Faith Believes

23324heaven

 

Several years ago, actually twenty-one, to be exact, I came down with a cold that I could not shake.  I was home-bound for about a week and it wasn’t getting any better . . . in fact it was getting worse.  I lay on the living room couch without the strength to even get up for glass of water.  I didn’t eat for days.  As my temperature began to soar past a hundred degrees, it appeared I was destined for the hospital.  I had never really been sick in a very long time so I didn’t have a doctor to turn to.  When finally, I got to Mercy Hospital I remember literally having to crawl on my hands and knees to get up the steps at the front door.

The ER people took one look at me and called in an emergency internist who began to diagnose my problem.  It turned out that I had a life threatening form of pneumonia that was resistant to the normal routine drugs.  Over the next two weeks, my doctor would try a number of combinations of antibiotics to try to counter the disease.  After about ten trials and twenty three different drugs, he hit on the right combination; but not before nearly losing me completely to the disease.  During those final hours I was delirious with pain due to lack of oxygen as my lungs were nearly completely filled with fluid and my body was screaming for air.

I knew that I was at the point of death and begged for God to relieve me of my life by calling me home.  That night I was given an extraordinary gift; one that I have remembered in great detail even to today.

We often read about near death experiences, but seldom do we encounter many who actually have had one.  Well this was for me a second experience, far more vivid than the first one, back when I was eighteen.  In this experience I was ushered somehow through a tunnel of light and was met on the other side by one who I can only describe as a being of light.  I didn’t know if it Jesus or an angel but I knew that it was a being, clothed in light and exuding great love for me and for everyone there.  In an instant I was shown my past – where things had gone right and where they had gone wrong.  I was also shown a probable future if I decided to not go back.  But the future I was shown would not be a pleasant one for my family or for those I would leave behind.  I felt an intense desire to stay where I was but was ridden with guilt by the thought of leaving those I loved behind.  And so I was given the choice to give up my life and be welcomed into paradise and be forever surrounded in love –or- go back to save my family from a dismal future and to begin a second life’s work – to be literally born again.  In either case I was assured that I would be forever welcome into the arms of mercy regardless of the choice I made.  And so reluctantly, I chose to return.  I awoke that morning in my hospital bed.  My temperature was now normal and I was finally able to breathe.  Whether it was a dream, the medication or a miracle I am not able to tell you.  But I know it was an experience so intense that it has stayed with me all these years and I have been thankful for every minute of every day since.  I was healed of pneumonia and was given a new lease on life; but more importantly I was given the blessed assurance that all is exactly as how we all have been taught.

Today’s gospel story relays to us the story of another healing.  It is the healing of a man, blind from birth, and how Jesus relates to those who have doubts about God’s miracles.  In this story there are many who are blind.  One who was physically blind and did not know the Messiah and yet was healed; and those who proclaimed they knew about the Messiah but yet were spiritually blind to him when he appeared right in front of them.

The key question in this story was when His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

And so this man’s mission in life was to be born blind and be healed for the sole purpose to illustrate for those would believe that Jesus Christ came down from heaven in order that all people might be saved from what afflicts them.  The story also illustrates for us that those who cannot believe or will not believe and who are blinded by pride and arrogance may be lost forever in their sins.

Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see . . . may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, `We see,’ your sin remains.”

There can be no doubt that both the blind man and the Pharisees in the story desired to go to heaven,  I think most everyone holds in their hearts, to some degree or another, a general expectation of what heaven is about. 

I also believe that there is not one person outside these doors, however false may be their views, however unscriptural the ground of their hope, however worldly-minded they may be . . . who does not wish there to be a heaven to go to when they die.  But Jesus tells us that many in the world, without a change of heart, will never get there.  He tells us that many desire to wear the crown – but most are ashamed of the cross.  Many would like the glory–but few can stomach grace.  All would like the happiness–but very few buy into holiness.  All would like the peace that believing brings–but very few will seek after truth.  We all would like the victory–but none of us wants to fight.  We all would like the reward–but not the labor.  We all would like the harvest–but not the plowing.  We all would like the reaping–but not the sowing.  And so the way to heaven is fraught with difficulty for those who have little faith and it is nearly impossible for those who have none at all.

So why is it so difficult for even those of us who actually believe?  I think it’s difficult because we hear the stories of God’s workings and of his healings as in today’s reading, but few of us are healed.  We see earthquakes in Japan and recent mudslides in Washington and disasters all around the world and we wonder where is God in all this?  We see stories on the news of fellow Christians killed while at mass and their church buildings destroyed and we wonder what is our faith all about if God allows atrocities against innocent people to be committed?

If God is not sending earthquakes, destroying economies and inflicting pain upon human beings, then we might ask, what is He doing?  I believe that God works through people like you and me, calling them to help their neighbors in need. God comforts his people, walking with them even through the valley of the shadow of death as we read in today’s Pslam.  God bends or forces suffering, tragedy and evil that occur to bring about good in all things. God redeems the suffering and heals the broken hearted. Those who are believers in God find strength from their faith in the face of suffering. They are compelled to give sacrificially to help those in need.  And they have the hope that comes from knowing that, with God by their side, the tragedy they witness in others, or are facing tragedy themselves, is never the final word.  I believe they are called, like Christ himself, to be “wounded healers” in a broken world.

You and I were each born for a purpose; we each have a mission in life.  We may not be aware of exactly what it is but like the blind man in the Gospel story and the child David in the Old Testament, you were chosen just as you are (perhaps in ways broken, confused, blind or deaf) so that God’s works might be revealed in you.  Remember always that you did not choose God, no one can . . .  God chose you for this time and in this place.   

If you go away with any thought from this homily today, remember that there’s nothing more precious to your life than time. You probably feel you have a measureless supply of it, but you do not.  Wasted hours will destroy a life just as surely at the beginning of life as at the end, only at the end it becomes much more obvious.

Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light.  Live as children of light– for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.  Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.  Amen