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Chapter Eight: Apropos of the Church of Heaven

This chapter emerged from a seminar held with the Little Brothers of Jesus, students in Toulouse, the 28th of May 1963. It was a question there of desultory reflections, which I have left in their original form of a completely informal talk.


I. Our Attitude Towards the Church Triumphant

It seems to me that an extreme negligence prevails among Christians concerning the Church of Heaven and therefore that there is progress to be made here, not, of course, in dogma or doctrine, but in growth in awareness.

1. The Church triumphant and the Church militant are but a single Church, a single and unique mystical body under two essentially different states; the Church militant is in time and, as Abbé Journet says, under the journeying and crucified state; the Church triumphant is in eternity, under the state of glory.

The living link and the living relation between the two are manifested in the public life of the Church here on earth by the liturgy. The liturgy is wholly turned towards Heaven. And Heaven listens to it. However, the feasts of the cycle of time are above all centered on the states of Our Lord during His earthly life; and, in the feasts of the saints, each is commemorated only once a year. And it is always a prayer of petition which we address for what we here on earth think to be our good, and for the intentions of the Church militant (and it must be like this, it is absolutely normal in the prayer of the Church militant, who is like a beggar-woman in relation to the Church triumphant). And the liturgy and the breviary assure and maintain in this way a continuous communication between earth and Heaven.

But in our private prayer, in our personal spiritual life? Heaven, it seems to me, is very distant, abstract, impersonal. Naturally I am not speaking of the Holy Trinity, nor of Jesus and of the Blessed Virgin. Yes, we think of them, in a habitual and profound manner. But the Mystical Body, the angels and the innumerable saints, all the humanity who populate Heaven and who constitute the Mystical Body of which Christ is the head, all of this remains hidden, in general, as though behind a curtain of azure. This is due, without doubt, in part to the fact that Heaven is unimaginable and that Revelation teaches us only a minimum of things concerning the other world. Why? Because we would not understand. We have no landmark. (We are as it were primitives whom one trots round in a universal exposition or before an electronic machine; not having any landmark, any common measure, they are not at all astonished, they do not understand. I think that it is a little like this with regard to Heaven and the other world.) But this is due also to our stupidity and to our reluctance to attach ourselves to the invisible, to seek in it our daily bread.

Here I am going to introduce a parenthesis: I have just said that Revelation teaches us only a minimum of things concerning the other world. This is true. However, though still without anything accessible to our imagination, we know a little more about it, I believe, than we think, but our attention is not drawn to it enough.

We naturally think that what constitutes the beatitude of the blessed is the vision of the divine essence; this is clearly the essential; but it is not the whole of their life.

Just as the Word Incarnate had on earth a life divine and human at one and the same time, so also the blessed in Heaven have entered into the divine life itself through the vision, but they also lead there, outside of the vision although penetrated by its radiance, a glorious and transfigured human life.

They love God, from the moment that they see Him, by a necessity of nature, without their free will having to exercise itself in this. But with regard to all the rest, with regard to the whole universe of creatures, they continue to exercise their free will; they act freely without being able to sin.

On the other had, there is between them, and with the angels in the midst of whom they are as equals, there is intellectual communication (wordless, of course) dependent on the free will of each. Each blessed is master of the thoughts of his heart and opens them freely to whomever he wishes. And all are co-citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem, over which the Lamb reigns.

Therefore, there is a human life of glory and of human interactions of glory for the separated souls, as there will be after the Resurrection for the risen human persons, who will not be content with walking about with palms in the avenues of Paradise. They will be the masters of a nature henceforth without anguish, to carry it along into the great human life of the city of the saints and into the adoration of God.

Already before the Resurrection, there is in Heaven an immense and perpetual conversation. (And I think that in this conversation the angels will tell us the stories of this poor earth, for, how can one think that all that has passed in the flux of time, charged with so much beauty, so much love and distress, will be lost forever? There is the memory of the angels.)

And in Heaven, at each instant of discontinuous time, which is the time of the pure spirits, there are events which take place: new blessed arrive constantly from earth to be born to eternal life, they are welcomed by the others, friendships are established, and from Purgatory also souls newly delivered arrive unceasingly; and each time that a sinner is converted on earth, there is joy and thanksgiving among all the saints of Heaven. All of this makes a great history, in a duration different from that of our history.

And this world which they have left, the blessed know it now without shortcoming, and its relation to God and to the eternal purposes, and all the modes of participation of the creature in its Uncreated Principle. And the higher spirits, whose knowledge is more simple and more perfect, illumine the other spirits. And they instruct each other in what God expects of them and of their prayer in the great combat for the salvation of souls.

And in this world which they have left to live where the glorious bodies of Jesus and Mary exist (outside of and beyond the whole universe and its space) the blessed intervene, they are still present in it by their love and by their action, and by the inspirations which they give us and by the effects of their prayers. And the love which they had on earth for their loved-ones, they have kept in heaven, transfigured, not abolished by glory; and if it was a love of charity, this love was already on earth what it is now in Heaven. You remember the saying of St. Theresa of Lisieux: "I wish to spend my Heaven doing good on earth." This saying goes singularly far -- in the direction of what one could call the humanism of the saints even in Heaven.

All of this amounts to saying that the creature and the created reflections of the uncreated Goodness also have their role in the beatitude of the blessed. They add themselves to it without adding anything to it; they add absolutely nothing, not the thickness of a hair, to that beatitude which comes to the saints of Heaven from the vision of God and which deifies them, transfers them into the very order of divine Transcendence, but the spiritual riches which come from the created are something more which is integrated in the joy and in the supreme actuation of the blessed without rendering them greater. Somewhat as, from the fact of creation, there are beings over and above (numerically) uncreated Being, without being itself being (intensively) increased by the thickness of a hair.

