Only in heaven!

April 14, 2006

“Bishop,” said the policeman, “we found this thief fleeing town with your valuables. The scoundrel claims that you gave them to him!” The bishop did indeed recognize the man held before him by the police. It was a homeless man who he had met and invited into his house the night before. He had treated the man as he would have treated Christ himself, giving him the best food of his table and a bed for the night. That morning, though, he found that the man had run off in the middle of the night with all of the house’s silver. The bishop had every right to be furious, every right to gratefully take back his property and let the man be taken off to prison … but instead he went along with the thief’s story and even gave him two silver candlesticks that were left behind! Sending the police away, the bishop told the stunned Jean Valjean, “Today I have bought your soul for God. Use this silver to become an honest man.”

This is one of my favorite scenes from the novel “Les Miserables.” It is so moving to think about how much that one act of kindness completely transformed the thief’s life. Valjean became a changed man. He used the silver to create a new and respectable life for himself, a life in which he helped hundreds of families, orphans, and complete strangers. But during his lifetime the bishop would never learn any of this… for all he knew, the stranger had gone off and wasted all the money on booze and immorality! And yet, what joy would await the bishop in heaven, where all of this would be revealed to him! What happiness when he sees how his one good deed changed the course of history!

“Andrew,” my spiritual director would often remind me, “one of the greatest joys in heaven will be to see the hidden fruit of all of our work here on earth.” This is so true! It is easy to be discouraged, when so often in our lives the effects of our toil and sacrifices for the Lord remain hidden to us. We can wonder whether we’re making a difference at all, whether it’s all worth it. But at the final judgment at the end of time, the fruit of all of our actions will be made clear. Heaven will be like a huge and joyous family reunion! We will meet many of those people
whom we have helped during our lives here on earth… and it’s a safe bet that we will be amazed and overjoyed by what they have to say to us!

A well-known and holy priest might come up to you and say, “I became a priest because of you, because of the words of encouragement you always gave me.” A mother that you have never met might embrace you and tell you, “I kept my little baby because I saw your ‘Choose Life’ bumper sticker on the way to the abortion clinic!” A man from the other side of the world might remind you of a time that you woke up in the middle of the night and began to pray a rosary for whomever most needed your prayers: “It was your intercession at that exact moment that helped me to accept God on my deathbed… I wouldn’t be in heaven with you right now if it weren’t for your prayers that night!”

None of this would be possible were it not for the greatest act of love of all, Christ’s suffering and death on the Cross, which we celebrate today on Good Friday. His sacrifice was the hidden victory that bore fruit for all eternity, and we have the honor as his disciples to help spread that victory across the world. If we say “yes” to the opportunities that he gives us to follow him in our daily lives, on reaching heaven we will rejoice to find that Jesus used these acts of love to accomplish amazing things!

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