Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Third Heaven

At the Winter Solstice, there are cultists who would turn the celebration of Christmas into some sort of light worship, replacing the Son with the Sun

That myopia venerates only what can be seen. In ancient cosmology, the "first heaven" was the easily visible part of the universe, and the "second heaven" was the stellar complex beyond that. But St. Paul said: "I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven – whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into Paradise – whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows – and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter" (2 Corinthians 12:2-4).
It is likely that he was speaking of the third heaven in the third person about himself. He encountered directly the "glory" that God allowed Moses to approach by indirection: "When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen" (Exodus 33:22-23). Peter, James and John bowed before this radiance at the Transfiguration, and the crowd saw it at the Ascension when they "returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the Temple praising God" (Luke 24:52-53).

A reflection of that joy was on the face of the Lady who appeared at Lourdes. In 1863 the sculptor Joseph-Hugues Fabisch interviewed St. Bernadette and made his famous statue from her description, but the saint was deeply saddened by how poorly it matched what she had seen. Our Lord guides us cautiously to glory so that we might not become blinded or made speechless by it. With splendid subtlety, the stars on the robe of Our Lady of Guadalupe are exactly as the constellation was in the Mexican sky when the image appeared on the tilma of St. Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin on December 12, 1531. Those stars show the lesser heavens, but are hints of the "third heaven" from which the Light of the World came to shine in our darkness first as a baby and then as a man.

At His birth "the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy" (Job 38:7). The night before His death, Christ "looked toward heaven" and prayed: "Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you" (John 17:1). Until then, the heavenly song had been hushed, for as Chesterton wrote: "There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth."

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