Destination: Heaven!

In spite of the heavy traffic, I smiled as we crept along the tollway. Since my dear husband was driving, I’d been taking in the view along the way. Though there wasn’t much more to see than the other vehicles on the road, I was enjoying myself. I wondered about the drivers who hurried along with us. What was it that urged them along their way? I hoped each one would find what he or she hoped for at the end of the drive. Eventually, a semi cab interrupted this musing. It looked rather odd without its trailer in tow. As I wondered who thought up the ingenious design which allowed that trucker to sleep in his rig, I noticed some very large lettering printed across its back. “Destination: Heaven” it said. I wondered what impelled this man to proclaim his final stop to the rest of us. Were the other drivers who shared the road with us heading toward the same end? As Mike continued to make his way through the dense traffic, I asked myself, “What is that trucker’s idea of heaven? What about those other drivers? What about me?”

Since our first grandchild was born, I’ve said at least a thousand times, “I’m in grandma heaven!” Our grandchildren bring Mike and me great joy. I admit to savoring every minute that I spend with each of them. When I gathered for an afternoon with my sisters not long ago, one remarked, “Mmmm. This is heaven!” Though I’m certain she was pleased with our company, her comment was in response to the bit of Godiva chocolate she’d slipped into her mouth. How she loves chocolate! The other day, a friend remarked that she’d been in cruise heaven because she hadn’t set her alarm clock the entire time she was away. Currently, Cub fans find themselves in and out of baseball heaven as their lovable team edges nearer to and then farther from possible post-season play. After the Bears opening game, I won’t mention the possibility of football heaven unless, of course, you’re a Packer fan! I suppose each of us can describe those perfect circumstances which would make us feel that we are immersed in one type of heaven or another. Sometimes, the possibility seems completely out of reach and we dismiss it as pure folly. Sometimes, we convince ourselves that, if only this or that circumstance would conform to our wishes, we’d be in the heaven of our choosing.

In today’s gospel (Luke 15:1-32), Luke tells us that Jesus once told the story a young man who defined and then redefined heaven for himself much the way we do. The young man and his brother lived on the family farm with their father. They worked hand in hand with their dad in order to maintain their prosperous land. Apparently, this arrangement wasn’t the young man’s idea of heaven. He failed to find fulfillment in a hard day’s work and in the fruits of the fields around him. Heaven was something quite different to him. He wanted that heaven so badly that he forsook his own father’s life to get it. You see, the young man asked his father for his portion of his inheritance. When he did this, this son wasn’t simply asking for an advance on his allowance or for a small loan. This son was asking his father to behave as though he was dead and to give him what would be his upon his father’s death. Scripture scholars tell us that the young man could neither insult nor hurt his father more deeply than he did by voicing his demand. It was as though this son said to his father, “I can’t wait for you to die. Behave as you’re dead now and give me what is mine!”

Though you or I might have responded to the young man far differently, that father complied with his son’s wishes. That father gave his son the equivalent of what he would have inherited had this father died that day. With no regret, the young man immediately set out to find the heaven which he’d defined for himself. He invested his inheritance in partying. He spent every penny surrounding himself with the right people, especially those who saw things his way and those who brought him pleasure. He ate the best food and drank the finest wine with his store-bought acquaintances. The young man enjoyed it all without lifting a finger except, of course, to open his money bag to keep things the way he liked them. Eventually, the young man’s resources ran out and he was left without food, friends and finances. In the midst of starvation, he offered himself for hire to a landowner who took him on to tend to his pigs. As he stood in the mud surrounded by swine, the young man considered his predicament and how recklessly wasteful he’d been. He’d not only squandered his inheritance, but he’d also discarded the most important relationships in his life. Full of sorrow and regret, this lost son adjusted his perception of heaven. He set out for the place that once was his home. There, he would beg for a job beside the servants. Though he knew even this was too much to ask, the young man hoped against hope that he would find a parcel of heaven in the shadow of his father’s house. When the young man finally made it home, he was overwhelmed by the heaven he found in his loving father’s embrace.

