Session 20: Mary and the Hope of Heaven

Resources for participants

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

20A

  • If someone invented a pill that meant you would never die, would you take it?
  • How do you think we deal with death in our society today? What customs or traditions do you associate with dying and death in your culture?
  • What difference does it make to know that we face God’s judgment after death? That we have the hope of eternal life?
  • What other ideas or questions strike you from this part of the film?

20B

  • Can you think or some well-known saints? What are they famous for?
  • Who is your personal favourite saint and why? What is your experience of getting to know the saints and praying to them?
  • What do you think of the idea that God is calling you to be a saint? What can you do about it?!
  • What other ideas or questions strike you from this part of the film?

20C

  • If you think about heaven, how do you imagine it to be?
  • What does the Virgin Mary mean to you personally? How do you relate to her? What has helped you get to know her? What questions do you have about devotion to Mary?
  • What practical things could help you grow in your Christian faith at this stage in your life? What resolutions or steps could you take?
  • What other ideas or questions strike you from this part of the film?

 

READINGS FROM THE YOUCAT FOR THIS SESSION

If you are using the YouCat with your Sycamore group, please click here for general advice about the YouCat and how to use the readings. Here are the readings that go with this week’s Sycamore session:

  • #146 to #165 – life after death, judgment, Mary and the saints [9 pages]

NB the numbers (#) refer to paragraph numbers in the YouCat and not to page numbers. The number in [square brackets] at the end tells you roughly how long this passage is in terms of the pages you need to read (excluding picture pages).

 

LONGER READINGS FROM THE CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH

If you have more time, and if you want to go deeper into the topic of this session, you can follow up by exploring the longer Catechism of the Catholic Church. See the standard online version here, and a digital “flip-book” edition here. Here are the readings that go with this week’s Sycamore session:

NB the numbers (#) refer to paragraph numbers in the Catechism and not to page numbers. Click on the links themselves to read the paragraphs in the online version.

 

KEY IDEAS FROM THE FILM

20A – Death, judgment, and our longing for eternal life

There seems to be a kind of instinct in the human heart to look beyond, to believe that death is not the final end. There is a longing for eternal life. From the beginning of human history, we have had the unusual habit of burying our dead, as if to give them special honour.

In the Christian understanding, human beings are a unity of body and soul, of matter and spirit. We are created in the image and likeness of God, and we are made for eternal life with him. Deep down we sense that our true homeland is in heaven.

When we die, our bodies will lie corrupt, but our souls will live on and come into the presence of God. The truth of our lives will be laid before us, and there will be a moment of judgment. On its own, this can be a terrifying thought. But God is full of mercy and compassion, and Jesus Christ has opened the gates of heaven for us through his death and resurrection.

Christians believe that those who are close to Jesus, through a living faith, will be welcomed into heaven. Some of them, the saints, will go straight to heaven. But some of them will need to go through a spiritual purification before they enter heaven; we call this the experience of purgatory.

What about those who have not come to know Jesus? Christians believe that Jesus reaches out to those who do not know him, even in ways we cannot understand. He longs for all people to be saved, and he would never condemn someone who had had no chance to know him.

But we also know that it’s possible to turn away from his love and mercy, and even to reject the salvation he offers. This is the tragedy of hell, to cut yourself off forever from the merciful love of God.

At the end of time, at the Second Coming, Jesus Christ will come back to earth in glory, and bring everything to its fulfilment. There will be a Final Judgment, a vindication of God’s plans, a fulfilment of all his promises.

The souls of the dead will be united with their resurrected bodies. Those who are saved will share in the glory of the resurrection. They will live in the presence of God for all eternity.

This knowledge makes us want to prepare for our own death. If anything is unresolved in my life, I can try to put it right. If I have any serious sins on my conscience, I can seek God’s forgiveness in confession. If I am very sick or near to death, I can be anointed in the Sacrament of the Sick.

Above all, this teaching gives us hope. We know that death is not the end. We know that Christ has already triumphed, and that he is coming back, at some point in the future. He has not forgotten us. The hope of heaven helps us to live through the sufferings of this life, and gives us a reason to stay close to Christ in faith and love.

20B – Holiness, the saints, and our hope for heaven

In the bible a “vocation” is a calling, a purpose. The fundamental human vocation is to live a life of holiness, to be a saint. Not just to be a saint in heaven, but also to become a saint on this earth.

The saints are not just heroic people who live in history books. They are ordinary Christians who tried to live their faith without holding anything back, to love God with their whole hearts, to love those around them without counting the cost, to give their lives to something truly worthwhile. This is what we were made for. The vocation to holiness gives a profound meaning to each human life.

The saints have much in common: faith, hope, charity; a love for Christ and for his Church; a passion for justice; a willingness to suffer for love; a dedication to prayer; an inner joy; a longing for heaven.

But no two saints are alike, because each one reflects the love of Christ in a unique way. Human beings are not clones. We are God’s work of art – each of us unique. We have to find our own way of loving, with all our individual strengths and weaknesses. And we have to work out what God actually wants us to do in each situation. It’s not always clear or easy.

We can learn from the example and teaching of the saints. It’s good to read about their lives and build up a storehouse of knowledge about them.

We can ask them to pray for us. Why would we do that? Because Christians pray for each other. And prayer makes a difference. It’s that simple. They are alive in Christ, and we are connected with them through him.

We can talk to them, heart to heart, and experience their spiritual friendship.

We never worship the saints. Christians worship God alone. We simply honour the saints and talk to them and ask for their prayers, just as we honour and talk to Christian friends and ask for their prayers.

20C – What Catholics believe about the Blessed Virgin Mary

The Blessed Virgin Mary is the mother of Jesus. The Church gives her the title “Mother of God”, because her son Jesus is true God and true man.

From the beginning of her life, she had a purity and a holiness that was unknown since the Garden of Eden. She was completely open to God. When she was still a virgin, Jesus was conceived in her womb, not through sexual intercourse, but through the power of the Holy Spirit. She brought Jesus into the world and cared for him with the support of her husband St Joseph.

Mary stood by Jesus in his darkest moments, and offered her life in union with him on the cross. She rejoiced in his resurrection and became a spiritual mother to his disciples. At the end of her life she was taken up into heaven, body and soul, to be with her son and to reign as Queen of Heaven.

These are some of the key teachings about Mary, which Catholics share with many other Christians.

Everything that Jesus has done for us depends on what Mary has done.” If you understand that, you will understand Catholic teaching about Mary.

The more you appreciate the Saviour, the more you will appreciate the woman who gave him to us. The whole biblical story of salvation in Christ depends on Mary’s story. This is the staggering truth at the heart of the bible: that God asks Mary to cooperate with him by becoming the mother of his Son. There would be no Christmas, no Easter, no Pentecost, without the Feast of the Annunciation, when the Angel Gabriel comes to greet Mary at her home in Nazareth.

Why is Mary still so important for us today? Because what was true in history is true today. She is still the Mother of Jesus Christ; still – for that reason – the Mother of God; and still the Mother of the Church.

We can turn to her for help and consolation. We can talk to her and ask her to pray for us. Her prayers are more powerful than those of the other saints and of the angels.

Devotion to Mary does not get in the way of faith in Jesus Christ. It deepens that faith and helps it come to fulfilment. The focus is always on Jesus.