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Chapter 34: Christian Life Animated with Hope of Everlasting Life

Question D: How does the doctrine of fulfillment in the Lord Jesus make clear the incompleteness of the preceding views?

1. Completion in the Lord Jesus includes the perfection of the threefold unity of Christians with Jesus: unity in divine life, in human acts, and in bodily life (19‑C).

2. Classical Christian piety emphasized only one of these, heavenly fulfillment in divine life in the beatific vision. It tended to deemphasize and even depreciate human acts, except to the extent that the beatific vision was considered a human act and one’s moral state at death settled one’s eternal destiny. Faithful Christians always held the doctrine of the resurrection, but their idea of heavenly fulfillment made little of bodily life. As for the communal aspect of heaven, human communion in intimate life also tended to be ignored or considered only secondary.

3. When what we hope for is conceived as fulfillment in Jesus, however, both human fulfillment and divine fullness are essential, for Jesus includes both. Human goods, many of them impossible to realize without resurrection, contribute to the perfection of this communion. Fulfillment in Jesus is essentially communion of persons, not just many created minds contemplating the beauty of God and taking note of one another only incidentally, if at all.

That human acts and goods last in heaven is the other side of heaven’s hidden but real presence to us as we live this life. Actions done to others affect Jesus; actions done in his name contribute to his completion. The union of Christian marriage not only symbolizes but in a real way shares in and contributes to the growing bodily union of Jesus and the Church; there will be no marrying in heaven, not because the communion which marriage realizes will be no more, but because the limitations of this good—its exclusivity and procreative function—will be transcended.

No faithful Christian doubts that children raised by married couples for our Lord will be good works present in heaven, nor that the spiritual children begotten by priests can last forever. Even now, our relationship with Jesus and with Mary and the other saints continues; if this were not so, prayer to them would be pointless. All our real relationships with others are built of a fabric of actions—of commitments and understandings. If heaven is to be the reunion for which we hope, then such actions must last. They will do so if we love one another faithfully and holily.

Of course, our actions also change the world in ways which seem merely transient. However, Vatican II’s teaching that we will find in heaven the good fruits of our nature and effort enlarges belief in the resurrection. The new heavens and new earth will include the whole community of those risen in Jesus. Their bodily lives in this world did not stop at the surface of their skins. Rather, they lived into the environment and humanized it. So this world too must in some way be reconstituted, or else resurrection would be incomplete (see GS 39).

The prospect remains mysterious, and it is useless to ask questions about its details. The important point is that as life proceeds, the good works of Christians which seem to come and go, even those which fail in their worldly effect, are helping to build up the mysterious world of fulfillment in Jesus. The goods of human nature and the fruits of human work, gathered from all times and places, provide the material of the heavenly kingdom (see GS 38).

If human actions initiated in this world have enduring reality in heaven, the reality of the bodily resurrection also argues for continuing and expanded expressions of the selves formed by these enduring actions. Scripture suggests a continuing heavenly liturgy (see Rv 4); the whole Christian tradition reinforces this idea.22 Such acts will be human ones involving multitudes in social expression.

4. Secular humanism emphasizes certain human goods, but it altogether denies fulfillment in divine life. Implicitly, secular humanist ideologies also deny the intrinsic value of human bodily life, as well as the human fulfillment to be found in the existential goods realized in morally upright acts themselves.

5. Fulfillment in Jesus does include the perfect human well-being which secular humanism falsely promises in this life. But it also includes as essential components divine life, immortal bodily existence, and all the reflexive goods summed up and embraced by the notion of eternal peace.

Religion is a basic human good. Therefore, of itself the human heart can desire peace with God and his favor, but no human heart of itself desires to enjoy the good which is proper to the divine persons. This hope is a gift, which comes with the love of God “poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom 5.5).

The Christian promise occurred to no one apart from the gospel. Promising a fulfillment which satisfies and goes beyond every human wish, the gospel astounds anyone who reads it with fresh eyes. The subconscious never projected so wild a dream: human happiness plus a share in divine joy, which takes nothing from human happiness but rathers insures it as it crowns it.

Secular humanists think the hope of a more than human fulfillment necessarily detracts from the energetic pursuit of human fulfillment in this world. But the Christian promise removes this fear, because the promise is given in and by our Lord Jesus, who by his Incarnation shows that divine life is not at odds with human perfection. Jesus “fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear” (GS 22; cf. GS 38). God creates us with the power of free choice; he does not fix our hearts upon any of the limited goods which naturally contribute to our fulfillment (see S.t., 1, q. 82, aa. 1–2; q. 83, aa. 1–2; 1–2, q. 10, aa. 1). Therefore, the divine Word and we human persons can share one another’s natures and lives without conflict. No trimming, no pushing out of shape, is required to fit together human and divine life.

6. While all forms of liberalized Christianity emphasize that heaven will include divine life and bodily human life, they ignore or deny human acts insofar as these constitute the self and interpersonal relationships. The existential goods become psychologized. This setting aside of the existential is necessary, for to acknowledge the significance of the use of free choice would also require the acknowledgment that eternal life is conditioned upon moral uprightness in this life (one must be good to go to heaven). It is impossible to take human acts with full seriousness and still regard human fulfillment as inevitable. Rather, in really taking human acts seriously, one must admit hell and make other concessions to classical piety. This is something liberalized Christianity tries to avoid.

7. By contrast, conceiving of heaven as fulfillment in Jesus leads to the conclusion that human beings are included in heaven as members of Jesus who have freely constituted themselves in him by human acts in cooperation with God’s free gifts. Hell also is a real possibility, though one experienced only by those who willfully reject or abuse God’s gifts. Among Christians, only those can evade God’s mercy who are persistently unfaithful to their vocation to live their faith and share in Jesus’ redemptive work.

22. See St. Augustine, City of God, xxii, 30.