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.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Divine Schedule

I received a call from Laura’s daughter this morning. (I’m glad I received that letter yesterday, for it helped me accept the events of today.) She said that Laura woke up somewhat, but was still not able to communicate much. But she did say that Laura asked for me, so she put the phone to her ear so I could talk to her. For that I am grateful, because I was able to say a few things that I had wanted to say before she died. Yet it was also heartbreaking because Laura was struggling to say something to me, but she couldn’t. All she could do was make little sounds that no one could decipher. She was in pain, and that’s another reason her daughter called. Even with heavy doses of morphine (when she first started taking it, the dosage was 30mg every 12 hours; now it is 160mg every hour) as well as the sedatives, she is still in pain. But I’m sure her agony isn’t only about physical pain. When one is reduced to such a basic level of functioning, the primal instincts of self-preservation and fear of death surface, along with the sense of helplessness and of being alone—unable to say what one is desperately trying to say. Whatever else may be going on in her soul is something that God infuses in her, and that profound spiritual communion may even be something of which she is not consciously aware—yet everything God does will bear its intended fruit. It is very painful to stand next to her cross, even from a distance, but I’m doing everything I can to be available and to help her. It’s even more difficult for her family who helplessly stand by.

The most important thing I told her was something I believe that I heard from the Lord over a week ago, but which I was unable to tell her. During the Creed at Compline, when we said “He was crucified for us,” I looked up at our large icon of the crucifixion and suddenly I heard in my soul: “I am taking her death into Mine.” This must be the reason for her extended suffering. I told her that to comfort her—both so that she understands that her pain is not random or fruitless, but something wholly in God’s hands, and also that she would know that because Jesus is taking her death into his, nothing can separate her from his love. She is safe, secure, and on her way to Heaven. He has done this for her, even though it costs much suffering. I think she needed to know that she was not alone, that even her fears or turmoil do not mean that God is absent, but that this is all part of the mystery of the Cross and that she will soon be free from pain and enjoying the happiness of the blessed. I repeated these and similar things several times so that it would sink in, and I told her I was proud of her for her witness and her sacrifice and suffering for the Lord’s sake.

I also was able to give her a consoling Scripture verse, and I think this was providential, because I was working on a reflection on the “farewell discourses” of Jesus, beginning with chapter 14 of the Gospel of John, when her daughter called, so it was on my computer screen: “I will come and will take you to myself, that where I am, you may be also.” She may be with Him on the Cross now, but soon she will be with Him where He is in his glory and light. I don’t know how much of all this she understood or will be able to remember, but her daughter said she thinks that Laura understands what is said to her, even if she cannot speak. She said that the pain etched in Laura’s face subsided after I talked to her, so I hope that she will have some peace for a while.

Last night I opened a book I’m reading and saw this chapter title: “The Divine Schedule is Flawless.” (I recommend this book for anyone in a time of grief or pain. It is A Path through Suffering: Discovering the Relationship between God’s Mercy and our Pain, by Elisabeth Elliot.) It is based to some extent on the writings of a Christian missionary who died in North Africa in 1928. These writings are reflections on our relationship to God, using the life cycles of various flowers as analogies. “There is a definite moment at which the seed is ripe for being liberated… All prepared are the hooks or spikes or gummy secretions needed to anchor it to the ground, and so to give purchase to the embryo shoot when the time comes for it to heave its tombstone and come out into the light. Even its center of gravity is so adjusted that, in falling from the sheath, the germ is in the very position for its future growth. If it is torn out of the husk a day too soon, all this marvelous preparation will be wasted and come to naught.”

Laura is following the divine schedule. There is a definite moment at which her soul will be ripe for liberation. Everything that has been going on, painful as it is both for her and for us, is part of the “marvelous preparation.” The Lord will not allow her to go a day too soon and thus spoil the perfection of his work. Perhaps her pain is that of the “adjustment of her center of gravity,” so that when the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies it will bear much fruit (Jn 12:24).

So let us pray that Laura will follow the flawless divine schedule to perfection. I hope that means that Jesus will take her to Himself soon, that where He is she will be, but in the meantime the Lord’s will is being done. Even Jesus once sought deliverance from it because of the unspeakable pain of body and soul required of Him, but in the end—to our everlasting happiness—He chose the Father’s will, as we are called to do now.

Abbot Joseph


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Something about this ticks me off no end. I suggest we pray for St. Michael to do some battle for her.


12:22 AM  
Anonymous Pia, aka forget me not said...

The thing is that, though each one of us must face that moment alone, sometimes, as in this case, many are called on to witness it. I know a girl who has been in agony for months now (she has MS). It's situations like these that we all try to find words to explain, but there is no explanation, and I think all attempts to figure it out or fit it into our notions, however holy they may be, come up to nothing. And yet we try to fathom the mystery of death: as long as we are on this earth we are in the realm of the evil one. Death seems to be his victory, but our faith tells us that from the apparent sting of death rises our life, by virtue of our redemption in Jesus. No one, except Him and a few chosen others, has ever come back to tell. We base our faith on the witness of the Apostles and it has to be enough. In the meantime, Laura and her family are in this strange stage of non-life, this limbo, this being suspended out of the margin of time.
My husband's aunt died last year, the same way. At one point they could tell she was trying desperately to hang on, so her daughter in law asked the other children to leave and started coaxing her into letting herself go. She died within a few short minutes and finally found her peace. But even today, though they have resigned to it, her children do not understand why it had to be so painful and dragged out. The mystery of death...

9:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe Grandpa Gitano was right.. he pointed up through the barren trellis to the night sky and asked young Gennaro if the Lord was finsihed building his house in heaven, yet. Gennaro looked up, then snorted, "There is nothing there!" Gitano said, "Oh, yes.. every time I do a good deed, an angel tells the Lord, and He adds another brick to my house. Remember, He said He was going to prepare a place for each of us." Then Gennaro scans the skies with more interest.

Maybe there are some missing bricks that she cannot add unto her dwelling. That is fanciful, yes.. but can we impact upon her dwelling? My priest is always telling me "for your penance, do something kind for another this week." Can I give her dwelling a brick instead of my own?

I search the skies a lot. Maybe for sightings of dwelling places.

But whereas I am not just a gypsy, but a Catholic, maybe there is some need that St. Michael can serve, here in Laura's greatest helplessness, which is when satan jumps in with both hooves to toy with whomever is God's. It's all worth a try, that's all I know.

10:37 AM  

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