Friday, December 12, 2008
“The angel Gabriel came to Mary and said, ‘Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you. You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.’” (Luke 1:28, 31)
“SOUL-SURFING” – December 21, 2008
Fourth Sunday of Advent
Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC
While the church tells us that the predominant mood of Advent is expectation, I wonder just what I’m expecting. After all, I’m in my 60th Advent; what’s left to expect? Sure, Christmas is coming with glittering light, the warmth of friendship, the scent of evergreen, the taste of eggnog. And it’s welcome, certainly. But it no longer surprises me. I’ve come to expect it. As a little kid, Advent expectation was palpable: gifts were coming from somewhere above, delivered by someone as mythic as God but not nearly as scary. But now?
As I stand at the edge of senior citizenship, I realize that both Advent and Christmas have expanded to become year-round celebrations, even daily events. I’ve come to live in constant expectation of God surprising me with revelations of his presence. I’ve come to realize that God’s face is mirrored in the many faces I daily meet, in the experiences each day brings. So it was that I met Gino, someone as mythic as God but not nearly as scary. He’d not asked for me, but I had the strongest feeling that he was expecting me. Something about his bright expression and powerful words communicated more the presence of God than an old man with a failing heart.
It had begun just like so many other hospital visits. The morning’s patient census listed 89 year-old Gino as a newly-admitted Catholic, and though he’d made no request to see a chaplain when asked upon admission, I thought to drop by to introduce myself. While the nurse at his bedside was checking the placement of an IV line, she motioned me in when she saw me approach. Knocking on his door, Gino looked up and smiled as I entered. “Hello, Gino, I’m Fr. Bob, the priest here at the hospital. I haven’t had a chance to meet you yet, so I just wanted to drop by to see how you’re doing?” The widest smile greeted me as he took my hand and made the simple pronouncement so joyfully: “Remember, no matter what happens, you are surrounded by love.”
Over the years I’ve experienced a gamut of responses when I’ve knocked on hospital room doors. Most patients politely welcome me; some feign sleep, hoping I’ll just go away; a few reject me outright, claiming disenchantment with institutional religion. But Gino seemed to have been waiting for me with a message: “Remember, no matter what happens, you are surrounded by love.” I was momentarily speechless as I stood there still holding his warm hand. From the other side of the bed, his nurse looked up with the recognition that this was more than a casual pastoral visit. She seemed unsure quite what to do. Gino prompted her exit from the room with his next sentence. “I’ve talked to God, you know, and I want to tell you about it.”
Pulling a chair up beside his bed, I heard him relate an amazing story. When he was 12 years old, he’d suffered a burst appendix, and the ensuing infection put him in the hospital with a fever so high that death seemed imminent. It was at fever’s peak that Gino experienced what has lately been termed a near-death experience. “I felt myself moving through this long tunnel, and there was the brightest light at the end,” Gino explained. “Then I was in a room and Jesus was there waiting for me. We spent three days together; then he told me I had to go back. Jesus said, ‘Remember, no matter what happens, you are surrounded by love.’ Then I woke up back in my hospital bed, and when the nurse took my temperature, it was completely normal.”
“Wow, Gino!” I said. “How did that experience change your life?” He was quick to answer. “Well, I’ll tell you. I’m not afraid to die. And just like Jesus said, I know I’m surrounded by love no matter what happens to me. But there’s something else, a gift, I guess. Ever since then, I’ve been able to heal people. I make the sign of the cross over them and they get better.” My eyebrows arched suspiciously as I pulled my chair closer to his bed and asked, “What do you mean, Gino?”
Then I noticed the distinct change in both his voice and composure. When speaking about the wonders of God, Gino was forceful, declarative. But as now he spoke of his own wondrous gift, he was softer, hesitant. Clearly he seemed humbled, almost embarrassed, by his gift. In truth, I believed him completely. I believed he could heal people. As I stood to leave his room, I bowed my head and asked his blessing, confident that this frail old man had more to offer me than I to him.
The gospel passage we hear today recounts the event we’ve come to call The Annunciation. “The angel Gabriel came to Mary and said, ‘Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you. You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.’” (Luke 1:28, 31) Thus, the stage is set for the birth of Jesus, the Son of God come in the flesh to dwell with us, to assure us of the Father’s love, and to bring us home at the last. Yet, while Mary truly bore Jesus to the world, his birthing continues mystically through many chosen instruments.
The Advents of my childhood are long gone, but true expectation continues. Gifts are coming from somewhere above, delivered by someone as mythic as God but not nearly as scary. An old man with a failing heart greets me with a warm smile, a firm handshake and a promise: “Remember, no matter what happens, you are surrounded by love.”
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