4. There

Part 4 in the series, My Summer Vacation 2010

God made nature. The naked eye sees in the created world infinite variety of textures, colors, shapes, and sizes in living and non living elements that form grand designs ranging from simple to unfathomable: oceans and ponds, mountains and plains, phases of the moon, meteor showers and constellations aplenty. Beyond what we see is an invisible world of sounds and spirits, electrons and protons. Sheer reason renders the conclusion that there is even more.

There is a real place where human beings that voluntarily became the children of God continue to live forever.

There is where Juan Diego took me on vacation. I will return there someday to live until the rest of forever; and there you may live too.

Since we sat in the front of the plane, Juan Diego and I were the first to get out after thanking the stewards and Elijah who emerged from his cockpit.  

When my foot first touched the ground I felt lighter and cleaner than ever. I saw before me a meadow of lush green grass with swaths of wildflowers as if carefully planted to caste a rainbow of colors. I also saw butterflies, bees, and bright blue birds fluttering about. I saw no sun and yet every tree rested in spring morning brightness. Juan Diego was still to let me absorb the splendor of it all before gently taking my hand and walking me down a path.

“Jesus wants to see you; we mustn’t keep Him waiting.”

“Haaah!” a tingling feeling like a trickle of electricity surged through my entire body. “HE wants to see me?” No answer.

When we reached the peak of a hill, I saw a stately village and people dressed in loose white clothing walking around in a purposeful way. Juan Diego was still silent and I was glad for that. We eventually approached an elegant home built with white marble and glass. I remember being a little surprised not to see any guards or a fence. We merely walked up to it and knocked at the grand door that was soon opened by a handsome young black man also wearing white.

“Please come in; our Lord is expecting you.” He led us into a paneled room with a vaulted ceiling. Through a large window I recognized the meadow we had just crossed. No one else was in the room. The man asked us to sit and offered me a drink which I accepted. Another servant entered with viccino which is a spoon of cherry preserve in a glass of cold water. My grandmother used to serve this to special guests.

Nervousness shook me to the core.  Dear God, please help me.  Silence.

Jesus the Christ entered the room alone. He looked to be in his thirties, muscular, beautiful, and alert. He approached me with great warmth and as if he knew that I had been waiting my whole life to hug Him, He embraced me. The surge of energy I felt at that moment could have powered a small city. I am afraid that my tears wet His clothes. He didn’t let go until I started to.

Once apart, I lowered my head and said, “thank You.”

Without any more introduction, He went straight to the point, “I fear that people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandment of men. Many will say to me some day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?'Then I will have to tell them plainly, 'I never knew you.’ They forsake our relationship for everything and anything else. Prayer and fasting, they neglect, I hear very few confessions. Yet, I don’t want to lose them.

I answered, “I am your servant. Where are we?”

“This is the second reality. Here we wait for the culmination of this age.”

“Oh, yes, I remember.” I replied, “The earth will suffer tribulations. I have heard of many. After the tribulations the sun and moon will not give light; the stars will fall from heaven. I read that; then all the tribes of the earth will see You coming in the clouds with power and great glory to gather the elect from earth and from…here? Then there will be the Great Judgment and the first heaven and earth will pass away, and a new one will take its place where we will live forever and a day.”

“You remember well. Until then, this dual universe of heaven and earth is where souls are born and choose between life and death and here is where the immortals live and wait for the new earth. I have granted you this brief visit to heaven to encourage and guide you. You still have much to learn. Live as if you are here. I sent for you to teach you how.”

“Lord, who can believe me that I came here?”

“I am not sending you to everyone, but to the sleeping sheep; wake them up. Do this for Me. When we meet again, you may stay. Farewell.”

With a wink and a smile, but not another word, or another hug, Jesus turned and walked out of the room. The black servant quickly moved into the space that Christ vacated, and said, “Fret not, the others will tell you what to do. Juan Diego move-on!" 

5. Misery in Heaven

Part 5 in the series, My Summer Vacation 2010

Juan Diego and I walked solemnly out of Christ’s house. I didn’t want to leave because I had so much to ask Him. How could He expect me to awaken His comfortably sleeping sheep if they don’t want to wake-up? I wondered if I was being sent on an impossible mission. Again I thought of the man who asked Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brother about hell.

