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?"

My Photo
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.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

An Unexpected Call

When I arose this morning at about 4:00, I noticed the light flashing on my answering machine. I wondered if it would be the inevitable news of Laura's death. Much to my surprise, it was Laura! She had called about an hour earlier and asked me to call back as soon as possible. I thought I'd never talk to her again in this life.

As far as her physical condition goes, little has changed. She is still very weak, and her body, as she said, is "skin and bones." But the last time I had talked to her, about 10 days ago, she didn't even have the strength to speak, and she could only utter little sounds. This morning her voice was strong and clear, almost fully normal. She said she ate a bit of jello, but aside from juice and Jesus (she still receives the Holy Eucharist), that all she's had these 10 days.

But she didn't call to give me an update. There was a serious reason, something she wants me to pass on to you. The last couple nights she has been disturbed by dreams that could only come from the devil. The main disturbance was that whenever evil approached, in whatever form, it was accompanied by the most horrible stench she had ever experienced. In the dream, it made her fall to the ground and she was unable to get up, so sickening was it. Now this is not a projection from her own physical illness. She is not in pain, nor is she nauseous. Plus, others in her house have just had the same experience. She asked me for prayers and is having a priest come and exorcise the house tomorrow. Apparently the devil is attacking this family in their time of greatest suffering and sorrow. If you didn't yet know the devil's true colors, you know them now: utter hatred, cruelty, and vileness, hurting people as much as possible when they are most vulnerable. He is recognized by his stench, at least by those who are spiritually aware. There is a Desert Fathers story of a monk who was approached by a demon in the form of a beautiful woman. But she had such a horrible stench the monk wouldn't come near her. The devil realized that it was because of the monk's purity of heart that he wasn't able to be deceived by appearances, but recognized the foul demon immediately.

This is what Laura wants everyone to know: evil is real and sin has real consequences. We simply aren't sufficiently aware of how dangerous and how horrible it is to flirt with evil in any form. People live in sin and yet talk about the merciful God, but they don't stop and think that He is a just God as well, and that sin is intolerable to Him. He readily forgives when we repent, but we dare not brave his justice by minimizing the foulness of sin, delaying repentance, or just living heedlessly. God is not mocked, says St Paul; we shall reap what we sow. Laura says if you have the courage, pray to experience what she did, so you will know once for all what evil smells like, that is, what a rotten, horrifying thing it is. That alone could be the wake-up call to get people to realize that if they don't want to endure that stench for all eternity, now's the time to turn wholeheartedly to God. There is so much of evil around us, wherever there is immorality, lust for power, greed, etc. The smell is particularly bad in the area of sexual perversions and world's uncritical embrace of them. In his eye-opening book, The Marketing of Evil, David Kupelian notes, among many other things, that on the internet there are well over four million porn sites! They wouldn't be there if millions of people weren't addicted to them.

Laura doesn't know why this has happened now, or even why she is suddenly able to speak clearly again, except that perhaps the Lord wants this word to get out. With this warning against evil, she even said to me (one becomes fearless of human respect when standing at the brink of eternity): "I don't know if anything is going on with you..." Providentially, I had already made an appointment for confession, to be prepared for the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, and when I told her that, she just said, "Good."

Still wondering what to make of all this, I prayed and opened the Bible, seeking some confirmation. This is what I saw: "If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin... I have said all this to you to keep you from falling away... When [the Holy Spirit] comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and justice and judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in me; of justice, because I go to the Father and you will see me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world [i.e., the devil] is condemned" (John 15:22 -- 16:11). I needed to read no further...

I don't know what the Lord is doing with her, and this new turn of events makes me realize how little any of us knows about the designs of God. All the more reason simply to trust Him and let his will be done. Is this the last message the Lord wants to give us through her, or dare we hope that He will keep her around for a while, or longer? By all indications she is still terminally and even mortally ill, yet today she sounded like her old self. Let us continue to pray that she and we and her family will simply embrace God's will, come what may, and in the meantime learn from someone whose spiritual perception may very well be much sharper than ours as she prepares to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

Abbot Joseph

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Keeping Vigil

Laura is still alive, already having outlived the prediction of her hospice nurse last week. Her condition has not improved, though; she simply hasn't died yet. She has not eaten for 10 days, and she takes water or juice only from a little sponge. Mentally she goes in and out, and is asleep most of the time. The morphine is keeping her relatively comfortable. It probably will not be very long now, but everyone is just praying and taking things one day at a time. I'm in contact with her family, so I get updates from time to time. Thank you for your prayers.

Abbot Joseph

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Getting Closer

It looks like Laura is getting closer to her "wedding day." I think of the icon of Christ she has written entitled, "The Bridegroom," depicting Him in the scarlet robe and the crown of thorns. His love for us was consummated on the Cross, and we have to pass through our own suffering and death before we can be received into the joyous and eternal "wedding feast of the Lamb."

She is getting weaker, cannot talk for very long. I tried to call today to wish her a happy Mother's Day (she has four children), but her son told me she is not doing well today and wouldn't be able to talk. Her body is having difficulty regulating its temperature, and she has had some serious fever and chills. I don't know if it is a coincidence, but just yesterday I read this line from Dante's Purgatorio: "...whence a chill seized on me, as seizes him who to his death is going."

I'm scheduled to offer the Divine Liturgy for her on the feast of Ascension, which would certainly be an appropriate day, but perhaps she is not that close yet. There really is no way to tell, and those who love her are living one day at a time as her energy rises and falls, not sure if each present crisis is the final one. But "the souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall ever touch them," says the author of the Book of Wisdom. All things will be as He would have them, for she has made her peace with Him, and she is sheltered by his hand.

I'll keep you posted.

Abbot Joseph

Monday, May 07, 2007

No News is Good News

Just a little update for those of you who are checking. There's really nothing new to report, which at least means she's still alive and not exactly at death's door. She has good days and bad days, but she's trying to make the best of the time that still remains.

One thing that is something of a mixed blessing is that she has a steady stream of visitors--relatives and friends. This is often a consolation, but it also leaves her quite exhausted, so she has to limit visits and conversations according to her reduced capacities. When one's body is pouring all its energy into sheer survival and struggle against an invading disease, even the smallest things are very tiring.

She is getting the best of spiritual care, especially the Holy Eucharist, almost daily. People come and pray with her, read her the Scriptures, bring holy oil and relics of saints, etc. So she is enfolded in the grace of the Lord, and we can be sure that whatever happens will be according to his will.

Thank you for your continuing prayers.

Abbot Joseph