Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Heaven is Real

Father John J. Lombardi

Yes, it is. You may believe it, but would you more fully believe if someone went there-to Heaven-- and came back to tell you of the Absolute Wonders God has for you, us ?

This Summer I heard one of the most fascinating talks ever and met a man who claims he went to Heaven and came back. His name is Don Piper-a Protestant minister from Texas. He looks like any "average man" you might meet on a bus or at a church gathering-average height, graying beard and hair, warm eyes and roly-poly stature, but he does have an effervescence to him, an eagerness to… spread a Message: Heaven is real! In his breathtaking book, "90 Minutes in Heaven," he wrote of his experience when ten years ago he got hit, head on, by a tractor-trailer and was pronounced dead by four different medical examiners. No "near death experience" this; he was dead. Gone, a goner. So, he recovered and now, years later, he came to Mt St Mary's and spoke of his experience and his new book called "Heaven is Real".

Why did he come back-to earth? Well, basically, to save souls. He said that God wanted him to bring as many souls to Heaven and that by the Precious Blood of Jesus-"the Way, the Truth, the Life" (Jn. 14:6) we are saved and get to Heaven.

When I asked him, in person during a break, "What is the bottom line of your Message?" he responded instantly, "Heaven is real"; "God is still in the miracle business" and "God answers prayers". Don was approachable, down to earth and friendly: no "airs about him. He was genuinely concerned to help me and others-without complexity-- in getting to Heaven!

Now, while many may suspect what Mr. Piper experienced and, theologically, it may not be provable or totally acceptable or consonant with Catholic doctrine (and, conversely, some of "his story" is reminiscent of many Catholic doctrines-see below), some of the lessons we may learn include:

The "New Normal": this means that, often in life, though we want to "go back to life as usual"-as Don did after his "accident"-- we cannot go back to what we knew and do the same things we once did. Life and circumstances have changed too much, and/or God is calling us to something new and different and we have to re-create anew actions or behaviors and cannot simply repeat the past; we must find new ways-a "new normal" to do God's Will. He also calls this "learned contentment," meaning: "Too many of us focus on what we don't have and worry about how we can get it. And once we get "it" a new discontent arises within us and we focus on one more thing that will make us happy…accepting and adjusting to our new circumstances. I slowly learned to accept what I could do and to accept my limitations. I was able to say, 'Thank you, Lord, for what I can do'…We need to rejoice in our circumstances. Contentment relates to accepting it and rejoicing in it, practicing it, doing it, learning to really do it thoughtfully and joyfully and excitedly." As St Paul said: "I can do all things thru Christ Who strengthens me"…Use His strength-the Lord Jesus'-to help you in all things.

Singing: Mr. Piper said that when he hears on earth two songs at the same time it is chaos; but, in Heaven he heard all kinds of different singing at the same time and it was

utterly beautiful, enthralling! Seek beautiful music to remind you of Heaven.

Streets paved with gold: Yes, they are, he said. This may mean: Heaven is real and it is beautiful for us. ..Earth is real; and yet Heaven is far more real and beautiful!

Iridescent light: He couldn't approach it-this bright shining light-- but thinks it was Jesus Himself so bright was it…Seek the Light that is Jesus Christ.

Mystical Communion: Upon arriving in Heaven Don said he was reunited with his relatives who previously died and all was peaceful and harmonious…Hopefully we will all be reunited in Heaven.

Prayer for the dead: ten years ago, a man came upon the accident scene and wanted to pray for Don, but one of the technicians said he was dead-"It's no use." But the man persisted anyway (thankfully) and prayed over him and, eventually Don came back to "life"-or earthly life, that is...So: pray for the dead-however long ago and far away they died-you can assist them-it's not only Catholic but also helpful.

Shared Struggle: One of the talks' most important issues was a sense of solidarity in sorrows. So many people come to Don Piper's talks and relate difficult trials and tribulations to him. He said he is able to relate to them since he want thru so much (the accident itself; the 40 major operations he went thru; depression, anguish, the inability to recover quickly; the sense of loss of physical health, etc). His answer to so many people's struggles-whether death or mental sorrows-is to persevere; to know God's Love; to accept Jesus Christ as Savior and that He has a Plan for each of us and to overcome thru persistence and patient endurance, and, of course, that "Heaven is Real". Don writes: "I don't have the slightest doubt. That's why I can encourage others-no matter how awful their situation-and remind them that this is preparation for the glorious life ahead."

When Don counseled a lady whose son died prematurely, Don said to her: "I'm sorry ma'am, for your loss. The separation though real, is but temporary." He knew both the pain of suffering and also how to hope amidst this from real experience...Don further said that, if you wanna look good-as so many do today with all the diet-workout and fitness craze-then you wanna get to Heaven-everyone looks good, is repaired there!

Helping the poor, disadvantaged: Upon talking to his son, Chris, I learned that this was no "hawking business"-the bookselling and signing and traveling road show they were on. No: they wanted to help as many people as possible-full time-and give their proceeds to homeless shelters, addictions groups and other needy people. "Faith without works is dead".

Don Piper's son was helping him afterwards and I talked to him. A great guy: warm, friendly and charitable: he gave me a free copy of his new book-"Use it for your ministry," he said. I responded that I hoped to see him again. He replied, "Well if I don't see you here, then, I'll see you there" --Heaven! This reinforced the Message of a true believer: Heaven is real! Don said during his talk: I can't wait to get there…again!"

Briefly Noted

The Gospel (St Lk. 18:1ff): Jesus tells the Story of the Persistent Woman and Unjust Judge-it is a lesson in: 1- pursuing prayer; 2- trusting in God's Justice; and 3-befriending the poor and helping them. Mother Teresa persevered in prayer even though she had decades of darkness, dissonance and distractions. St Margaret of Cortona became a great contemplative even though she previously lived an adulterous life: she rebounded-why not you!? Many people pray the Rosary every day for love of the Mother of God: will you? St Thomas More-thru his clear-spiritual-sight responded to King Henry's injustice and attempt to convert him (in asking for an illegitimate divorce and turning the Catholic Church over to the King) by saying: "I am the good King's servant, but God's first." We see many injustices today, even daily, and wonder: Where is God in all this? Do you trust in God's Justice and realize, in The End, His Way will prevail no matter how much it doesn't seem like it? The widow in the Gospel was disadvantaged and alone: many of the poor are like that today-without power or rights. Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador stood up to right-wing death squads persecuting the poor there and promoted love and justice: He was murdered while saying Mass for this. Pope Benedict has said he deserves to be emulated…How will you help the poor?

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi