Joy in heaven: sermon on the Sunday after the feast of the Sacred Heart

“There shall be joy in heaven upon one sinner that doth penance.”

With these words, our Lord shows us something of the relation that exists between the saints in heaven and ourselves on earth. There is a natural human desire to know what the relation is between ourselves and those who have gone before us. Without divine revelation, people easily fall into error on this question. If I’m not mistaken, this short sentence from the gospel reveals at least three truths that are important for our spiritual life. What are these three truths?

The first truth is that the saints in heaven know what is happening on earth. If they didn’t know, it would be impossible for them to experience joy when someone on earth repents of some sin and gets baptised, or goes to confession. Notice that our Lord does not say that all departed souls know what is happening on earth. He’s not speaking here of souls in purgatory or of souls in hell. It is generally supposed, in fact, that souls in purgatory or in hell have only a rather limited knowledge of what is happening on earth, although God can reveal more to them if He wishes. But those in heaven, because they see God, also see in God all that is relevant to themselves.

The blessed do not know everything. They don’t generally know the future. So, in the Apocalypse, we find the souls of the martyrs asking God how long it will be before He judges the persecutors of the Church. Nor do they know what is passing in the depth of our heart. They respect the privacy of our relationship with God. But the blessed know whenever we pray to them, and they know what is happening to those whom they loved while on earth.

All that is encouraging for us. The second truth is perhaps more sobering. What the saints care about in our regard, inconceivably more than anything else, is our spiritual state. Our Lord says they rejoice at the repentance of a sinner. Remember that compared to those in the kingdom of heaven, even the holiest man or woman on earth, even St John the Baptist, is a sinner. Christ never says that the blessed rejoice when we are promoted at work, or if our team wins a football game or if we have a pleasant holiday, or even if we are popular and have many friends. What they care about is our spiritual state: whether we are striving to do the will of God, to receive the sacraments well, to do penance for our past sins. Everything else is either of no interest for the blessed or else is inconceivably outweighed in their eyes by the state of our soul.

Here below, things are a little different. St Paul says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” For as long as we are living with others as fellow citizens in the earthly city, fellow members of our families, charity inclines us to take an unfeigned interest in each other’s good or bad fortune. It would be heartless, for example, to feel no sorrow if our friend or spouse falls ill, on the ground that his or her soul is all that matters. But those who have passed out of this earthly city see things differently. They see with the eyes of God. They have experienced for themselves how swiftly this life passes away. They know that all the good and evil of this life is like dust on the scales in comparison to eternity.

Finally, in case that should make us feel a bit afraid of the saints, since they so clearly perceive how trivial are many of the things on which we spend our time, Christ’s words also reassure us. He says that the saints rejoice at our spiritual progress, our repentance. And although, on the day of judgement, things may be different, He nowhere says that they are inclined to condemn those who are still making their way through life. After all, the saints are even closer now to Jesus’s Sacred Heart than they were while on earth. And He showed the disposition of His Heart when He said, “I have not come to judge the world but to save the world.” Even so, the saints are not minded to condemn us, but to help save us. And we have the power to give them joy.