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Returning to Union

Tuesday, December 19, 2017


Returning to Union
Tuesday, December 19, 2017

A familiar—and apparently true—story of a newborn baby’s homecoming illustrates the implanted memory of union or heaven. A newborn’s precocious four-year old sibling tells her parents, “I want to talk to my new little brother alone.” The parents put their ears to the nursery door and hear the little girl saying to her baby brother, “Quick, tell me who made you. Tell me where you came from. I’m beginning to forget!”

The baby represents the “little ones” Jesus praises, the innocent children and mystics who know their belovedness and union with God. The four-year-old represents most of us, caught in between knowing and forgetting and wanting to know again! In the complexity of life’s journey, we all begin to forget. It grows harder and harder to remember our original identity in God. Many of us experience a crisis of meaning and hope that keeps us scrambling for external power, perks, and possessions, trying to fill the void.

I am saddened that much of Christian history has had so little inner experience to trust that divine union could really be true for us—already and now. Once we know there is an original implanted and positive direction to our existence, we can trust the primary flow (faith); eventually we will learn to calmly rest there (hope); and we can actually become a conduit (love). Finally, we are at home both here and forever. What else could salvation be? Remember, “There are only three things that last: faith, hope, and love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).

Going to heaven is not the goal of religion. Salvation isn’t an evacuation plan or a reward for the next world. Whenever we live in conscious, loving union with God, which is eventually to love everything, we are saved. This can and should happen now in this world. Social justice advocate Dorothy Day (1897-1980) credited Catherine of Siena’s inspiration for her often-shared words: “All the way to Heaven is heaven, because He said, ‘I am the Way.’” [1] Even Pope John Paul II said that heaven and hell are not geographic places but states of consciousness. [2] When we understand this, we will spend our lives trying to bring about the Lord’s Prayer: Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

In a sense, the Christ is always too much for us. He’s always “going ahead of us into Galilee” (Matthew 28:7). The Risen Christ is leading us into a future for which we’re never fully ready. How can we even imagine divine union? It is too big a concept for most of us. “These are the things that no eye has seen and no ear has heard, things beyond the mind of humanity—what God has prepared for those who love” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

Gateway to Silence:
Going home to Love

[1] Dorothy Day, letter to Charles Butterworth, June 10, 1959. See All the Way to Heaven: The Selected Letters of Dorothy Day, ed. Robert Ellsberg (Marquette University Press: 2010), 254.
[2] Pope John Paul II, General Audiences on July 21, 1999 (heaven) and July 28, 1999 (hell). The Vatican offers access to a wide collection of papal addresses and documents at

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Art of Letting Go: Living the Wisdom of St. Francis, disc 3 (Sounds True: 2010), CD;
Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self (Jossey-Bass: 2013), 90; and
Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality (Franciscan Media: 2007), 208-209, 213-214.

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