Ultimately Everyone Dies
There’s no escaping that. And if you are a parish priest, you are often called into the midst of this most awesome and holy of human experiences. I faced the whole thing early on with my dad’s death as I said above. And then one by one my grandmothers, grandfathers, mother and stepfather all died. And when they did I wondered mightily about where they stood with God. Nobody in my family (with the exception of my maternal grandmother had much use for God or the church).
So as they died, which they all did, I prayed to God for the love of God that they might somehow be embraced by the love of Jesus. They did nothing to “deserve”that embrace at least “religiously”. They were human beings with their good points as well as with their faults…and they all had plenty of each.
Most of us just trusted God that heaven was a good place for folk to go when they died. But some of the “religious”folk out there would raise the question about whether they could “go”to heaven. That always perplexed me. It still does.
God’s Universal Love
When I became a priest, I immediately began to think more universally about God’s love. To me it seemed that the death of Jesus paid the price for the sins of the whole world and that it was the intent of Jesus that all his children would come within the reach of his saving embrace. The word “catholic”means universal, and so I began to develop a belief in “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.” The creed taught the turn of phrase and as I thought about it, the phrase made perfect theological sense.
And so as I received those phone calls, one by one, as the inevitable came to one loved one after another, I found myself commending each to the loving arms of the Savior. Some were card-carrying Christians, some were not. Some live holy and upright lives, others were much friskier. There were tragic deaths, suicides, long illnesses, cancer and AIDS and I found myself not checking the pedigree, or worthiness of those I was called to commend to God.
I just commended them to God. And so I now consider them all as part of my family. There are hundreds, in fact by now, thousands of them. And I have commended them all to heaven one by one. Some would say I got it all wrong. But for me I put the whole thing squarely on the shoulders of the Savior.
After all, if Jesus is the Savior, than it follows that his coming into the world, his death and his resurrection was for the purpose of “salvaging”of what he could out of the messes we make of our lives.
Last In Line For Heaven
And if you don’t mind, I’m putting myself at the end of the line. In fact I refuse to go into heaven until all whom I love go first. I’ve preached this message to all my congregations more than once, and there were many who took comfort in the words I spoke. So here it is in black and white for all the world to see, right here in front of God and everybody…”I won’t go to heaven until everyone else goes in first.”
There you go, St. Peter…I hope you got that! It’s in black and white. I don’t want anything to do with heaven until all those you gave me are there before me. If you ask me heaven won’t be much fun if all that’s going to be there is all those “preachy”types you see on TV. Nope. I’m not going to heaven until my dad, my uncle, my mom and all of the other frisky folk, religious and otherwise go in first. There…I’m glad I got that off my chest. I feel much better now!