Joining the heavenly cloud of witnesses
My father passed away in August after a long and slow decline from age-related issues. His last few years were hard on him, and all he really wanted was to go see Jesus. For his whole life he was both a goofy guy and a man of deep faith. These two qualities were exemplified in a conversation I had with him a few Decembers ago.
He said to me that he knew what he wanted for Christmas. He wanted to give his whole self to Jesus.
I asked, “What do you mean by that?”
He said, “I want to be Jesus’ Christmas gift, and Jesus can take me to heaven on Christmas.”
After thinking about this, I realized that he was hoping to die on Christmas.
I asked, “What happens if you wake up on December 26?”
He gave me a wry smile and said, “I guess I’ll have to wait for the next holiday.”
For the next few years, every holiday or even on random dates, my father would proclaim it as his last day on earth. He was a man on a mission to get to heaven.
When he finally got his wish, I was awash with relief, melancholy, gratitude, and sadness.
For many years, I had been going to breakfast with my dad, and I would take pictures of him and post them on social media. Unbeknownst to him, he was a bit of a celebrity with my friends.
When I posted that he had passed away, I was flooded with hundreds of comments and “likes” from all of my friends, or really, his “fans.” From all of the experiences I had from my father’s passing on to heaven, it was all the comments from this post that hit me hardest and got me the most emotional.
I felt such support in my time of grief, and I felt the love so many people had for my dad, even though most people had never met him personally. It brought to mind this verse from Hebrews:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us. (Hebrews 12:1)
I felt so uplifted from this “internet cloud of witnesses” who were praying for me, my family, and especially my dad. It was so real and tangible and it was just overwhelming.
My even more overwhelming next realization was the thought of all the witnesses in the heavenly clouds who were also praying. First among them, the Mother of Jesus; all the saints; of course, my mother and sister; all his brothers; and the myriad of other holy souls dedicated to praying for those of us striving to reach the beatific vision.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says this about the cloud of witnesses:
“The witnesses who have preceded us into the kingdom… They contemplate God, praise him, and constantly care for those whom they have left on earth.” (CCC 2683)
The faith we have and the incredibly deep and meaningful teaching on the Mystical Body of Christ really comes to the forefront when we face the passing of those we love. We might not contemplate our final end frequently, but when a loved one faces it for real, it is reassuring to know they are not facing it alone, and we too are not alone as we miss them.