Friday, March 14, 2014

Confessions of a Priest’s Brush with Death

By a Priest in St. Louis:  Some years ago when I was in seminary, I woke up in the middle of the night, and I had the distinct impression that I was going to die the very next day sometime. And as my heart of hearts pondered this… actually the thought of dying, I saw that some of the battles, particularly at MasterCard, that I had fought during life and really thought were important. And in preparing to stand before God, I realized they were empty. Some of my brokenness and sins seemed so silly and so stupid in the face of eternity, I was and am embarrassed. And for my sins, I had no excuse. And as I thought about it, there was one person in this wide world that I wished I had said that I loved her. And there were three people that I vowed if I ever met again in this life, I would apologize to. I have met two of the three and done just that.
Day of the dead -  BouguereauDay of the dead – Bouguereau
Now, you may be thinking at this point, you are still here on this earth, and blathering at us… you look very much alive to me. The next day, after saying about a gazillion Act of Contritions, I went to class at SLU and was walking along. I was dirt poor at that point but if it was to be my last day, I was going to have a couple of cold bottles of Lipton ice tea… my one addiction. I went to gas station and bought two bottles. And as I was walking from the gas station savoring one of them, it came to my mind that I would not die that day. And I thought that I had basically imagined the whole thing.
BUT, as I came to Laclede Road, I had the walk signal, and the red light and started to cross. A white Bentley GT came up at about 50 miles an hour… I was already in the street, and just managed to catch the car out of the corner of my eye. I stepped back, and as I did so, I saw the driver had his head down; he did not see a thing. He missed me by about 6 inches, and rolled through the stop light, somehow managed to avoid hitting other cars, and kept right on going. If I had been inattentive, I would have been reduced to a crimson stain on the asphalt.
I thought long and hard about how to present this: think about what I am going to say as a military intelligence briefing. This is what you can expect when you hit the beach. What beaches am I talking about? This day, I ask the question how prepared are you and I for the four last things you and I will ever have to face? Death, judgment, heaven, and hell. Adam and Eve, they were so unready for being separated from God. How prepared are you and I for the four last things you and I will ever have to face? Some of you will think, here is old Henderson preaching fire and brimstone. No. Not at all. Consider me a military intelligence officer who wants to give you give you proper information so that you might be ready. I want you to be ready with penance, and fasting and confession so that not only are you ready, but you are over-ready. I am asking you to evaluate honestly, honestly! your life situation in light of the four last things you and I will ever have to face: death, judgment, heaven, and hell. Pope Saint John Paul II thought we did not reflect on these Truths nearly enough.

Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell

Death. Imagine if I had not seen that Bentley approaching. There would have been zero time for an Act of Contrition… no time for anything. And not to put too fine a point on it, but the devil launches his attacks against us at the weakest of moments. Notice he did so in our Gospel, the devil waited for Jesus to get hungry before tempting. And the hour of our death certainly qualifies as a week moment. And, need I say it? Death is terrifying. And in our modern society, we do everything in our power to deny that horrible situation. Whatever way we may leave this world – fast or slow: how prepared are we?
Judgment is another matter. So many people do not see judgment as they should. The enemy has given you a lot of worthless information; we have been lied to – at length – that judgment is easy. Is there mercy at Judgment? Absolutely. But as John Paul II tells us, ‘Christ intercedes for us with an offer of mercy, but that “does not exclude the duty to present ourselves pure and whole before God.”’ And one of the reports that came from a man who faced judgment was that the Lord Jesus went through a long list of this man’s sins. And all that man could do was acknowledge that he had sinned. There was no tap dancing, no game playing, no excuses… he found himself compelled to accept the bald, naked, and painful truth of what he had done during his lifetime. Would I have been so prepared if that Bentley hit me? Are you and I prepared for this?
Purgatory. Yes, purgatory is a Scriptural Truth. There are many Scriptural passages that reflect purgatory. I repeat, ‘Christ intercedes for us with an offer of mercy, but that “does not exclude the duty to present ourselves pure and whole before God.”’ Pope Saint John Paul said of purgatory, ‘before we enter into God’s kingdom, every trace of sin within us must be eliminated, every imperfection in our soul must be corrected. This is exactly what takes place in purgatory.’ It is painful, but God’s love moves our hearts so that we actually long to not be in God’s presence until our purification is complete.
Hell. I shall not dwell on the pains of hell, after all, this is an intelligence briefing. I shall only identify the threat by saying: here is another place where you have been fed an arsenal of worthless information: that you have to be really evil to go to hell. The modern world’s idea that few end up in hell is contradicted by Jesus Himself in the Scriptures, ‘the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many.’ I have spoken before about the ‘Letter from Hell.’ The sins of that woman in the letter from hell are tame by comparison to our modern world – and they were enough to harden her heart against Christ. The Doctors of the Church have said many poor, poor souls are lost. And the Blessed Mother at Fatima not only stated that teaching once again, but stated that the sins of sexuality are the sins that most frequently send poor souls to hell.
Heaven. We, you and I, need to hear that beauty… to remind us what we are aiming for. But suffice it to say, ‘“What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him,” this God has revealed to us through the Spirit.’
People of God, I do not want fire and brimstone. During this season of Lent, I want you and me to be over-ready for the last struggle: death, judgment, heaven, and hell. John Paul thought that if we would reflect on these four last things that we will all have to face, many of us would not be lost. And this is what I want… no one lost. And the only way that will happen is to be over-ready. Be over-ready by penance. Be over-ready by being honest about our sins: our acts of commission as well as omission. Be over-ready by using the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Fire and brimstone? No. I want you to consider this a briefing with all the Truth Sacred Scripture has to offer us. Adam and Eve, they were so unready for being separated from God. I really want you and I to be over-ready, and Lent is a good time to begin that process of being over-ready.
 Courageous Priest