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.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

More Thoughts on Laura's Passing

I’d like to share with you a few thoughts, more or less random, that have come to me during these days of mourning for Laura. Perhaps they may be of some benefit to you as you ponder the mysteries of life and death. I plan to write more for our monastery newsletter’s summer issue, but perhaps this will suffice for now.

First, I’m grateful that Laura was blessed with a holy death, even though her sufferings were prolonged (but that may have contributed to the holiness). She had the priceless and indispensable benefit of access to the sacraments of the Church, for one thing. They say that the Catholic Church is sometimes the hardest one to live in, but it’s the very best to die in! Everything that can possibly be done for the soul preparing to meet God is done through the ministry of the Church. She also had the benefit of being in an environment of love and care, where all her needs were met by her family and the hospice nurses (and the visiting priests!). So many people die alone, in hospitals, nursing homes, prisons, tenement apartments, war- or strife-torn lands or even on the street. Even though the Lord called her to suffer, He gave her the best possible environment in which to spend her last days. She may have shared something of the darkness and apparent abandonment of his passion, but at least she was not brutally tortured, and mocked and reviled on top of it, as was our Savior.

The next point is perhaps a bit fanciful, but I can’t help wondering what the experience of her soul leaving her body must have been like. After all, she was sleeping. Did she think she was having a dream and then suddenly realized it was no dream but that angels had really come and taken her to the presence of the Holy One? Or was she actually dreaming of the Lord, and her dream unexpectedly came true, to her delight and joy? Or while to the eye of an observer she was asleep, was she really in some kind of interior communion with the Lord, who was calling her to rise and come to Him? We’ll never know that until we ask her ourselves in Paradise, but I find the various possibilities quite fascinating.

One thing I’ve been thinking about is the very moment that I received the news. It is very difficult to describe everything that was packed into that instant when I heard the words: “She’s gone!” I was hoping and praying for her liberation and entrance into Heaven, yet it was as if some rushing flood had suddenly overwhelmed me, and I almost didn’t know how to react. Perhaps all the accumulated emotion and stress and prayer and waiting of the past few weeks had in that instant coalesced into a point of extreme density and suddenly found its release. I was happy, sorrowful, relieved, in pain, in gratitude, and in some other nameless feeling all at once. There’s an incredible finality to death. A loved one can be in a coma for months, but when they finally pass it is still a shock, a loss that feels like it was unexpected, even though it wasn’t. Even when Laura was mostly unconscious, there was still a possibility that she might at least temporarily revive (as happened a couple times before) and I could talk to her. Now it was no longer a possibility. She left this world and is not coming back. I was expecting that call at any moment, yet I somehow couldn’t quite grasp the full import of it when it finally came. Perhaps we have our own scenarios of how we’d like to see things happen, but death foils them all and leaves us no time to reset the stage. When the moment arrives, one must inexorably go.

Laura told me about a sort of vision she had, maybe a year ago, when she was in our monastery church. It was as if it were the moment of her death, and she felt two angels escorting her to the presence of the Lord. The vision did last long enough for her to see Him or know what happens at his judgment seat, but the thing that impressed her was the absolute certainty that that’s where she was going, and the same certainty that she had no choice in the matter. The angels were gentle, but firm enough so that she realized that she was utterly unable to turn back, even if she wanted to. When they take you, you go. You cannot resist. Perhaps she was being given a little advance notice of what to expect when her soul would leave her body. The experience did not leave her afraid, yet it was sobering.

Laura had 54 years in which to “prepare for the Kingdom.” She didn’t spend all of those years actively doing so, but thanks be to God the last three or four were quite focused on this preparation. It’s over now. Her time is up. There’s nothing more she can do—not that she needs to, but the point is that we are allotted a certain number of years on earth in which our eternal destiny is prepared and decided. Some people have many more years than Laura did, some have many less. We don’t know when it is going to be over, when the moment will come that we have to make an account for our lives, the moment when there will be no more chances to do things differently. It may come suddenly; the Lord constantly has reminded us to watch, be ready, for we know not the day or the hour. Are you ready right now if suddenly the Lord appeared and said, “It is time”? Laura was blessed not only to have several years to take stock of her life and turn wholeheartedly to the Lord; she also had a period of decline in which she knew death was imminent and could focus all her available energies on meeting the Lord face to face so that her entrance into Paradise could be richly provided for. Many people are not so fortunate. This is why life has to be a preparation for the Kingdom. This preparation cannot be postponed until a convenient time, because that time may never materialize. We are perhaps not sufficiently aware that there is no second chance once we die. We may or may not be given many chances while we live, but we have to live in such a way as to be spiritually ready for death and judgment at any moment.

I have prayed much and with fervor and even tears, both before and after Laura’s death. I have learned that nothing wounds more deeply than love, especially if that love is rooted in the love of Christ. You can only hurt so much from the attacks of an enemy, for the hatred or malice of an enemy cannot access the depths of the human heart. Those depths can only be freely opened to others in love, but once opened they are forever vulnerable, and one is powerless to defend oneself. I think Jesus was showing us this when He allowed his heart to be pierced on the Cross. It was a symbol of what had already happened. He says to each of us, whose sins crushed Him to death: “If an enemy had done this, I could bear it… But it is you, my companion, my intimate friend” (Ps 55:13-14). His love for us made the wound all the more painful. Perhaps, when grieving the loss of a loved one, we can identify with Mary’s heart as well, which was “pierced by a sword,” according to Simeon’s prophecy, when she saw her beloved Son crucified in agony before her eyes. Love is the only sword that can penetrate that deeply. Yet love is also what makes us most fully human, and because humans are created in the image of God, who is Love, it makes us most like Him.

So now I have to “switch gears” and go back to my usual rounds of prayer and work and ministry. I was able, mostly, to do so during the past weeks, but some things will be different now. There will be no anxious checking of phone messages to see if there has been any development, no focusing of prayer upon Laura’s final preparation and purification (though I will continue to pray for her soul until she appears to me and tells me she’s already in Heaven!). There’s a kind of relief now, yet also a kind of emptiness. There’s peace, yet the grieving is not over. There’s gratitude and joy for her joy, yet there is that sword-point of loss. I think, though, that it’s not just going to be a return to my usual life. I think Laura is praying for me. My vision has improved; my life is coming into sharper focus. I’m going to spend the rest of it preparing for the Kingdom.

Abbot Joseph


Blogger AutumnRose said...

May her soul truly rest in the peace of God ~ His peace that passes all understanding.

God bless, Laura xxx

12:18 PM  

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