Everything you need to get to heaven is here
Michael C. Barber, SJ
[Note: Bishop Barber took part in a pilgrimage to Lourdes, France, with Order of Malta, to the shrine where Our Lady appeared in 1858. This is part of his May 8 homily from a Mass at Sacred Heart Parish Church in Lourdes.]
I was serving as chaplain with Marines in Iraq in Desert Storm in 2003. Before the first battle started, General James Mattis (now Secretary of Defense), our commanding general, came to address us — 3,000 Marines, all assembled in a secret place in the desert of Kuwait — close by the Iraq border. (One bomb could have killed us all.)
They even built a special tower just for his speech. I remember well what he said: "Most of you are young, and have never been in battle before. You will all be afraid. You will all have to deal with your fear of death."
That's where I came in. As chaplain, I told the Marines in my unit: "God is in charge. If today is not your day to die, no bullet will find you. If it is your day to die, only one thing can keep you from going to heaven: mortal sin. And we have the antidote to mortal sin right here, in the Sacrament of Confession. And I will not leave this place until every Marine who wants to can go to Confession."
All the Marines went to Confession. Even the Baptists.
Saint Bernadette of Lourdes dealt with her fear of death. She was sickly as a child, and was sick all the time she was a nun. She was so ill during her novitiate, that they had to have an emergency vow of profession in her bed, as they thought she was going to die that night. The bishop was summoned, she pronounced her profession in bed, they changed her nun's veil from white to black, all the nuns were assembled in the room kneeling. Then she woke up the next morning feeling better and said, "I don't think I am going to die after all." The nuns were furious. The bishop was mad that he had to cancel three confirmations to be there.
Bernadette had many instances like this where she almost died. The nuns asked her, "Do you want us to take you back to Lourdes and bathe you in the waters, and ask Our Lady to cure you?" "Surely the Blessed Mother won't fail to cure you." "Or do you want us to bring you some of the Lourdes water here?"
Bernadette replied, "The waters of Lourdes are not for me. The cures of Lourdes are not for me." "How can you say that?" the sisters asked.
Bernadette replied, "because Mary told me: 'I do not promise to make you happy in this life, but in the next.'"
Bernadette lived for the next life.
So you may be thinking, "So what do I do now? I am sick. I hate being sick. It's awful. I don't want to suffer. I wish it would go away." Those are natural reactions to the pain of suffering. But listen to what St. Paul says:
"Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ — on behalf of His body, which is the Church." (Colossians 1:24).
Put another way, St. Paul says: "My sufferings are for your sake."
I had heard years ago about the Diocese of Arlington, and how they were ordaining so many young priests — more than any other diocese in the USA. I always wondered what their secret was?
Last year I was invited to give a retreat to the priests of Arlington, and I accepted because I wanted to find out what their secret was. Of course it helps to have a good bishop. While on the retreat one of the priests came to see me.
He said, "I don't have a problem to discuss. I just feel called to share something with you. I am a full-time hospital chaplain. I visit sick people all day, every day. I made these little prayer cards with a picture of the suffering Christ. On the back I wrote a short prayer. I ask the sick if they'll say this prayer."
The prayer says something like "I offer all my sufferings for an increase in vocations to the priesthood and sisterhood in the diocese of Arlington."
Because of these prayers offered by the sick and suffering for the sake of the Diocese, Bishop Paul Loverde ordained 100 new priests in 10 years.
Or take another case. I am a Jesuit priest and I lived for years in a Jesuit high school community in San Francisco.
One of our priests there faithfully followed the three pillars of the Jesuit Rule for 40 years: 1. Prayer and Mass in the morning. 2. Teach five classes during the day. 3. Scotch and soda in the evening.
After 40 years of teaching physics, he was diagnosed with a serious illness and told he had to move to the Jesuit infirmary in Los Gatos. Most priests hate to get news like that, and resist going to the infirmary. He, on the other hand, went dutifully and found he was given a new mission-in-life: the Prayer of Intercession.
He had a large statue of the Sacred Heart moved into his infirmary room. He sent out emails to all the Jesuits saying: send me your intentions. I'm here all day and I want to pray for your intentions. Like St. Paul, he offered his sufferings for the sake of Christ's body, which is the Church.
Well, things started happening, people's lives were being changed. Prayers were answered: exams were passed, scholarships were granted, alcoholics started going to AA, mothers wrote that their kids were going back to church again ... and many more.
Then a few years later when the doctor told him "We are going to amputate your leg on Friday" he sent out an urgent email: "This Friday many special graces and blessings are going to be granted. Send me your most important intentions."
At that point I was a seminarian, and wrote and asked him to pray that I would get approved for ordination. And this Jesuit was approved and ordained.
I believe all these things were granted by God because this Jesuit Father offered his suffering, together with Christ on the Cross, for the sake of the members of the Church.
We are gathered here in St. Bernadette's parish church. Even if the Blessed Mother had never appeared to her, everything Bernadette needed for salvation is here. When you go home, look around your parish church. Everything you need to get to heaven is there.
They did a survey recently, in one of the newspapers in my city. They found that people who go to church regularly live longer — about seven years longer on average.
My friends, those who are baptized, those who have their sins forgiven in confession, those who receive the Lord's Body and Blood in Holy Communion don't just live longer ...
You will live in eternity!
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