Archive for Heaven

Something About Mary: The Assumption

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on August 15, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

virgin4603 MaryThe Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary is sort of an odd feast.  Which is ok.  The reason it seems so odd is that the purpose or point of the doctrine is not usually understood (just like the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is often misunderstood and commonly confused with the Virgin Birth).  So what’s the deal with the Assumption?

Basically, it’s a commemoration of the death of Mary, the mother of Jesus of Nazareth, and her bodily entrance into heaven.  The official promulgation of the dogma reads: “Having completed the course of her earthly life, [Mary] was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory” (Munificentissimus Deus, 1950).

The oddity comes in the interpretation of that dogmatic statement.  What does that mean?  Here is where things become tricky.  Some people will want to know about spatiality of “heaven” and “where” is it located (where is it that Mary went?).  Others will be concerned about the meaning of the resurrection and what constitutes a “glorified body.”  Theologians are generally agreed that heaven, as such, is not a place like Boston is a place or my doctor’s office is a place.  So, then, what does this dogma mean for us?  Is it just a ruse?

No.  I think that it’s important to recall that anytime there is a doctrinal statement about Mary, it’s always a reference about Christ (sometimes a more oblique reference than we might like).  Like the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, the Assumption of Mary into Glory is a statement about hope.  Hope for heavenly reward and the glorification of all people, but also hope in the saving power of God.

Mary has the distinct honor of being considered the first for many things.  The Immaculate Conception signifies the power of God’s gracious forgiveness of the human condition of sin.  Often times we call it “original sin.”  This was accomplished, that dogma states, through the redemptive power of Christ Jesus.  Think of it as sort of retroactive – even before the birth of Jesus, God through the power of the Spirit “baptized” Mary.

In the case of the Assumption of Mary, we have another first.  Whereas the Immaculate Conception represents the first of human redemption, the Assumption represents the first of human glorification.  By first, I don’t mean something like “first in line.”  Rather, first as in the model or icon of the whole event.  Mary is seen as like the poster child of God’s grace and love of creation.  Why Mary?  There is no entirely satisfactory answer to that question.  But there is one big clue and it is her response of “yes” to the will of God.  I think that her openness to God and her understanding of what God is about is captured very well in today’s Gospel, where we hear proclaimed the canticle Mary says in response to her cousin’s recognition of God’s work in her.

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
and has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children forever.” (Luke 1:39-56)

This post originally appeared on on 15 August 2010.

Photo: Stock

O Key of David: God’s Will and Prisons of Our Own Making

Posted in Advent, O Antiphons, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on December 20, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

gate of heavenO Key of David, O royal Power of Israel controlling at your will the gate of heaven: come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom.

In the past, I’ve thought about today’s O Antiphon in terms of the captivity that binds us, entraps us, and prevents us from the freedom that God desires for us. The coming of Christ as the “Key of David,” presumably offers us the escape by means of the unlocking of these restraints or prisons, literal or figurative, of our lives.

However, this year I’m much more attentive to the first line of the antiphon: “O royal Power of Israel controlling at your will the gate of heaven.”

This tone-setting introduction for the rest of the antiphon that deals with captivity, imprisonment, and freedom, could easily be overlooked or misunderstood. It could be overlooked because force with which the remainder of the antiphon captivates the proclaimer and hearers. It could be misunderstood because of the general feeling that comes with talking about prisons, death, darkness, and captivity — it doesn’t take much imagination to think that some might see God’s controlling the gate of heaven at will as arbitrary and threatening.

This is not my sense of the opening line. That God controls the gate of heaven, as it is described, at will suggests to me that what we might likely fear — an arbitrary, spiteful, or vindictive God/Gatekeeper — is not at all the occupier of that position. In fact, what God has revealed about God’s self to us over the course of human history, what is contained in Scripture and experienced in the Christ event, really rejects this sort of caricature of the almighty hall monitor.

I see a God who desires that all people and all of creation return to their source — God. Creation does a pretty good job on its own being what it truly is. In other words, blades of grass or puppies have a difficult time sinning because they aren’t in the business of trying to be something that they’re not.

We humans, however, make that a full-time job.

What God really desires from us is that we live to the fullest the lives we were created to live, individually loved into being, uniquely and particularly cared-for from all eternity. Yet, this is not how we live. We live out of fear, out of a desire for power or control, out of a sense of our own best interest over against that of anybody (or everybody) else.

What God really desires, it would seem to me, is that all come through the “gate of heaven” and escape the prison, the darkness, and the shadow of death that ensnares us in the fear of facing ourselves, others, and God simply as we are.

To say that Christ, the key of David, controls the gates at will suggests that it is “Thy Will” that is done, not our own. God’s will in Christ is to care for all people and welcome home the prodigal son, the woman at the well, the lame, the blind, the unholy, the adulterer, the cheater, the sinner, all people. Thank God that it is Thy Will by which the gate of heaven is controlled and not according to our will.

