SOMETIMES IT’S A WAKEUP CALL!
When I was a young lad, I entered a Catholic seminary where I spent nearly four years studying to be a priest. Late one night, I pleaded with God to give me a sign that I should continue to the priesthood or do something else with my life. I sat in the dark, looking up at the Heavens for three frustrating hours, waiting for His answer. When it was apparent that no response was forthcoming, I concluded that God had no interest in me. I angrily shouted at the heavens, “If you have nothing to say to me my Lord, I’ll have nothing further to say to you either. I’ll see you on judgment day.” I left God and the seminary behind the next morning. For nearly fifty years, I never looked back or uttered a meaningful prayer. As time passed, I came to understand that it was a mistake to abandon my Maker but I had neither the courage nor the motivation to correct the wrong.
In 2012, my doctors discovered I had an advanced stage of prostate cancer. They scheduled me for chemo and radiation therapy, but they made it clear that the prognosis was poor, and I would probably succumb to the disease within two years, sooner if it metastasized. My wife, Elizabeth and I were devastated by the news but it wasn’t our first brush with death. Elizabeth knew what to do. She went to work and got friends, family, and several prayer groups praying for me. I went through the five classic stages of impending death. I first denied it could kill me. Then when I understood that it certainly could, I got angry and yelled at God. “How could you do this to me!” Elizabeth settled me down and saying, “I know that your seminary day’s issues with God still plague you. I have never pried into that, and I’m not going to do so now, but I beg of you, whatever they are, get over them! God may be knocking on your door Jake, let him in! Get down on your knees and pray long and hard to the God you have distanced yourself from these many years if you want to live.” I knew she was right but I wasn’t ready to do that. I slipped into a depression, accepted the possibility of death, and I hoped that Elizabeth and her prayer groups would prevail without me having to reconcile with my Maker.
Nine months later, we received the results of a PET Scan. I was cancer free or at the very least, my cancer was in remission. Elizabeth and I celebrated the remarkable news with dinner at Hy’s Steakhouse in Honolulu that evening. We were both ecstatic beyond words. I toasted Elizabeth and all those whose prayers made this happen. I knew in my heart that God had rewarded her for storming the Heavens in my behalf and I was enormously grateful for the mercy He had shown to me, His prodigal son. but I was still not yet ready to return to God.
A few months later during lunch with a client at my favorite Italian restaurant, I started experiencing chest pains which I initially attributed to the spaghetti and meatballs. I decided to go home, take some Rolaids and a short nap before returning to work. When I was almost home, I broke out into a cold sweat, and my vision went blurry. I swung into a nearby hospital, checked myself into the emergency room, and called Elizabeth. After a series of tests and a treadmill electrocardiogram, the cardiologist told me I had severely clogged arteries and she was sending me via ambulance to Honolulu General for a triple bypass.
The next morning when the orderly came to deliver me to the operating room, Elizabeth asked me if I had made my peace with God yet?
“No! I’m not ready to do that yet.”
“Jake, you promised me that you would and this is the second time Jesus has knocked on your door in less than a year. He wants you back.”
“I know sorry, Love.”
As they wheeled me down the hall, it occurred to me that I was nearly a hundred pounds overweight and clearly a poor candidate for heart surgery. I thought, I could die on the operating table in the next few hours. What will become of me? Is there a place for a reasonably good man like myself, who had issues with his maker and hasn’t said a prayer in fifty years? I didn’t know, but I hoped so. Then I remembered The Blessed Mother had told the children at Fatima there were only three places in the afterlife. There was a Heaven, from whence She came, a purgatory for those souls cleansing their souls in preparation for entry into Heaven, and the fires of Hell, which was the destination of the damned. I didn’t know where I would end up but I was still not ready to let my maker in.
When they rolled me into the operating room, I got my first glimpse of the bright lights over the operating table and the covey of doctors and nurses dressed in blue gowns, caps and masks patiently waiting for my arrival, I panicked. I realized this was the real deal. Death was no longer a fuzzy concept that I spoke of with false bravado; this place and these people presented the stark reality of death and it wasn’t a pretty picture.
I thought about what Elizabeth said; She was right, my foolish, bull-headed estrangement from God had gone on way too long. I needed to squash my pride and somehow summon the courage to seek God’s forgiveness. As the anesthesiologist put his hand on my arm, I thought, hang on, give me a moment; this may be my last chance to end this absurdity. Then, I felt a brief wave of euphoria sweep over me and everything went black.
*** End of part one of two episodes. ***
Stay tuned for part two on June 1st.