ASK FATHER: Will happiness in heaven be incomplete if our loved ones aren’t there too?

From a reader…


I always hear that when we die and go to heaven we will see our loved ones again. That we will be together again. But how can that be? How can It be if someone you love doesn’t love you the same? If someone gets married, falls in love and then their spouse dies and they remarry then what happens? They can’t all reunite. It makes me sad to think That I will not reunite with my mom, et al.

It is a pious, hope-filled thought, isn’t it?  Such a proposition softens the reality that a) not all get to heaven and that b) passing through that door of death is scary.  It is a warming comfort for us when we consider what Augustine called “our daily winter”… the chilling fear of death.

Our happiness in heaven will reside in our purified love of God and the Beatific Vision.  We will know that all is exactly as it ought to be according to God’s will.  In that state we will lack nothing which we need to be happy.  That means that we will be also perfectly content with the eternal fate of those whom we loved in life but who didn’t make it.   We will be content because where they are is where they ought to be.

Our happiness will not be decreased by the lack of a certain person.  However, it will be increased, as will everyone’s, by the presence of that person, sharing in glorifying God.

God doesn’t need for us creatures to glorify Him, and yet the increase in love, joy and His ultimate glorification by free creatures in His image and likeness is the final end of creation.

When the Enemy manages to get a soul away from God and that soul winds up irrevocably in Hell, he can crow, “That’s one more You can’t have!”   God’s glory isn’t diminished by such a loss, but our collective giving of glory to God is that much less bright.

This should be a stimulus to us in this life to do what we can to get our loved ones to heaven!

You spouses… you must love God more than each other, so that you can love each other properly.   Your main job in life is to help your spouse to heaven.  Your responsibility to your children is to given them the formation they need to increase maximally the probability that they will choose to live a holy life of faith.  You have friends and others in your life whom you influence.

Some say “Don’t proselytize!”

Uh huh.  Everyone has a part to play in The Great Commission.

Remember that people in this life are attracted more to joy than to gloom, solid well reasoned answers than vague and uncertain.

And never underestimate the power of an invitation.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. prayfatima says:

    I have such a longing to get to Heaven and I want to be a great saint. On the diagram above, just get me straight up there, don’t mess around, God! Just take me there at my dying breath!
    Actually just today I thought, I want to be a doctor of the church. For what? I do not know. I just want to do something very great. I want to be right up there, close to Mary and Joseph. Probably closer to Joseph, Mary will not mind. Isn’t it exciting to think that we can surpass even some of the greatest Saints in our holiness? They might be jealous of us, because we can all surpass them!! Why settle, just go for the gold! Desire God and Heaven because they both want you!! It’s an exciting time to be alive, my friends. Love what you imagine Heaven to be and then just say: I have got to get there, God!! Don’t mess around, don’t forget about me!

  2. White Pine says:

    Prayfatima, I’m not going to say that I’ve never had a thought that’s been remotely similar, but I’m pretty sure it’s a sin. We don’t have to be a doctor of the church to fulfill our vocation, and even if we do become one, you won’t be better than the least saint that nobody has ever heard of. It’s (at least in my case ) extremely prideful to wish for that kind of recognition on earth. As if any saint would be jealous of someone joining their ranks! Remember the litany of humility : “That others may be holier than I, provided that I be as holy as I should, Jesus grant me the grace to desire it”.

    I say this as someone who struggles with pride issues myself.

  3. Not says:

    Thank you Father Z,
    My wife and I have lost children both infant and grown, parents and loved ones. Our good Priests recommended prayers and novenas so our loved ones don’t die without Last Rites and Apostolic Blessings. I baptized our infant daughter the day she was born. That is the only one of my loved one’s I know without a doubt is in heaven. As for the others, we have to believe in our prayers.

  4. Herman Joseph says:

    White Pine,

    PrayFatima didn’t say anything about recognition on earth, and only expressed a desire to be a great saint, as great as possible, and to love St Joseph with a wonderful love. Many Saints expressed some incredible desires…St Therese wanted to be a great Saint, St Teresa of Avila wanted to love Mary more than anyone after Jesus, and St. Vincent Pallotti wanted to love her as much as God Himself!…doesn’t mean that’s going to happen, which he would know, but it’s not wrong to have great longings like that, as expressed by PrayFatima.

  5. APX says:

    Everyone has a part to play in The Great Commission.

    Yes, and it’s frustrating when our priest tells us that it’s a sin and bad for our souls to associate and spend time with people who aren’t striving after holiness and that we should only spend time with good solid Catholics.

    I get it that we have to have good strong holy friendships, but we’re called to become leaven. I wish someone would teach us how to do that in this day and age.

  6. Simon_GNR says:

    The question at the start of this post reminds me of the discussions my non-Catholic brothers and I had about the inscription for our parents’ gravestone about a year ago. My father died two and a half years before my mother and their bodies are buried in the same grave. When it was suggested the inscription might include “Re-united” I objected, saying there was no way we could know that they were both in the same place. One of them might have gone “upstairs” and the other “downstairs”, or one or both of them might still be in the “waiting room”, but we couldn’t know whether or not they were reunited or whether they ever would be. “Reunited” was NOT put on the inscription.

  7. Imrahil says:

    I think the question was asked with the idea in mind that some people „don‘t make it“, put too little effort in their moral life, start the race but don‘t cross the finishing line until after the time-taking is closed, etc., and those go to Hell.