My parenthesis is finished. You will pardon me this digression, I hope it "was not useless," as Bergson liked to say.

Before this long parenthesis, I had remarked that in general in our spiritual life Heaven, the other world, the Chruch triumphant are very distant, very ignored, and that this is largely because we neglect to turn our attention in this direction, and are reluctant to attach ourselves to the invisible.

2. And yet the other world is present in our world, it plunges into it like lightning -- invisibly. In each tabernacle there is Jesus in glory in His humanity and His divinity. -- And there is also Heaven, according as in the Eucharist the Body of the Lord is itself the sign of His mystical body.

They are all there, to crowd behind Him, not sacramentally present, certainly, but present by their attention, their adoration of Jesus and their love for Him, and also by their love for us. "Where the body is, there the eagles are." Virtually, all the saints of Heaven are in your chapel, around the tabernacle. And, actually, in a more special manner, those who love you and whom you love in particular, and who adore Jesus with you.

And if we cannot imagine them, we can love them. And if there is a terrible curtain between the invisible world and the visible world, love enables us to pass behind, it is the same love of charity which is in them and in us; through our love we attain them as they attain us and through our prayer also. From this point of view we can well understand the importance, disregarded by more or less archaizing liturgists, of the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and of the hours of adoration which are devoted to it. It is the door of Heaven open on the earth. And we look through this door with the eyes of faith.

3. Formerly, in a more or less primitive and superstitious mentality, there was a great and profound familiarity between the saints and the Christian people. Each saint, as you know, had his specialty, generally a specialty of healer for such or such illness or infirmity of men or of animals. Recourse was had to them all the time in the particular circumstances of life. Today there is scarcely any of this except the devotion to St. Anthony of Padua to find lost objects.

This familiarity with the saints was, moreover, terribly egoistic. We importuned them with our miseries and our needs. We turned to them only to beseech them to make happen what we wanted here on earth, to help us to do our will. The saints put up with it nevertheless. At least there was a permanent contact with them.

This more or less primitive mentality has been drastically purified. It is certainly not necessary to regret it. But it has been replaced by a self-styled rational mentality -- in reality an anemic and aseptic one -- in which in fact there is no longer any lived contact with the saints.

And this seems to me disastrous.

For at a lower rank, certainly, and below the liturgy, popular piety plays an essential role in the life of the Church, because it expresses the direct and spontaneous movement of souls, with regard to their daily life and to their particular destiny in the world, and varies according to the epochs like the life itself of the world.

In this sense one can say that the liturgy, while being absolutely necessary, nevertheless does not suffice. In the first place because lived participation in the liturgy will always be, whatever one does, reserved to a relatively restricted number of laymen.

Next and above all because, in liturgical prayer (am I about to speak heresies?), it seems to me that its grandeur and its superiority come from the fact that as a general rule my prayer effaces itself in the universal prayer of the Church -- the Church, not only of all places on the earth but also of all times, with her immense memory. That is why the Old Testament has such a cardinal place in liturgical prayer. Each is there as part, each prays the prayer of a whole which covers the whole earth, which covers all times since Abraham and before.

Of course, there are moments -- Christmas, Holy Week, Easter -- in which my prayer is fully engaged in the liturgical prayer and nourished by it. Of course, there are in the Mass of each day responses to my needs. Of course, there are psalms which sometimes become the life of my flesh and of my blood. -- But finally, I do not think that this is the general rule. And when I recite the Divine Office, not only does the astonishing bad taste of certain hymns recall to me relatively recent epochs which I would prefer to forget, but even in the psalms, well, personally I do not have much desire to crush the new-born children of Babylon on stone, nor to see the sons of the impious reduced to beggary and chased from their houses, nor to annihilate a lot of kings whose names mean nothing very clear to me.

Whereas popular piety, the piety of the Christian people, of the little people of God, has to do with the petitions and with the initiatives which issue spontaneously from the very heart of people, in the particular circumstances and the particular adventures and in the whole temporal context of their existence, and with the motions of the Holy Spirit which pass through all this. And it is an indispensable piece of the life of the Church militant. And as I said just now, it is more and more neglected. There are indeed Lourdes and the great pilgrimages, and a few particularly famous saints like the Curé of Ars or St. Theresa of Lisieux, and also and above all that kind of para-liturgy of popular piety which is the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. But with regard to all that immense multitude which is the mystical Body in the state of glory, popular piety has fallen into dust. One would think that we believe stupidly that this multitude sleeps in the beatific vision and no longer wishes to see us, and has forgotten us. And as for us, to the extent that we can, we do everything to encourage this.

4. The idea which I would like to propose to you is the following: Since the Church triumphant is but a single Church with the Church militant, and since the saints continue to occupy themselves with the things of the earth and to interest themselves in them (they see all this in the beatific vision itself), well, they surely have their own idea and their own intentions concerning these things, concerning the life and the behavior of each of us, and the events of the world, and the progress and the expansion of the kingdom of God.

And without doubt each of them also has his ideas on what more especially concerns the mission which he had here on earth, and those whom he loved and was entrusted with protecting here on earth. The founding saints, certainly, have their ideas on their religious order, the patron saints have their ideas on the countries or the cities which are under their aegis. St. Thomas Aquinas on the progress of theological truth and of the truths which he himself established and defended on earth, St. John of the Cross on the progress of the contemplative life; Father de Foucauld on the vocation of those who bear witness for Jesus without preaching or teaching but through fraternal love, and who must be, like Foucauld, universal Little Brothers.

Therefore, is not the true manner in which we have to exist with them and maintain a living communion with them -- still more than to pray to them for our intentions and to explain our needs and our desires (which is necessary, of course, and will always continue) -- to pray to them for their intentions, for the accomplishment of their aims and of their desires concerning the things of here below, in order that in this way the will of Heaven may be accomplished more on earth? We say in the Our Father: "Your will be done," and in this sense we pray to God for God, well, what I am saying is that we ought to pray to the saints of God for themselves also, in order that their will may be realized by the idiots that we are.

