Friday, August 17, 2007
“Someone asked Jesus, ‘Lord, will only a few be saved?’ He said, ‘Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.’” (Luke 13:23, 30)
“SOUL-SURFING” – August 26, 2007
Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC
“Going Up,” chirped the seductive female voice as I passed a stuck elevator at the hospital where I serve. “Going up,” the automated voice spoke over and over again at three-second intervals. “Going up,” announced the seemingly empty car whose door apparently had jammed on the first floor. And while no passengers were lured into the car by the inviting voice, still she called forth. “Going up,” she pleaded, but there were none willing to take the ride.
Later that same day, I encountered another bodiless voice, this one emanating from a stuck revolving door in the hospital lobby. “Please step forward,” invited the female voice, sounding just like the sprite stuck on the elevator at the other end of the building. “Please step forward,” she repeated at three-second intervals, though, of course, no one did because it was plain to all that the door was jammed. And so, as crowds milled around in the lobby, the voice continued its taunt, “Please step forward.”
All through many hours of that day, hordes of patients, their families and hospital staff members and volunteers were assaulted at three-second intervals by the pleading voice of an elevator that promised it was ascending when it was really going nowhere. And at the other end of the building was a similar futile invitation, an inoperative revolving door that only promised imprisonment to any who really did step forward. It was clear to all passersby that these alluring though insistent voices were to be ignored. It struck me, though, as I observed what was happening, that this same dynamic is also daily being enacted on the spiritual plane.
“Going Up,” God invites us each morning when we discover that we’ve been reborn to a new day. And at every moment throughout the day, God coaches us to take the next step heavenward: “Please step forward.” It’s true that the voice of God is often not as obvious or as inviting as the automated voice at the hospital. One has to listen deeply to the heart’s desire to hear God’s invitation. But He’s insistent. He invites us many times each day to ascend heavenward, unrelenting in His desire for us, wanting us to be with Him forever. Sometimes, though, we are as unmindful of His voice as were the hundreds of people who passed a broken elevator and a stuck revolving door at the hospital.
In the gospel passage we hear today, “Someone asked Jesus, ‘Lord, will only a few be saved?’ He said, ‘Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.’” (Luke 13:23, 30) Or, to re-phrase the question asked of Jesus: who gets into heaven? And the answer Jesus gives? Everyone is invited into heaven, and you’d be amazed who accepts the invitation and who doesn’t. In short, where and how I spend eternity is entirely my own decision, not God’s. God keeps calling out to me day by day, “Going up” and “Please step forward,” and it’s completely my choice to accept the invitation or blithely ignore it.
A few days after both the elevator and revolving door insisted I walk more closely with God, I passed Sam’s room in the hospital’s second floor cardiac care unit. In just a few days he had become a favorite of the nurses, that increasingly rare patient who not only has no complaints but who goes out of his way to offer a cheerful word to all. It was still early morning, and the lights in Sam’s room were out, so I thought to pass him by at the moment and visit later when he’d be awake. No deal, though. Spotting me outside, he gave a yell. “Hey, how are you doing today?” Backing up, I walked to his bedside to assure him I was fine but not yet as awake as he. “I need more coffee before I can have an intelligent conversation with you, Sam. I’ll be back later. Okay?” Apparently not willing to wait for my somnolence to lift, he patted the chair beside the bed, more an order than an invitation. “Gotta tell you something,” he confided. Then, gesturing skyward, he stated simply, “I’m going up today.” Wide grin on his face, it took me some moments to register what he was saying. Leaning forward in my chair and taking his hand, I asked, “Are you scared, Sam?” His grin contorted to momentary confusion as he contemplated my question. Then a wider grin returning to his face, he slapped my knee. “Boy, you do need some coffee! I meant I’m going upstairs to the 8th floor cardiac rehab unit. I’m getting better!” Sam still laughing, I left his room vowing I’d not talk to anyone else before the caffeine kicked in.
Though on this particular day Sam would only be going up to the 8th floor, we both knew the day was coming when he’d really be going up. He seemed not much bothered by the prospect, though. As he had stated on an earlier visit, “Yeah, I had a heart attack. It’s just worn out from a long life of living and loving.” His wide smile that day told me he’d regretted not a moment of it, a worn-out heart a badge of honor for a man who’d heard God’s illusive but insistent voice over a lifetime: “Going up,” and “Please step forward.” Sam was ready to do just that.
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