That this might be the will of God, the desire for all to be themselves in right relationship with others, creation, and God, means to live in the freedom mentioned at the end of the antiphon. The prison is of our own making. The key to the chains is living as we are supposed to live in God’s eyes. The freedom comes with making God’s will “on earth as it is in heaven.”

Photo: Stock

Heaven is Not a Vacation

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on October 17, 2011 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

This reflection is now available in Daniel P. Horan, OFM’s book Franciscan Spirituality for the 21st Century: Selected Reflections from the Dating God Blog and Other Essays, Volume One (Koinonia Press, 2013).

On Grace and Anthropology: A Defense on Behalf of Rob Bell

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on March 7, 2011 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

It is curious that so many people are so upset about the mention of the possibility of Salvation for all. Why is that? What is so threatening to these sorts of people about the possibility that God’s gracious love might triumph over the limited sense of justice and mercy that humanity has appropriated? Rob Bell, the well-known Christian minister — perhaps best known for his Nooma videos — has found himself at the center of a rather lively and at-time heated discussion about theology. The impetus for this recent uproar is his forthcoming book, Love Wins: A Book Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived (HarperCollins 2011).

The New York Times even picked up on the attention that Bell was receiving, largely through social media such as Twitter, Facebook and the numerous Blogs that deal with Christianity, and published an article titled: “Pastor Stirs Wrath With His Views on Old Questions.” The article begins:

In a book to be published this month, the pastor, Rob Bell, known for his provocative views and appeal among the young, describes as “misguided and toxic” the dogma that “a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven, while the rest of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in hell with no chance for anything better.”

Such statements are hardly radical among more liberal theologians, who for centuries have wrestled with the seeming contradiction between an all-loving God and the consignment of the billions of non-Christians to eternal suffering. But to traditionalists they border on heresy, and they have come just at a time when conservative evangelicals fear that a younger generation is straying from unbendable biblical truths.

In a sense the subject matter at hand is a combination of classical theodicy and the question of Salvation. And although Bell is receiving some excellent publicity for his upcoming book (HarperCollins, I’m sure would affirm that there’s no such thing as ‘bad publicity’ when selling a book now labeled ‘controversial’), the text itself seems to be lacking the truly universalist thrust Bell’s critics accuse him of advancing. The New York Times explains:

Much of the book is a sometimes obscure discussion of the meaning of heaven and hell that tears away at the standard ideas. In his version, heaven is something that begins here on earth, in a life of goodness, and hell seems more a condition than an eternal fate — “the very real consequences we experience when we reject all the good and true and beautiful life that God has for us.”

While sliding close to what critics consider the heresy of “universalism” — that all humans will eventually be saved — he never uses the term.

While I have not yet read the book — although I likely will once it is released — I can say that the reaction against Bell strikes me as overstated and unnecessary, especially in light of the Time’s depiction of the rather less-than heretical content of the text itself. But Bell has been the subject of scrutiny by Evangelical and other Christian communities for some years now.

What Bell offers his readers/viewers/congregants is a take on Scripture and the Christian Tradition that focuses more on the grace of God already at work in the world (my phrase, not his) and an anthropology that is not mired in the exclusive focus of sin and depravity that has been so common in some traditions.

There is much to be excited about in this sort of reading of the tradition. For one, Bell is correct to assert the correlation between what we say about ‘heaven’ and ‘hell’ and the way we understand God. Provocatively, Bell asks “is Gandhi burning in hell?” Well put. Perhaps I’m too much of a Rahnerian in this regard, but the notion of the transcendental dimension to the free response humanity is capable of making to a God who offers us a free address needs to be taken into consideration.

What sort of God would limit the redemption of such a relatively small portion of the human population over the course of all of history (comparatively, a tiny fraction of all the humans that have ever lived have been Christian). Along with Gandhi, we would have to include Joseph of Nazareth, Moses, Abraham, Sarah, and anyone else who was not or is not a Christian (whatever that means, for its definition varies from community to community) as counted among those ‘burning in hell.’

Yet, I am convinced that such an assertion, such a negative view of theological anthropology and limited notion of Salvation (which is more properly described as all of Creation being brought back to God) is equally heretical as confidently claiming that all humanity enjoys eternal happiness in the presence of God. How can anyone assert that, with certitude, this is not the case?

Perhaps these self-asserting Christians who take issue with Bell’s rather generous reading of God’s overabundant gratuity (I agree with Bell when he says that God’s self-disclosure in Revelation, that is Scripture, is far more generous than we would otherwise like to allow) need to focus their energy toward ending the injustices of the world and a rightful living of Gospel life instead of attempting to calculate who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out.’ Oh, and for the record, Jesus was most certainly ‘out’ as were those with whom he most closely associated.

So, by all means, continue to consider yourself ‘in’ while excluding others. That is exactly what Jesus Would Do…right?

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