    That is mistaken; the people who go to Hell are those who have consciously chosen to be evil people, villains, and stuck to their decision. It‘s quite possible that they present an outwardly nice face, of course, but the point is outwardly. Inwardly they are evil by their own choice; and if they aren‘t or repent, they don‘t go to Hell. Those who really are fixes on being evil, though, we will actually want them to burn.

    The slackers do deserve their punishment, of course, and perhaps long one, because the sins we commit really are sins. That‘s what Purgatory is there for. „Mary, thou art in the realm of eternal peace; and how ever long it may take thy Florian to join thee, for thee it will seem but a little while“, as St. Peter explains to Mary Danzl in the play „Brandner Kaspar“.

    Of course, to Protestants who don‘t believe in Purgatory and can‘t get round the fact that there must be punishment for sinners, the situation looks more dire. But we don‘t have that problem.

  8. Sandy says:

    This is a serious undertaking that you point out, Father. I have told the Lord in my daily prayer time that the role He has given me at this time. is to pray for my husband, children, and grandchildren, to do my best to help them get to Heaven. I ask St. Joseph every day, among other things, to bring each of us a priest at the hour of death to give us the Apostolic Pardon and absolution, even if it’s a priest from Heaven. “Nothing is impossible with God.”

  9. Elizabeth D says:

    St Therese of Lisieux talks about all the things she wishes could could be, a martyr, doctor, priest, missionary etc. They buried her with a martyr’s palm, made her a doctor of the Church, literally I have seen priests celebrate Mass with a chasuble with Therese’s face on the front and she is the patroness of missions. So, never say never. It would be great if we did all deserve to be Doctors of the Church. That wouldn’t be bad.

  10. Kent Wendler says:

    First, I do not like to think of Purgatory as “punishment”, per se, but as our merciful Lord’s spiritual hospital where our sin-caused spiritual wounds and sicknesses are healed so that we will be perfected and ready for Life Everlasting. This will be painful indeed – like debridement of burned flesh. Those who die with lighter burdens of sin will suffer less.

    Second, St. Faustina Kowalska relates in her Diary (no. 1486) how our Lord, in His Mercy tries three times to get a dying (not yet dead) reprobate, with increasing deluges of divine grace, to accept mercy. If finally refused, then as said above they are making that choice, either while dying or in life, that this final separation from God is their own free choice – and this consists of the only unforgivable sin, Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

  11. chantgirl says:

    This is a difficult area for me to understand. In heaven our love is perfect, so it would seem that we would be perfectly horrified and sad that anyone hadn’t made it to heaven to love God for all eternity. Most apparitions of Mary include her weeping over sinners, especially those going to hell. Mary is in heaven, and yet she still seems to be capable of grief when she visits us. Her statues shed tears and blood.

    Christ, during His life on earth, had perfect love and perfect communion with the Father and Spirit, and yet He wept over Jerusalem, at the grave of Lazarus, and shed bitter tears in the garden for those sinners who would not repent and take advantage of His gift of redemption. In His apparitions to various saints He has wept and shown himself wounded for love of sinners.

    Both Jesus and Mary appear to be able to suffer when they visit earth.

    It is difficult to understand how perfect happiness in heaven can coexist with perfect charity, if we know loved ones who do not make it to heaven. In fact, if we have better knowledge of God, and perfect love for our neighbor, it would seem to be the worst of pains to know that some of our loved ones will never know the beatific vision. Perhaps if God wipes away the memories of our loved ones who don’t make it, then it seems more possible.

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  13. Imrahil says:

    Perhaps if God wipes away the memories of our loved ones who don’t make it, then it seems more possible.

    Which He won’t.

    I daresay we’ll have more important things to do and not think about the poor damned souls all to often; but still, we won’t forget the people.

    On Earth, forgetting may be a blessing, though even here with an “at least until the time comes to think of it” attached. In Heaven, truth will set us free without even temporary exceptions. On Earth, it is fun to inebriate oneself, though even here not to forget worries altogether, but to put them into perspective. In Heaven, there will not be a contradiciton between being sober and being besotted, and we will be both. (Besotted with God’s vision, of course.)

    And as for the damned souls, the blessed will rejoice in their punishment, as St. Thomas teaches (Sth. Supp. 94 III), and it is easy to see why this should be so, considering the damned have made themselves evil. I am aware a lot of people – especially if atmospherically influenced by Protestants who do not believe in Purgatory – suppose that Hell is full of people who were genuinely nice and just not good enough, slacked too much, etc., which would make us, of course, very realistically fear for both our loved ones and of course those whose shortcomings we know best, that is ourselves. But the whole idea is off the mark; those are Purgatory cases. God, after all, does not need to fill Hell with people and rejoices more in the application of the Salvation that Christ earned than in the “plan B”, as it were, of at least rejoicing in His justice (which is, let’s remember, also honored if people are saved, because the Precious Blood makes up for their sins). There are those who go to Hell, but because they leave God no other choice. Hence my problem with the language of “making it”.

    So, if we do see one who on Earth has been among our loved ones because we loved either what he once was or what face he feigned, and if we find out that inwardly he was or became an evil man, then (this is not the teaching of St. Thomas, but my own musing) we might possibly rejoice in his punishment more than with someone we don’t know. After all, this would be one who deceived us into thinking him good or who deserted the flag we once both faught under together.

  14. maternalView says:

    It seems to me that because God promises justice then those in heaven will have a sense of satisfaction that God fulfilled that promise….

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