If the Dominicans all over the world said thousands of Masses for the intentions of St. Thomas Aquinas, well, the things of the intelligence would perhaps progress a little better here on earth. -- And likewise for the things of the apostolate and of Catholic Action, if all priests said Masses for the intentions of St. Paul.

5. I have just spoken of canonized saints.

But there are in Heaven lots of other saints -- and not only canonizable saints who are not yet, or never will be, canonized -- and all of these are exemplary saints, who are beacons for humanity, and who have lived under the habitual regime of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, so that one can say (I take up again a theme of "Love And Friendship") that they have not lived like everybody, in this sense that, even sometimes in their external behavior, the measure of their action, being that of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, is higher than that of the acquired or infused moral virtues; this is why they surprise us, disconcert us in some manner; their heroism, however secret the sources of it may be, cannot not manifest itself publicly in one manner or in another.

Well, and it is on this that I would like to insist, besides these exemplary saints, canonized or canonizable, there are in Heaven, not only all the elect who have passed through the sufferings of Purgatory and have been delivered, but also all those elect, whom I believe immense in number, who have been on earth unapparent saints, I mean that, except as regards the heart's secrets, they led among us a life like everybody. If there was heroism in their life, and there was without any doubt, it was a perfectly hidden heroism. And they passed straight to Heaven, because they died in an act of perfect charity. It is for them also, for them above all, I believe, that each year the Church celebrates All Saints' Day. It is of the immense mass of the poor and of the little people of God that it is necessary to think first of all here, I say of all those who practiced to the end self-abnegation, devotion to others and firmness of the virtues.

And these saints concern each of us more closely, in this sense, that there are some among them who have been our close relatives on earth, among the deceased members of our own family, and among our ancestors, and among our friends, and among the people whom we have met. Surely there are some among them, as among your deceased Little Brothers -- God is not so sparing of His grace; it is we who do not have enough practical faith and are not attentive enough to the glory of those whom we no longer see. I remember that when the Curé of Courneuve used to tell us the story of Notre-Dame-des-Bois, and how he carried a statue of the Blessed Virgin through the woods to the little old house which he was going to make into a chapel, he would tell us that the saints accompanied him in procession through the trees -- the saints, that is to say, not St. Peter and St. Paul, but the holy souls in their glory of certain deceased whom he had known, peasant-men and peasant-women who had belonged to his family and to his village. And these saints who concern us and whom we have known -- do you believe that they have forgotten us? that they do not desire to help us, and that they do not have a better idea than we do about what is best for us, and that they do not have their own intentions concerning the things of the earth and their friends of this earth?


II. The Deceased

The second part of my exposition, which is only a natural continuation of the first, concerns the deceased and what we think about them.

6. Here I would like to begin by a small parenthesis concerning language. There is something which scandalizes me. It is the manner in which Christians speak of their deceased. They call them the dead -- they have not been capable of renewing the miserable human vocabulary on a point which nevertheless concerns the essential data of their faith. The dead! One attends masses for the dead! One goes to the cemetery with flowers for the dead, one prays for the dead! As if they weren't billions of times more living than we! As if the fundamental truth stated in the Preface of the Burial Mass: vita mutatur, non tollitur -- life is changed, it is not taken away -- was itself a dead truth, incapable of fecundating and of transforming the common routine of our manner of conceiving and of speaking.

Villiers de L'Isle-Adam used to say that death was an invention of the undertakers.

In actual fact, I think that this word "death" has its proper use when it serves to designate the terrible moment when the soul separates itself from the body -- at that time, yes, one is in the presence of death, of that death which horrifies our nature, so much so that it is unthinkable, and one can say that a man "is dying", and after this one can mention this man as "dead" in the registers of the civil State, or of the police, whose vocabulary is not that of truth, but of sordid appearances.

But those who have left this earth to enter into the other world are not the dead. If they are in Heaven and see God, they are the living par excellence; if they are in Purgatory where they suffer but with the certitude that they are chosen and that they will see God, they are -- through this very certitude, and through the very pure and very ardent love with which they accept and bless their sufferings -- much more living than we are. And even if they are in Hell, in the abyss of the second death, at least they are through with the mutabilities and the equivocations of earthly life and with the dark recesses of the unconscious; they have made a definitive choice freely and they see clearly into themselves. They are perverse and chastised living beings, they are not dead.

7. Let us now leave this parenthesis, and return to the consideration of the behavior of Christians with regard to the Church of Heaven.

The second thing which scandalizes me is the sinister and lugubrious apparatus which surrounds the funerals of Christians; it is all this black and this mourning which adorns our churches, our walls, the prie-dieus, the altar (they tell me that this is beginning to change in certain parishes, so much the better, but so far it is not very noticeable) and it is even these black vestments which the priest puts on to say Mass.

Things were not done like this in the first centuries of Christianity. As one notes in Martimort's remarkable Introduction to the Liturgy, L'Eglise en prière: "The spirit of the Christian funeral is profoundly different from that of the pagan funeral. On the one hand, Christians do not attach to the funeral, like the pagans of the ancient world, an absolutely decisive importance for the survival of the deceased; above all, the certitude of salvation and of the resurrection of the dead invites Christians to proclaim that Christ has conquered death and that their hope and their joy are stronger than their pain. Ancient Christianity manifests this reaction in diverse ways, in the funeral inscriptions, in the costume, in opposing to lugubrious vestments white, the color of immortality; above all in the very liturgy of the funeral, in which the dominant note is faith in the resurrection rather than mourning. This note, in part masked in the present Roman liturgy by late additions or exterior details," (it would be very interesting to know just when these late additions were made) "is expressed in a striking manner in the Oriental liturgies, for example, in the Byzantine funeral liturgy, which makes use in these circumstances of the Allelulia."

