The Near-Death Experience Research Foundation claims that more than 15 million Americans have had a Near-Death Experience (NDE); that is, they have come close to death or experienced clinical death as established by no heartbeat or brainwave function. Their studies note that those who have experienced an NDE have reported some or all of the following:
- the experience of leaving the body and witnessing things from above one’s body, known as an “out of body experience”, or OBE;
- a sense of ineffability, an experience that cannot be described with human language;
- hearing yourself pronounced dead by medical personnel;
- feelings of peace and quiet;
- hearing unusual noises;
- seeing a dark tunnel;
- meeting “spiritual beings”;
- seeing a very bright light that does not hurt the “eyes”;
- a panoramic life review;
- sensing a border or limit of where you can go;
- going back into the body;
- frustrating attempts to tell others what happened;
- subtle deepening of the spiritual life and lifestyle changes;
- that love is the most important thing in life;
- elimination of the fear of death
For me, it is this last feature—elimination of the fear of death— that is most intriguing. For, over and over, those who’ve had these experiences truly believe that they’ve experienced heaven, been in the presence of their loved ones, the angels and saints, and yes—Jesus. Now whether they’ve really witnessed these things or not, the research shows that most conclude that death is no longer fearful. And so, for them…
Their lives are completely different.
Their lives are transformed.
Their life focus moves to the pursuance of those things in life that are truly important in this world!!!
For a moment, let’s contrast these individuals with Jesus’ early followers. If we remember, they were “ordinary” in the sense that Jesus had plucked them mostly from the ranks of fishermen and tax collectors. As they followed Jesus, they began to see Him teach and minister and perform miracles among the people. Over time, with Jesus displaying the utmost patience with them, they came to truly believe that Jesus was the Son of God.
What did they do? Well, we know how they bolted from the scene during Jesus’ Passion and Death. But, we also know that after His Resurrection, Jesus revealed Himself to them. And, in the Acts of the Apostles (2:1-11), we are told that after Jesus’ Ascension, His followers returned to Jerusalem and chose Matthias as a replacement for Judas. And they took Jesus’ promise to heart that in not so many days, they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit.
And so, they waited, and waited, and waited. Together, they waited for 50 days (Easter plus 49 days; thus, the name—Pentecost). Gathered together, they must have felt safe. But regarding the future, they surely felt unsure. Until, as the reading describes, the apostles received the Holy Spirit in the symbols of fire and wind, and immediately left the safety of the Upper Room to proclaim the Good News.
By doing so, the apostles were doing exactly what Jesus did before He was put to death. They were risking and losing their lives for the Kingdom of God. They stepped out and gave up their safe place, for the safety of the Kingdom.
Were they fearful? We can be certain of that. But did they know that Jesus, through the Spirit, was at their side? Absolutely. These many years later, on this Feast of Pentecost, we might ask: How do we fit in? When speaking of our relationship with Jesus, it seems we have TWO options, one that is malleable and one that is fixed and focused:
With the first option, we say to Jesus: “Jesus, I sort of believe in you, but if things begin to turn dark, or the going gets tough, well, Jesus, it was nice knowing you.”
With the second option, we say to Jesus: “Jesus, I really do believe in you. I really do trust you. In fact, I trust you so much that I am willing to place my life in your hands because I know, in the end, there is no death in you—only life.”
In pondering these two possibilities, we know that it is easy to remain in our safe place. It is easy to cling to our comfort level. But Christ continually calls us out of the Upper Rooms of our lives to embrace the challenges of the Gospel.
Saint Mother Theresa of Calcutta once said, “If you want to give God a good laugh, tell Him your plans.” That is, God has plans for how each of us may bring His love to others and daily, plants these intuitions and insights into us if we will only open our eyes and ears.
This past week, two of my students asked me a question after we had read an article detailing the impending demographic crisis being unleashed upon our world. In a nutshell, the article revealed that we have become a society with fewer births and workers to support an aging population.
And so, they asked me: “Why did you and your wife choose to have children?” After asking them if they would like my opinion and receiving their collective nod, I told them—for love!!! And that, in the end, children teach us about love!!! And that children move us from selfishness to selflessness. And that the real poverty in our world is that there are too few marriages and children being born to teach us about true love. In short, we are becoming a love-less world.
I then told them about an older couple that were friends of my family during my teen years. Early in their marriage, the wife had contracted MS and so her husband became her caregiver for decades until her death. By doing so, he showed me that the meaning of love was different than that being imparted in our over-sexualized culture. When I was in his presence, I never suspected one regret from him because this couple’s collective dreams had been transformed by illness. To this day, I wonder if they knew they were modeling for me an image of God’s love?
On Pentecost, then, we might say that God calls us out of our Upper Rooms. He calls us to proclaim the Good News—the Gospel of His Son. He gives us His Spirit that forms us into Church. And His Spirit is itself the Third Person of the Trinity that is poured into us that allows us to speak and live and hear others through God’s Law of Love.
Today, we pray, that we pursue the courage of our convictions and become a people of Pentecost. And by doing so, that we will become a people that knows what is important in this life as we prepare for eternal life.