The notion of the 72 virgins came up in conversation last evening -- the Muslim martyr's supposed heavenly reward -- and it reminded me of this piece by Steve Martin that appeared in the New Yorker several years ago. Which I shared. Which brought up the question: What had we good Catholics been promised in the afterlife? We scratched our heads and remembered -- the Beatific Vision.
What's that? We didn't remember exactly. Something about seeing God face to face. Or F2F, as we say these days. So to the on-line Catholic Encyclopedia: "The blessed see God, not merely according to the measure of His likeness imperfectly reflected in creation, but they see Him as He is, after the manner of His own Being." Whatever that means.
And while I was there, I read the entire entry on heaven.
Not just F2F, but the light of glory, primary and secondary objects, species expressa, impeccability, objective and subjective beatitude, amor concupiscentiae, accidental blessings, resurrection of the body, and a whole lot of other stuff none of which has the slightest experiential reference, all of which has accreted since the earliest centuries of Christianity, refined repeatedly from heresy, and much of it made an article of faith. It reads like something written by Steve Martin.
I can't believe that any serious academic Catholic theologian these days believes any of this, and I suspect most of them would join me in imploring the Church to shake off this accumulated dust of centuries. Subsume it all under the one-word rubric of Mystery, of which, Lord knows, there is enough to incite qualities of reverence, awe, wonder, celebration, thanksgiving, praise. But then what would be essentially RC about such a faith? What would define the Church as the unique repository of truth? And so, this encyclopedia entry, like the others, has its Nihil Obsta and Imprimatur, its ecclesiastical approbation, its stamp of dusty orthodoxy, and increasing numbers of the faithful, apprising the essential 72-virginness of it all, will wander off into a sterile secularism, when there is so much in Catholic tradition of a liturgical and sacramental nature to satisfy our innate religiousity without in any way violating the modern spirit of empirical knowing.