One of the most meaningful things a Priest gets to do is to journey with the dying. One receives a call to the hospital (often that’s where the dying is taking place) and one never knows what will greet him. I remember a woman not too long ago, a big lady very near death... not old enough to die it seemed to me... for some reason I was expecting her to be insensible as close as she was, but she was lively as she died. A big smile and a cheerful disposition. A real joy to bring her pardon and peace with the Holy Unction. We laughed as we prayed. Today was different. A man on his deathbed converted.
Like the big nice lady, the man I met wasn’t old enough to die so it seemed to me. Machines. Beeps. Photographs on the wall of a smiling man. A distraught wife.
The fellow I met today was an avowed atheist, but before he slipped into a coma, he had a deathbed conversion witnessed by his wife and the gathered family and friends. None there, save it be for one — one of my flock — are Church goers. What to be done with that?
Call a Priest?
I wasn’t sure what I’d have waiting for me at the hospital but what I was entirely unprepared for was a chaplain who didn’t want the man baptised. She was a Christian but didn’t witness the conversion and more than that, resisted the report. She felt it unethical to do what I was asked to do by a spouse in tears. “It’s my job to advocate for the patient” she said over and over again.
Death bed conversions happen and I thank God they do because what they show us is that it is never too late to turn to God. No matter the turning away, the turning towards is always possible, right up until that final breath.
The battle we fight here on earth is a battle for souls: chiefly our own. So much distracts and pulls us away from God the Holy Trinity. So too, however, do we fight for the soul of our neighbour in love and true charity. We do not do that fighting by holding one’s hand on the way to hell. We do that fighting with everything we’ve got, most especially the prayers of the faithful and the intercession of the Virgin and of the angels and Saints. We do the fighting with every tool we’ve been given by the Christ and His Church.
The man was finally baptised by me. I could feel the devil retreat in a pure and ugly rage. He thought that soul was his.
Christians are born for combat, as the quote above says. So fight with everything you’ve got for your own soul and do the same in true charity for the people you meet along the way. — Fr. Robert Bengry
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The photograph: From the Bengry collection. Copyright 2019. All Rights Reserved.