We know that there are cheap seats in heaven because in the Gospel Jesus says that John the Baptist is the greatest among men. The cheap seats are usually in the nose bleed section of a concert. Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” Matthew 11:11.
Yet most Catholics and some Christians live lives by how much of the world they can keep to get by and just make it into heaven. W.C. Fields was caught reading the bible. The one who was incredulous asked Fields why he was reading the bible. Fields replied, “I am looking for loop holes, looking for loop holes!” On earth none of us will go out of our way to get the cheapest seats for a concert, if we can afford better ones. Yet in the spiritual/moral world we don’t really mind the lesser seats. How so?
Now don’t get me wrong even a minimalist view to get by and enter heaven results in happiness there. However just like a concert, no matter where one sits, whether in the orchestra seats, the mezzanine or balcony all are enjoying the concert but the ones closer to the stage are enjoying and seeing the characters on the stage better than the ones in the other seats. Allow me to cite a more personal example, Marlyne was a member of a book club and she would read the book for the month’s discussion group. She invited me to attend but I did not read the book. Now both of us enjoyed book club. She however also enjoyed the pot luck and I only enjoyed the pot luck but not the discussion about the book of the month. In this case she had more enjoyment than me because she did the work of reading the book, discussing the contents with friends and at the same time she enjoyed the pot luck. She had more enjoyment than me even though I was at the same event as she was. I did not do the work of reading the book so even though I was in the presence of friends I could not really engage them in the discussion about the book reading. I was only taking care of my physical need but not my emotional, social needs because I did not read the book.
In like manner when we do not do the work to grow in sanctifying grace we will not get as much enjoyment in heaven as we would if we in humility did the work of humble prayer, humble spiritual study and humble good works with great love during our lifetime. In heaven there is another aspect about loving God, and that is the communal aspect about loving neighbor. If we have not learned complete love of friend, family and enemy here, then heaven will not be as enjoyable when as St. Augustine aptly describes, the only thing in heaven is a compulsion to love one another as Christ loved us.
Now the cheapest of all seats before seeing and being with God is our presence here on earth. St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:12 “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” Paul says we see only the reflection of God on this planet through His creation. This analogy was appropriate for Corinthians. The Corinthians made mirrors of highly polished metal. Even at its best the mirror gave only an imperfect reflection. It wasn’t until the 13th century do we have the mirrors we use today. Even our mirrors are only a reflection, although more perfect than the Corinthian mirrors. Mirrors do not have the presence of a person to person face to face encounter with each of us. Mirrors are window reflections of ourselves.
In the time of Moses windows were made with a horn of the ram. Through such windows all that could be seen were shadowy outlines. Rabbis had a saying that it was through such a window that Moses saw God. Even through such a dim window, Moses face shined from the presence of God.
So how do we really enjoy the presence of God face to face? Are not cheap seats in heaven better than the more expensive seats because it says in scripture that nothing impure or imperfect can survive the presence of God? Habakkuk 1:13 Your eyes are too pure to look on evil you cannot tolerate wrongdoing. Psalm 1:5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, Nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. To Moses God said the he cannot look at Him and survive. Exodus 33:20 But He said, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!”
In John 1:18 Only Jesus Christ can see God face to face. “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.”
As believers it is through Jesus Christ that we can see God the Father. “Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.” Hebrews 9:24 But the question I am presenting is how much of Jesus Christ is in each of us so that we can not only survive the presence of God in Heaven but truly enjoy the experience. I am suggesting that some of us in heaven will be more fulfilled than others even though all will enjoy the experience.
Conversely, we say to ourselves how much can I get away with in sin, or be mediocre in my faith experience in order to get into heaven and avoid all the unpleasantness of hell? It is very much like a child speculating how much candy he can eat without getting sick. The extremely practical question is how little of heaven am I likely to get by this system?—does not arise at all.
The better answer to the question is dependent on how much sanctifying grace each of us will be filled at the time of our physical death. We ought to look at ways to increase our share of sanctifying grace. Sanctifying grace is necessary to secure better seats in heaven.
Some may say that I am speculating about those seats. I beg the question through another prism in human experience. Do we not all want fairness? We want life to be fair. The hungry are fed, the poor have sustenance, criminals receive justice, parents love their children equally etc. And yet in heaven how is it that any of us can say that we have earned the same seats that St. Francis of Assisi or Mother Theresa, Mary or Joseph or any of the blood martyrs who gave up all to be with the Lord? So my observation about heaven is not so far-fetched. Scripture says that only Jesus Christ who is God can be the very closest to God because He is God Himself.
I present the challenge to each of us. How much of the eternal God can be found in any of us. How much are we emptying ourselves and be filled to the brim with sanctifying grace?
I believe we do not have this regular discussion for three reasons. There are truths that are unknown. Truth through scripture that I am presenting here needs further discussion and action towards holiness and sanctifying grace.
Secondly, even when the truth is known how are we working to advert ourselves from our sins through humility, humble work humble study and humble prayer in order to develop an interpersonal relationship with Christ here on earth? St. James 14:2-6 says that faith without works is dead and St. Paul says if all is done without love it is therefore useless and for naught. 1 Corinthians 13:1 “If I speak in the tongues[a] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[b] but do not have love, I gain nothing.”
Third, is our faith realized, becoming a regular habit. In other words we are consistently improving ourselves spiritually, through study of scripture, Church Fathers, works of saints those who have run the race before us, performing the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, being recipients of the sacraments and finally praying unceasingly. I end with the complete chapter in Thessalonians because Paul’s sermon succinctly and simply makes clear how we are to increase our sanctifying grace and thus make our experience in heaven more fulfilling.
1 Thessolonians 5:
New International Version
The Day of the Lord
1Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, 2for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.
4But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. 5You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. 6So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. 7For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. 8But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. 9For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. 11Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
12Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. 13Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. 14And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.
23May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.
28The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.