A glimpse of heaven

Published on 31 May 2019

As we walk towards Pentecost, we are longing to see into heaven, like Stephen. Peter Gallagher SJ invites us to be contemplatives gazing into heaven, but remember also we are active disciples of Christ.


Of all the times of waiting and preparation in the Church, the novena of the Holy Spirit, between the Ascension and the day of Pentecost, is surely the gentlest. Lent can be hard work.  Even Advent, during which we sometimes anticipate Christmas too precipitately, can seem wintry and spoil-sport. During the nine days before Pentecost we promenade, if we are lucky, in spring weather. In this sunlit time, however, our faith requires something very serious of us. The feast of the Ascension launches us into this cheerful seriousness.

Contemplatives in action

Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at God’s right hand. In the week before the commemoration of the descent of the Holy Spirit, we are longing to be filled with the gifts of the same Spirit. We too would like to see into heaven, like Stephen, to understand the things of God. We would love to understand God’s glory. There is a desire in us to have a felt knowledge of Jesus Christ risen from the dead who has ascended to the Father. We know that he is now in that place which he occupies for all ages, mysteriously right beside us and also at the right hand of God.

We are contemplatives gazing into heaven, straining for something which at present is just beyond us. We are also active disciples of Christ, with plenty to do if the glory of God is to be properly apparent in the world which, lovingly, he has made. The emphasis is on holiness. There is a concentrating on the one thing necessary. What is really important is loving God. The practical consequences of that love are that the Spirit energizes us for all sorts of service, in a whole variety of styles of discipleship.

There are some simplicities to which the word of God recalls us. Jesus reassures us about his presence, help and protection: I want those you have given me to be with me where I am. The Lord unifies us with himself, with each other and in ourselves: May they all be one. Jesus prays for us to be united in the spirit to what is good and true. With me in them and you in me, may they be so completely one that the world will realise that it was you who sent me and that I have loved them as much as you love me.

Companions along the journey

Stephen, filled with Holy Spirit declared himself. We pray this week for the Spirit who will strengthen us for our life, not necessarily for martyrdom, but to witness to the faith. Jesus says again to the Father on our behalf: I want those you have given me to be with me where I am.  The way of life into which the Spirit leads may not be without suffering. However this life is first and foremost about our being with the Saviour. We are in the company of Jesus. Companionship with him is with one who never fails us, who does not leave us. If he seems to move away from us, it is only to return in an even more intense form. 

During the bright time of preparation for Pentecost, the Holy Spirit is already showing us the glory of God. Our glimpse of the divine splendour in Christ is personal and particular.  Nevertheless we have not made our faith up for ourselves. Jesus is Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the beginning and the End. He comprehends everything. He addresses himself to each of us as the Lord of us all. The Spirit is beginning to show us the truth which was once revealed to Stephen. There is clarity about our destination. There is a glimpse of heaven. We are returning to God. We share the truth about the journey with the whole community of those who believe. In the Church we await the coming of the Holy Spirit in these special days of preparation. We look forward to Pentecost not vaguely or in uncertainty or confusion. We are sure that what will be revealed to us will help us to live yet closer to the one who has for a long time been walking with us and who is bringing us to God.

Peter Gallagher SJ