Hi to you bloggers,
I’ve been away for a while due to vacation and Christmas activities. It is good to be back. Today’s topic is seeing the hand of God.
Recently, our parish put together something unusual and touching. We decided to put together a project called “Andy’s Angels in the Outfield.” An invitation was put out to get participants to line up on a lighted baseball field and to fall backwards into the snow (in zero degree weather) to make snow angels for a recently departed angel named Andy. Our expectations of a few angels showing up were soon overwhelmed as hundreds of angels showed up for the fundraising event to help the family with expenses due to Andy’s illness. Although we raised a nice financial nest egg, we raised the spirits of the family and community.
To say that we will never forget, and that love will never die, is part of our faith and our hope. To express that so well on that night will be remembered. It was truly a God-event for many. Tears were shed and hearts were touched.
For me, I had the best seat in the house for the event. I was in a tower, high above the ball field. As an organizer, I also knew how things came together. That itself was the hand of God. A six inch snowfall days before made for beautiful angels. The timing of the participants walking in lines across the frozen outfield could not have been better planned. Everyone was in place with 10 seconds to spare. The 8 o’clock bell rang, a shout of one, two, three rang across the tundra, and hundreds of angels fell to the earth to flap their wings in support of a fellow family member and friend. From the tower, it was just like a movie. Hundreds of colorful angels marching across the snowy white field to land for a moment, before flying in unison while looking into the sky.
I have to believe Andy looked down and smiled because we looked up and smiled. It is not so hard to believe that heaven and earth can be united. It happened on a snowy field in Ohio. That day, the hand of God looked like snow angel wings.
February 17, 2011 | Categories: Christian Life, Death | Tags: after life, angels in the outfield, catholic, catholicism, children, church, community, death, dying, God, Hand of God, heaven, hope, Jesus, life, love, priest, pro life, snow angel, soul, spirit, support | Leave a comment
For years I have been known by my nieces and nephews by a particular title. It’s not Father or Padre, but the “World’s Smartest Man.” When we used to play Trivial Pursuit I would always make up great answers which sounded logical to small children. I told them that the answer was correct because I was the world’s smartest man. They were just too young to Google the right answer.
I do get asked some interesting questions, especially from children. The question asked this week that caught my attention was, “Why do we pray and have Masses for people who have died?” It makes us question the feast day last week, All Souls Day.
Why do we celebrate, as a Church, the memories and lives of those who have died? Do such celebrations have an effect on our loved ones in the afterlife? These kids ask tough questions. Maybe I’m not the world’s smartest man!
I may not know how our prayers affect those who have died, but I do know that our prayers affirm our faith, hope and love. We place our loved ones in the loving arms of our God. We trust in faith the promises of our Savior. We have hope that they are in peace and that one day we will join them as they behold our Heavenly Father’s face. In our celebrations, we remember in love and pledge our love to last to eternity. We come to the Almighty and everlasting to give an eternal reward of peace to our loved ones. We may not know how our prayers affect those who have died, but we do know that our trust in the Lord is strengthened and nourished. We celebrate the Communion of Saints and, by praying, come closer to the Communion of Saints, ourselves. These celebrations and prayers have an effect in our lives. We are comforted and brought to peace.
I may not be the world’s smartest man, but I sure feel better knowing and celebrating that my parents are with God today. Fr. Mark
Is that all there is? Over the past 25 years as a priest, I’ve been asked that question or one like it, many times. The questions take many forms, but they all come back to, “If there is a heaven, what’s it like?” I recall my first week at my first assignment at morning Mass. A mom came out of Mass with a concerned look on her face. As she approached, I could also see the concerned look on the face of her daughter of 8 years old. As they approached the little girl sobbed an important question, “Do turtles go to heaven?” Her pet turtle had died that morning and church was the only appropriate place for some comfort and maybe an answer. So how do you answer such an important question to a child or to an adult whose faith is challenged?
For me, there are different ways to answer. One is by the scriptures. When we recall the love of God through the Son who rose from the dead, we are called to something beyond death. God loves us eternally. God loves us even before we are and beyond who we are. Death can’t stop that kind of love. After Jesus’ resurrection He ate with his friends, comforted those hurt by His death and made clear that we would be joined with Him forever. Isaiah says it will be a place of choice food and wine. Scripture gives us many images of God’s eternal, heavenly love. So what is heaven like?