One could add that, in France, the manner in which for several centuries past the Roman funeral liturgy has been applied goes far beyond the reservations expressed in the passage which I have just cited. How are we to explain this dreadful invasion of mourning and of affliction into rites in which faith in the redemption and in the resurrection should be the dominant note? There would be here subject-matter for useful studies of historico-sociologico-theological erudition. If you asked me my opinion (as a mere working hypothesis, for I'm not worth anything when it comes to erudition), I would say to you that I see there first of all a kind of naturalist revenge of human society, with its imperatives and its traditional costumes, on supernatural faith. It is a kind of duty of etiquette towards the deceased, a duty which the family and social group would consider it dishonorable to shirk -- if not to utter for some days shrill lamentations, at least to manifest one's sorrow by black vestments and apparent signs of mourning. And in truth, how much ashes and mourning would be necessary to express, if this could be expressed, the true, the authentic pain caused by separation from a being whom we loved more than our life? Et Rachel noluit consolari, Rachel would not be consoled.

Well, it is this pain so natural to our heart, and it is this black of human mourning that people wish at any cost to find again in the funeral rites, and that they have succeeded in superimposing on the Christian rites, at least as to the color -- even to that of the vestments of the priest -- and to the exterior details of the ceremony. And this phenomenon of naturization is so related to the inclinations of man and of human society as such, that one finds it not only in the bourgeois parishes, in which the brilliance of the silver tears on the dark draperies illustrates and magnifies the sorrow of the rich, but also in the poor country parishes, where the faithful absolutely oblige their curé to celebrate requiem Masses, humbly and uniformly lugubrious, all through the year, with that parody of a coffin draped in black and surrounded with miserable cardboard candles on which, flanked by a bewildered altar-boy, he throws the holy water of absolution.

It would seem then very incongruous to think that the poor deceased for whom all this sadness is required has any chance of exulting in the joy of Paradise and of being a part of the Church triumphant.

8. But I think that there are still other causes -- more specifically religious this time -- for this prevalence of mourning and of black, and of a sort of somber apprehension in the ordinary attitude with regard to the deceased, and for the ordinary practical indifference with regard to the Church of Heaven.

Just before the advent of rationalist and anthropocentric humanism, and of the enthusiasm which it entailed for the material conquest of nature, infallibly necessary progress, indefinite prosperity and indefinite fun, there was at the end of the Middle Ages then in process of dissolution a period of distress and despair which makes one think a little of the existentialism of today. If I remember well, it was in the fifteenth century that the great vogue of the Dance of Death began. And this spiritual state penetrated into religious sentiment. In Martimort's book we are told that the Dies irae is an Italian work of the twelth or thirteenth century. (I would think it rather of the fourteenth.) This central piece of the Catholic funeral ceremony of today, which shakes up the congregation a little bit and where the singers enjoy bellowing false notes to make the thunder reverberate, Martimort's book assures us that it is "the only hymn of the Mass which deviates from the ancient Christian piety," because it is wholly "absorbed in the fear of the Last Judgment."

In actual fact, the Dies irae is one of the most beautiful poems in the world, a work of extraordinary and admirable poetry, and admirable Christian poetry -- think of the strophe "quaerens me, sedisti lassus," and the sequel -- but it is a Christian poetry which becomes ambiguous and which is engulfed in terror. I would like nevertheless to defend the Dies irae a little, for Moses also felt terror, and terror is essential to Christianity also, and to every religion, even in the purely natural order. But it is the terror of the infinite majesty of God, the fear and the trembling before the Presence of Him Whom no name can name, before the divine transcendence which overthrows all our measures, before the Deus excelsus terribilis.

But where the ambiguity slips in is that this terror now descends into the universe of the human -- terror before the manifestation of all the secrets of our miserable hearts on the day of the Last Judgment, terror of human destiny, of chastisement and of Hell.

Then it is indeed true that to describe the Second Coming of Christ and the Last Judgment as a day of anger, of calamity and of misery, a day of tears and of unfathomable bitterness, dies magna et amara valde,{1} lacrymosa dies illa,{2} is a strange way of singing Christian hope. The mercy of God is not forgotten, but it consists in drawing those who are its objects from a lake of perdition to which all men seem destined.

Is there a theological idea in the background of this terror of the Judgment -- and of human destiny -- of which I have just spoken? Yes, in my opinion: the Augustinian idea of the mass of iniquity, of anger, of death, and above all the idea which seems linked with it of the small number of the chosen, which, in later centuries, was to grow still worse with Jansenism.

Here, I immediately meet a difficulty which comes from St. Thomas himself. St. Thomas (see Sum. theol. I, q. 23, a. 7, ad 3) seems to accept the interpretation, in my opinion very contestable, of the words of Jesus concerning the narrow gate and the hard road (Matt. 7.13-14) as referring to eternal salvation, in my opinion it is a question there of the earth, on the one hand, of those who engage themselves on earth in the wide and spacious road of sin and perdition (this does not mean that they will be lost); on the other hand, of those who engage themselves on earth in the narrow road of eternal life already participated in here on earth. In other words, St. Thomas seems to follow the pessimistic views of St. Augustine, and he seeks to justify them by a philosophical argumentation drawn from what takes place in nature. The good proportionate to the common state of human nature finds itself, he tells us, in the greater number, for example, a knowledge sufficient to "manage" in life is denied only to the mentally defective. But on the contrary, if it is a question of a good which goes beyond the common state of nature, for example, of a profound knowledge of intelligible realities, this is reserved to a comparatively very small number. And likewise, because the vision of God exceeds the common state of human nature -- which moreover and above all bears the wounds of original sin -- pauciores sunt qui salvantur, the chosen are fewer in number than the damned.

