“What you have come to is nothing known to the senses: not a blazing fire, or a gloom turning to total darkness, or a storm; or trumpeting thunder or the great voice speaking which made everyone that heard it beg that no more should be said to them. The whole scene was so terrible that Moses said: I am afraid, and was trembling with fright. But what you have come to is Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem where the millions of angels have gathered for the festival, with the whole Church in which everyone is a ‘first-born son’ and a citizen of heaven. You have come to God himself, the supreme Judge, and been placed with spirits of the saints who have been made perfect; and to Jesus, the mediator who brings a new covenant and a blood for purification which pleads more insistently than Abel’s. ” Hebrews 12:18-19,21-24
What does this reading from today’s Mass really mean? The author of Hebrews uses the present perfect tense which is used to explain a past event with present or current consequences. So the author of this Letter is telling us we have already come to a beautiful place in the company of millions of angels and saints and God Himself. We are explicitly told that we have “been placed” in Mount Zion with the entire Church in which every person is a first-born son and a citizen of heaven.
Is this just fanciful talk? Is it the ‘pie in the sky by and by’ hyperbole that anti-Christians have used to mock believers for 2,000 years? Or is it the truth? Is this passage in Hebrews intended to remind us of Colossians 1:13 which tells us that God has “delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” or John 5:24, in which Jesus tells us that “Anyone who believes in the one who sent me has eternal life; without being brought to judgement, that person has passed from death to life”? Are we being asked to believe and live the joy of heaven in this vale of tears?
Seven years after Paul VI published the encyclical Humanae Vitae, during the Holy Year of 1975, he delivered an Apostolic Exhortation entitled “The Joy of the Lord.” He begins by acknowledging the pain and sadness of the world that we see around us and then goes on to quote many passages of Scripture in order to help us to realize that the world that we see isn’t the only world, it’s just the most obvious. After showing us quite clearly how the Joy of Jesus was derived directly from his relationship of love with God the Father, Pope Paul tells us, “This joy of living in God’s love begins here below. It is the joy of the kingdom of God. But it is granted on a steep road which requires a total confidence in the Father and in the Son..”
If we are not to waste the abundant grace that is available to each of us during this Year of Faith, it is necessary to examine our hearts and ask ourselves if we really believe that we have “been transferred” from the Kingdom of Darkness into the Kingdom of Light. Do we experience the joy of the Lord that Paul VI speaks of so eloquently? Do we receive this word as Zechariah did or as Mary did when the Archangel Gabriel’s announcement came to each of them? Zechariah basically asked Gabriel to prove it and then he’d believe. Mary’s heart was open and prepared to receive so she didn’t ask for proof, she only asked for information.
Even in the midst of chaos into which our world is rapidly sinking—especially in that midst—Jesus is here to share his joy with us. He doesn’t ask us to wait until we die to experience it with him! But it’s our choice. We can insist that we will only believe what we see or we can, with Mary, acknowledge that most realities need to be believed to be seen.
About this Joy of Jesus, Benedict XVI has said at World Youth Day XX : “The happiness you have a right to enjoy has a name and a face: Jesus of Nazareth, hidden in the Eucharist.”