May 25, 2019

Life is Sometimes Like a Dangerous Journey

A woman named Maureen attended a party with a friend of hers one night, and they ended up staying much later than they had planned. She dropped her friend off about two-thirty in the morning, with another ten miles of driving ahead of her before she would reach her own home—and that turned out to be a problem, as it was drizzling, and a heavy fog was rolling in. As Maureen later said, “The route was all wooded, with streams alongside the road and many narrow turns. Visibility was so poor that I tried holding my car door open, looking down at the road’s white line as a marker.” She worried about what to do. There was no other traffic, there were few homes along that stretch of the road where she could seek shelter, and turning around and going back to her friend’s home would be just as risky as continuing on. Maureen kept on driving, even as the haze thickened. Then the unthinkable happened: her headlights dimmed and went out, and she realized her car battery had died. At this point she pleaded, “Holy Spirit, this is one for You—I can’t see anything at all, so You’ll have to drive this car for me.”

As the miles passed, Maureen drove very slowly, even though she could see nothing— no tree shapes, no outline of the road, no road signs; everything was surrounded by fog. As she later explained, it was like driving in gray cotton candy. At certain times, prompted by an inner urging, she turned slightly to the left or to the right, and continued on. It seemed this nerve-wracking journey would never end. Then, as Maureen continued praying, her engine coughed, chugged, and slowed, before the car finally rolled to a gentle stop. She thought, “At least I didn’t go down an embankment—but where am I?” Getting out of the car, she held up her hand to brace herself and keep from walking into something, and slowly shuffled forward. One foot in front of her car’s bumper was a garage wall, and after examining it for a moment, she fell to her knees in grateful prayer—for she was in her own driveway (Joan Webster Anderson, Where Miracles Happen, pp. 57-58). Darkness and fog are appropriate symbols of the moral confusion, uncertainty, and temptations that surround us—and we have no chance of finding our way on our own. Only with God’s help can we safely complete our journey through life.

Because they were God’s chosen people, Jews in Old Testament times thought the plan of salvation was very simple: if you were Jewish, you were in; if you were not a Jew, there was no room for you in the Kingdom of God. However, several hundred years before Christ, God began correcting this short-sighted, mistaken belief. In the Book of the Prophet Isaiah (66:18-21), the Lord announced that people from every nation and tribe would come to see His glory; what mattered was not a person’s origin or background, but his or her degree of righteousness. Jesus develops this idea in the Gospel of Luke (13:22-30), stating that people will come from every direction to enter into Heaven, even as many others—who had smugly assumed their own salvation—risk being excluded. Our Lord says that the question of who will be saved is intensely personal, one in which we must take responsibility for our own eternal destiny. We have to beat the deadline and enter through the narrow gate while there’s still time, which means not wasting our lives, but instead focusing all our efforts on discovering and doing the will of God—thereby living for Him, not for ourselves. Of course, we need the Lord’s help in achieving this— and as the Letter to the Hebrews (12:5-7, 11-13) says, part of this help comes to us in the form of discipline. If we stray off the straight and narrow path, the Lord may allow us to experience trials and suffering—not so much as a punishment, but as a reminder that He knows best and that our only hope for true and lasting happiness is to follow His plan. Discipline of this sort usually isn’t pleasant, but it is necessary, and very beneficial for us in the long run.

About 150,000 persons around the world die each day. Various private revelations allegedly claim that very few adults enter straight into Heaven; most go to purgatory— but, tragically, many fall into hell. We’d prefer not to think about this reality—but God Himself wants us to be aware of it. When Jesus was asked, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?,” He didn’t respond, “No, almost everyone makes it to Heaven—don’t sweat it.” Instead, He spoke of eternal damnation as a very real possibility—even for persons who consider themselves “religious.” Many people today seem to believe that because four-letter words aren’t supposed to be used in polite company, and because “hell” is a four-letter word, the reality of hell is something we shouldn’t think about or discuss— especially in church. That idea is not only nonsense, but also spiritually dangerous. The Church doesn’t claim to know how many people are in hell, but it’s safe to say that most people who are damned for all eternity probably never expected that they would end up there. If there is no hell, or if almost no one goes there—as some people claim—then why was it necessary for Jesus to die on the Cross? Just what did He die to save us from?

Each passing day is supposed to bring us one step closer to God and to the eternal joys of Heaven—but this process doesn’t happen automatically. We must actively choose it, and we must deliberately use the helps the Lord provides to guide us on our journey— including Scripture, the teachings of the Church, the Sacraments, devotions such as the Rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet, sacramentals such as the brown scapular and blessed religious medals, the inspiration and encouragement of other disciples of Jesus, good Christian fellowship, the guidance and protection of our guardian angels, the intercession of the Virgin Mary and the other saints, and regular prayer. Prayer is especially important. Those who pray in an ongoing, humble, and sincere manner will almost certainly be saved; those who foolishly ignore or reject prayer will most likely be lost.

Life is sometimes like a dangerous journey along a treacherous path during a dark and foggy night—and one wrong turn, if not recognized and corrected soon enough, can lead to disaster. Fortunately, the Lord never forsakes those who call out to Him. Each day is a new opportunity to thank Him for the gift of life, and to ask His help so that our earthly lives may lead to the joys of eternal life. In all things and at all times, let us strive to enter through the narrow gate—for only in this way will we one day arrive safely home.

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Written by
Fr Joseph Esper

REVEREND JOSEPH M. ESPER is a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit and pastor of Immaculate Conception parish in Anchorville, Michigan. He received his Master of Divinity degree from St. John's Provincial Seminary in Plymouth, Michigan. Through the years, Father Joe has lectured at Marian conferences, appeared on EWTN, spoken on Catholic radio, and written more than a dozen articles for This Rock, The Priest, Homiletic and Pastoral Review, and other publications. He is also the author of numerous books, including Saintly Solutions, More Saintly Solutions, After the Darkness, Lessons from the Lives of the Saints, and Why Is God Punishing Me? In addition to Amazon, many of his most recent books are available through Queenship Publishing.

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Written by Fr Joseph Esper