Again today I am prompted to respond to a reader’s comments within which she linked to the story of her experiences in prayer and intercession for her own relatives (mother and brother) before they passed on, although they were not Roman Catholics. Very inspiring—and encouraging. See “poetry cottage’s” comment and link in the previous post, part 8 of this series. Today I’m adding the story of my father’s conversion shortly before his death, as a kind of book-end to the story of my mother, here, and more encouragement for those of you in similar situations: http://pnissila.wordpress.com/2014/01/26/on-witnessing-to-a-roman-catholic-an-explanation-a-story-and-an-exposition/
Some years ago I wrote the story for a Christian magazine about the circumstances of my father’s conversion just days before he died, November 21, 1985. Here it is in the context of how difficult it can be to reach a Roman Catholic. But, then again, “all things are possible.”
In Dad’s case, just two things hampered us when witnessing to him in his last years. He was a very cynical man, and, unfortunately, very intelligent as well . He died of pancreatic cancer after a two-year remission from an advanced stage of that disease (such a lengthy remission was unheard of back in the eighties). And he was very angry over this bad turn of events. Very.
My Christian siblings and I prayed for him and tried to witness. I say tried to, because at one point, my mother, the other hampering element, you might put it, actually told one of us to not even think of coming into the house with a Bible.
My mother at that time declared Dad was a Roman Catholic and he was just fine with God. And my mother ruled the spiritual roost with iron resolve. It would be many years before she softened. She was always present when we visited him at home and later, during his hospital stays, to discourage any non-Catholic talk or Bible sharing. Granted, those were back in our sometimes-annoying zealot days; nevertheless, we loved Dad and had a great burden for him. So we prayed—mostly for opportunity.
And then, the miracle.
When I came to the hospital to visit him during his final stay (this was ten days before his death), whereas there were always at least two or three of us (many) siblings in his room visiting and tending him, everybody was in a waiting room down the hall!
As I approached the waiting area, about 100 feet from Dad’s room, Mom came out of the door with a kind of puzzled look on her face. “Phyllis,” she said, “Dad (who was still alert but very tired) said he wants to see you.” He had already told me the first day he was here, when he was still hopping mad over the whole business—and with God—to “take care of your mother,” so I knew it had to be something else important. He was a man of few words.
Nobody followed me down the hall except one of my sisters who had recently become a believer.
We looked at one another and proceeded. Maybe this was our opportunity?
When we entered, Dad was laying down, morphine drip at half-bag, other IVs and tubes threading in and out of his frail, gaunt body sustaining what little was left of his life.
He turned his head slowly when we came in and smiled. “Hi, Phyll,” he said.
I gulped, mentally praying for courage and the right words to proceed. My sister and I pulled up chairs on either side of his bed, being careful of the medical equipment softly blinking and beeping.
I had an idea: ask him if he had noticed a change in each of us.
“Dad,” I began, “have you noticed a change in each of us in the last few years?” He smiled and nodded. Whereas we weren’t necessarily rebellious or trouble-causing, each of us was already experiencing and expressing the heart and life-softening changes wrought by the refining power of the Holy Spirit in our life, even in those early years of our conversions, even despite my occasional outbursts of zealotry…
“Yes,” he replied.
“Well, it’s because of the Holy Spirit and our conversion to faith in Jesus Christ…”
And there, in that busy oncology ward, people and staff coming and going—although until all was accomplished in that room, nobody else entered—Dad heard our testimonies, and he let us explain the process of salvation and pray with him.
And we told him about the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, too, and prayed with him for that, as well.
I will never forget the change in the countenance of the angry, cynical man who resisted God’s call on his life for over 63 years. A kind of glow settled over him. A peaceful glow we had never seen before.
At the very moment we were finished, after about fifteen minutes, a nurse came in the room to check his IVs, and other family members returned.
During his remaining few days, even as his strength and life receded, the peace remained. Everyone noticed it. He had a few more questions for another sister who was more Bible literate. And Mom no longer hindered us from praying or singing hymns or sharing. By that time, I think Mom was, more than anything else, glad for the support and company.
Then, one more miracle of timing.
The sister who stayed over with Mom the night Dad passed into the presence of the Lord, was “taking her turn” holding his hand so Mom could take her turn trying to get a little sleep. At one point, my sister said, she felt strongly to tell Mom to take over. She felt it was “of the Lord.” She made an excuse that she had to use the restroom. And that was how Mom got to be the one to hold Dad’s hand when he passed from this life and to “feel,” she later put it, “a slight release the moment his spirit lifted” and his shallow, labored breathing ceased…
Yes, there is always hope.
Some years later when the story came out in the magazine, I gave it to Mom to read, although I was still very careful as to how and when I shared my faith with her. She didn’t say anything, but she kept the magazine.
You never know. Perhaps the story was of some comfort to her.
Perhaps more than that…
I trust I will see her and Dad again one day and maybe discuss the whole business.
Or maybe not, as we rest forever in the presence of extraordinary grace and get on with the business of eternity.
In the meantime, however, back to work.
(Did I mention I come from a large family?)
 UPDATE: this is not to imply that intelligence and faith are mutually exclusive. Rather, intelligence, like any other human gift or achievement, can more easily, I think, cause those who possess a great amount of it–and who are yet to enter into a relationship with Jesus Christ and the riches of God’s wisdom–to come up with more ways to explain away faith in God and/or relegate such faith to the lesser intelligent. Think of how Christians are generally characterized in secular media and films, and in popular culture. Add a hefty dose of cynicism such as Dad possessed, and the mix can be almost lethal, spiritually speaking.