit and does not have a material body? This face to face vision will be an intellectual vision. God will let us tune in to him so that we shall have some understanding of his very essence.
We shall know God "as he is"; we shall know those great mysteries of our Faith: the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Redemption. This is called the Beatific Vision.
On earth, every good we desire is a mixed good. In the matter of love, there are always emotional hurts or fears; with material goods we have to spend money. The words of the hymn come to mind: "Why spend your money on what cannot fill the emptiness within your heart?"
Because of this mixture of good and bad, on earth we are always free to choose to take a good or to reject it. We know that God is the supreme good yet we are able to sin because we are free to choose a created good instead of God.
At the Transfiguration, Peter, James and John were able to see the glory of God, yet later Peter denied him three times because he was afraid.
Here on earth we have a lamp which lights our way. This lamp is the light of faith. With the eyes of faith, we see Christ in the Eucharist even though we look at what appears to be bread and wine.
In heaven, we shall have the light of glory and understand what we now see "through a dark glass".
We shall all be perfectly happy with a full cup of happiness. However, the degree of happiness, the size of the cup will depend on the degree of holiness acquired, just as candles give full light but the amount of light differs according to the size of the candle.
In heaven, our intellect will clearly know that God is the supreme good and we shall be compelled to love him with an overwhelming love. There will be no possibility of turning away from him, no possibility of committing sin.
Heaven is not only a state of happiness. It is also a place where dwells the glorious body of Christ whom we shall see in his humanity. Mary, the mother of Christ and our mother, who was assumed body and soul, is also in this place.
Job says: "In my flesh I shall see the living God." In the Creed we proclaim: "I believe in the resurrection of the body." Jesus promised us those who eat his flesh and drink his blood that they would live forever.
He promised to raise us up on the last day. Our risen bodies will be glorified so that all our earthly infirmities, all our aches and pains, will be gone.
There will be a new earth and all creation will be restored. In our resurrected bodies we shall regain our sensitive life and be able to delight in all the pleasures we receive from our senses. We shall appreciate all the beauty of creation, be enchanted by harmonious music, live our sensitive life to the full without the risk of the pollution of sin.
In heaven, we shall enjoy the delightful company of the saints. The bonds of friendship made on earth will be continued in heaven with no possibility of separation.
In his prayer to obtain heaven, St. Thomas Aquinas asks for these goods:
"Give to my body, O most generous giver of rewards...
all good things that so I may rejoice:
above in your consolations,
below, in the pleasantness of the place;
within me the glory of soul and body,
about me, in the pleasant company of angels and men.
More excellent than all other goods is the fulfillment of our soul's desire. When we think about death, it would be well for us to repeat with St Thomas the opening words of his prayer:
O God, the giver of good things, grant me when the term of my life is over
The knowledge of the first truth, the love of the highest good.
Audrey English teaches about Heaven at the Centre for Catholic Studies, Polding House, Sydney.