May 25, 2019

Heaven: Our Automatic Destination?

One of the many U.S. Army units assigned to occupation duties in Iraq back in 2003 was the 24th Transportation Company out of Fort Riley, Kansas. Its duty was to operate supply convoys to outlying units, carrying food, ammunition, and other items. One day two different convoys set out from base. The first was commanded by Sergeant Kevin Crawford; he and his men kept a very sharp eye out, because improvised explosive devices, known as IEDs, were a constant danger, along with the possibility of ambushes by enemy insurgents. However, the 24th had one very important thing going for it: the power of prayer. Sergeant Crawford was a religious man, and he prayed—every morning, every evening, and before every mission. Soon virtually every man and woman in the unit joined him. One of his soldiers told him, “I don’t quite know what I believe in, but I believe this, Sergeant Crawford: every day you pray encourages the rest of us to do the same. I wonder if it’s a direct reflection on your prayers that our unit has never lost anyone.” Military commanders in Iraq also wondered what the 24th was doing differently from every other unit, for all the rest were taking casualties on a regular basis.

On this particular day, a little voice, a nagging feeling, something, told Sergeant Crawford to say an extra prayer with his soldiers before setting out. Halfway to their destination, the lead vehicle in the first convoy stopped, and its driver radioed, “Sergeant, there’s something in the road.” It turned out to be a mere bump on the road’s surface, something that would normally appear to be nothing out of the ordinary—a natural road hazard. But Sergeant Crawford strongly felt it necessary to turn the entire convoy around and return safely to base, while summoning an Explosive Ordnance Disposal team. The bomb squad discovered and disarmed a booby trap at the site with such powerful explosives it would have decimated the convoy. That same day the second convoy underwent a rocket-propelled grenade attack, but miraculously, only one soldier sustained a few minor burns. He later sought out Sergeant Crawford and said, “You were praying for us, weren’t you, Sarge? Well, it worked.” The 24th Transportation Unit completed its tour of duty without one serious casualty, and when returning to the United States, a private sitting next to Sergeant Crawford—one who had always been skeptical about prayer and religion—said, “Sergeant, you made me think about a lot of things the whole time we were in Iraq. I’m led to believe there are greater things than any of us can ever know” (Charles Sasser, God in the Foxhole, pp. 9-12). God our Father truly loves His children, and He is happy to bless and protect those who place their trust in Him.

Jesus assures us in the Gospel of Matthew (10:26-33) that God sees and knows everything, that He has the power of life and death, and that He cares for all His creation. As Our Lord says, even the hairs of our head are numbered. God watches over us constantly, and so we have no reason to fear. The prophet Jeremiah (20:10-13), because of his faithful preaching and opposition to evil, had many enemies—but remained steadfast: “…the Lord is with me, like a mighty champion; my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph.” In his Letter to the Romans (5:12-15), St. Paul speaks of how sin entered the world through Adam, but redemption came about through Jesus. Original sin caused life on earth to be much more difficult and dangerous than it had to be—but all these dangers and problems can be overcome through Jesus, as long as we’re willing to surrender ourselves to Him and place our lives in His hands.

Our Lord tells us, “Do not be afraid of those who can kill the body, but cannot kill the soul.” Many of our Christian brothers and sisters throughout the world, especially in the Middle East, North Korea, Sudan, Pakistan, Indonesia, and elsewhere, live out the truth of these words each day. They bravely risk hatred, persecution, and even death because of their faith in Jesus, and they deserve our admiration and especially our prayers. What would we do if we were in their shoes, if our lives were threatened every single day? Of course, we would need and want to take every possible precaution and avoid all unnecessary risks—but, I hope, our primary response to danger would be to turn to the Lord in trusting prayer. The real danger in life isn’t dying, but dying without having lived for Christ. Many people in today’s world risk being destroyed body and soul in Gehenna—in other words, ending up in Hell, the place of damnation and eternal punishment. Heaven isn’t everyone’s automatic destination, or the default setting for human existence; we have to prove we want eternal life by living here on earth according to Christ’s teachings—in particular, by loving God and our neighbor, by doing our best to obey the commandments, and by forgiving others so that we in turn may be forgiven by God. This is how we acknowledge Jesus before the world, knowing that He will then acknowledge us before His heavenly Father. If we deny Him, however, by not taking our faith seriously or not making it a priority, then on the day of judgment He will deny us, and everything will be forever lost. Our Lord came to die on the Cross so that this would not happen—but we have to do our part, too.

One of the Psalms says, “Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for You are at my side with Your rod and Your staff that give me courage” (Ps. 23:4), and another Psalm promises us, “No evil shall befall you . . . for to His angels He has given command about you, that they guard you in all your ways” (Ps. 91:10-11). As the soldier said to Sergeant Crawford, there are greater things in life than any of us can ever know—and worshipping God orders and helps make sense of an often-confusing world. Not only should we begin and end each day in prayer, and pray before every significant trip, project, or decision; we should try to place our entire lives in the Lord’s hands, offering up everything we do and experience as a sacrifice of praise, and as a prayer on behalf of our loved ones and all those around us. Let us indeed pray for our persecuted fellow Christians, and for all the members of our country’s Armed Forces stationed in areas of danger, and that God’s peace will truly reign in every human heart. Jesus assures us that each one of us is worth more than an entire flock of sparrows—and if God takes care of them, He will surely provide for us—if we’re willing to give Him the chance.

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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