The whole point of trying to become a saint is to go straight to Heaven, right? Skip Purgatory and see God face-to-face. That’s what is called the “beatific vision,” a word I see coming up as the purpose of trying to live a life of holiness. To confirm my deduction, I looked up the term in the Catholic Encyclopedia here and found its mention in the Catechism here.
I pray that I’m not causing scandal in others by asking this question: What’s so cool about the beatific vision? I had been tackling this question for a while since I’ve accepted the universal call to holiness. It didn’t make sense at first because I thought that in the person of Christ I was seeing God. God the Father is abstract, but God the Son is visible. Wasn’t looking at Christ on the Crucifix seeing God face-to-face?
The question went on the back-burner for a while as I pursued other avenues of the faith. Now, that I’m back exploring the interior life and Catholic spirituality, I am seeing this term again. Beatific vision. Intellectually, I get that “seeing God face-to-face” should be awesome. Yes, but what does that mean? I get it up here (tapping head), but what does it mean here (pounding stomach)?
Praise the Holy Spirit for the gift of understanding (#2 of the Seven Gifts)! One day, as I looked at Hana smiling back at me, I got the intuitive feeling of what it meant to have the beatific vision. In her cute little mind, my face, my body… my person is, for her, a source of joy, happiness, mercy, comfort, and unconditional love. My wife, her mother, is all that and more for Hana. So, when the two of us walk into the home after a date, and Hana is squealing and simultaneously kicking both her chubby legs, it is as if she is besides herself with ecstasy. Is my baby having a transcendental, mystical experience? I don’t know, but I know she is REALLY happy to see both of us in person. A photo of us won’t cause the same reaction. It has to be either mommy or daddy in person. Better, both.
So, I imagine her sudden burst of joy in seeing my face, multiply that by infinity and that’s the happiness I’d feel when I see my Heavenly Father face-to-face. Beatific vision. Gut-feeling.
A moment of contemplation made me consider that, in that encounter, I would also see every single person who has ever brought me joy and happiness, but I would see how that person was really an emissary of God. I would learn how every event that gave me happiness was the result of a chain of people who made that possible. I would meet these people and learn that they, too, were emissaries of God. I would meet all the saints who prayed for me. And then I would see God.
It’s kind of like one of those romantic movies where there is an elaborate proposal. The girl coincidentally runs into all her good friends and then all of his best friends, one after another. Each one tells her something nice about the man who is going to propose to her and then gives her successive clues to where she can find the man who has been after her heart all these years. She finally sees him and they marry. The thought of spending the rest of her life with this perfect man has her heart overflowing with joy.
In the beatific vision, I would be like that girl. I would finally see God. He’s the one who has been after my heart all these years. I would spend my eternal life with Him. And the party would be for an eternity. And there are no limits to how many guests can come. The food and wine, of course, would be endless. I know that there is more to Heaven than endless food and drink (cf. Rom 14:17-19); this would be more like a welcome party followed by the hallowed work of saving as many souls as possible before the Last Judgment. Still, I’ll have some time with my One True Love before that holy task. I would turn to God and say, “It was you. It has always been you. Thank you. I love you!”