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Heaven is for Real – Witness of Sts John XXIII & John Paul II

April 29, 2014 by  
Filed under Book Club, Vicki Burbach

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The Sinner's Guide (Week 4 of 16)

If your heart craves joy, raise it to the contemplation of that Good which contains in Itself all joys. If you are in love with this created life, consider the eternal life which awaits you above. If the beauty of creatures attracts you, live that you may one day possess the Source of all beauty, in whom are life, and strength, and glory, and immortality, and the fullness of all our desires. If you find happiness in friendship and the society of generous hearts, consider the noble beings with whom you will be united by the tenderest ties for all eternity. If your ambition seeks wealth and honors, make the treasures and the glory of Heaven the end of all your efforts. Finally, if you desire freedom from all evil and rest from all labor, in Heaven alone can your desires be gratified. – The Sinner’s Guide (Chapter 9, Paragraph 21)

Heaven is for Real – The Witness of Saints John Paul II and John XXIII

This past weekend, I rallied my boys for a Saturday matinee of Heaven is for Real. It was not their first choice, but I’d heard it was a heartwarming movie, and hey – I was paying.

Despite the fact that it was a sweet movie, my teens were not particularly impressed.  It could be that there were no explosions or loud noises, no great mystery to solve, and no constant flashes from one scene to the next. Or it could be that, although they’d both enjoyed the book, they concluded that the movie had nothing new to offer. But in all fairness to my sons, it’s very possible that their underlying disappointment somewhat mirrored my own.

While I was thrilled with the premise of the movie, very early into the revelation of little Colton's experience it became apparent that special effects couldn’t possibly live up to the heaven of my imagination. Not that I believe that was their intent.  It has not escaped my knowledge that sharing the near-death experience of a little boy in order to provide compelling evidence for the existence of Heaven is not the same thing as trying to illustrate [for the viewer] Heaven itself. Nevertheless, I sympathize with the producers to the extent that they attempted to communicate the “uncommunicable.”

How can one possibly share – on the silver screen, nonetheless – the profound peace and beauty of heaven, without dripping of sentimentality? Is anything of God truly communicable through the human tongue? Or with the paintbrush of a human hand? Was not Saint Bernadette tongue-tied by her inability to adequately describe the “Beautiful Lady” who had revealed herself to the young girl? And didn’t Saint Faustina cry because the painting of Jesus that she directed did not come close to relaying the beauty of Christ, Himself?

In the end, I could not possibly have been satisfied with the movie, Heaven is for Real because I went there seeking something that a movie could never give – a glimpse into the beauty of heaven itself.

For some reason, I couldn’t help but juxtapose my disappointment in Saturday’s movie with the palpable joy I experienced the very next day. From the moment I hopped out of bed on Sunday, I felt I was walking on clouds. One recurring word came to mind throughout the day: Alleluia! I was so unbelievably excited that I felt the need to ask myself WHY. Yes, it was a day of profound celebration within the Church. Two amazing men will be forever available to provide guidance and encouragement to the Church Militant, and I was captivated by all the excitement surrounding the event.

But what I was feeling could not be chalked up to “group” hysteria. My intoxication was not merely the thrill of one who rallies around her “team” after a big win. And it was more profound than the exhilaration of watching white smoke emanate from the Sistine Chapel just over a year ago.

This overwhelming joy emanating from my soul was personal.  It was relational.

As I watched a recorded version of the canonization ceremony on EWTN, I sensed from afar that others shared my elation.  My own mother texted to ask how it felt to know I had seen a saint in person.  Referring to JPII, she then wrote, “I have no doubt he is a saint. I felt it and I wasn’t even a Catholic.”

Then it hit me. These men…this celebration…this momentous occasion…We were witnessing a union between heaven and earth.  On this historic day, Heaven was actually in our midst.  And we could feel it.

These men were not perfect.  But they knew they were swimming in the muck and the mire of sin and damnation, and they reached for the only hand that could pull them out. They truly died to themselves, so that they could be one with Christ.  As Pope Francis so eloquently said, these men demonstrated the ‘hope and joy of Easter, “forged in the crucible of self-denial, self emptying, utter identification with sinners.”'  By their very sacrifice of Self, they were able to say with Saint Paul, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).  As a result, people all over the world, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, were able to witness Christ's presence in these holy men, and they longed to be near them, knowing instinctively that the “Kingdom of Heaven [was] at hand” (Matthew 3:2).

Saints provide windows into heaven, for they allow us to witness the Living Christ through their very existence.  Sunday was special because it served as a pressing reminder that we are surrounded by holy men and women who offer a powerful witness to the fact that Heaven is for Real.  

According to the Catechism, “To live in heaven is ‘to be with Christ…For life is to be with Christ; where Christ is, there is life, there is the kingdom” (CCC 1025).  There is a direct relationship between Saint John XXIII, Saint John Paul II and doors of heaven that have been opened for each one of us. Through these two men who demonstrated heroic virtue and who walked the earth in our lifetimes, we were privileged to witness Christ, and, in so doing, to catch a glimpse of heaven above.


Reading Assignment:

Week 4:  Chapter 10-12

Discussion Questions:

1. Have you seen Heaven is for Real?  What was your impression and how would you compare it to the events surrounding the canonization of John XXIII and John Paul II?

2. Do you struggle with imagining what heaven might be like?  If so, how does that affect your ability to desire it, to will it, or to persevere in your daily crosses for the sake of receiving it?

Feel free to comment on anything from our assignment this past week!

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About Vicki Burbach

Vicki Burbach is a wife and homeschooling mother of six children ages four to sixteen years who relishes the calm inspiration of spiritual reading amidst the roller coaster of life. A passionate convert to the Faith, Vicki is an avid reader who started the book club so she could embark with like-minded bibliophiles on a spiritual journey through some of the greatest Catholic books ever written. She is author of the new book How to Read Your Way to Heaven - A Spiritual Reading Program for the Worst of Sinners, the Greatest of Saints, and Everyone in Between. You can also find her at

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