In this life there are many things to prepare for, but the most important is for our entrance into the kingdom of heaven. I will take you with me, should you want to come along, on my personal journey to the door which will lead to eternity, through which every soul must pass. Where the angel of death waits to ask the all important question, "Are you prepared for the Kingdom?"

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Location: Anacortes, Washington, United States

Two years ago I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I was one of the fortunate ones who survived surgery along with chemo/radiation treatments. Recently, it was discovered that the cancer had returned and although I am again on chemotherapy, in all probability I have perhaps one more year to live. During these last months I would like to share what I have learned about the most important thing we'll ever do in this life and that is, prepare for the kingdom of God.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Five Years

[For the fifth anniversary of Laura’s death and entry into eternal life, I thought I’d post the last thing she wrote for her blog before she died.  Its theme (“it’s all about God”) nicely sums up the last years of her life and her preparation for the Kingdom.]

One of the greatest compliments I’ve ever received was from my 8-year-old granddaughter Jazmyn. A couple of years ago, she and her younger sister Anna came to stay with me for a few days over their Christmas break. They’d never been to my apartment, so when they walked in the door they looked all around going into every room, seeing all the icons. Then Jazmyn came over and said the most beautiful thing. She said, “Grandma, it’s all about God!” I looked at her, smiled and said, “Yes, it is all about God, isn’t it?”

I had never really thought about my apartment as being all about God before. This made me wonder if others had the same impression. I hope they did. I think this is part of being that light of the world that Jesus speaks about. Not only how we live, but what we surround ourselves with in our homes becomes a clear indication of who we are. Are we “all about God”?

Now that I live with others and have my own room, I guess you could say that my room is all about God. I’ve surrounded myself with the holy icons, my spiritual books and my work area where I write icons. Whenever I look around I think: this is to remind me of who I am and Who I serve. It is a reminder of where I want to go when I leave this life. When I wake up in the morning it’s the first thing I see and when I close my eyes at night I feel that my soul is safe.

This is a very special place. It is where I can go and be alone with the Lord. Everyone should have a special place in their home, even if it’s very small. Eastern Catholics have what is called an icon corner, where the holy icons are placed with some candles and a Bible. It is a place to go and pray and remember why we are here. It’s God’s special place in our home.

I hope that my little granddaughters will keep these memories with them. And if someday they find themselves looking for the right path, perhaps they will think of Grandma’s home and remember: “It’s all about God.”

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Four Years

To honor the fourth anniversary of Laura’s death, I thought I’d post this excerpt from “our” book, Prepare for the Kingdom. This excerpt is also an excerpt from an essay by Thomas Howard, which I placed near the end of the book, in the reflections after she had died. It’s about how people ought to be open to the “Whole Story” and realize that their love and their prayer are not for nothing once the loved one dies, but contribute to the glory in which we all will share in the Kingdom of Heaven.

“And so we begin to think about all our prayers and vigils and fastings and abstinences, and the offices and sacraments of the Church that have gone up to the throne on behalf of the sufferer. They have, apparently, been lost in the blue. They have vanished, as no sparrow, no hair, has ever done. Hey, what about that? And we know that this is false. It is nonsense. All right then—we prayed, with much faith or with little; we searched ourselves; we fasted; we anointed and laid on hands; we kept vigil. And nothing happened.

“Did it not? What angle of vision are we speaking from? Is it not true that again and again in the biblical picture of things, the story has to be allowed to finish? Was it not the case with Lazarus’ household at Bethany, and with the two en route to Emmaus? And is it not the case with the Whole Story, actually—that it must be allowed to finish, and that this is precisely what the faithful have been watching for since the beginning of time? … And is not that Finish called glorious? Does it not entail what amounts to a redoing of all that has gone wrong, and a remaking of all that is ruined, and a finding of all that has been lost in the shuffle, and an unfolding of it all in a blaze of joy and splendor?

“A finding of all that is lost? All sparrows, and all petitions and tears and vigils and fastings? Yes, all petitions and tears and vigils and fastings. ‘But where are they? The thing is over and done with. [She] is dead. They had no effect.’

