Upon a recent rereading of Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate, “On the Call to Holiness in Today’s World,” I found myself troubled by a glaring omission. The word “Heaven” seems to be missing from the document entirely.
In the context of the saints — which forms the basis for the introduction to the exhortation — the Pope mentions “true life” and “happiness,” but not “eternal life” or “beatitude.” A this-worldly bubble seems to surround the mental process at work here. The mundane is substituted in the place of the supernatural perspective for which faith exists.
The goal of a holy life here on Earth is Heaven, where happiness is eternal. The saints themselves often speak of the Kingdom as their only goal, where Love Himself is attained without fear of loss because the embrace is eternal. Without Heaven there can be no true hope because there only are found those realities which, once attained, can never be lost.
We cannot preach Christ without His Kingdom, which is not of this world. If we do so, we betray Him and those He came to save by dying and rising. Thus the reason for trepidation upon encountering a message promoted to the Church on behalf of the Church which omits the very goal for which the place of faith, the Church, was founded by Christ.
We cannot live without hope. Any message is false which purports to be of Christ but which does not teach, as He does, that the final and eternal union “not of this world” is the goal of our striving in the Church Militant. The most dangerous and cruel thing that we can do to others is to betray their hope, conferred and promised by Christ Himself as a theological virtue, because it pertains to final union with Him through saving faith.
The modern Catechism of the Catholic Church makes clear that the object of hope is union attained only in Heaven:
“Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit. ‘Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.’ ‘The Holy Spirit. . . . He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life’” (CCC, n. 1817).
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