In 1965, when I was 8 years old, I was in a terrible accident. I was shot through the heart, lungs and stomach. The doctors gave me no chance to live, but here I am today. While in the hospital, the doctors came out to speak with my parents after one of the surgeries. The doctor said that they had lost me for a while but got me back. It was at that time that I became one of those people who encountered a “near death experience”. It wasn’t a common thing to talk about, and seven years later, my mom asked if I believed in “near death experiences.” That was the first time I told anyone that I was one of those people.
If heaven is anything like what I “experienced” it is the place to go. Yes, I saw the light, but the light is nothing compared to the amazing peace, joy, wonder and rightness of where I had gone. I remember asking myself while there, “Where could I be?” It took no time to realize that I was with God, others and creation in heaven. There was the beauty of creation all around. (I could tell the little girl that I believed her turtle was in heaven.) If heaven was a place of all beauty and goodness, why wouldn’t creation be there? There will be clover fields to run through barefooted with my brothers and sisters, surrounded with the sweet aroma of clover and chasing rabbits. I think we all have some heavenly thoughts that will be more than fulfilled in heaven.
In my “experience” I saw lots of people, people I knew and people I didn’t know. And they were experiencing the same wonder that I was. I also saw people on earth and knew, by God’s prompting, that they would be alright also.
And I knew God was there in my “experience.” It just wasn’t God’s goodness being there, but I knew God was there to be my God where nothing could harm or be wrong. All made sense. I believe we get glimpses of the Kingdom here on Earth, but it will be special when it is our time in heaven.
Why did I come back? God knows, and I trust that. I trust Him. Some things are best left up to God. I believe while we are on Earth we serve, enjoy and ponder God’s time that he gives us. But He calls us to life to the full. We should live in that kind of fullness of life here. And that includes loving the best we can until we are loved forever in perfection.
Since none of us are getting out of this world alive, most of us have a huge fascination with the afterlife. It is comforting to know the details about where we will go and what we will do there. Despite the mystery we usually associate with it, we do have information that helps us to know what to expect; and we have someone who has been there and come back.
Jesus spent His earthly life sharing information about Heaven, namely God’s desire for us to be there and specific directions about going. He told stories and gave details that help us visualize both Heaven and hell. Most importantly, His passion, death and resurrection make our journey to Heaven once again possible.
As the Book of Genesis tells us, we began our existence in Paradise, a lush and beautiful place, where our relationship with God was open and close. Through our own choice, we separated ourselves from God. Not His desire, but our choice to sin (and don’t blame this one on Adam or Eve, we have each chosen to do wrong in our own time). Fortunately, the story does not end there. God so loved us (even though we are the ones turning away from Him) that He sent His only Son to save us – making Paradise possible for us again.
So what will Heaven or hell be like? Well, Jesus shared the story of the poor, beggar Lazarus who died and was carried to Abraham in Heaven, so obviously we will enjoy the company of those who choose to follow the path to God. But when the rich man from the story died, Jesus said that he was in torment in the netherworld. Clearly, hell is a place of great sorrow, experiencing the absence of God. (Luke 16:19-31)
In another example, Jesus told his apostles that “In my Father’s house are many dwelling places” and that “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.” (John 14:2-3) This explanation obviously allows us to visualize a real dwelling, a place, a home. We will after all, like Jesus, rise from the dead – soul and body.
Jesus shared that the Kingdom of Heaven is like a wedding feast (Matthew 22). We are all invited to come to a wondrously, glorious event – who wouldn’t want to be part of that? But Jesus also said that it is better to pluck out an eye or cut off a hand rather than have it cause us to end up in hell. That picture is clearly foul and unpleasant. (Matthew 5:29-30)
As He was dying, Jesus promised the repentant thief “today you will be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43) The invitation is open to all who want to go home to Heaven. Our repentance and openness to forgiveness seem to be the needed key. The choice is ours and the options are unmistakable. As much as God wants us with Him, He places the decision in our hands.
Be sure to come back tomorrow to hear about Fr. Mark’s experience in Heaven.