Well, let me say that this argumentation seems extraordinarily unconvincing, and indeed turns against itself. For, salvation is not, like the profound knowledge of intelligible realities, a summit of natural perfection which goes beyond the common state of nature, it is something entirely supernatural and which belongs to an order entirely different from that of nature. And the law of nature is not abolished by grace, but there is another law, proper to the supernatural order -- here the law of redemptive mercy and of the salvific will of God -- which surmounts and carries along in its wake the law of the smaller number of successes going beyond the common state of nature, and which must reconcile, according to a relation of suitability, the number of the chosen with the victory of the redeeming Blood over evil and with the large measure required by the limitless mercy of God. -- And moreover the wounds of Original Sin have less efficacy to impair our nature than the wounds of Christ to elevate us by grace to friendship with the God who pardons.

I am persuaded that the idea of the greater number of the chosen imposes itself and will impose itself more and more on the Christian conscience. Firstly, for a doctrinal reason. On the one hand, there is God who "wills that all men be saved" and who sends His Son to redeem them by the death of the Cross. On the other hand, there is man who through the nihilations of which he is the first cause evades the love of God. Who can be persuaded that man through his evasions is stronger than God through His love? This does not exclude there being perhaps a great multitude in Hell, but it does mean that there is surely a much greater multitude in Paradise.

Secondly, something which is in practical contradiction with the requirement of Christian life, I mean as to the unity of the Church militant with the Church triumphant such as it must be lived by us, cannot be true. The idea of the smaller number of the chosen translates itself practically, not among the theologians doubtlessly, but in the faithful people, by a prevalence of fear over hope, and by the more or less confused -- but irresistible -- feeling that Hell is, in actual fact, the place of destination which befits the common state of humanity, the greater number, and which one escapes only through the good fortune of an exceptional mercy. Here you have the terrors of the Dies irae.

But then, if there are without doubt the canonized saints towards whom the Christian people continue to turn, but as towards kinds of supermen foreign to the common human destiny, what about all the other chosen -- a much smaller number, it is believed, than the damned -- what about this small number of chosen who with the canonized saints constitute the Church triumphant, the mystical Body in Heaven? The Christian people are going to hold them to be survivors who have also been separated from the common lot, and who have nothing more urgent than to turn away from us and forget us in order to flee into eternal beatitude. The sense of the unity and of the living communication between the Church of the earth and the Church of Heaven is going to be irremediably broken, lost.

9. It seems to me finally that one could point out a third cause of this prevalence of mourning and of black, of this kind of somber apprehension in the ordinary attitude with regard to the deceased, and this kind of practical indifference with regard to the Church triumphant, of which I have been speaking for a moment -- too lengthily moreover, pardon me.

This time it is no longer a question of the latent and more or less confused idea that the common state of humanity would destine us to Hell, save a comparatively small number of exceptions; it is a question of the latent and more or less confused idea that the common state of humanity destines us normally to pass through Purgatory for a more or less long time, so that the souls which open directly onto Heaven enjoy a supra-normal privilege.

This idea certainly represents a great progress over the first one. For all those who are in Purgatory are chosen, who will one day be in Heaven. And thus the idea in question is not incompatible with belief in the greater number of the chosen.

One can ask oneself however whether from the time of St. Catherine of Genoa (end of the fifteenth century), Christian common conscience has not been so fixed on the thought of Purgatory, with respect to the deceased, that it has somewhat lost sight of other truths.

I am not arguing here about a question of number. It would require a great deal of presumption to ask oneself whether the chosen who wait in Purgatory are more or less numerous than those who enjoy the Beatific Vision. I am arguing about the question of what is, or is not, normal. And you know very well that between the notion of that which is normal and the notion of that which is the more frequent in point of fact, there is an enormous difference. The more frequent deportment of men is a sinful deportment. It is not the normal deportment of the human being, the deportment consonant with the law and with the proper exigencies of his rational essence.

Well, what I am saying is that even if the chosen who must pass through Purgatory are more numerous than those who go straight to Heaven, nevertheless it is these latter who are in the normal case of a humanity redeemed by the Blood of Christ. It is not only the saints, the heroes of the moral life, exemplary saints or unapparent saints, it is also the ordinary run of us sinners, who, even after the greatest strayings, open straight onto Heaven if before their death, or at the instant when they are about to die (or perhaps at the instant when the soul separates itself from the body) they make an act of perfect charity. Because they have had confidence in the infinite merits of Christ. Let us remember the commendatio animae of the ritual; let us remember the good thief: "This day you will be with me in Paradise." What is normal for the Christian -- is to go straight to Paradise, to rejoin the Lord. Not only rejection into Hell, but even also passage through Purgatory, however it may be with the question of number or of frequency, represent abnormal cases, the first very obviously, because it supposes revolt against God, the second because it implies that the soul has not let the redemptive work reach completion in it here below.

This remark seems to me important in connection with our relations with the Church triumphant, because it is likely to fortify the ardor of our hope for the souls of those who leave the earth. Because of the awesome transcendence and the inscrutable majesty of God it is an absolute duty to pray for the souls of the deceased; never will our compassion for them be great enough. But because of the infinite mercy of God and the infinite merits of Jesus, we do not hold ourselves practically at the height of our faith if our hope with regard to their eternal destiny does not reach almost to excess. But in actual fact, this hope is in general only a very small and timid pilot-light half buried in the ash of indifference.