So immersed in thought was I that I did not pay much attention to the happy people around me or to where we were going. My heart was heavy. Imagine that. There I was in heaven trying to figure out how to keep Christ from losing his beloved sheep who worship with their lips and not their hearts? Am I my brother’s keeper? To attempt to correct the vain is an excellent way to make enemies. Then I thought about the proverb that says that a wise man will accept correction, but a fool will only hate you. Perhaps Christ knows that there are a few wise men among the vain, and it is those I must seek out at my peril. To abandon this call would be cowardly, surely deserving of doom.

This is no vacation, I thought, it is like waking up to a living nightmare. I felt as if I was about to fall off a cliff. Where is that guidance and encouragement He promised?

Exhausted by my fretting I tried to clear my mind and simply enjoy the light and abundant joyful life surrounding me. After all, I was among the elite successful. I wanted to absorb as much of their strength as I could. I never expected people in Heaven would have bodies until I remembered that when Christ came back from the dead and ate fish and honey, He said that He wasn’t a spirit. Looking around I noticed that the people in Heaven seemed to be from every country in the world. I saw Orientals, other Asians like Israelites and Russians, and I saw Europeans, Eskimos, Africans, Hispanics, Indians and Native Americans. There were also plenty of people who carried in their genes delightful combinations of all races. Maybe they were all Americans or all Catholics I thought with a chuckle!

Jumping right out of my internal musings, I looked over at Juan Diego and asked, “Where are all the people who have died but who aren’t here in Heaven?” and without waiting for his reply I added, “Will I see my parents and my grandfathers. I want so much to see them again. Are they here?”

“For the most part,” he replied, “non-residents of Heaven are doing what they had been doing their entire lives that kept them from being here, those who cursed are cursing, those who thought only of themselves are still thinking only of themselves. Those who spent all day judging everyone around them are still judging everyone around them. We are all waiting for the end of time, but they aren’t as free and happy as these Heaveners. Most of them, I’m afraid, are suffering as much if not more than they did on earth. But there is hope for them at the Great Judgment, and so they wait and hope. Those who are lucky enough to be prayed-for are being refreshed and have the greatest chance of making it in the end.”

Just as he said those words, Juan Diego and I turned a corner which opened onto an immaculately manicured park full of colorful flowers where a bearded man stood up from his bench and walked over to greet us.

“Hello, I am Peter of Damaskos. The Lord received reports of your fretting and sent me to help you. You overestimate what is expected of you my friend. Simply try harder to be a good example to others; first you must live it before you can teach it. You don’t need to be confrontational and argumentative. Identify your mark and pray, making corrective comments gently but consistently.

Then pray for those who you have distressed and those who distress you. Whatever you do, do not harbor the least trace of rancor as rancor weakens your soul and then you will not be able to endure with forbearance when the time comes to pray for them who mistreat you as the Lord commanded.

Your prayers will dispatch angels from here who can enter the souls of men with fertile soil to guide them to the wakefulness and the purity Christ seeks. Do this and you will return to live among us.”

Peter then hugged me with the same warmth of Jesus and excused himself. I looked over at Juan Diego who was already piercing me with his cerulean eyes, and asked how I was doing.

“I may survive.” I said sheepishly. “What’s next? Can we go to the beach for a picnic?" I added desperate to lighten-up.

7. Opus of Saints

This is Part 7 in the series, My Summer Vacation 2010.

We laughed and sang; we danced and ate sublimely delicious foods. We even swam in the lake and played volleyball. Merriment must have received its meaning from the first party for Mary. Hundreds of people dressed in white congregated from the four corners of heaven to celebrate August 15th, the 2,000th anniversary of Mary’s arrival. Of course I didn’t know who any of these people were, or rather had been in their old lives. Frankly, I didn’t have the nerve to ask. I was just so grateful to be among them, the happiest group of people human eyes has ever seen. Yes, there was wine at the party, plenty of wine but no one appeared drunk. It was also strange that night never fell. After a while, one by one the guests approached Mary to thank her with a kiss and a hug and then disappeared.

Juan Diego tugged at my shirt and told me that we had better head out too. I hated to leave but I was glad to have a reason to speak with Mary again. Of course she knew instinctively that I was about to depart so she first came over to me, and after a big mother hug, she looked me right in the eyes and said, “I will be listening for you. Go back and make me proud.”

I thought I would melt; a puddle of Evangeline, like a scoop of ice cream that fell off its cone and flattened into a little gooey raw pancake. Instead I hugged her back a few seconds too long to let her know how much I didn’t want to leave. Juan Diego yanked me away and waved good-bye while shouting to be heard over the cacophony of merrymaking. “I had better get her out of here before she makes a scene. “

Only this time Juan Diego and I were not walking alone. A lovely lady and a young gentleman were behind us. Juan Diego turned to see them and then stopped to let them catch up.

“Thank-you,” said the gent when they finally met-up with us. “I know you have somewhere to go; we don’t want to hold you up, so we’ll join you. We like to walk. My name is Paul and this is my sister Juliana. “

“Juliana! Oh, I am so happy to meet you,” I said with a hug. “Can you tell me how you did that?!”

“Yes, but we must keep walking. I was strictly ordered not to hold you up.” She replied.

“Good” said Juan Diego and recommenced his march on the path through a vast meadow of sun flowers that reminded me of Italy.

Paul walked silently beside Juan Diego. Juliana and I followed close behind.

It is here in my report that we should jump back to earth momentarily so I can fill you in on you why I was so thrilled to see Saint Juliana in heaven. It was August 17 and my little grandbaby Lilly Juliana was still not yet Christened, but we knew that she would be named after saint Juliana who was a very brave and faithful young lady of the third century when Christendom was united as one petal of faith in a whole weedy world of mean power grabbers and ignorance.

A girl would have to stretch very big inside to live up to the namesake of Juliana, a most stubborn and tough young lady if ever there was one. When the emperor Aurelian came to visit Juliana’s town of Ptolemais, her brother Paul, to show that his king was Jesus and no other, made the sign of the cross right smack in front of Aurelian. Aurelian had him arrested. The next day at Paul’s trial he openly confessed Christ which was a crime punishable by torture. Seeing the suffering of her brother Juliana denounced the emperor for his cruelty, so she was also taken into custody and tortured. More strong willed teens the town of Ptolemais had never known. Juliana and Paul refused to deny Christ as God and their Lord no matter how much they were beaten or burned. The emperor tried another tactic on her by offering to take her as his own wife; when she refused he sent her to a brothel. Juliana’s faith grew even stronger when every man who tried to have her was blinded. The enraged emperor then had her and her brother tortured some more and when the townspeople started to murmur against him for overreacting with these young people, Aurelian decided to end the debacle once and for all by having Juliana and Paul beheaded. That tragic episode was relatively short albeit intense; besides, their valor won them a place at King Jesus table every Thanksgiving Day.

Last August 17th, the feast day of Juliana, during my prayers, I had introduced to her myself and the baby. I asked her to please watch over little Juliana her whole life, to keep her safe and faithful too so that someday she and I could live together in heaven forever and ever as friends. I added that I would fast on that, her feast day, as Father Max instructed me, to invoke her help. Well, even to my surprise, Saint Juliana indeed heard me and got right to work choosing Andrea and George to be Lilly Juliana’s godparents.

“Juliana, please tell me how prayer works? Or was it a coincidence that Lilly Juliana’s godparents were chosen on your feast day?”

I used the energy of your prayer and fasting coupled with my feast day to catapult my efforts and make obvious the power of the Lord. Even as you prayed, I ran a search of all godparent possibilities, and frankly the options were few, probably because this match was perfect, no one could compete. I was rather pleased myself. Gabrielle is a tough cookie, just like me, that’s why I like her so much. It would have to be striking.”

Juliana replied, “Don’t be silly. You know how fast a computer works; when we are admitted here our original God-given powers are restored so we can respond with equal precision and reliability. That is, when circumstances warrant. In your case I knew that the key to little Lilly’s salvation was giving her good godparents and convincing her bio-parents of the power and reality of Christ.

The criteria for the selection was this:

  • Special relationship: Andrea was Gabrielle’s little sorority sister - check.
  • Orthodox: Andrea and George were Orthodox and married in the Church – check.
  • Additional secular and/or ecclesiastical bonds: George and Gabrielle were born the same week in the same hospital and after 40 days or so were presented to the Church on the same Sunday morning one infant in each of Father John’s arms- bonus check.
  • Additional family relationship: George’s grandfather had been a priest at their church when Gabrielle was a child- bonus check.
  • Post life relationship: Priest George and his wife are buried across from the grandmother and great grandparents of Gabrielle, Taki, Evangelia and your own mother, Maria. They know each other as they prepare for the bodily resurrection together. These family members also participated in the selection – double bonus check.

“Once Andrea was chosen the rest was easy. We planted the urge for Facebook in both ladies’ minds. They did the rest. Rest assured; this was not all my doing. The Lord Jesus approved every phase of the operation. He who said, ‘Go and bear fruit and keep on bearing, that your fruit may be lasting; so whatever you ask the Father in my name He may give it to you.’ He has seen your fruit and heard your prayers for your children. You did not mobilize me as much as He did. The angels and saints serve Him. We form a network of life and light to bring holy achievers, you call them aspiring immortals, into the real and lasting world of His kingdom.”

“Juliana,” I said, “After all these centuries in heaven, do you ever cease to be amazed at how the Lord operates?”

“No my dear, never, Paul and I must go now; I am afraid we are holding you up. When you go back to earth, remember that reading minds and hearts is the key to the functionality of prayer and is how we communicate here. If you want to be able to live here with us, prepare. Remember when He said through Matthew, ‘Be pure in heart.’ He meant not to allow or accept anything in your mind which is not in alliance with perfection in Christ. I hope to see you and little Juliana and all of her parents here someday! Yes, I will personally be watching over them all. That little Nicholas is a pistol isn’t he?”

With that, Juliana and Paul disappeared leaving me with Juan Diego in a meadow of sunflowers feeling awe struck.

9. The Fall from Heaven

I returned from heaven with a renewed commitment to Christ and His mission. I think by not letting me see my parents or anyone else I had known personally I was made to realize that Jesus might have meant it when He said, “You must be perfect” and “The way is very narrow and few find it.” The highway to heaven theory must be wrong, where all a person has to do is the very same thing that demons do, that is to know that Jesus is the Son of God who came to earth to free-up Hades and restore the bridge to God that was demolished after Adam and Eve were evicted from Eden. Demons don’t go to heaven; I now know that for a fact.

Lying in my very own comfy bed, I pondered the advent of the New Year, the one that begins in September, when it is believed that God first created earth, when schools from east and west start to teach students anew. How could I become a better disciple? Does the word discipline have anything to do with discipleship? I wondered if the words disciple and discipline had that uncanny relationship in the Greek language too.

Then I remembered how sad Jesus was when He told me that people worship Him with their mouths and not their hearts because someday and forever after they will not be with Him as they fantasize they are now. It is so easy to make Christ in our image and likeness. He is as pliable as our imaginations make Him. The unspoken theory seems to be that when we get to heaven we will suddenly be changed, all of our faults and weaknesses, i.e. our self indulgences will instantly disappear. Who would want that? If people refuse to conform to the image and likeness of God here and now, when it is entirely their own free will to do so, where people love and die for freedom, who thinks it is a good idea to be forced into the mindset of God in order to live peacefully with the martyrs and saints? That would be murder!

Dying to self is one thing, a good thing, at least Saint Paul thought so when he said in Corinthians 15:31 that he dies every day. Martyrs were willing to die when they were given a choice between death and renouncing Christ. But does anyone want to be murdered? Would God even want to murder any one, to hold them up at gunpoint and force them to change their minds and hearts, or would He change His rules to accommodate hypocrites and liars because they meant well, and believed they would get in?

Just to be safe, I thought I had better enroll anew in the army of Christ. To be a Christian soldier is to be disciplined just like any other kind of soldier. Every day soldiers wake up to a life of doing what they don’t want to do, for a cause that they want very much. Soldiers freely relinquish their wills to their superiors because they trust in their wisdom and mission.

It was then that I had this funny feeling that meant first I needed to get out of bed early, and so I did. It was time to go to back work.