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Where is heaven?

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Q. I am 91 years old and I am wondering just where heaven is. I have heard priests say that it is here on earth, the same as hell and purgatory. But when I pray the Apostles' Creed I say, "He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty."

We all want to go to heaven and see Jesus, but I would like to have some idea of where it is. Can you help me? (Altoona, Pa.)

A. In addition to the words to which you refer in the Apostles' Creed, there are multiple scriptural quotations that might lead one to believe that heaven is "up." In the account of Christ's ascension, for example, the angels say to the apostles: "Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way" (Acts 1:11).

In the Gospel of John, Christ tells Nicodemus; "No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man" (Jn 3:13). And Psalm 14 says, "The Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of men" (Ps 14:2). 

The reality, though, is that God does not occupy some remote geographic corner of the physical universe, and no MapQuest search can determine exactly where heaven is. The difficulty comes in trying to express transcendent ideas in human language; time and space are finite concepts, and God is not limited by them. 

Far better to be guided by the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which tells us that the expression "who art in heaven" in the Lord's Prayer "does not mean a place ('space'), but a way of being; it does not mean that God is distant, but majestic. Our Father is not 'elsewhere': He transcends everything we can conceive of" (no. 2794). Or, as St. John Paul II said in a Wednesday audience on July 21, 1999, heaven is "neither an abstraction nor a physical place in the clouds, but a living, personal relationship with the Holy Trinity." 

After death we will experience fully that unity with the divine, to our everlasting and perfect joy. Just how that will happen, what it will look and feel like, is not yet ours to know. But, as Billy Graham once said, "The only GPS that can give you flawless direction is the 'Gospel plan of salvation.’ ”

Fr. Doyle is a priest of the Diocese of Albany, N.Y. 

Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at askfatherdoyle@gmail.com and 30 Columbia Circle Dr. Albany, New York 12203.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016