“Hadn’t they? How do you know what is piling up in that great treasury kept by the Divine Love to be opened in that Day? How do you know that this death and your prayers and tears and fasts will not together be suddenly and breathtakingly displayed, before all the faithful, and before angels and archangels, and before kings and widows and prophets, as gems in that display? Oh no, don’t speak of things being lost. Say rather that they are hidden—received and accepted and taken up into the secrets of the divine mysteries, to be transformed and multiplied, like everything else we offer to him—loaves and fishes, or mites, or bread and wine—and given back to you and to the one for whom you kept vigil, in the presence of the whole host of men and angels, in a hilarity of glory as unimaginable to you in your vigil as golden wings are to the worm in the chrysalis” (“On Brazen Heavens,” from The Night is Far Spent).

Monday, June 21, 2010

Three Years

I'd like simply to mark the third anniversary of Laura's death with a few verses, written in haiku style. I don't know what three years would seem like in Heaven, but I'm sure no one there is interested in anything but the joy of life in God (and in praying for us, too, I hope!). It is good to have a few friends in Heaven, to help prepare us for the Kingdom from their privileged place. They say that time heals wounds and sorrows, but I think that divine grace is the power behind all healing; but it can take some time...

Time is duly marked
But has meaning only here;
On High, all are free.

Pain is deeply felt
Yet will run its destined course;
Sorrow turns to joy.

Hearts are lifted up
To visions far beyond them;
At length, peace returns.

Abbot Joseph

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Two Years

Today dawned cool and clear. Much cooler, in fact, than I would expect on the first day of summer in this usually torrid time of year. That's why I think Laura is praying for us again. Last year on this day it quite unexpectedly rained, as you can read in my last post.

I asked the Lord for a word from Scripture, a word from Laura that He would permit to be given through the word of God, so that I could have no further questions about her eternal happiness. Maybe I expect to have a vision of her in glory before I stop wondering about the mystery of death and the afterlife! Despite my confidence in her salvation, I still tend to look for confirmations. Well, I received one, along with a mild reproach, to the effect that I should have known by now: "Take heart; it is I. Have no fear... O man of little faith, why did you doubt?" (Mt. 14:27, 31). There's actually much more to it than that, and it is published in greater detail on my own blog. Click here to read the full account.

There's something else that happened today, which makes me think she was with us in our Liturgy in the church, and that she was praying for a certain man, a friend of ours whom she befriended during her several visits here at the monastery. During the prayers after Holy Communion, he was so moved by God's grace that he began to weep, which had never happened before. His wife told me later: "I've been waiting 30 years for that to happen."

So I think Laura continues to do good from Heaven as she said she wanted to. I don't have much more to say now. I just wanted to mark the anniversary. I think she's praying for me too, as this "Year for Priests" has just begun in the Church. The graces have been almost palpable these first three days. The loss of a loved one is a cause for sorrow, yet the heavenly intercession of a departed loved one is a cause for joy.

Abbot Joseph

Saturday, June 21, 2008

One Year

Today marks the first anniversary of Laura’s death. In some ways it seems like it has been a long time, and in other ways it all seems very recent. Probably she has little awareness of the passage of earth-time anymore, since she is in the heavenly “time zone.” She must feel as if she has only very recently stepped through the Pearly Gates, what with all the wonder and blessing and new joys to discover. It’s almost too hard to imagine: is she really walking through Paradise with the Mother of God, to whom she prayed often to be with her at the hour of her death? And is she singing incredibly beautiful hymns with St Ephrem, whose lyrical writings she enjoyed so much? Is she having lunch (as it were) with St Joseph and St John the Evangelist, whose icons she painted here below? Is she looking into the eyes of Jesus, who loved her with an everlasting love and drew her to Himself after she shared in his Passion during her last weeks of suffering? Our minds are so limited. We don’t know much more than our own small troubles and joys, and the little bit of God’s wonders that we may have had the good fortune to experience, however briefly.

