Reflection: What Are the "Many Mansions" All About
by Father Don Thomas
In the fourteenth chapter of John's gospel, Jesus Christ is found encouraging his disciples not to have troubled hearts, but rather to have faith in God and faith in him. He goes on to say that in His Father's house there are many mansions, many dwelling places and that is why he was going to go and prepare a place for them. Millions of people have shown interest in this concept of many dwelling places and the text has provoked many interesting questions about happiness in the kingdom. Theologically, when it has been taught dogmatically that in heaven there is perfect happiness, what is it that prompts some to think and suggest that in heaven there are varying degrees of happiness just as in hell there would be varying degrees of punishment for those who would knowingly and deliberately separate themselves from God through unforgiven serious sin. It is this specific reference to "many dwelling places" in John's 14th chapter that provides us with the answer to this excellent question. What did Jesus have in mind when he said this? Let us check it out.
In no way do I intend to exclude other interpretations, but the one given to us in our theological studies still satisfies my intellectual and spiritual curiosity better than any other that I have heard in the past fifty years. I still believe that anyone who gets to heaven will be perfectly happy, but helping to convince me that varying degrees of happiness makes an awful lot of sense is the illustration that has been around for many, many years. It is by demonstrating the difference between the glass, the pail and the barrel all filled right to the brim with water.
While one could correctly say that all three are perfectly full, and no one would question that, but would one be foolish enough to say that they are perfectly the same and equal? Why are they different? The difference lies in the fact that the pail has a greater capacity for holding water than the glass, and the barrel has a still greater capacity than the pail. It is definitely the capacity that accounts for the difference. Acknowledging that every soul that God creates has a capacity for loving him, sacred scripture, along with historical witnesses over the centuries provides proof that some people love God more than others, even to the point of martyrdom. It is good and solid teaching that if a sinner, on his or her deathbed, is converted and expresses sorrow for sin, that soul would be saved and eventually enjoy eternal happiness.
Common sense alone would convince us that people like martyrs and people like Mother Teresa, and others—who loved God all their lives—these should and would be deserving of a greater reward and share in eternal life and happiness. Scripture confirms this truth. Many fulfill their capacity for loving God to a greater degree than others. Free will is what enables us to decide whether we want to be a glass, a pail or a barrel. Taking advantage of actual graces and sharing frequently in sanctifying grace accounts for the difference. Another way of putting it is to love one's God and one's neighbor day in and day out, thus keeping the commandment that Christ called the greatest.
If fulfilling the soul's capacity for loving God is so important, does it not become easy to see that there is a difference between receiving holy communion once a year to make one's Easter Duty and receiving communion every Sunday when attending weekly mass. There is a difference between going to confession once a year and once a month, sharing in God's grace more or less frequently and abundantly.
By praying, almsgiving, fasting, reading the scriptures, helping the poor and needy and exercising the corporal and spiritual works of mercy on a regular basis these are ways in which we fulfill our capacity for loving God. Please note that those who do the least, who do the minimum are not necessarily guilty of any sin at all, but the failure to take advantage of such actual graces and sanctifying grace does account for the varying degrees of happiness in the kingdom that Christ has prepared for all who love him.
Isn't it strange that people can go to sporting events day after day or week after week and they are called "fans". On the other hand, people who go to church as Catholics or non-Catholics with any degree of regularity are called "fan-atics". What a distortion! The day will come for all of us when the truth will be evident and justice will be served. We will find out once and for all that there is a difference between killing one person and killing a hundred people, accounting for varying degrees of punishment, and there is a difference between serving God once in a while or serving him consistently, accounting for varying degrees of reward.Indeed, there are many mansions or dwelling places in the kingdom of God. We have Christ's word for it, and that is a fantastic deal. If you can think of a better one, go for it!!!.
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