|St. Joseph and Jesus by Michael O'Brien|
Have you ever asked God where you would go if you died this moment? Do you want to know? It was a bit of a daunting question when I began to really think on it. We’re asked to ponder this question often and especially at this time of year what with All Saints Day and All Souls Day just behind us, but I’d never considered asking the question directly. Of course, I have thought about death before and how I would like to go to heaven…eventually….just not right now. Am I the only one in this…wanting to put that “dying” bit off into the far, far, distant, future?
As much as I tried to put it off, the question wouldn’t leave me alone. There were homilies preached on it, and books opened up to the topic and it sat on my heart like a fat little bullfrog on a lily-pad, refusing to jump off. So I mustered all my courage and asked the Lord;
“If I, you know, kicked the bucket right now, where would I go?”
“Ok, so if I went to purgatory, how long do you think I would stay there….ballpark?”
“Ok, so will I **gulp** go to (squeak) hell?”
“Ok, I’ll take your silence to mean I’m going to heaven. Yay me!!!”
I was joking a little bit with the Lord - probably because I was more than slightly worried that I would actually get an answer. Oh, I did eventually get a response, but not to the original question. The answer came in the form of the rich man in scripture, who approached Jesus asking, “What must I do to gain eternal life?” His reply to that gentleman was sell all you own and follow me, and unfortunately the rich man went away saddened. Jesus' answer to me was different. It was short and sweet (he’s a man of few words), but profound. It was “You must suffer much”.
And in my heart, I sort of went away saddened too, just as the rich man did in the New Testament. Because in case you haven’t noticed, suffering isn’t any fun. In fact, it’s downright horrible sometimes and I don’t like it. I did, however, come back to Him and ask why. Why does life have to be full of suffering? Can’t heaven be gotten any other way?
“Because I suffered very much for you - dummy.” (Ok, I added the dummy part)
Touché, Lord, touché. But what does that mean for me?
On All Saints Day we have a tradition we started last year where I get a whole load of saints names together, fold them up on little papers and let students pick a saint who will walk with them throughout the year. I picked St. Dominic Savio, the boy saint who had lived a holy life and died a holy death at age 14. In reading about his life, I found myself despairing more and more –the levels of holiness some of these saints reached seem impossibly high, especially from where I’m situated right now. I mean, I’m patting myself on the back when I kneel for an extra 5 minutes in adoration, when St. Dominic was putting rocks and pieces of wood in his bed as penances. Heck, I want to be a saint, I want to go straight to heaven and bypass the likes of purgatory and hell, but I can’t say I want to suffer. I can’t say I even really know HOW to suffer to make it worthwhile and meaningful. I figure I could flub up the suffering part, endure all of it here and STILL go to purg for a long, long while. How does one reconcile these things?
Enter Jean Pierre de Caussade:
“Would that it might please God that kings, princes, priests…in one word, all men, might know how easy it is for them to arrive at a sublime holiness. All they have to do is to fulfill the simple duties of a Christian and of their state in life, and bear with submission the crosses involved, and to accept with faith and love the work and suffering which unsought come endlessly to them through God’s own providential designs.” ~The Joy of Full Surrender
That sounds familiar – and I can work towards it! (There's definitely been a theme running through my life for the last couple of months...) The duty of the moment is making me into a saint. Excellent. That means making black bean soup, shepherd’s pie and blueberry crumble tonight took me that much closer to heaven! But it also means, for me, accepting with submission, faith and love infertility, a flea-infested house/dog and several other difficulties that I won’t bore you with. But I can attempt living this moment with submission, faith and love without feeling defeated from the start. There’s no need to go looking for penances, they’re staring me in the face and hopefully, one day, they will bring me to the gates of heaven and beyond.