As the liturgical year draws to a close, the gospels offer one insight after another into what to expect at the end of time. Mostly, they suggest that it is not something that can be expected: that whatever we imagine will be grossly insufficient preparation for what is to come. Nonetheless, we are encouraged to try to envision it as best we can (or else, surely, the Church would have selected a different set of readings!). It’s a bit like telling a one-year-old you’re moving house: the vastness of the change is so great that any words used to convey it will surely be beyond comprehension; yet it is better to give some notion of the coming upheaval, however inadequate such preparation will prove. So it is with us, and the end of (our) time.

One of the things that boggles the adult mind when it sets to contemplating mansions is the abolition of marriage in heaven. Marriage on the natural level is so much a part of life—if not a part of yours, at least a part of most lives around you—that a life without marriage is for many people well nigh inconceivable. No doubt there are some for whom this inconceivable appears in the light of a blessing. But for most, to the extent that we can conceive of life without marriage, many of our attempts paint a sad, dull picture. Marriage is a sacrament (Ephesians 5:32); a spouse is (in the words Milton puts in Adam’s mouth about Eve), “Heaven’s last best gift, my ever-new delight.” Yet Christ assures us that heaven has no marriages.

Jesus said to them, “The children of this age marry and remarry; but those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. They can no longer die, for they are like angels; and they are the children of God because they are the ones who will rise.” (From the Gospel of Friday, November 24.)

The story (invented by the Sadducees) to which Jesus replies is designed to make the idea of heaven sound ridiculous; Jesus suggests that their mistake is to conceive of heaven as a glorified earth. Heaven is not ridiculous, but it is radically different.

Given the radical difference of heaven, and the error of imagining earthly marriages in heaven, what ought we to imagine will be the relationship there between those who were married on earth? Will formerly fond couples be indifferent to one another, either because the Beatific Vision is so consuming, or because they have equal charity for all the Blessed?

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