Thinking About Heaven
Interview With Father Z. Kijas, Author and Dean
ROME, SEPT. 3, 2006 (www.ZENIT.org).- The dean of the Theological Faculty of St. Bonaventure has written a book on heaven, inviting readers to have a fresh vision of a central mystery of the faith.
Polish Father Zdzislaw Kijas, dean of the Seraphicum, wrote "Il Cielo, Luogo del Desiderio di Dio" (Heaven the Place of the Desire for God), published by Città Nuova and now available in Italian bookstores.
ZENIT spoke with Father Kijas, a Franciscan Conventual -- who has been professor of systematic and ecumenical theology at Krakow's Pontifical Academy of Theology -- to understand how heaven appears today to the eyes of the believer.
Q: Let's begin with the central question: What is heaven?
Father Kijas: First of all, as seen with the eyes of faith, heaven exists as union with God, a union that must be seen from the point of view of the sacred texts, specifically, with the help of the Old and New Testament.
However, heaven is something more profound than this union. Its characteristics can be deduced from the biblical data and also from our experience, from the special moments of life, when we experience tranquility, serenity, [and] absence of evil desires and fear.
Heaven is not a material or geographic place, it is more than a state of spirit, it is our interiority, our spirit which is at peace with itself; it is to experience authentic peace, to live the joy of the richness of life with peace of heart.
Q: Are you saying that every one has his heaven?
Father Kijas: Every man has his personal heaven because he is like a microcosm; he has been created in the image and likeness of God. Jesus died and resurrected for each man; each man has his own richness, his own desires.
Believers should tend to personal enrichment, in the search to fulfill their own lives, plans which are essential in the life of each one, of each couple, of the consecrated and of communities.
Basing oneself on the biblical data and on one's own vocation, on the universal call to holiness, with the help of God and of his grace, each one is called to this optimum state of his life, to a more perfect, personal union with God.
Here is heaven itself: the holiness of God personalized, embodied in one's life. A personal union that leads to full development of the likeness with him.
Every age has its challenges, its appeals. Art, music and literature as expressions of one's state of life; they reflect in visible and figurative language one's state of spirit and the characteristics of one's union with God. So the way of expressing oneself, of making art, becomes a mirror of the relationship between the artist and God.
Q: How can one respond to this "desire" for heaven?
Father Kijas: In my book I speak of responding to the desire for heaven, of reviving it -- not by limiting oneself to look for heaven on earth in relationships we experience in the world even if they are fundamental.
These relationships are important, as it is important to make an effort to read the seeds of the paradisiacal state now here in this life. But what counts is to understand that here on earth there are only pale reflections of those to which we are really called.
The strength to change the everyday, the courage to face problems, the desire to live more profoundly our human vocation, our work, human relationships, does not come only from the freshness of the desire of union with God which for us, believers, is heaven.
Herein lies daily creativity in relation to paradise. Without being separated from the earthly reality, efforts must be made to change everything with the force of the desire for heaven, to shape our daily reality in view of paradise, transforming the earth with the desire for heaven.
Q: What is your idea of heaven?
Father Kijas: Heaven is not something static; even our own imagination does not understand it as something static. It is a continuous happening, a growth that advances with our call, our desires, our deficiencies themselves.
The idea I have, common to many, is that of a reciprocity made up of dialogue, a never feeling well alone but in dialogue, a reflection of the life of the Trinity, a communion of people who love one another and give themselves abundantly.
This is the paradisiacal state, never to possess, but to be open to the other's need, to his good -- a response of love to someone else's request for love.
Heaven and paradise are as synonyms, a being well together, a consequence of being well with God, convinced that he alone makes us be well in community. Heaven is communion of friends, never a boring reality, a richness enriched by others. The Church invites us to open to this dialogue that gives a foretaste on earth of the taste of the joy of heaven.