Wednesday, September 4, 2013
"They Can Laugh"
a "guest" homily by Peter Kreeft
Homily for SFH, September 1, 2013:
Welcome back to school! You are back, others are still coming, and so it seemed right to read you a story, to have an old-school story time. This story comes from the theologian and poet, Peter Kreeft. It's a short story, called Heaven's Dog.
This is a story that echoes images from our readings. It's a story about food and banquets and finding your place. It is a story about love and those things for which your heart desires. It is a story about God's Kingdom. Here it is:
I had a dream.
I died, and approached the great judgment seat. I knew I would be judged by Omniscience, and therefore I could not quarrel with the judgment.
The first thing that was revealed to me from the Omniscience, by a kind of instant and unquestionable telepathy, was that God knew exactly what was in my unconscious mind as well as my conscious mind. He knew me better than I knew myself. I was not surprised at this. But then he revealed to me one of the things that had been in my unconscious mind, and this surprised me. Yet once I saw it, I knew it was true. Omniscience does not lie.
What I saw was my own unconscious expectations for this day of judgment. I had expected to go to heaven, to be saved, since I believed in the Savior. But I had also expected to be assigned a sort of middle position in heaven, neither high among the saints nor low among the rabble who jut barely, surprisingly sneaked in by the skin of their teeth. I had not consciously realized before that this had been my unconscious expectation, but once the Omniscience revealed it to me, I recognized it as indeed what I had expected.
Then came the judgment. The first part was no surprise: I was to granted entrance to heaven. All right. But the second part was quite a shock. I was the very lowest soul in heaven. I was the rabble. I had gotten in by the skinniest skin of my teeth.
This truth was put to me in an image. I do not know whether I was supposed to interpret the image literally or not, but it seemed literally real. I saw a great banquet hall, and saints small and great feasting at long tables, like a great medieval king's celebration. Where was my place, I wondered? Then I saw a mangy, skinny, gray, ugly, flea-bitten dog under the table, gobbling up scrams and bones thrown to him. The dog was also constantly kicked, playfully and thoughtlessly, by the high-spirited banqueters. It had to keep dodging out of the way, and was often unsuccessful, so that its body was full of bruises. For some reason, I was more fascinated by the dog than by the banqueters. Soon I understood why. That was me. If I accepted my proper place in heaven, it would be as the dog.
The vision of the banquet faded, and I realized I was now being offered an alternative. If I chose, I could be, instead of a dog at heaven's table, a prime minister in hell. I saw myself in the councils of hell, dressed in gold robes, admired by all, hell's greatest theologian, prophet, and guru - even hell's greatest saint! All other humans there were looking up to me. And as prime minister I would be in a position to sit in on hell's high (or low) councils and influence their decisions. I could soften or mitigate their evil work on earth. I could be heaven's spy in hell. It seemed I could do far more good in hell than in heaven, where I could only gobble up scraps and kicks from my superiors.
Hell, like heaven, seemed quite real, quite earthly, even physical. I saw no torture chambers, no fire and brimstone, only honors and influence. I would have a fine time in hell and a terrible time in heaven. I had to choose between being first in hell or last in heaven.
Then I remembered the verse from the Psalms: "I would rather be a doorkeeper in the House of God than to dwell in the tents of wickedness."
I also remembered a sermon by Augustine on "The Pure Love of God." He says in it something like this. To test whether you have the pure love of God, whether you obey God's first commandment, to love him above all else, imagine God himself approaching you and offering you everything in the world, everything you want. Nothing will be impossible for you, and nothing forbidden. Nothing is a sin, and nothing is punished. Whatever you imagine, you can have. There's only one catch - concluded God - you shall never, never see my face.
Augustine asks: Would you take that deal? If not, look what you've done. You've given up the whole world, and much more - all conceivable worlds - just for God. That is the pure (true) love of God.
I then knew why I had to choose to be last in heaven rather than first in hell, or earth, or even any paradise except heaven. I knew that to see his face, even as a mangy dog, is infinitely better than to rule all worlds and have all other goods.
I cried to God, "Let me be a dog; let me eat scraps; only let them by from your table!" And he smiled and opened heaven's gate to me.
I expected to be turned into a dog and be kicked. Instead, shining men and women crowded around me with congratulations. I asked them, "Wasn't I supposed to become a dog?" "Oh, yes," they said. "That's what you are. Right now. Just like us. You see, each of us was offered exactly the same choice as you: last in heaven or first in hell. And each of us chose what you chose. That's why we're here. Everyone gets what they choose. Each of us here is last, lowest, humblest. The Savior is the humblest of all. And each in hell is the highest, proudest, firs test. They're all prime ministers there."
I woke up, and the first thing that came to my mind was that "dog" is "God" spelled backwards. I thought that was God's little joke on us. Each of us is sort of God backwards, God imaged, God shadowed and reflected, infinity finitized. The thought of being a dog was not so shocking to me as the thought of sharing God's own life; for the difference between myself and a dog is nothing compared with the difference between myself and God!
If we are humble enough to accept who we are - God's dog, God's pets - we will be given table scraps from God's own table, God's own life. If we stand on our dignity and demand our rights, I fear that is exactly what we will get. Everyone in hell gets justice. Everyone in heaven gets bones and scraps of God, and even, perhaps, a high-spirited kick now and then. They can take that in heaven, because they can laugh at themselves there.
Posted by Jonathan at 9:53 PM