A couple of weeks ago a doctor friend of mine told me a story he had personally witnessed in the hospital where he works.
He had an elderly patient in his care. The man was ninety years old. Every day another man, in his early sixties, came to visit the old man. Entering the room every morning at the same time, he would say, "Good morning, how are you?" And the man in the bed replied, "Good morning, how are you?" Then the visitor sat beside the bed for twenty minutes before getting up and saying, "See you tomorrow," to which the old man answered, "See you tomorrow." Apart from this there was no conversation between them, day after day for over two weeks.
His curiosity stirred, my doctor friend approached the daily visitor...
"Is he your father?"
"No, my father-in-law."
"Your father-in-law! Wow, that's good of you to visit him every day. You guys must have been very close."
"Not at all! We've always hated each other's guts. I only come because of a promise I made to my wife."
"How come your wife doesn't come?"
"She's dead. I've been a widower for many years."
"Have you thought of calling the chaplain to give your father-in-law the sacraments before he dies?"
"Not a chance. My father-in-law is a bad man. He's been a communist his whole life. Redder than Karl Marx, he is. Hates the Church with a passion. Can't stand the sight of a priest. It would be a waste of time even asking him."
A few days later, the old man said to his son-in-law: "Paco, call the priest. I don't want to go to Hell." Paco called the priest, the priest came, the old man received the sacraments. Two days later he died.
Speaking of doctors, there's another story about a doctor named John. Dr. John's clinic was on the third floor in a tall building on a side-street in the city center. There was a plaque at the entrance on the ground floor saying “Dr. John, Upstairs”, with an arrow pointing upwards. He was a daily Mass-goer and lover of the rosary, went about his business, not seeking the limelight, staying under the radar.
Dr. John was not the kind of man who would ever appear in the newspapers or even be raised to the altars, but he did his best to love God and neighbor, treating his patients not as sick bodies, but as real persons with real hearts, and needs, and immortal souls. He loved his wife and children and patients, and didn't always succeed, but tried hard to do God's will in every moment and every situation.
By living like this, he created a current of affection around him. When he died they took the plaque off the wall and stuck it on his gravestone: “Dr. John, Upstairs”, with an arrow pointing upwards.
Final repentance is about staying closed to God's love and truth until the very last minute; final perseverance is about opening up to God's love and truth at the first minute and remaining open all the way to the end. In Heaven everyone will be full, but there's a difference between the fullness of a thimble and the fullness of a lake.
There is a comical beauty in both of the above stories. Both stories glorify God's untiring love. But when it comes to discerning whether to choose the path of final repentance or the path of final perseverance, there's only one thing to be said: better late than never, but the sooner the better.
My blog “Random Reflections”
Fr. Colum Power, born in Cork, Ireland, in 1965, is a Servant Priest of the Home of the Mother. He obtained a Master's degree in literature in 1991 and a doctorate in the History of the Church in 2013. He is author of A Touch of the Gardener's Hand, Honey from the Lion's Carcass, and James Joyce's Catholic Categories. He devotes his time to apostolic activities for the youth organized by the Servant Brothers of the Home of the Mother.
Fr. Colum Power is author and editor of the Blog "Random Reflections", which can be found on the website www.familiesfullyalive.com.