For the month of July, my wife and I are reading Father Faber’s book on the mystery of the Precious Blood. In it, Father Faber writes the following about the salvation made possible by this mystery, “The least accidental joy [of heaven] is a world of beatitude in itself.” This mention of the beatitude of the accidental joys of heaven sparked an interesting conversation for us. What exactly is meant by the accidental joys of heaven, and why do we not hear much of them?
Many worldly Americans who are not particularly religious or orthodox in their faith often speak of their recently departed loved ones playing golf or another hobby of choice in heaven. They give the impression that heaven is merely a more comfortable earth where people do whatever it is they enjoyed doing here, as much as they want. Listening to their eulogies, one gets the idea that heaven is simply a nice vacation — one in which God may or may not have a small role. (See, “Heaven: A Holy Beatitude, not a Carnal Fantasy” on this site.)
In a somewhat understandable response to this, Catholics who are striving to be correct in their faith are often quick to emphasize only the essential happiness of heaven: that of the beatific vision of God. These Catholics will state that the citizens of heaven will be so happy contemplating God that they will not be eager to do anything else.
While it is certainly true that the essential happiness of heaven consists in the beatific vision of God, it does not follow that it is prudent to emphasize only this kind of happiness when talking to others, especially when the talking is done in such a way as completely to ignore or deny the existence of the accidental joys of heaven. A look at how Our Lord and the saints preached about hell can help illustrate this point.
The saints universally acknowledged that the greatest suffering of hell is the pain of the loss of God (the poena damni). However, the saints also universally acknowledged that most of us who are not in the advanced stages of the spiritual life are too sensual to be motivated to avoid sin only out of a fear of the loss of God. The saints knew that for most of us, hearing about the physical torments of fire (the poena sensus) would have much more of an impact. Our Lady of Fatima evidently shares this understanding, and based on what we read in the Gospel descriptions of hell, so does Our Lord.
By the same reasoning, it is likely that many humans would benefit as much, if not more, from hearing about the accidental joys of heaven than they would from hearing about the essential happiness. But before continuing, let us define our terms. We have said that the essential happiness of heaven consists in the beatific vision of God. The accidental joys of heaven, therefore, refer to joys occasioned by angels and saints (not only the canonized ones), as well as other created things.
The blessed in heaven receive an increase in accidental joy every time they are venerated by men on earth. Furthermore, when men make it to heaven, there is tremendous joy experienced when they interact with their spiritual and temporal benefactors. Imagine the joy occasioned from the heavenly reunion of a godfather who took his role seriously and his spiritual child who reached heaven in large part thanks to his spiritual father. What a beautiful reunion it must be when the spiritual child is enlightened as to all the rosaries, novenas, and Communions the godfather lovingly offered for his welfare. How much love and gratitude will the child express to his godfather in such a case? The same will be true in all cases where spiritual and temporal benefactors are involved, be it in the relationship of parents and children, spouses to each other, teachers and students, friends, or even, the relationship of stranger to stranger.
In heaven, men will not only derive joy from the moral beauty of conversing with others who are confirmed in charity, they also will derive great joy from looking at the physical beauty of the men they are conversing with. “Then shall the just shine as the sun, in the kingdom of their Father.” (Matt. 13:43). St. Thomas Aquinas wrote about how one of the four properties of glorified bodies is clarity, meaning that all the elect will shine with a beautiful splendor. St. Bernadette described Our Lady, who, as the dogma of the Assumption teaches us, already has her glorified body, as, “Beautiful, more beautiful than any other.” Sr. Lucy of Fatima said that Mary’s glorified body looked, “More brilliant than the sun, indescribably beautiful.”
While I was discerning a vocation to the religious life, an occasion of slight suffering for me was the consideration that I wasn’t particularly good at chanting the divine office or singing hymns in honor of Our Lady. I shared this with the monastery’s chaplain, and his response was quite uplifting, “As nice as the best singers in the whole world may sound, they are as nothing compared with the exquisite beauty of the heavenly choir.” He reminded me that St. Francis was so impressed by the sound of a harp just briefly touched by an angel, that he thought he was in another world.
Whether the least accidental joy in heaven is caused by staring at the glorified body of whichever person there has the least degree of glory, or whether it comes from hearing the sound caused by an angel just briefly touching a harp, it is remarkable to think that the least accidental joy is, as Father Faber beautifully wrote, “a world of beatitude in itself.”