Monday, October 5, 2009

Almost Paradise

I often ask an audience, before giving a talk or a retreat, what they want. What is your deepest heart's desire?

Typically, of course, it goes well beyond the shallow "lottery" or "new car" or "better job" picks. It runs deeper; it's a longing for happiness, joy, peace. And we want it to last. Even in the midst of life's daily experience of fading fads and fashions, frustrated dreams, economic upsets, and a near 50% divorce rate, we press on. We yearn to be happy.

Every human heart has a deep craving for infinite joy. Not just infinitely good feelings, but an Infinite Good. After all, we were made for joy, placed in the bliss of the Garden of Eden in the beginning, and God has destined us for the bliss of Heaven in the end.

"I have come that My joy might be in them, and their joy might be complete."

Oh but isn't Christianity all about rules and commandments and not screwing up? Isn't pure unadulterated bliss.... sinful? Are we scandalized by this idea that God actually wants us to... enjoy ourselves here?

The great secret of Christianity is that God says YES, I WANT YOUR ULTIMATE JOY. He wants us to experience happiness... even now. "Heaven all the way to Heaven," as St. Catherine of Siena put it. And one of the ways God has ordained for being a channel of grace and joy in this life is called Marriage. Yes, ironically, the very thing so often mocked, ridiculed, fractured, and revamped these days in our culture. The very thing that the media paints as being the quintessential wet blanket of spontaneity and fun. But listen to this:

In the joys of their love (God gives spouses) here on earth, a foretaste of the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. - Catechism, #1642

Wow. Marriage as a foretaste of Heaven? I've heard it said more than once that marriage is hell! Even when I was first engaged that sad view came to me from certain people: "Oh, the old ball and chain" and "Enjoy your freedom now"

But when viewed through the lens of the Theology of the Body (TOB), this sacrament is seen as a "sign" of something else. The TOB in its profound reflection on the Scriptures reveals that human love, indeed the marital embrace itself, is meant to be a little glimmer, a coming attraction, an appetizer to the Main Meal that will be the Banquet of the Lamb! It's called the Spousal Analogy, and shows us that God's plan from the beginning was to "marry us!"

Earthly marriage is meant to veil the most incredible truth, and point to our deepest desires... our ultimate union with the God Who Is Love in Heaven! Understood properly then, marriage really is "Almost Paradise"....

Enter our Twisted Mystic of the day: Loverboy and the lead singer from Heart.

I thought that perfect love was hard to find
I'd almost given up, you must have read my mind
and all these dreams I saved for a rainy day
they're finally coming true, I'll share them all with you
cause now we hold the future in our hands

Oooh almost paradise... we're knocking on Heaven's door
Almost paradise, how could we ask for more?
I swear that I can see forever in your eyes

The word "almost" in this song is absolutely critical. The Spousal Analogy teaches us that this union with God can only be spoken of in human terms, and that in the end, all analogies will fall infinitely short of the Infinite Mystery of God. Marriage here is forever "almost paradise" because our spouse is a human spouse, with sins, and weaknesses, and limitations like everyone else. But the analogy still shines.

Pope John Paul II has said that this Spousal Analogy is the best way we can image God! He said that it's the least inadequate of all of our analogies and images of God that the human mind can utilize, that of human love! The most intimate picture we can have of God here below then is that of a Lover with His Beloved.... Talk about a paradigm shift from God as Judge, or God as Grandpa!

... and in your arms salvation's not so far away
its getting closer, closer every day...

With the help of grace, and with a keen eye on the proper end of marital union, we can also realize that sex is not the be all and end all of human existence. Communion of our hearts with the Divine is! So, hand in hand, facing not just each other as man and wife, but turned towards the Son, lovers can discover that it's more than a feeling that fuels their joy... In the words of Pope John Paul II, "only the value of the person can sustain a stable relationship. The other values of sexuality are wasted away by time and exposed to the danger of disillusion. But this is not the case for the value of the person... which is stable and in some way infinite. When love develops and reaches the person, then it is forever."

I swear that I can see forever in your eyes... almost Paradise....

God, please grant us the eyes to see not just what is, but what ever shall be!