My family’s celebration of Father’s Day was nice. Pizza and wings for dinner with my dad, my daughter Jessica, my son Josh and my two grandsons. One of those grandsons, 8-year-old Colin, treated me in a special way with a triple and home run in his ballgame Sunday evening. I also received a greeting card with Snoopy on the front. What more does a man need?
I don’t really need gifts, not for any holiday. The last thing I crave is more stuff. What I most want from my family for Father’s Day — or Christmas, my birthday or whenever — can’t be found in any store. What I want won’t affect anyone’s bank account or add clutter to my house.
It’s a plain, humble gift. More an appeal than a physical present, actually. It’s a request both uncomplicated and complex at the same time, a plea I make to my wife and children and grandsons, but also to my extended family and most treasured friends.
The desire has special significance concerning my immediate family — especially my kids and grandkids. “Be there” incorporates a whole bunch of things: be there for Sunday evening family dinners, be there with us at Mass on Christmas Day and Easter morning, be there at family celebrations and funerals.
And when life here on earth ends for us, when I’m, God-willing, enjoying the beatific vision of God in heavenly paradise — please, be there.
Emotion overwhelms me as I think about what I’m asking. When I ponder heaven, I find myself musing on a life that would encompass perfect happiness. My feeble, human mind imagines what that might entail and must resort only to comparisons with what is familiar. I recall inspiring moments in Mass and receiving the Eucharist. I relive supernatural prayer experiences. Such spiritual memories have given me a brief taste of paradise in God’s presence.
I also recall time spent surrounded by the love of friends. And I bask in recollections of pure happiness surrounded by family. Indeed, even the most common of evenings eating at a dining room table surrounded by Donna and kids and sons-in-law and grandsons — could that also be a snippet of the joy I will know for eternity?
My family, you must be there.
Countless writers have penned countless words concerning what that “heavenly paradise” truly will be and provided directions on how to spend eternity there. I have my own ideas: seeing God face-to-face but not with human eyes, rather with an understanding and comprehension that are virtually impossible in this physical world, and knowing complete union with God.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1024) states: “This perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity — this communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed — is called ‘heaven.’ Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness.”
As for how to get there, not all Christians agree on the formula. Still, all faith traditions hold that it isn’t an achievement, that it requires much more than being a good, nice person and leading a “Christian life.” As Catholics, we learn that it involves receiving the gift of grace from God and then cooperating with that grace, that it involves repentance, faith and baptism — and confession if you sin.
To be there, my sons and daughters, grandsons and friends, you will need to be saints. You will need to be a genuine friend of Christ.
See? Uncomplicated, yet complex. I know that many among my loved ones aren’t convinced of all this. They haven’t yet embraced what I know, in my soul, to be truth. I haven’t completely come to fathom and embrace complete truth myself. God continues to reveal more to me. All in God’s time, I understand, and not in my time.
So I guess I actually have two gift requests. Open your hearts to God’s revelations; never stop seeking truth. Once you have found it, well …
Be there, in heaven. Please.
(This piece by Mike first appeared as his “Man of the House” column in the St. Louis Review.)