In paradisum deducant te Angeli, sings the Church at the end of the funeral of the deceased, and she incenses their body. "May the angels lead you into Paradise; may the martyrs receive you at your coming, and lead you into the holy city of Jesus. May the choir of angels receive you, and may you have eternal rest with Lazarus, who once was poor." In Paradise, with Jesus; not only is it normal not to hesitate to believe -- with human faith, of course, and without forgetting the mystery of the divine transcendence -- that such is the lot of those whose holiness of life is known to us, and in the measure in which we have been able to know it; but further we should boldly hope that it is so with all those in whom, at any moment whatever, any sign whatever of response to the kind attentiveness of grace has appeared. And even for those in whom no sign of this kind has been discernible we must hope for it also, so that our hope for them, more or less strong according to the cases, and however anxious it may be, remains in spite of everything stronger than our fear.

Why is it that I speak to you in this way especially of those whom we have known? It is because of a certain idea that I have in my head, concerning the Church triumphant. It seems to me that in turning towards the Church triumphant we must think first and above all, this is very obvious, of Jesus and Mary, and of the Holy Angels, and of the great saints whom the Church proposes for our veneration; but that there is also a certain special role to be recognized for the non-canonizable chosen, for the unapparent saints whom we have known and who have known us here on earth. They have carried with them to Heaven the memory of their friends. They continue to love them as they loved them, I mean that they do not love them only with the supernatural love which derives from the Beatific Vision, as St. Paul for example loved St. Thomas Aquinas, or as St. Thomas loves Abbé Journet -- they love them also with human love, superelevated and transfigured by this supernatural love, and with the love of charity with which they loved them here on earth. It is experimentally, if I may say so, both humanly and divinely, that they interest themselves in their affairs and have views concerning them. In short, they continue in the vision the solicitude which they had for them on earth, and the prayer which they offered for them. -- And on the other hand, inversely, we who continue to live here on earth, and who have known here on earth these non-canonizable chosen who begin their eternity while we are still on earth, we remember them, we can invoke them. Not being inscribed in any martyrology, who will remember them when in our turn we will have finished with this planet? They will enter into anonymity, no one here on earth will pluck them by the sleeve to ask them for a helping hand.

All of this in order to indicate that the blessed of whom I speak, the non-canonizable blessed who are in some manner our contemporaries, form a kind of fringe through which the Church of Heaven in still in contact in each generation with the passing time, and in physical continuity, so to speak, or, if you prefer, psychological continuity, with the Church militant. It seems to me that it is important practically to be as attentive as possible to this. And for instance, if you will permit me to allude to what concerns you, to place great confidence in your deceased Little Brothers about whose death I recently read a beautiful and moving account.

In order to indicate the bearing of the remarks which I have just submitted to you in this second part, it would suffice, I think, to pose the following questions:

Does it not seem that after the apostolic times there took place, with regard to the common attitude towards the destiny of souls, a kind of slipping, which after the fifteenth century became a kind of progressive collapse, of the practical exercise of the virtue of hope -- on the one hand under the weight of the consciousness of human dignity and of human misery, on the other hand under the weight of all the formulas and affectations of ready-made humility and of overwhelming self-accusation with which the Christian people have been nourished by manuals of piety whose authors were ordinarily persuaded that outside of the religious state (or more generally, with the French school, outside of the ecclesiastical state) one has the greatest chances of losing one's soul?

In reality however, is it not precisely because we are all radically unworthy of eternal life, and have all, except the Virgin Mary, a "heart hollow and full of filth," as Pascal said, that in all and for all, hope founded not on us, but on the Blood of Christ, which is divine, must be greater than the fear due to our strayings which are human?

And concerning Christian laymen in particular, whose role and activity in the Church militant are now the order of the day, and indeed very justly (but not sometimes without certain misunderstandings), is a preliminary condition not required to understand well, theoretically and practically, this role and this activity (which, being of the Church, can have fecundity only through the virtue of the Holy Spirit)? By this condition I mean the fact of understanding that the laymen in question, if they die in a state of grace, are indeed exposed in actual fact, like everybody, and perhaps in very great number, to have to effect a more or less long detour through the purifications of Purgatory -- but that, nevertheless, while leading a frankly and squarely lay life, and even if they are not enrolled in Catholic Action, they are called normally, like those who have left everything for the evangelical counsels, to pass, in leaving this life, directly into the Church triumphant? In other words, that the Christian lay life is, by the very fact that it is Christian, normally ordered, by virtue of the merits and of the Blood of Christ, to open straight onto Paradise?


III. On Prayer

10. In the third part I would like to submit to you some reflections on prayer. That is to say that I would like to turn back to discuss a little more a point which I have already indicated.

I said at the very outset that we should pray and have Masses celebrated for the intentions which the saints of Heaven have with regard to us and with regard to the things of the earth.

A question arises immediately: do the saints of Heaven need this? They are close to Jesus; they are, through the Beatific Vision, of the very family of the Trinity; for their intentions with regard to the earth do they not have in their hands the weapon of prayer, of the prayer of the blessed, much more powerful than ours? Do they need, so to speak, the reinforcement of our poor prayer?

Well, I shall point out first that I have spoken not only of our own prayers, but of Masses to be offered, in which we have on earth the prayer of Christ Himself in His supreme act of oblation.

And moreover, I hold that our own prayers are required, and it seems to me that it is the whole treatise on prayer which is at stake here.

For it is indeed clear that God has no need of our petitions in order to will our good and in order to know infinitely better than we in what this good consists, and in order to exercise His power to cause it to happen. And yet He, the Almighty, wishes us to address our petitions to Him: and not only for ourselves, but also for Him, for His own intentions, as is the case with the first three petitions of the Our Father, especially when we pray that His will be done.

