The riches of the Christian tradition are revealed often in the writings of the saints, for instance Catherine of Siena who lived in 14th C. Italy. Many of her letters exist to this day. A force of nature in her own day, she convinced Pope Gregory XI to return the papacy to Rome from Avignon in France. She worked tirelessly for the reform of the clergy. Yesterday our minister, the Rev. Dr. Steve Shoemaker, quoted her: “All the way to heaven is heaven.”
What a testimony from a 14th C. mystic! Heaven, I suppose, represents the afterlife to her, or living in the kingdom in the here and now–the result of a long and deep relationship with God. How can we begin to experience that heavenly way? We have to start with a commitment to heaven. God meets us in our commitments, where we promise to show up regularly over a long time, not haphazardly or occasionally. Once the commitment to Christ is made, then the Lord begins to make himself known to us in myriads of ways: small confirmations and large ones, grace and blessings, all to show that he knows and loves us. The deeper we go into God’s Spirit — we are transformed, we are able to love more, we are inspired to serve God in others, — the more we seek him out.
“You, eternal Trinity, are a deep sea. The more I enter you, the more I discover, and the more I discover, the more I seek you.” [Catherine of Siena, Dialogue 167]. Catherine speaks here of how God meets us in our longing and how our devotion to him fulfills us and brings us deeper into the longing—“the more I discover, the more I seek you.” Heaven with its blessings and grace, peace and love is the path towards eternal life.
She says nothing here about there not being any suffering on the way to heaven. Any suffering is mitigated by the deepening relationship with God and the knowledge that we grow most when we suffer. And we have already, somewhere along the way, entered the heaven that we seek in seeking Christ with its peace and love and forgiveness and strength for us.