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"It's all a bunch of bologna!" he muttered, his wrinkled face frowning in frustration.
I sighed. I had already guessed that he would feel threatened and upset when I brought up the subject of faith for the umpteenth time. However, my aging father-in-law just couldn't understand.
How could he know that I was compelled to do so? Of course it would have been so much easier to let it go. How I wished that I could! However, the stakes were too high. The entrance into heaven for two souls - his and mine - could be teetering on the edge. His downfall would be his rock-hard wall of pride he had built in defense to protect himself against feeling the many significant losses he had experienced throughout life. Mine would be turning my back on God’s personal call to bring Him to His child that I had gained as a father through marriage.
However, as it so often has a way of doing, time had began wearing thin. My father-in-law’s exit was nearing, and I had become desperate. The many moments that I had turned away chances to discuss faith because of my fear of being caught in the wake of his disgust and hot-headedness rattled in my brain like mexican jumping beans in a can.
Time was literally of the essence - and I was running out of it.
Part of me believed like so many others who had tried to open his heart to God’s saving grace, only to find themselves unable to compete against his iron wall. His conversion truly seemed like an impossible feat. However, years of hearing about the inspiring story of St. Monica and her unceasing pleas to God for the soul of her son, St. Augustine, surfaced as a battle cry, calling our family to pray every night for his conversion. This we had done for 16 straight years, but now felt compelled do with intense fervor. One of our children, in fact, actually took him on as her special petition project.
However, as crucial as this prayer battle was, I knew I had been called to do more. I needed to BE Jesus to this man. It seemed like such an easy statement, such an easy "call to arms." However, for me it was not. I had my own battle of pride to conquer, my own boulder to remove before I could ever truly be any kind of witness. Sadly, it was this boulder that would so often serve as an excuse to explain away my lack of action.
Yet, despite this and in the mercy that only a true lover of His creation could bestow, God Himself took the reigns. My father-in-law had just been taken to the ER for an episode of syncope. On the second day of his stay, he received a new bedmate. This bedmate would prove to be the catalyst for a new start for this resisting soul as he turned out to be one of our mainstays: our beloved parish deacon. That very day, our parish pastor came in to administer Communion and the Anointing of the Sick to his fellow servant and to anyone requesting the sacraments. My father-in-law recognized the St. Helen reference and asked Father if he knew my husband, to which he responded "Absolutely, I know him!" From there sparked a discussion that would change his life, although he did not fully understand its significance. Not only did he listen to Father, but he willingly received the sacrament of Reconciliation, Communion, and the Anointing of the Sick. I was completely flabbergasted! I went through the next few days in a bit of a stupor. Even the fact that my father-in-law wouldn't talk about his experience with me couldn't temper my hope and excitement.
As his health took a sudden and quickly deteriorating turn and the last week of his life shrunk to days, I was able to have a couple of discussions that gave me more encouragement. However, it was not until two nights before he passed that my husband and I truly believed that his dad might finally have won the battle to conquer his pride. Our parish pastor met us at the home where my father-in-law was receiving hospice care to administer viaticum and the Last Rites. An incredibly beautiful and touching scene, we watched as this once very strong-headed man received God's grace and attempt to make the sign of the cross. Although unable to receive viaticum, he acknowledged the grace that filled the room, and Father gave this long lost soul an apostolic pardon to remove temporal punishment. We were astonished at this unexpected gift, and amazed at the mercy of our Loving God.
I never would have believed that my father-in-law would have ever had the gift of being allowed a funeral Mass. In the end, in an astounding answer to the prayers lifted up for so long, he was given this gift, as were we. As the final taps were played at the end following the Honor Guard ceremony, my heart sung and I felt the triumph of a God Who will always fight for His people, for His children.
Most of us know people who have turned their backs on God or have refused to acknowledge Him in the first place. I share this incredible story as one who can honestly say that I still can hardly process that I will really be able to see my father-in-law again. However, reality is what it is. And this reality tells me that if anyone could have been given the best chances of heading home to heaven given such circumstances, it is my father-in-law.
With all my heart, I thank you, St. Monica, for reminding us to never give up. What amazing joy we will someday share together for eternity!!
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Hi! I'm a Catholic mom who loves to encourage and support others in their journey to live the beauty of our Catholic faith in a modern world. It can be a struggle, no doubt, but God has given us the tools we need! Join my family (both immediate and extended!) and me as we take on this incredible journey of our path to holiness.
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