I wish I’d been among the people who listened as Jesus told the prodigal son’s story. I wish I could have looked into Jesus’ eyes as he described the joy of welcoming home a lost child. In those eyes, I might have caught a glimpse of what my truck driver friend so boldly proclaimed for the rest of us to see. You know, “Destination: Heaven” is listed on each of our itineraries. Though heaven may escape us much of the time during this life, in the end, we will not escape heaven. Our Loving God waits with outstretched arms to warmly embrace every child, prodigal or otherwise, who comes home. On that day, we will actually find heaven just as Jesus promised.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Greatest Fan

Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe… This is the title of today’s feast. If I could have voiced an opinion during the discussion which led to this designation, I would have suggested that Jesus might prefer to be acknowledged as a sports fan. I admit that this opinion is influenced by my fresh memories of the Chicago Cubs’ World Series victory. However, I think that everyone who has supported a team through thick and thin can appreciate my logic. We fans cheer with all of our hearts when the game goes well. Though we moan through bad plays and rub our heads through questionable strategy or execution, we remain behind the team or the athlete whom we love. In my experience, no one has done this better than Cub Fans -except Jesus.

Everything Jesus said and did indicates that he is far more loyal and dedicated than even the best of fandom. When he walked among us, Jesus knew the stats on his home team and on those he met along the way. His mother was just a teen and his dad didn’t quite know how to handle his unexpected arrival. Still, Jesus entrusted himself to Mary and Joseph with absolute faith that they would perform well when the chips were down. When he was twelve years old, Jesus tested his parents’ skills when he lingered at the temple to scout out the priests and teachers. These men seemed to think they knew the score regarding God. Jesus’ parents found him only after he stayed long enough to convince these experts that he knew a thing or two about God’s game plan as well. As a young man, Jesus attended the wedding reception of a young couple who ran out of wine. Though he disagreed with his mother’s proposed play, Jesus did as she asked and solved the couple’s problem. When Jesus left his home in Nazareth, he remained attuned to the local talent wherever he was. He saw hidden abilities in his disciples which others had ignored season after season. In the end, Jesus assembled a team of twelve and a following of thousands of minor leaguers. Each one played his or her position in unexpectedly amazing ways which only Jesus could have anticipated. Even when they erred, Jesus used the talents of others to further illustrate God’s love, forgiveness, mercy and compassion.

You know, there was no off-season for Jesus. He cheered for every player whether he or she was training, in preseason or in the midst of the biggest game of the year. Unlike us, Jesus cheered for the other teams’ players as well. He simply couldn’t resist the best efforts of anyone. Even when Jesus hanged dying on the cross, he cheered on the man beside him. When this man made a pitch for his place in Paradise, Jesus responded with his promise that they would both experience victory in heaven very soon.

Even if you’re growing weary of my sports metaphor, please bear with me for another inning. If you’re not a Cub Fan, insert the name of your favorite team into the following commentary. Change the championship if your sport of choice isn’t baseball. Now imagine that your team has waited 108 years for this win. The Chicago Cubs’ World Series Victory literally made sports history. Pure devotion carried me through the bottom of the tenth of Game 7. I admit that I couldn’t cheer because I was in tearful speechless awe after that final tag at first base. While those lovable Cubs jumped for joy, I whispered, “This is what heaven is like.” When the Cubs basked in the glory of victory, I basked in being a part of the Cubs Family and I embraced every minute of it!

You and I and our entire human family have been through things far worse than an uphill battle through a 1-3 standing. The terrible fighting which continues in the Middle East echoes the suffering of Jesus’ own people. Though they don’t make the news, similar wars rage between drug lords, separatists and more in South America, Africa and our own neighborhoods. The deplorable tone which too often dominates the news mimics the worst of what occurs among us when we give in to hatred and mistrust. Human suffering isn’t new to our human family at large and to each one of us. It’s no wonder that I so thoroughly enjoyed reveling with the Cubs. It felt good to belong and to be loved, to appreciate the efforts of others and to have my efforts appreciated. It felt very good!

This is the twenty-fifth reflection I’ve written for the Feast of Christ the King and it has been the most difficult. Though Jesus deserves more accolades than any king, I cannot simply call him “king” when he’s been so much more to me. Jesus is my greatest fan. Jesus is your greatest fan, too. He always has been and always will be. Even when no one else is around to celebrate our big wins, Jesus is with us to enjoy the ride. The best part is that Jesus stays with us through the losses, too. Though you may not see him through the tears, Jesus is there. Christ the King? Sure. Christ the Fan? Absolutely!

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved