The Catechism of the Catholic Church, commenting on the "Our Father," explains that the phrase, "Who art in heaven," does not "refer to a place but to God's majesty and his presence in the hearts of the just. Heaven, the Father's house, is the true homeland toward which we are heading and to which, already, we belong" (No. 2802). Elsewhere, the Catechism states that heaven, first and foremost, is the "perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity — this communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed ..." It fulfills our deepest needs and desires, for it is "the state of supreme, definitive happiness" (No. 1024).
As Christians, we tend to take the existence of heaven for granted. But belief in heaven was not held by all Jews during the time of Christ. In fact, although the notion of otherworldly reward dates back to the seventh century B.C., Jewish beliefs about the existence of heaven did not begin to appear regularly and formulate clearly until the middle of the third century B.C.
The reading from 2 Maccabees describes a dramatic martyrdom that took place in the late second century B.C. This particular event transpired after the Temple had been desecrated, the Law had been abolished, and one of the great scribes, Eleazar, had been brutally tortured by the Greek conquerors from the Seleucid Empire. The martyrdom of the mother and her seven sons is a powerful depiction of faith in God and the reality of life after death. One son, as he died, declared that "the King of the world will raise us up to live again forever," while another said, "It is my choice to die at the hands of men with the hope God gives of being raised up by him; but for you, there will be no resurrection to life."
Jennifer Rey is the web editor of Our Sunday Visitor Publishing.
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