Heaven and Thanksgiving
As we sit down to a Thanksgiving meal today, many people may have the experience of being at the table with someone they wished weren’t there. In general, we love our families, yet there are, at times, difficulties in family relationships that annoy or even hurt us, prompting the possibility of discomfort during this great holiday. The person who bothers us may not be a family member but a guest whose opinions or personality causes us to bristle. Very simply, the company of this table mate compromises the quality of the meal, maybe even the holiday itself. Nevertheless, most reluctant folks swallow their resistance before swallowing the turkey and fixings, in the hopes that no sort of indigestion ensues.
I wonder whether the challenged Thanksgiving table is an apt illustration for heaven. Very likely, those who annoy us here will be with us hereafter, at the eternal banquet table, which the Scriptures advance as a central image for the fullness of life with God. Thanksgiving dinner lasts just a few hours, with the pre-dinner cocktails and snacks; the heavenly banquet lasts forever! Sounds like an incentive to start getting along with one another now.
Heaven is among the most complex mysteries of our faith. Of course, it is not a place; rather, it is an experience, as our tradition tells us. Nevertheless, Pope Francis’ continued emphasis on mercy advances the belief that heaven will have more people than not, maybe everyone, experiencing the fullness of God’s eternal life. The pope’s words from Sunday’s apostolic letter advance the seemingly incomprehensible vastness of how people can enter the embrace of God’s love in heaven. “The experience of mercy enables us to regard all human problems from the standpoint of God’s love, which never tires of welcoming and accompanying” (Pope Francis, Mercy and Peace, 2016, no. 14).
St. Francis de Sales, too, reminds us of our call to prepare for the hereafter by living Jesus here. “How good it is to love on earth as we will love in heaven and to learn to cherish one another in this world as we shall do in the next.”
Perhaps today’s Thanksgiving is not just a great holiday with an outstanding meal. It is also sound preparation for heaven.