But of course, she is there and it is more than she could even communicate to us, should she be given the opportunity. Perhaps one reason the faithful departed don’t come to visit us very often is simply that we probably wouldn’t understand a thing they would tell us, since their new reality is so far beyond anything we could relate to in our own experience. They are the same persons, yet not the same. They are elevated, transformed; they see with eternal eyes now, and their thoughts are no longer like our thoughts. But they smile upon us and pray that we have the faith and the good sense to persevere in loving and serving the Lord on earth, so that we too may enter one day into the brilliant magnificence of the glory of God and the joy of the saints.

Back in February I received a couple e-mails from a newly-ordained priest who was known to Laura and who was with her shortly before she died. Once I had heard, through others, that another priest had been there, I wanted to know more details about how things were near the end of her life. He shared with me the following description of his visit to her, which has given me further consolation and confirmation that the Lord took special care that she would die in his grace and mercy, and be welcomed into his heavenly Kingdom.

“After the Priestly Ordination and First Mass this June, I had to leave directly to our Annual Priest’s Convocation at Ocean Shores for that week, and then proceed to Masses of Thanksgiving Port Angeles, WA, both about 4-5 hours from Anacortes [where Laura lived]. Being totally exhausted and pulled in many directions, I felt horribly guilty about not visiting Laura in the days before and after the Priesthood Ordination, noticing that she was not present for the celebrations and hearing from parishioners that she was near her end. I was praying that I might be able to see her before she died. I remember I had talked with her when she was bedridden about the date of my ordination on the Feast of St. Ephrem, and she lit up and talked for quite some time about how beautiful his hymns are.

“Finally a day or two before I was to leave again for some more Masses in the southern part of the diocese… I concelebrated Holy Mass at St. Mary’s, and then decided it was time to go see Laura. After Mass, I caught Sr. Mary Matthew and Kathy Moore, and asked them to come with me… This would also be my first Anointing and giving of the Last Rites.

“When we arrived, JP [one of her sons] met us at the door and showed us to her room with all the beautiful icons. Sr. Mary Matthew and Kathy had already been in the room first and were praying over her with the Relic of the True Cross. I was shocked at how emaciated she was. JP said that she should have died weeks before, and that she had been restless, and was waiting for the priest to come. When I knelt down to look at her, she started to react, though she could not say anything, but I know she knew who I was. I told her I was just ordained and was going to give her the Last Rites. So for the first time in my priesthood, with her family present and the good sisters praying, I led the prayers, and then gave her the Absolution, and for the first time of my priesthood, I then gave her the Apostolic Pardon, laid my hands on her and gave her the Sacrament of the Anointing. She was alert and responsive throughout the whole ceremony, and afterwards. I then thanked her for waiting for me and allowing me the privilege to exercise priestly ministry to the sick for the first time with her. I know she tried to respond. She tried to speak after it was over, but she did seem more at rest. I stayed a bit with her, blessed the room and the family with Holy Water, and [we] paid our respects and left.

“Later I learned with great emotion that she had died shortly after I was there that day. It was about 10:30 AM when we arrived at the house, I forget when we left [Laura died about 2:15 PM]. I think the fact she let go so soon afterward reassures me that she was at peace with the Lord that day. Though I barely knew Laura for only a few years and with brief exchanges and visits at church and related to her son, it still was a very humbling experience to know that she did wait almost two weeks since my ordination for the priest to come welcome her home. I still regret not having arrived sooner, but I know she is praying for me all the same… Also, I had the privilege to concelebrate the Divine Liturgy of her funeral with Fr. Stanichar and Fr. Vu Tran. It was all quite a dream and a sorrow and a joy!”

I don’t know if I’ll have much more to say on this blog, unless Providence decrees that I become the happy recipient of some vision or miracle related to her. But I did want to acknowledge this anniversary, the first—and most difficult, I’m sure—and again to thank all those who “kept vigil” on this blog as she prepared to enter the Kingdom, and all those who prayed for her. May her prayers for us now help keep us on the narrow but life-giving path to the Kingdom of Heaven.

