I’m going out on a limb here but I do claim that, in striking respects, heaven is a lot like my evening of April 24th, 2013. That is one day before my sister’s birthday, just two before my son’s and, though I love them dearly, they did not precipitate my reflection.
I do take the Bible as the authoritative source on such matters so I picked up my New American Bible, Revised Edition 2011 and checked out the references to heaven, just to make sure that I was not in apostasy. To be precise I read exactly 835 references to heaven and heavens which included references and footnotes as well as use in the text. I found Biblical meaning of the word drifting from synonymous with sky through “place from which an angry God wreaks vengeance on a feckless humanity” to the parables of Jesus where heaven is likened to a treasure buried in a field, a pearl of great price and a net that collects fish of every kind. Great truth is to be found here, no doubt and surely brought into focus through the Baltimore Catechism. However my reflection came about differently.
My calendar shows a busy April 24th in a busy April in a busy 2012 and 2013. I spent time with my sponsors, the Kenya ICT Board that day with more, plenty more to come in the balance of the week. Meghan Goyal, AKA Miss Friday famous for leading the Oakland Catholic girls on their first mission, had invited me to a dinner, a fund raiser. Lured by promises of teen age girls who missed me and a sense of obligation I hobbled to my pickup truck and began a passionless drive from Carnegie Mellon to the South Hills hall, site of the fund raiser.
Still operating in full curmudgeon mode I lumbered out of the pickup and past an older couple, perhaps even older than I. Entering the hall I quickly found an open seat, between Lelah’s father and Danielle’s mother, familiar faces even if they didn’t know me. The evening was magic.
This was one of several birthday dinners for Denilson. He was there because Jean Gabor, refusing to accept that this poor boy from the Hogar was destined to lose both eyesight and eyes, raised funds, overcame legal hurdles, engaged UPMC Children’s Hospital – all those things that brings the heroic out of your every day garden variety Guatemala missionary. The video that ran on TV news that night can still be seen.
I began to notice who was at the dinner; old friends, people from the mission more than a decade back, parents and siblings of the Oakland Catholic girls. Jean’s husband and son were there. I recognized them. I finally met Grace McHale’s mother and got to speak with her father. I gabbed with Lelah’s father and both of Danielle’s parents. The evening was warm acceptance. All belonged. Things were as they should be. The older couple turned out to be Fr. Michael’s parents. I took the opportunity to thank them for the gift of their son and quietly thanked God that I hadn’t plowed them over in the parking lot. The girls did miss me, Grace McHale flashing a deck of playing cards until we played our obligatory Euchre – Grace and me against Lelah and Julia Foerster. Meghan’s parents were there but we did not meet. I chatted with the staff at the hall. When Dorrie Donahue’s rounds brought Denilson to our table no introduction was needed. The little guy knew that Don Felipe was there.
The OC Girls raised $8,000 for medical expenses plus another $4,000 for San Bernardino. Jean must have raised $30,000 – $40,000.
Not ready for the dinner, like the man too busy for his own death, I never-the-less found myself there. I was fulfilled in the conversations and fervent in our prayer. Proud of the girls, proud of Fr. Michael, proud of the parents, proud of Jean I was, surprised by joy and more than anything else, at peace.