Mar. 29, 2017: Wednesday, 4th Week of Lent
Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life and will not come to condemnation, but has passed from death to life. Amen, amen, I say to you, the hour is coming and is now here when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in himself, so also he gave to the Son the possession of life in himself. And he gave him power to exercise judgment, because he is the Son of Man.
(John 5: 17-30)
An Account of Near-death Experience
Morning comes again and I awaken and hurry to the hospital so I can be there when visiting hours begin, knowing that sitting alone in his room lends itself to Bernie’s depression. Happily, I find him brighter and stronger today, and I’m pleasantly surprised to find him smiling and in a good humor as I kiss him good morning.
Dr. Villandia’s wonderful spicy cologne in the hall announces his presence for rounds and he enters the room with his usual greeting, “Buenos Dias, Bernardo! Como estas?” Without hesitating, Bernie answers very enthusiastically, “Great!!”
“Great?” I respond in a surprised tone as the doctor and I flank his bed on either side, taking note of the dramatic change in him since yesterday when he asked to have his life support disconnected. “That is music to my ears! Why are you feeling so great?"
“I don't know… this is the best I’ve felt since I got here. I can feel my strength returning and I am getting better,” Bernie offers with a visibly different countenance and attitude than the previous morning.
“Wow!” I say thankfully. “Praise God. I’m so happy to hear that.” “Me too,” Dr. Villandia interjects. “And your new heart medication will hopefully make you feel even better. I ordered the nurses to begin it just now. Let’s pray that it gets your heart stronger so we can move you to a rehab center soon.” After a brief check up and assessment of Bernie’s hand, foot and back wounds, which are not healing due to the fact that his circulation is so poor, the doctor departs and I pull my chair up beside the bed to begin morning prayers.
“Do you want to hear about my near death experience?” Bernie asks unexpectedly and unassumingly as I sit down.
“Oh my gosh... yes!!!” I say excitedly. “I’ve been waiting forever for you to tell me this! What did Jesus say to you?” I want to know.
“Judy, I died and I remember it clearly,” he begins slowly and quietly. “I saw my spirit leave my body and I could see myself floating in the air, looking down at my body, where I could see my damaged heart. It looked like my heart was torn in half and one side was a vivid color of blue that looked like ugly debris—and I knew it represented all of the things I had done in my life that were not pleasing to God. The other side was a beautiful gold—and I knew it represented all of the things I had done that were pleasing to God,” he continues with a soft, intentional voice that seeps a sacred silence.
“I could feel myself being pulled over and over toward the blue side of my heart, even though I wanted to go toward the gold side. I felt that I had to make a choice, but I felt a strong emotional struggle over which side to choose. Finally, I chose the gold and started moving toward the gold side of my heart and, when I did, I got on a gold bus and went toward the light. I followed the light all of the way to heaven. And, Judy,” he continues with deadly seriousness, “When I got there, I wasn’t permitted to enter.”
“You weren’t permitted to enter?” I ask quizzically, mindful of the man who previously maintained that he was certain he would go to heaven because he was a “good person.” “No, I wasn’t permitted to enter. All of the sudden, I started going toward the dark side of my heart again and I started heading toward the darkness, and when I did, I met the most unimaginable creatures,” Bernie relays somberly. “They were indescribably hideous and they had tusks coming out of the center of their heads. You know what tusks are?” he asks as though it’s the first time I’ve ever heard of the concept. “And these creatures began to assault me and violate my body, beating me up and ramming things down my throat and into the other orifices of my body. I was begging them to stop, but they just kept beating me and screaming in my ears with hideous voices yelling, ‘We’re here to help you!! We’re here to help you!’ I was pleading with them, saying, “Please… please, I beg you, this isn’t the kind of help I need.”
“How did you resolve it?” I ask, spellbound at his story, especially as it comes forth from a man who never believed in demons and insisted for years that I was “too focused on the demonic” when I would speak of Satan and his minions.
“I surrendered to God,” he says slowly and deliberately, emphasizing each word purposefully. “And when I did, I was given food, air and water—and I had so much peace. I was told by God to go back—that I needed to make amends with God, my life and the people in my life. And, Judy,” he says, looking me right in the eye after a moment’s hesitation, “this is my purification. And I NEED it,” he continues, conveying his experience with a level of honesty and humility that I have rarely seen in my husband in the twenty-four years I’ve known him.
The word “purification” is not something I’ve ever heard leave my husband’s lips, but it’s a term I’m well acquainted with from Catholic theology. The idea around purification is that in order to go to heaven we must be objectively holy, and the bible is explicit that “nothing unholy will enter heaven.” (Rev. 21: 27) In order to become holy, we must be sanctified—made holy—either in this life or the next. Purification happens in this life when we embrace Jesus Christ through faith and baptism, and then die to ourselves as we strive to live according to Christ’s teachings. Purification is an ongoing process as we allow our faith—and our suffering—to have a transformative effect on us. When we do, we become pliable, teachable and moldable as we allow ourselves to be conformed to Christ, and as we let the “fire” of God’s love change us into a more accurate image and likeness of Him, burning away the dross in us—or as Bernie called it, “ugly debris”—that is incompatible with the love of God.
If we still need purification when we depart this life, it’s known as “purgatory,” which Pope John Paul II said is not so much a “place” as it is an experience of being cleansed as we see the truth about ourselves—which is often very painful—in the blazing fire of God’s love as we enter heaven. Apparently, Bernie has had this experience of truth, and it’s clear to him that he stands in need of this time of cleansing.
“Judy,” Bernie continues with his story, “I’ve had that vision in my mind continuously for weeks and it’s all I’ve been able to see every time I close my eyes. But I’ve been unable to speak about it until now,” he continues. “Something changed yesterday... I don’t know what it was.”
“Wow!!!! That is incredible!” I respond in stunned amazement, suspecting that I know exactly what caused the change. “Do you know what happened yesterday? After you asked me to let you die, I started praying and I heard God say to take authority over a spirit of death. I called Johnnie Hernandez to come pray with me and while we were praying over you, it occurred to me that you had made an agreement with the spirit of death by insisting that you were going to die before you turn sixty-four—almost like putting a curse on yourself,” I continue as Bernie looks up at me with wide eyes. “Johnnie and I took authority over that spirit and we watched it leave your body. And you are completely different today,” I convey with awe, as the change in him is truly remarkable. “Well, I didn’t know that happened, but I know that something changed,” Bernie agrees with a smile. “And you know what, Judy? Every time I close my eyes now all I can see is the Sacred Heart of Jesus.”
“Praise God!!!” I enthusiastically reply. “You didn’t know what happened because you were asleep when we prayed. But there’s no doubt in my mind that I saw a spirit of death leave your body. Johnnie and I both saw it.”
“Thank you for praying for me,” Bernie responds as he looks up at me with sincere gratitude in his eyes. “And thank you for being by my side all of this time in this hospital. I finally understand how much you love me,” he continues gratefully.
By Judy Landrieu Klein, MIRACLE MAN