Summer trips, airports and a glimpse of our heavenly reward

With Independence Day just around the corner, thoughts have turned to summer sun and fun. Summertime often means trips to the airport to pick up travelers: relatives on vacation or even college-age children returning home for summer break.

The latter scenario drew me to Dane County Regional Airport in Madison recently. It was the first time playing taxi for my daughter at MSN (as the Madison airport is known in air travel lingo).

With 13 airline gates and one main escalator/stairway leading to the ticketing level, the arrival area allows onlookers to watch vacationers and their hosts share welcoming embraces.

Having arrived early, I spied a seat close to the escalator and gazed intently as air travelers descended from the secured gate area. One could not help but smile as a father, possibly returning from a business trip, or a visiting grandparent made eye contact with an eagerly awaiting spouse, child or grandchild at the escalator’s landing.

Here in this hub of recurring family reunions, I was reminded of the essence of what love and family relationships are all about. My thoughts then raced back to when I greeted my own parents at airports many years ago.

All of these joyful airport memories, present and past, somehow turned to imaginings of a spiritual encounter, one we will all ponder some day: our heavenly reward. “Will that moment — God willing — reflect a scenario like an airport’s arrival gate?” I wondered.

In April 2018, Pope Francis reflected on the journey toward heaven. During a homily at Mass, he said that our earthly journey toward heaven will culminate with the joy of a “face-to-face encounter with Jesus.”

His homily was a reflection on that day’s first reading taken from the Acts of the Apostles. Pope Francis stated that St. Paul called Jesus’ resurrection the fulfillment of God’s promise, and that Christians walk with that promise in their hearts.

“When asked where we are heading, we say, ‘Towards heaven,’” Pope Francis said, adding that most people can’t describe what heaven is like.

“Often we picture an abstract and distant heaven and some think, ‘But won’t it be boring there for all eternity?’” Pope Francis said. “No! That is not heaven. We are on the path towards an encounter; the final meeting with Jesus. Heaven is the encounter with Jesus.”

So our summer jaunts to the airport to welcome guests may in fact offer glimpses toward heaven. And just as we prepare a place for our summer vacation guests, Pope Francis says Jesus is preparing a place for us in heaven.

“Each of us must say, ‘Jesus is praying for me, working to prepare me a place,’” said Pope Francis. “Heaven will be this encounter, this meeting with the Lord who went ahead to prepare a place for each of us.”

The next time you find yourself at an airport, waiting near the gate for a loved one, think about the day when God will call you home. Offer a simple prayer that Pope Francis shared for this moment: “May the Lord give (me) the grace to look upwards toward heaven and think: ‘The Lord is praying for me.’”