Quite obviously, He has no need of us or of our prayer for this. But as St. Thomas explains (see II-II, q. 83, a. 2), just as, in the things of nature, God has disposed that such and such an effect will happen because according to the proper laws of the essences in play such and such a cause will have produced it, so likewise, in human things, in the things of the free agent that is man, He has disposed that certain effects would happen in consequence of such and such acts freely accomplished by man, in particular, in consequence of his prayer. "It is disposed by divine Providence not only that such and such effects happen, but also that they issue from such or such causes and from such and such a determinate order. But among created causes human acts also are causes of certain things; whence it follows that men must accomplish certain acts, not in order to change by the latter the divine disposition, but in order that there be produced certain effects according to the order disposed by God. And it is the same with natural causes. And it is also the case for prayer. In reality we do not pray in order to change the divine disposition, but in order to obtain that which God has disposed as having to occur by reason of the prayers of the saints. . . . "

There is therefore an order disposed by God according to which certain things occur here on earth because we have prayed to God concerning them.

And it is very clear, is it not, that among these certain things which God wills that they happen but on condition that we ask Him for them, there are not only things which correspond to our own desires and intentions, there are also things which correspond to the desires and to the intentions of God Himself (think of the first three petitions of the Our Father) -- moreover such is the case with everything that is good -- and there are therefore also, clearly, things which correspond to the desires and to the intentions of the saints of Paradise.

There is a great number of things, concerning not only our desires and our needs, but also the desires and the intentions of the saints regarding the work of God on this poor earth, which happen only because human liberty here on earth turned towards God in order to pray.

11. There we have what is entirely certain, it only repeats under another form the very general truths taught by St. Thomas.

But it seems to me that it is necessary to try to be a little more precise, and here I enter into the field of hypotheses which I would like to submit to you, and which would require a more thorough study.

In the ad tertium of this same Article 2 (II-II, q. 83) which I have just cited (I would have many things to say concerning this ad 3, but this is not the moment), St. Thomas writes: "There are lots of things which we receive from the liberality of God even without having asked for them. But there are certain things which He wishes to give us at our request, and this is for our benefit: namely, in order that we may acquire a certain habit of confidence in having recourse to God -- ut scilicet et fiduciam quamdam accipiamus recurrendi ad Deum -- and in order that we may recognize that He is the author of all our goods."

Yes, without doubt, this is very true. But is this all there is to it? Is it only a question, as one would run the risk of thinking if one stopped at that point, of an in some way educative or pedagogical disposition of Providence, destined to assure the equipment of our moral life, like the rules which a good father of a family establishes for the right moral formation of his children?

My idea is that we must go further. Did not St. Thomas himself, in the body of the article, take care to note that in the things of nature God has disposed a similar order between the effect which He wishes to cause to come into existence and the cause which produces this effect, according to the very laws of essences or the laws of nature? What I am thinking is that in what concerns prayer we do not have to do only with a disposition of the paternal Prudence of God aiming at the moral formation of man, but with a genuine law -- I would willingly say ontological -- not a law of nature but a law of the universe of the spirit and of liberty, and more especially of the supernatural order.

I am not sure how to express myself. One could say, it seems to me, that with regard, not certainly to all the things which depend on this universe, but to a certain ensemble of things which depend on it, the intentions of Heaven are accomplished on earth only by means of certain conditions, certain enticements, or certain openings which relate to dispositive causality and which depend on the prayer of minds turned towards God. But there is much more still: why is it necessary that the Sacrifice of the Cross which took place at a moment of time but with an infinite efficacy which is valid for all times, be again rendered present -- the same sacrifice, in a nonbloody way -- all through time, at all the instants in which a Mass is celebrated on earth, if not because it is necessary that on the side of the earth and all through time there be -- and this time through the supplication and the immolation of the God-Man Himself, head of humanity -- an appeal here below, a cry, an abyss hollowed out in human liberty, which corresponds in the impermanence of our fleeting duration to the eternal merciful will of God?

Here is therefore what I would like to submit to you, without being very sure of what it is worth.

It seems to me that in the laws established by Providence as to the behavior of created things, there are three orders, or rather three regimes to be considered:

In the first place, the ordinary regime of creatures not endowed with intelligence, or of material nature. Divine Providence provides for the good of all these creatures, It feeds the little birds, It clothes with beauty the lilies of the fields, by means of the exercise of natural causalities and of natural energies, without any petition or prayer being addressed to God except by the very existence and the needs of these things -- the little birds open their mouths, and do they!

In the second place there is the ordinary regime of intelligent creatures insofar as they are free agents. These intelligent creatures, because they are intelligent, know that God exists, and that everything comes from Him. Here, it is a law, a necessary law of this regime, that the goods which the divine liberality wishes to dispense to such beings be received from it by means of the causality of their prayer, according as their liberty turns towards God and, in having recourse to Him, opens in the soul -- and not only in the soul which prays, but at the same stroke in the invisible universe in which all souls are in intersolidarity -- the path through which the intentions of the generosity of Heaven will pass in order to realize themselves here on earth. It is as if there was at the summit of the soul a window towards Heaven, a window which depends on the liberty of the soul for the opening or closing of its panes and shutters. As long as the shutters are closed the light does not enter. But if by a free act of recourse to God the soul opens the window and its shutters, light springs in, and with it an avalanche of the gifts of Heaven which were pressing to enter.

I note, parenthetically, that if it is a question of man, who is a part both of the world of nature and of liberty, the exercise of his liberty having recourse to God through prayer concerns also his natural life itself. One can contrive to feed oneself and to feed one's family without praying to God, such is the case with a multitude of human beings, as of all the beasts of nature. But Jesus tells us to pray for our daily bread, our bread, that of all our brothers as well as our own; and if there were a greater number of men to make the fourth petition of the Our Father, and a greater number of Christians to make it better, there would be less famine on earth.

