The past week I’ve been away from my parish traveling to Albuquerque, New Mexico for a professional conference. The plan was to stay on for a few more days to make a private retreat at a Norbertine Priory outside of the city. Notice I say “was.” The last day of the conference I woke up with a nasty case of the flu or some other gastrointestinal ailment. Let’s just say nothing would stay inside my body.
By 6:00 PM I was sure that I was becoming dehydrated, so I went to a local hospital Emergency Room. After about three miserable hours in the waiting room, I finally got into a treatment room. Then I was moved to a unit with recliners to wait until all the IV fluid and meds for nausea were finished dripping into my system and I felt well enough to leave.
All the while I kept thinking I just wanted to be at home. Albuquerque and Santa Fe, where I had also been, were lovely towns. The weather had been good. The conference was interesting. It was nice reconnecting with priests I’ve meet before at this annual conference. But, I just wanted to be home!
Isn’t that the Christian’s story?
This world is a beautiful place, full of wonders to explore. There are relationships that make this life a wonderful experience. Ultimately, though, it is as if we are travelers visiting a place that is not home. The letter to the Hebrews says:
They …acknowledged themselves to be strangers and aliens on earth, for those who speak thus show that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land from which they had come,they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better homeland, a heavenly one. (Hebrews 11:13b-16)
And, while we are here on this earth we are painfully aware that we are sick with sin that can make life miserable. For the Christian, our home where we long to be is the fullness of the Kingdom of God. Call it the experience of being wholly perfected (or Holy). Call it heaven. Call it the eternal banquet of life. Whatever we call it, it’s the true home, the dwelling Jesus said that he would go to prepare for us
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled.
You have faith in God; have faith also in me.
In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.
If there were not, would I have told you
that I am going to prepare a place for you?
And if I go and prepare a place for you,
I will come back again and take you to myself,
so that where I am you also may be. (John 14:1-4)
Maybe the ER waiting room experience might be a metaphor for Purgatory; not exact but a way to approach the mystery of redemption. There I could witness the various ailments, the brokenness of the human condition. All were in need of healing. What if each of those people were the folks that my sins had caused brokenness or hurt my relationship with or harmed the ability of the Christian message to be encountered. I become aware of how I’ve shared in causing the brokenness of the world. Also in the waiting room were family or friends who were supporting the sick, being their advocate and interceding with the medical staff to please hurry, treat my loved one. Although I didn’t have an advocate in the waiting room, I did have a visitor who stayed with me in the treatment and step-down area who returned later to pick me up at 4:00 AM and tack me to get some medicine and bring me back to the hotel. Thank you to Alan Szafraniec, a member of the staff of the National Federation of Priests’ Councils, the organization whose conference I was attending, who was an angel that bore me up with his wings in the moment of suffering. Is this support of family in the ER not something like the faithful on earth praying for the dead to be released from the experience of purgatory and be brought to the healing of Heaven?
I’m writing this as I hang out at the home of a priest whose parish is in Albuquerque who has taken me in while I recuperate enough to travel. Thanks to Rev. Tim Martinez, pastor of The Shrine of St. Bernadette in Albuquerque for the hospitality. I’m returning to the parish earlier than planned. The journey home, today, will be a bit rough since I haven’t completely healed from the effects of the virus. That too is like our journey to heaven. We’re on a journey, with trails of faith and a few wounds from our sins that remind us of our need for someone other than ourselves to get us there, but eventually we do.