THE FOUR SURPRISES OF PARADISE
My reflection on the Feast of All Saints

These celebrations offer us a window, from which we can see wider horizons, or an attic, to admire the starry sky. Better still, a DOOR is opened: “Then I saw: behold, a door was open in heaven. The voice, which I had previously heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, ‘Come up here, I will show you the things that are to come'” (Revelation 4:1). We enter through such a door. Heaven opens its doors allowing a visit! An opportunity not to be missed!
Allow me to share my “visit” with you!

ALL THE SAME OR ALL DIFFERENT?
First surprise: Heaven is a wonderful and immense mosaic of diversity

“After these things I saw: behold, an immense multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language.” (Revelation 7:9).

There are no different ‘heavens’ capable of separating and avoiding the ‘different’ … in an eternal and monotonous uniformity! But a single heaven capable of accommodating and integrating diversity. All differences: geographical, temporal, racial, cultural, as well as religious, happily coexist, grateful for the varied panorama that offers a continuous and perennial novelty!

A further surprise: the richness of temperaments and sensitivities! All of them respected. All of them purified. “A drop of the divine is in every man. We are the dissimilar leaves of a single tree” (Cardinal Martini). 

Finally, “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down beside the kid; the calf and the lion and the fattened cattle shall be together, and a little child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11:6). 

ETERNAL REST?
A second surprise: in heaven there is work!…

Heaven is not a place of idleness! All people work! The Father is the first to set the example: “My Father works even now, and I also work,” says Jesus (John 5:17). And it is not “divine” work done “from above”; on the contrary, very human, humble service, done on one’s knees: “He who has seen me has seen the Father”, says Jesus, after washing his disciples’ feet. 

Let us therefore abandon the conviction of those who think that ‘eternal rest’ is a justification for idleness. And let those who cannot bear to be idle relax! As the world goes, how could we go on without the help of Heaven? 

FULL JOY?
A third surprise: the joy of heaven is not a relaxed happiness!

And how could it be if it is the place of perfect charity? How could our brothers and sisters alienate themselves from our suffering and sorrow? And God, above all, how could he do that! Christ’s solidarity, his compassion, his tears (John 11:42) are emblematic. Scripture does not shy away from speaking of God’s profound sadness (Genesis 6:6). And St Paul asks us “not to grieve the Holy Spirit of God” (Ephesians 4:30). No wonder, then, that some visionaries have heard Our Lady speak of the “sadness” of God and His Son, and have seen her “weep”! … 

PRIZE WON FOR OUR MERITS?
Fourth surprise: Heaven does not belong exclusively to the “righteous”!

Heaven is not the ‘wages’ granted solely to the righteous who would have deserved it by their good works. We may be astonished to meet ‘certain’ people there and be embarrassed to find ourselves embracing some of our ‘enemies’! For God is the One who eats and drinks with sinners and sits at table with them (Mark 2:15-16). “Infinite goodness has such great arms, that she takes what comes to her” (Dante). Therefore, to go to Paradise “it is enough to ask”, says St Thomas.

There we will understand well the puzzling parable of Jesus, of the labourers invited to work in the Vineyard who all receive their full pay. A parable that had an eloquent application in the case of the ‘good thief’, ‘hired’ at the last moment…

One only enters heaven through love. Thus, the Muslim Sufi mystic Rabia of Basra († 801) said that if she could, she would extinguish hell and burn paradise so that everyone would love God selflessly, not out of fear of hell or hope of heaven!

CONCLUSION?

Forgive my boldness. This ‘interpretation’ of mine is certainly distorted by my myopic and clouded eye. A miserable, shady shadow distorts reality, since Heaven is the Great Surprise that God has in store for us! 

Fr. Manuel João (comboni missionary, completely dependent on others, with SLA. This text was written with the eyes, which are the only organ that he can move)

Translation of Fr. Jeremias Martins