Finally in the third place, there is the extraordinary regime of intelligent creatures insofar as they are free agents: to receive without having asked. Extraordinary regime, not, certainly, on the side of God, who always gives first; but extraordinary regime on the side of created spirits, because it is according to the nature of things that created spirits ask Him whom they know to be the author of all good -- ask before receiving. And it is a good thing that it is there, this extraordinary regime, and that it produces its effects with great frequency! Then, through exceptions which can sometimes be miraculous, but the majority of the time they are only outside of the ordinary course of things -- through exceptions to the laws of the ordinary regime, the goods of which free agents have need are given to them without having been asked for, without the free agent having had recourse to the First Cause of all good. This is an extraordinary regime, because then the gifts of Heaven, instead of penetrating into the soul and into the world through the ordinary way, through that freely opened window of which I spoke, penetrate into them by burglary, so to speak, without the soul having opened of itself in asking God for what is good. The word "burglary" which I have just used is moreover only a paltry metaphor: there is no violence, because the causality of the Almighty never does violence to the creature. It would be more true to say that the force of Heaven is so strong that it penetrates through the walls of the soul with its gifts.

The soul receives then without having asked. This is the case for example with certain natural or supernatural inspirations, with prevenient graces, with a multitude of blessings which escape our consciousness or our attention and which are due sometimes to fortuitous meetings -- and above all with that sovereign work of God which is the "justification of the impious."

Let us add immediately that if the impious person, by the very fact that he is impious, has not turned towards God to ask to be cured, there are other souls who have prayed and suffered, and have perhaps been crucified, and have perhaps given their life for this. St. Theresa of Lisieux prayed for Pranzini. And there are all the prayers of the saints which God uses as He likes for the benefit of such or such individual. So that finally what I call the extraordinary regime -- unless one understands it of the goods given to a specific individual person without having been asked for by the latter -- reabsorbs itself for the most part (and even entirely if it is a question of the supernatural order and of salvation) in the ordinary regime which befits free agents as such, in this sense that the goods which they receive from God have been asked for if not by their own prayer, at least by the prayer of the saints and of the mystical Body in its entirety and above all by the prayer of Jesus and of Mary.

12. I would like to make still another remark: If all that I have just said is correct, one sees that what is the ordinary regime for material nature (to receive without having asked) is the extraordinary regime for free agents (for such and such a given free agent): and inversely, what is the ordinary regime for free agents as such (to receive after having asked and because one has asked) is for material nature an extraordinary regime, which is in play, for example, when an event of nature occurs by reason of the prayer of a free agent -- cure of a sick person, deliverance of a man escaping from his persecutors, end of a war, fall of a tyrant, successful harvesting of the fruits of the earth, etc., without forgetting the petition for daily bread.

What matters above all in this affair is to understand that prayer is not something good without doubt, recommendable and pious, but more or less optional; it is a necessity in the world such as God has made it. It is as necessary to pray as to sow in order to reap, or to employ any source of energy in order to make a machine work. Even in the things of nature according as they serve the human being, the humanity which does not pray will indeed be able to attain by its science and its technique to a formidable mastery of matter, but if it does not pray this will finally turn out badly for it; it will be enslaved by matter instead of employing it for its own liberation, and in fissuring the atom it will become the slave of dust. This is indeed why a great nuclear physicist whom I knew said to me one day that some lines of Baudelaire announced this whole pretty work of the atomic bomb and its true significance. I still see him going and getting Les Fleurs du Mal in his library, and showing me these lines from the poem entitled L'Imprévu:

Whereupon appears One they had all denied --
their gloating accuser: . . .
'Hear my laugh and welcome Satan home,
huge and ugly as the earth itself! . . .
Now you will learn just how much misery
loves company -- come down!
down with me through layers of mud and dust,
down through the rubble of your rotting graves

(It is this verse which had struck the physicist.)

into my palace carved from a single rock
without one soft spot in its heart,
made as it is of universal Sin:
it holds my pain, my glory and my pride!'

And now I would also like to read to you the end of the poem, first of all because there are, in my opinion, singularly beautiful lines here, next because they refer as it happens to the Church triumphant:

-- Meanwhile perched above the universe
an Angel trumpets the victory
of those whose hearts exclaim: 'O Lord, my God!
I bless Thy rod, I thank Thee for this pain!
My soul in Thy hands is more than a futile toy,
and Thy wisdom is infinite.'

That trumpet's sound is so magnificent
on solemn eves of Heavenly harvesting,
that like an ecstasy it gladdens those
whose praises it proclaims.{3}

Well, what is it that I was saying myself? That if one does not pray one will be able to gain empires and to gain much money, but that with regard to that which matters most to man one will not be able to bring anything to consummation. If one does not pray one will be able indeed to be a great painter and a great musician, but there will be something dead in this grandeur. If one does not pray one can be a great philosopher, but one will betray philosophy and will pass by the side of truth -- one can be a remarkably erudite and more or less daft expert in theology and in exegesis, one cannot be a great theologian or a great exegete. If one does not pray one cannot advance in the Christian life or receive all the good things, true fraternal charity, interior peace and interior joy, and the dunghill of Job and its vermin, through which one enters here on earth into eternal life.

To conclude, if I wished to sum up in a single phrase what I would have liked to be able to show in this "seminar," I would say that for a singularly greater part than we believe, the intentions of Heaven with regard to the earth and its goodness for us are frustrated or paralyzed by our neglect to pray, and especially to pray to the saints of the Church triumphant -- exemplary saints and unapparent saints -- and especially to pray for the intentions of these saints and for the purpose of the Church of Heaven.

{1} Dies illa, dies irae, calamitatis et miseriae, dies magna et amara valde: these words of the Libera, in the absolution, which begin in the same manner (in. verted) as the Dies irae, recall and accentuate further the somber grandeur of it.

{2} Lacrymosa dies illa: -- in the 18th verse of the Dies irae.

{3} From Les Fleurs du Mal by Charles Baudelaire, translated by Richard Howard Copyright 1982 by Richard Howard. Reprinted by permission of David R. Godine, Publisher, Boston.

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