One last thing. Since I have not actually heard personally from Laura since she died, though I believe St Therese gave me a sign of her salvation, I still have wanted something clearer. I thought to myself that I should ask for some "sign from Heaven," though I figured that the Lord figured that He had given me enough. I thought, "if it rains on her anniversary, that will be a sign she is safe in Heaven." That may not sound like much, but where I live we don't usually get a drop of rain from about mid-May to October or so, and there is always danger of wildfires because everything is so dry. I was a little afraid to seek this sign, because it would be like setting myself up for disappointment. The weather forecast was as it always is this time of year. Same every day: sunny, sunny, sunny. As I write this post it is raining...

Abbot Joseph

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Doing Good from Heaven

Laura had said before she died, as did St Therese the Little Flower, that she would like to spend her Heaven doing good on Earth, as long as the Lord would allow it. She has evidently already begun, by helping to strengthen an acquaintance's faith in God's presence in the Holy Eucharist. She had once told me that after she died she would hang around the sanctuary in our church during the Liturgy, to "see what goes on" behind the iconostas during the consecration. Well, she's doing even more than that now!

I will quote here from a letter I recently received from this lady. (Since I haven't asked her if I could publish it, I'll change her name and call her "Mary". She had met Laura the year before she died and had prayed much for her.)

"I prayed as persistently as I could every day as her condition worsened... When she finally passed, I felt 'lost'. Thank you again for posting her update on her passing. It helped and touched me a lot, and I cried. I also felt 'lost' because I had been praying so hard and continuously. I felt like I was a train on full speed and suddenly I had to stop. I was at a loss as to what to do: should I continue to pray for her? Another question was: 'Did she know I was praying hard for her?' ... The answers came during Sunday Mass; I felt her presence very strongly during that Mass, and yes, she knows I did pray hard for her. [She added that whenever she would remember Laura in prayer she would think of the monks too and pray for us, and she said she felt Laura's joy over this.]

"As soon as I entered the premises of Mt Tabor, I felt very strongly Laura's presence. Father, often when I feel something strongly, my tears roll down my eyes... [During her retreat, the priest giving a talk emphasized that it is really God in the Holy Eucharist.] Anyway, that night inside me I said, 'How can we be sure it is really God?' I asked Jesus the Teacher--I visualized one of my favorite icons, Jesus the Teacher, because I always ask for wisdom--to teach me to know more about this.

"The next day, Saturday, during your beautiful Divine Liturgy, I felt Laura's presence very very strongly on and off during the whole Mass; tears kept rolling and rolling down. During the consecration Laura said, while pointing to the hosts you were consecrating: 'Mary, GOD IS THERE!' Father, it was very powerful. I thought I would have to use my shirt to wipe my tears! ... My soul does know it is really God in the Host..."

I wanted to share this with you, not only to give this evidence of Laura's doing good on Earth while in Heaven, but also to help reflect a little on the mysteries that she can see clearly but that we still must embrace in faith. Let us be encouraged to approach the Holy Mysteries with reverence and love, and with gratitude to Him who said: "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him... Whoever eats this bread will live forever" (John 6:56-58).

I'm also glad to know that she is making her presence felt here at our monastery, and helping others come closer to God. I wouldn't have known what "Mary" was struggling with, but because of the spiritual connection she had with Laura on Earth, God worked through Laura to speak the word of truth and life to her soul. What good things God has prepared for those who love Him!

Abbot Joseph

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Laura's Book is Now Available

The book of Laura's writings, with fairly extensive commentary of my own, is available now. It is entitled (appropriately): Prepare for the Kingdom: A Journal of Hope in the Face of Death. You can purchase it by clicking here. Just scroll down till you see the image of her book. It will be available at Amazon eventually, but is not yet at this writing.

I hope and pray that this book will be for many the occasion to reflect upon their lives and their relationship to God, so that they may prepare well to meet Him when that inevitable moment arrives. Too many people live their lives heedless of their eternal destiny, and so I hope that Laura's words will be a kind of wake-up call and reminder that our hearts are restless until they rest in God. I'm sure she will be praying from Heaven that her book will, by God's grace, make a real difference in people's lives, for the sake of their salvation.

If you know someone who is perhaps terminally ill or who may for some other reason need to reconcile with God before their death, please do not hesitate to recommend this book--or better yet, just buy it and give it to them! Thank you and God bless you.

Abbot Joseph