Everyone wants to go to heaven; no one wants to die
Michael C. Barber, SJ
Earlier in this month of May, "Mary's Month," I took part in a pilgrimage to Lourdes, to the shrine where Our Lady appeared to a girl, Bernadette, in 1858.
I went with Order of Malta, which is a Catholic organization dedicated to serve the sick and the poor. Every year they charter a plane and invite some people who are sick (malades) and their companions to come and pray at the shrine. We were 378 in our group. We not only prayed for the sick who were in our group, but also for a good number of those at home who had asked for prayers.
Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone and I brought petitions from some inmates at San Quentin Prison and pressed them to the rock walls of the grotto where Mary appeared.
We took part in Masses, processions, rosaries, stations of the cross, and bathing in the special "Lourdes water" which continues to flow from the spot where St. Bernadette was instructed by Our Lady to dig.
I thought I would share a homily I gave on May 8 during one of our Masses at Sacred Heart Parish Church, Lourdes, France, as it sums up what the spiritual message is for many. I hope it may help you, especially if you are sick or suffering as you read this.
We owe our victory in the Pacific during World War II to Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. Years before, as a lieutenant, he was given his first command at sea: an old, rickety ship of the line. He and his crew were in the midst of a great storm, the ship was tossing perilously to and fro, waves were breaking over the brow, and the ship was taking on water.
The engineer called up from the engine room, hysterical, saying there was so much water, the ship was going to sink! He yelled: "Captain! Captain! What do we do?" Lieutenant Nimitz calmly replied into the speaking tube: "You will find exactly what to do on page 84 of Barton's Engineering Manual."
Many of you here today are suffering various illnesses.You may have just been diagnosed with cancer, and you are afraid, you are in crisis and you may feel your ship is sinking. People in such a state often say to me: "Father Barber! What do I do?"
You will find exactly what to do in Philippians 3:8-11. St. Paul there says:
"That I may know Jesus, and the power of His resurrection, and may share His suffering, becoming like him in His death, that if possible, I may attain the resurrection from the dead."
Most of us spend our lives totally concentrating on THIS life, and ignore the NEXT life: our Eternal Life.
St. Bernadette was very much aware of the reality of the next life. She was the eldest of nine children, and three of her brothers and sisters died in infancy. Death was very close to people of her age. While with us, we don't want to think of death. Our lives are so comfortable and secure. Bernadette died at age 35. We live much longer. With us: Everyone wants to go to heaven, but no one wants to die.
Some of you here today are sick. Some of us will be sick tomorrow. But we will all eventually die, and we all have to deal with the Fear of Death. That is why Jesus came. The Bible says: "The last enemy to be destroyed is death." By His Cross, Jesus conquered death. Jesus came to reassure us of the reality of the resurrection, and that death is not The End.
(Read the conclusion of Bishop Barber's homily in the June 12 issue of The Catholic Voice.)
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