Heaven on Earth
For Sunday, March 5th, 2023
Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him. Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow over them, then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and do not be afraid.” And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone. As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, “Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
The Transfiguration is a foretaste of heavenly glory. In this event, Jesus is taken up into the heavens and clothed in a dazzling white garment. When Jesus is in this exalted state, he dialogues with Moses and Elijah. The former represents the law—for it was to Moses that God revealed his law (see Exodus 31:18). The latter, Elijah, represents the prophets—for this prophet was taken up into the celestial body by a fiery chariot in a whirlwind (see 2 Kings 2:11). More than the law and the prophets, the operation of the Trinity is manifest at the Transfiguration. Concerning this event, St. Thomas Aquinas says, “the whole Trinity appears—the Father in the voice, the Son in the man, the Holy Spirit in the bright cloud.”1 Thus, when Jesus was taken up into the heavens, and an unearthly splendor filled that place, the Trinity, the law, and the prophets were all made manifest.
Although we do not see Jesus shining like the sun, we can experience a foretaste of heaven while we are still here on earth. Today, we will reflect on two of these foretastes of heaven. The first is in our relationship with God and the second is in his sacred liturgy.
At the end of time, there will be a new heaven and a new earth; the holy city—the new Jerusalem—will come out of heaven from God (see Revelation 20:1-2). We cannot be in heaven—the New Jerusalem—until the end. However, the vital essence of heaven is that we are with God. Every good deed, every act of asceticism, every scriptural reading, every encounter with God, all of these are a kind of foreshadowing of heaven because all of these deepen our relationship with God.
When we do these good deeds, we should happily think of the heavenly kingdom, the end of time, and our death. Thinking about heaven is deeply related to thinking about death. Centuries ago, it was common for people to meditate on the four last things: heaven, hell, death, and judgment. Our Christian ancestors did not want death to befall them quickly because they wanted the time to prepare themselves spiritually before their individual judgment. They were ready to embrace suffering in reparation for their sins—even the sufferings that accompany death. The saints embraced any suffering as an opportunity to share in the cross of Christ so that they, and others, might come to the glory of heaven. All of their asceticisms and good deeds were foretastes of heaven as they formed the saints’ relationship with God.
The second type of heavenly foretaste is the sacred liturgy, the Holy Mass. In the liturgy, we partake in the sacrificial action of eternity. Every sign and symbol at the Mass and in the church should point us to think about the heavenly reality. The union of the signs of the earthly liturgy and the heavenly liturgy was well illustrated in a report that was brought to Vladimir I, Grand prince of Kiev, by his emissaries returning from Mass in the Great Church of Constantinople. Vladimir’s emissaries recounted this Mass saying:
We know not whether we were in heaven or on earth. For on earth, there is no such splendor or such beauty, and we are at a loss how to describe it. We know only that God dwells among men, and their service is fairer than the ceremonies of the other nations. For we cannot forget that beauty.2
Hopefully, you have the same experience at Mass and see that the action you are participating in is a heavenly reality.
In your holy hour today, reflect on these earthly foretastes of heaven. Do you see how your good deeds point to heaven and how the Mass touches the heavenly reality? Allow the grace of these moments to change your life so that you can spend eternity with God in heaven.
Is it time for your Exodus? Learn more here.
1Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, 3, 45, 4 ad 2
2Samuel H Cross and Olgerd P. Scherbowtz-Wetzor, eds. and trans., The Russian Primary Chronicle: Laurentian Text (Cambridge, Mass.: Mediaeval Academy of America, 1953) in Alexander Rentel, “Byzantine and Slavic Orthodoxy” in The Oxford History of Christian Worship, eds. Ceoffrey Wainwright and Karen B. Westerfield Tucker, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000). Also see: René Marichal, Premiers Chrétiens de Russie: Introducion, choix et traduction des textes, Chrétiens de tous les temps 16 (Paris: Cref, 1966) 52-53, in Marcel Metzger, The History of the Liturgy The Major Stages, trans. Madeleine Beaumont, (Collegeville, Liturgical Press, 1997), 86.
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