Archbishop Bishop William E. Lori
Perhaps you’ve noticed how the liturgy often refers to the life of heaven. We pray that we will not only be prepared to go to heaven, but that we will also start living the kingdom of heaven here on earth.
You might wonder how the life of heaven is possible amid our daily routines and problems. But before we start singing Peggy Lee’s old tune “Is That All There Is?” let’s try to understand what our Christian tradition is saying. Then let’s go one step further and ask how we as Knights of Columbus might understand this truth of our faith.
The Church teaches us that heaven is eternal life with God. It is participating in the life and love of the Holy Trinity with all the saints in a state of supreme happiness. Heaven is sharing with our whole being in God’s love the only love that satisfies the longing of our heart.
Obviously, we aren’t there yet. Many people are alienated from God and even deny that he exists. The world is torn by wars and all kinds of human suffering. We ourselves may at times give in to estrangement, division and self-centeredness. To the extent that we do so, we are not living the life of heaven.
We might wonder, then, why an all-loving and all-powerful God doesn’t just give us a pass. After all, life can be pretty irksome. Instead, Jesus taught us, “Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). In other words, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Lk 6:36).
Heaven is a place of perfect love. When we love others, especially the poor and needy, then we begin to experience something of the wonder and awe of heaven. When we keep the Ten Commandments in the spirit of the Beatitudes, we start living the life of heaven on earth. As we say in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
So what does this mean for the Knights of Columbus? Let me suggest that the four principles of our beloved Order are four keys to living the life of heaven. I am convinced that our venerable founder, Father Michael J. McGivney, gave us these principles because as a follower of Christ and as a devoted priest, he was already living the life of heaven amid his strenuous pastoral labors. Following his lead, let’s see how these principles help us to experience heaven right here and now.
We begin, as always, with charity. St. John the Evangelist sums up the very heart of Scripture when he says, “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8, 16). The three Persons of the Holy Trinity love each other with a love that is pure, passionate and beautiful.
What’s more, we are created for love. St. John Paul II often said that our lives don’t make sense without love. When we open our hearts to God’s grace, which is revealed in Christ’s gift of self on the Cross and so readily available to us in the sacraments, and allow ourselves to be drawn into God’s life and love, we experience great joy. It isn’t just the fleeting happiness we feel when things are going well; it is the joy of the Holy Spirit that endures.
God’s love poured into our hearts is the source of charity. “We love because he first loved us” (1 Jn 4:19). The more we welcome God’s love, the more we will be moved to reach out to those around us in love and service. Love is more than a short-lived emotion; love seeks to share with others the gift of divine love that God has shared with us.
No wonder Father McGivney made charity the first principle of Order. When brother Knights provide coats for inner-city children, support Special Olympics or simply help fellow parishioners in need, they are in small ways manifesting heaven on earth.
Charity, of course, gives rise to unity: a oneness in professing and living our faith, and in our dedication to the Order’s principles. It means that when we, the family of the Knights of Columbus, engage in works of charity, we find ourselves united in friendship and in mission. Indeed, when we build unity in our Order and in our Church, we start sharing in the joy of heaven. In fact, heaven is where the saints are completely united in God’s life and love. There are no divisions or disputes.
Unity, in turn, leads to fraternity. In heaven, all are united as brothers and sisters because, through Christ and in the Holy Spirit, they rejoice together in the presence of God the Father. There, the Lord’s words are perfectly fulfilled: “For you have only one Father who is God and you are all brothers and sisters” (cf. Mt 23:8-9). In our care and concern for our fellow Knights and their families our readiness to reach out to them in times of trouble, illness, loneliness or financial hardship, and our desire to support one another in living and bearing witness to the faith we are bearing witness to heaven here on earth.
Finally, I’d like to offer a word about patriotism. Many of our brother Knights and their family members have sacrificed for love of their homeland. Yet, even as we love our native land on earth, our true native land in heaven calls to us. Every desire, every feeling of discontent, is a tug at the heart from heaven, which is not an idyllic country but rather the life of God himself.
So when we hear the liturgy talk about living the life of heaven even now, let’s never dismiss such talk as “pie in the sky.” No, let’s get down to the business of living the heavenly life today.