In our second reading today, St. Paul breaks into perhaps his most sublime enunciation of the human condition and the glory for which we are destined. He says that our momentary afflictions are producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. So, in order to expound on this idea, I will be heavily leaning on the 20th century Christian author C.S. Lewis and his short work of the same name, The Weight of Glory. If you have never read it, it’s only nine pages long, and I highly recommend it.
What does glory mean? Lewis toys with this idea in his essay, saying that at first glance, it can mean either of two things: fame or shininess. He is tempted to dismiss both ideas. He wants to dismiss fame, first of all, because being famous means being well-known by other people. And this fame is necessarily exclusive and competitive, because if we were all equally famous, then none of us would be famous. Fame seems to be contrary to all the Christian values of meekness, humility, selflessness. And shininess, well, who wants to be a human light bulb? So it would seem that glory is irrelevant to us.
But there must be more to it. This idea of glory is associated with Heaven. After all, Jesus ascended into his glory. He shares glory with the Father. The angels sang “Glory to God in the highest” at his birth. Glory is evidently part of life in Heaven.
C.S. Lewis says that there are roughly five promises in Scripture associated with Heaven:
- We shall be with Jesus
- We shall be like Jesus
- We shall have glory
- We shall be fed/entertained
- We shall have some official position in the universe—ruling cities, judging angels, being pillars of God’s temple, etc.
At this point he asks himself, why do I need to consider anything other than the first? Why is anything added to the statement, “we will be with Jesus”? Isn’t that enough? And this is the reason: because all of these promises, even the idea of being with Jesus, are all symbolic. We approach them from our human understanding, and our human understanding comes from our experiences. Even when we think of being with Jesus for all eternity, we may think of having conversation, sharing a meal, or playing ball with him. But we can also imagine being in a boring conversation, or eating the same thing day after day, or even getting tired of the same sport. And so, Scripture supplies us with a wealth of symbols in order to explain a reality that is beyond simple description.
And one of these symbols is to have glory. So we return to our question, “what is this glory?” Actually, it is like being famous. But it’s not fame on account of being well-known among other people; rather, it’s in the sense of being well-known by God. It is to hear the voice of God say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Now enter into your Master’s joy.” It is to receive praise from God. It is to know that we have achieved the purpose for which we were created. It is a satisfaction that comes not from pride, but from seeing our Maker satisfied.
It is almost too much to bear, this thought that we are destined for glory. It is almost too much to think that I, personally, am an ingredient in the happiness of God. That I am actually loved by God, not merely pitied by God. That he would delight in me as an artist delights in his work is a weight of glory that seems impossible to bear. This is the weight of glory—the grave realization that I am fully known by God, and yet loved by God.
Lewis notes that we see this glory in creation often at the precise moment that it fades. Like when a beautiful landscape steals our hearts as it fades in the evening twilight, or when a symphony’s brilliance is fully recognized in its final bars, our hearts leap up when we witness the end of something beautiful. This feeling of longing, of yearning, that we sometimes call romanticism or nostalgia, is actually the pull of our desire for eternal glory. For, in the twilight of our own lives, we desire more than anything to be known by God. To not be forgotten by him. To continue on as a beautiful part of his creation. This is the glory symbolized in the sunset and the symphony. This is the glory for which we long.
C.S. Lewis, of course, borrows this term, “the weight of glory” from our second reading today. And St. Paul, writing to those Corinthian Christians, encourages them by the promise of this glory. He reminds them that, in the sufferings and trials of this life, we Christians do not wallow in despair. When we suffer, we take on the likeness of God’s own Son, Jesus Christ. And the Father looks on us as he looks on the suffering of his own Son. And as the Father could never look away or forget his own Son, so too will he never forget those who belong to him and suffer with him.
Even in the afflictions of this life, we do not lose hope and we do not cower in fear. We know that this life, as real as it seems to us now, is only transitory—it is passing away. This life is symbolic of our eternal life that is hidden in God. What we will awaken to is a new life, in fact, the fullness of life! The reality of Heaven is more real than our present life on Earth. It is to live forever. It is to be known forever. It is to be loved forever.
Therefore, we are not discouraged,
rather, although our outer self is wasting away,
our inner self is being renewed day by day.
For this momentary light affliction
is producing for us an eternal weight of glory
beyond all comparison,
as we look not to what is seen but to what is unseen;
for what is seen is transitory, but what is unseen is eternal.
Brothers and sisters, you are already known by God. You are beloved of God. You already share, in an incipient way, in the glory of God. He knows you; you are famous to him. When we look upon our brother or sister in Christ, we ought to recognize that glory. We ought to recognize the unseen, eternal soul that God has created in that person. Second only to the Most Blessed Sacrament, the soul of your neighbor is the holiest object in this church. Who knows, the person sitting next to you right now may be the person sitting next to you at the Heavenly Wedding Banquet.
Let this Eucharistic Banquet today be a reminder of the eternal weight of glory that each of us carries within.