The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure…a fine pearl…a net thrown into the sea that collects fish of every kind.
These words taken from today’s gospel have Jesus meeting his followers where they live, offering them concrete examples of heaven.
We might say:
The kingdom of heaven is like a family gathered celebrating, eating, laughing, the barbecue fired up and the sun shining.
The kingdom of heaven is like Homeboy Industries, the gang rehabilitation program created by Fr. Greg Boyle where second, third, fourth, and fifth chances are given, because that is what God does.
The kingdom of heaven is like the Wedding Feast at Cana where the mother of the bride stands in amazement as fine wine miraculously appears. Cathy Coffey describes the scene in her book, “Hidden Women of the Gospels.
“Ancient enemies were dancing together. Young people were flirting, and it seemed contagious: their parents were looking at each other misty-eyed. People were relaxed yet seemed to care more intensely. Surely this impossible combination came from another hand than mine.”
The kingdom of heaven is like Los Angeles Catholic Workers who risk arrest to join hospitality employees in their bid for fair wages and working conditions.
Jesus tells us in the gospels that the kingdom of heaven is right here and right now. Where have you experienced a glimpse of heaven?
On Sunday afternoons after my mother died my dad would ask what I thought she was doing in heaven. I would always smile. He was a man of deep faith, who in his 100 years on this earth never opened a theology book but understood many of the same things I studied. His faith came from a lifetime of seeking God, a lifetime of experiencing God. Heaven, for him, meant being with God and his wife of nearly 70 years.
When there is a death in the family there is always a little one asking about heaven and there is always a moment of discomfort. How do you honestly answer that question? In an age-appropriate manner, the answer begins with something like, “No one knows for sure”, and then continues with words of beauty, peace and resting with God.
To speak of heaven is to speak of God and while we have many descriptions of God, it remains the ultimate mystery. Each of us carries God in our hearts and in our minds in an intimate and personal way. As God is unique to each of us, we are unique to God.
Today’s readings also carry a theme of wisdom – that unmeasurable quality gained through life experience and knowledge. Solomon was a wisdom figure for his time. We hear in the first reading how he responds when God offers him anything he desires. Jesus remains a wisdom figure for our time. My dad was a wisdom figure. This kind of wisdom comes from a life lived in pursuit of the kingdom of heaven among us.
Most of the wisdom I have gained in life has come from raising five children. They taught me what it means to love during good times and troubling times. One day it dawned on me that if God loves me as much as I love my children worries and fretting could be set aside. Knowing God as a parent is a game changer. God will take care of me of us – just as we take care of our children. Maybe not as expected or planned but in the end God will be with us - as a parent is with their child – loving unconditionally.
Today we wonder about heaven. Tomorrow, we celebrate St. Ignatius of Loyola, another wise man who suffered much in his pursuit of God but turned his suffering into a practice that remains meaningful and life-changing today, 500 years later – the Spiritual Exercises. He desperately wanted to share his journey to God with others and thankfully for us he did.
Ignatius intended the spiritual exercises to help a person gain the wisdom to know themselves and their deepest desires more clearly and to know Jesus in a deep and personal way and then to translate that knowledge into service for others. For Ignatius, living in the love of God and service to others went hand in hand.
Ignatius, who experienced rejection from some of the highest quarters of the Church would surely see heaven as a place that awaits those on the margins. His initial work was with people on the streets. He understood the cry of the poor.
Heaven is often referred to as paradise. A place of perfection, beauty and peace. I hope all of that but I also hope that heaven is a place where the ultimate wisdom of the Holy Spirit reigns, where “there is neither Jew or Gentile, slave nor free, male or female because we will all be one in Jesus Christ.”
I hope it is a place where gang members and socialites converse. A place where women preach and are involved in all seven sacraments, a place where the LGBTQ community is part of the fabric and a place where immigrants from everywhere feel at home.
Maybe heaven is a gathering of the communion of saints around a very long table.
Anne Hansen is currently the Executive Director of Ignatians West in Los Angeles. Ignatians West seeks to transform lives by supporting nonprofit agencies that assist people who are poor or marginalized through the service and companionship of mature adults 50+ who are available to share their experience and talent in meaningful part-time volunteer positions and reflect on their encounters in the Ignatian tradition.
Anne writes reflections on the Sunday readings for the Ignatians West newsletter and is working on a book with her sister, an Episcopal priest, on their shared experience with faith, ministry and family. When time permits she serves as a spiritual director.
Prior to this position, Anne was involved with a number of ministries in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and for 20+ years wrote a column, Family Time, for the former Los Angeles Catholic newspaper, The Tidings.
She has facilitated numerous workshops and retreats as well as teaching classes on topics related to ministry and spirituality.
Anne has a BA in Psychology from Immaculate Heart College, an M.Ed. in Educational Psychology from California State University, Northridge and an MA in Pastoral Theology from Loyola Marymount University.
A native of Los Angeles, Anne lives in Camarillo, California with her husband where they enjoy the graces and adventures of their five children and 9 grandchildren