On a cold December day, I got the news that the Psychology professor (who had taught me psychology when I was sixteen) had just had a heart attack and was going to need emergency open-heart surgery. Then I was told almost equally shocking news—that he said that if he was to die, he wanted to die a Catholic. I was stunned. This was the shrewd, intelligent, initially intimidating professor that could read me so well that he inspired me to pursue psychology. He had at one point in his life been an atheist, and though he taught that the greatest expert on the human condition was St. Paul, as far as I knew, he did not profess himself a Christian.
There was only a priest and one other person present as he was received into the Church in a sterile hospital room. He made confession and received communion for the first time. During the hours he was in surgery, his wife told me in a choked up voice that in his last call to her, he was weeping and said, “I have never in my life thought I was going to go to heaven. I never thought I could. But now I know I am going there, and my only concern is about you getting there too.”
His condition was serious. The day of his surgery we were concerned and praying, all the more fervently because he had a wife and young autistic son who sorely needed him. Standing by his bedside when he came out of surgery, I saw the first time he opened his eyes and weakly whispered “I made it . . . thanks be to God . . . ”
He could not speak much, but throughout the day he would look at me, and reminded of God by the religious habit I wear, his eyes would fill with tears and he would squeeze my hand. When he was able to talk, he told me how the moment he received the Host, he automatically exclaimed, “O my God, it is God!”
“I always knew where the light was, I just could never get to it,” he whispered. “I was like a little boy that left the house and got locked out on a cold and dark night . . . I knew that what I needed was to get back inside, to the light, I just didn’t know how.”
Ten months later, I saw him in a grocery store. He was thin and more delicate than before his surgery, but there was a tremendous warmth in his eyes. The president of his school and a former Green Beret have formerly entered the Church through his influence in just the few months he has been a Catholic, and many more have come to God. As we talked he told me that this past Sunday at mass he had set a new record. “This time, after receiving communion I made it all the way back to my pew before crying. Usually I am crying when I’m in line going up to receive.”
Back to my mind came the last time I brought him communion, two weeks after coming out of the hospital, while he was still bedridden at home. It was Christmas. Being that it was unlikely that anyone would be available Christmas day to bring him communion, I went out early with the Eucharist, not wanting him to go without our Lord on such a holy morning. As I entered the room, I took in the surroundings. From his bed he looked at me as if he knew what I carried was more desirable than heaven. The room was dark and in disarray, with only the faintest light coming from the window. And as we had our small communion service, I felt there was nothing that would help me relive Christmas better, seeing our humble Eucharistic Lord coming in even more lowly and gentle a form than that first Christmas, giving Himself to the weak, weary souls on earth, and filling them with peace and joy.
—By Sr. Maria, Servant of Abba Father