Philippians 3: 17-4: 1

One of the appealing characteristics of Father Benson, but also surely one of the more baffling for many, perhaps also for you, was his grasp of a heavenly reality, in the midst of a worldly existence. We know the famous story of the old woman, when asked is she could understand his preaching responded, that gentleman just opens heaven to me, and I can look right in.[1]

Over and again, Father Benson calls us to an awareness of this heavenly reality. He writes, [do] I realize to myself that as I pray, I am truly in heaven, and that I ought to be experiencing the joys of heaven? If we would but look to heaven with more consciousness of present joy therein, we should find its power to set us free from earthly difficulty.[2]

It is this consciousness of the present joy of heaven that was a motivating factor in much of his life. Reading Philippians, as we do today, he would have been perfectly comfortable with the notion that our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation, that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.[3]

For us, such a vision may seem to be escapism, or fantasy. Afterall, who wouldn’t want to escape some of the craziness of the past four years. But for Father Benson, any vision of heaven was deeply rooted in the work of the Cross. He writes, [no] sorrow is merely sent for the sake of sorrow. Every sorrow is part of the discipline of the way of the Cross, and should leave us in closer union of the will with Christ. In no way can we meet the difficulties of our Christian warfare, save by constantly recurring to the sense of joy which belongs to our divine life. We must look unto Jesus, who has united us unto Himself, ‘who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the Cross, despising the shame’. The joy of our Lord, which sustained Him by its light, must sustain us also in taking up our cross and following Him. The heart which loves Christ can do everything.[4]

For Father Benson, the contemplation of the present reality of heaven is not an escape from the world, but a way to sustain us as we take up our cross, even in the midst of the present reality of the world.

Sometimes it is so, so easy to be discouraged, and I have often wanted to give up hope, but today’s reminder that our citizenship is in heaven is, at least for me, an invitation, in Father Benson’s words, to remember that [the] joy of our Lord, which sustained Him by its light, must sustain us also in taking up our cross and following Him. The heart which loves Christ can do everything.

The contemplation of our heavenly citizenship is not an escape hatch from the seeming insanity of the world, but a means of sustaining and encouraging us, even as we live in the midst of it.


[1] Woodgate, M. V., Father Benson of Cowley, page 54

[2] Benson, Richard Meux, Spiritual Readings, Christmas, page 36

[3] Philippians 3: 20 – 21

[4] Woodgate, page 55

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