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, October 19, 2006

Is It Real?

I would like to share with you an experience I had two years ago just after I stopped my first chemotherapy/radiation treatments. I will call it my dark night of the soul.

It was during the days when I would wake up and wonder if this would be my last day on earth. In my mind I would envision my boys carrying my casket to the grave. I cried a lot during that time. I was truly terrified of death.

So just to show how ruthless and vengeful the evil one (whose name I will not mention) can be, I was subjected to one of the cruelest of temptations. Although, at the time I didn’t realize it was a temptation, but I’ll get to that later.

I was allowed to hear the words, “What if this is not real!” Meaning, what if all this faith and religion and spiritual life that you think you’ve found is just a hoax. What if it was all started a long time ago by people who just wanted to explain away the inevitable nothing that comes after death. After all, this is 2000 years after the so-called facts. How do you know if it’s all real?

This was truly being kicked when I was down, at my lowest point in life. I had very little in the way of mental defense against these thoughts. I was in total darkness. Everyday I would wake up with the same thoughts and just couldn’t find my way out.

Somehow, during this time, I managed to make a trip to California to see my family (mother and brothers). I still don’t know how I managed that. I weighed about 84 lbs and couldn’t digest food very well, but I got my things together, got on a plane and made the trip from Seattle to Los Angeles. On the way back I flew to Oakland, CA and took a bus to Santa Rosa (about a 2 hour ride) where Fr. Abbot met me and drove me the final hour and a half to Mt. Tabor.

I had only planned on staying a week. I stayed three weeks. During that time I had the worst emotional roller coaster ride imaginable. Death was in my face constantly.

One day I decided to visit the shrine of Our Lady, it was just a small shrine and very old. Behind it is a tiny little cemetery with about nine graves. I walked through it and just sobbed. All I could imagine was being in that casket underground in dark nothingness. I went back around to the front of the shrine and stood before the icon of Our Lady. All I could say to her was that I was going to die and I had done absolutely nothing with my life, nothing.

Then suddenly, in my heart, I heard her voice. She has the most beautiful voice. She said, come closer. So I approached her altar in the shrine. As I stood there crying, I felt so comforted by her and was reminded of my children. I actually had done something worthwhile with my life. I told her that if it were possible, I wanted to do something more so that when I died I could at least have something to show for my 50 some years. I felt that she heard me and I left the shrine in peace.

One day after my return home, I was reading a book on the 33 Doctors of the Church. I chose to read about St. Therese of Lisieux that day. What I read would set me free from the dark thoughts I had been experiencing for the past few months. I read the following:

He permitted my soul to be invaded by the thickest darkness, and that the thought of Heaven, up until then so sweet to me, be no longer anything but the cause of struggle and torment. (Story of a Soul, p. 211)

The darkness, borrowing the voice of sinners, says mockingly to me: “You are dreaming about a light, about a fatherland embalmed in the sweetest perfumes; you are dreaming about the eternal possession of the Creator of these marvels; you believe that you will one day walk out of this fog which surrounds you! Advance, advance; rejoice in death which will give you not what you hope for but a night still more profound, the night of nothingness.” (Story of a Soul, p. 213)

The more Therese felt the loss of a sense of faith, the more she continued to make acts of faith.

I was not only shown that this was in fact a temptation, but also what to do about it! When we are tempted with unbelief, the more we must continue to believe and not only believe, but to act on those beliefs. Continue to pray, continue to receive the Divine Mysteries, continue to trust in the promises of Christ.

I cannot tell you what this has done for me. Now, whenever I hear those words “it’s not real,” I say well, if heaven is not real then neither are you. So when I continue to get harassed about this, it just confirms my belief that “it is real!” For if the principalities of darkness exist, then heaven must also exist.

I just read a wonderful quote this morning from a 4th century Hieromonk (priest/monk), Abba Isidore, from the book, “Sayings of the Desert Fathers.” It says:

Abba Poemen said concerning Abba Isidore

When the demons who are at war with men tried to make him afraid, suggesting that, after all this, he would still go to hell, he replied, “Even if I am sent there, I shall find you beneath me.”

How appropriate!

Praised be Jesus Christ now and forever!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Sudden Death

Monday of this week, I heard about a woman from the parish who went to bed and didn’t wake up again. She was 55 and apparently suffered a massive heart attack.

Last February, my uncle came in from working out in his garden and went into the bedroom to take a short nap. He also did not wake up again. He was in his 70’s.

Today on the Internet, I read about the N.Y. Yankee pitcher whose small airplane crashed into the 40th floor of a condominium complex in New York City. He and his instructor were both killed.

These people had no knowledge of the sudden death that was waiting for them. None of us have any real knowledge of when death will take us. Some of us know that the time is short, but these people had no warning. Were they prepared?

My uncle who died last February had been a Deacon in the Roman Catholic Church for over 30 years. I had just visited with him and my aunt in California the previous week. He looked perfectly healthy. I know that he was prepared for death. His life had been one of service to God, his family and the community. In his last homily given on the Sunday before he died, he preached on being prepared for death. I am told that his last words of that homily were “Are you prepared for death? Be prepared! I am prepared.”

Maggie, the woman from our parish who suffered the massive heart attack, was also a woman of service to the Church and the community. I did not personally know her, but those who did, talked about how much she did in the parish. She was the church caterer.

I have less knowledge of the two men who died in the plane crash in New York, but when I read about their deaths, I had a strong urge to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet for them, which I did.

One of the points that I try to stress in my writings is that we don’t know when our time will be. There is a reason the Fathers continually tell us to keep death in front of our face at all times. When we go to bed at night, what guarantee do we have that we will wake up the next morning? When we get up in the morning, what guarantee do we have that we will go to sleep that night. We don’t know, hence the reason to be prepared.

I heard the following prayer somewhere, I don’t remember where, but I try to say this every night when I get into bed, “My bed is the Father, my pillow the Son, my comforter the Holy Spirit,” and then I add, “Most Holy Trinity, Glory be to You.” When I say that prayer, I feel that the Holy Trinity surrounds me and if I die, I am in good company.

Something I am going to start doing, is examining my day right before I go to bed and ask for the Lord’s forgiveness for anything I have done to offend Him or anyone else or for anything I have failed to do.

I also say the following prayer: O God, be merciful to me a sinner, O God, cleanse me of my sins and have mercy on me, O Lord, forgive me, for I have sinned without number. This is a prayer taken from the Divine Liturgy, which is said just before approaching the priest to receive Holy Communion. I find that it comes to me quite often throughout the day.

I don’t think we can ever be too sure of ourselves when it comes to death. The greatest of saints have been concerned about coming before the judgment seat of God. That should be an important lesson for us to contemplate. To the end we must show humility and never think that we’ve earned the right to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only One has earned that for us and to Him we must show our humble respect by acknowledging our human weaknesses and calling on His mercy.

Don’t be caught unprepared. Pray for the desire to be consciously aware of the mortality of this life, so that if death comes unexpectedly, as the Lord has warned might happen, “Like a thief in the night,” we can be ready to present our souls to Him as one who comes before the great King dressed in a beautiful garment. And may we hear His beautiful words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”