By Gerald Sumeracki
"Hey you two, cut out that foul language!" My brother had stepped over the line as far as I was concerned, brother or no brother, no one was going to tell me I was on a freight train to Hell!
"Sorry Mrs. Trowski," I replied, " you know how brothers can get."
Chuck and I had been building up for this for almost a year. Ever since he had become a "born again" nut case and started in on me I knew this was going to happen. "Darn it Chuck" I said, "when are you going to learn that personal beliefs are as sacred as political views and that to pester people is not only impolite but downright rude."
Chuck screwed up that special smirk smile of his, the one he acquired since becoming a church fungus and said, "Vince, talking to you is like talking to granite. I know the good sisters taught you to have a more opened mind then you now appear to have...I know because the same nun's taught me." "Ooooh boy," I thought, "here we go again!"
I thought about Sister Mary Irene in my senior class for English Composition as well as Sister Beatrice Marie in Religion. I could hear them now, "Vincent, if you don't start applying yourself you will end up flipping hamburgers at McDonalds."
"Applying what?" I remember thinking. This whole God thing... angels, saints, Virgin Mother, confession, Easter Duty, etc, etc, all totally useless in the real world. Oh, I believed in God all right. Some of that constant hammering stuck I guess. God and Jesus were cool dudes as far as I was concerned, at least THEY stayed out of my business!
I did the Sunday thing just like my parents had shown us kids through our formative years. I too now threw in a few bucks when the basket was passed to help the priest buy his cigars, but as far as going any further, well, I sure was not into Jesus like my pesky brother. I really cannot understand where he went wrong in his thinking about God anyway, our parents sure were not the influence he was following.
Words seeped from the pest's lips. "Vince, I would like to ask you a few questions to see if you're sleeping through college too!" Man, he sure was getting me mad with his sarcasm. Mrs. Trowski was pulling her last load out of the dryer. "Mrs. Trowski" I said, "can I just say a few off color words cause this fool brother of mine is getting me frazzled!"
"Sorry Vince, your mom asked me to watch over you two while you lived in this complex and I don't like cussing and neither did she..God Bless Her Soul...so keep things civil while I fold my clothes."
We were just one year apart in age, Chuck the younger at 19. We both were attending the same college, the University of Michigan, Chuck a Freshman and me a Sophomore. Mrs. Trowski had been living at the Brightmoore Apartment Complex for about ten years as a live in manager while her husband provided the major maintenance. Their arrangement provided them "rent free" status which accounted for their reluctance to acquire a home of their own. I thought about Chuck's last snide remark as Mrs.Trowski started folding her towels.
"Chuck, just why do you think you have all the answers about God" I asked, "since when did you become one of God's prophets?" Chuck continued with his crooked little smile and said, "Vince, I promise to stop all my pinging on you if you will be totally honest with me in answering a few questions."
What did he say! He would PROMISE to STOP! By all the stars, what could I loose in accommodating him on this, his most major blunder since becoming a pesky Jesus freak. "I promise, I promise, I do indeed promise" I exclaimed, "and without any reservation!"
Chuck motioned me over to the back of the Brighmoore Laundry Room where some chairs next to the washing machines were totally empty. Not too many people did laundry at noon on a bright warm Saturday in July. Mrs.Trowski was now folding some of her personal items, insuring that she was between them and us to maintain the modesty she was so noted for. Oh the "hang ups" of the senior generation!
"Are you ready Vince?" Chuck's smile was gone. "Sure," I answered, "go for it." Chuck continued, "We both were raised to believe in God, in heaven and hell and the consequences of sin. We both were taught the doctrines of our faith and we both were exposed to the world and its hypocrisy and wondered why God turned His back on the needs of mankind."
"Vince, you don't have to tell me you are disillusioned about God, Jesus and faith in general....it shows in the way you think and live. What I want to ask you is this, If you were to die right now, a massive heart attack unannounced and unexpected, would you go to heaven?"
So there it was, the question of questions Chuck was willing to bank his promise to desist upon! He looked at me and said, "An honest answer Vince!"
My thought processes went into overdrive! I had not been to church in years, I loved getting tipsy, I loved skirt chasing, especially the occasional conquest. I did a lot of hating and sure had no problem with the occasional lie, especially easy at tax time. As far as my soul's condition was concerned I could not remember the last confession I had made and in fact I wondered if I still remembered how! The mirror I looked into to answer my brother's question revealed an ugly reflection I was not prepared for.
"Chuck, I'm not really a bad person you know. Oh sure, I do some things that are only human, everybody behaves as I do. God created us with a will to accomplish and prosper and I have followed that principle for years. God understands us more than I think you are willing to admit brother and I believe He forgives us as long as we try to do good." "Boy, that came out from nowhere," I thought.... "I'm quicker than I realized!"
Chuck remained silent. Vince knew his words were shallow and finally admitted, "Well, I guess I'd most likely do a few days in Purgatory, but only a few."
"You are right in thinking you would be prevented from dwelling in heaven Vince, you are wrong about Purgatory however.
"What do you mean?" asked Vince. Chuck continued. "There is no Purgatory my brother, only Heaven or Hell. Jesus talked extensively about both places while He walked the earth, don't you think if such a half-way place existed, He would have at least mentioned it? And as far as Limbo goes, that was another story we were told."
"Are you saying that I would go to Hell Chuck?" Vince looked into Chuck's eyes and awaited his reply. He noticed tears. "Vince, God loves you as much as He love anyone. He provided you with a "Way" to gain assurance of salvation, a positive and guaranteed "Way" to know with every fiber of your existence that you are God's friend and a brother to Jesus, a man bound for heaven. Do you know "Who" that "Way" is Vince?
"Come on Chuck," Vince exclaimed, "I know Jesus as well as most so what's the problem?"
Chuck thought for a moment and replied, "You know Vince, Satan has profound knowledge of God too as well as of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. The Bible itself says the demons believe! If our acknowledgment of God's existence and knowledge of Jesus gets us into heaven, don't you think that in all fairness, God would have to allow Satan access as well as all others who have that same knowledge? Hey, maybe everyone will go to heaven no matter what their relationship to God! I can see it now, a Holy God surrounded by all who hated Him, abused him, mistreated their fellow man, lusted and in general did their own thing."
Vince thought, "Wow, this is getting heavy! It appears that knowledge alone can't get me to heaven." That "All Saved" concept he had somehow believed in now became clearly illogical.
Vince felt a few beads of perspiration forming on his forehead. "Well Chuck, if knowledge of God is not enough then I guess the good nuns were right, God has scales that weigh good deeds on one side against bad deeds on the other. I can tell you I just know I have more good deeds to present to God then bad."
Chuck smiled a small smile as he asked, "Are you willing to hope those scales are in your favor? Are you willing to bank your eternal destiny on what you currently feel is correct? Vince, would you not rather KNOW, without a doubt, that you are going to be admitted to eternal bliss?"
This was getting Vince upset. Chuck was so sure of his position. He was SO positive that he was straight with God, how could that be? They were both raised to believe in the need for good works, the need for confession, the benefits of "Novenas" and "Stations of the Cross" and the value of indulgences promised by the church for the utterance of specified prayers.
"That's it!" Vince thought. He pointed his finger at his smiling brother and said, "Remember that visit dad took to the Vatican when we were just in grade school? He brought back a Plenary Indulgence Document signed by the Pope and it stated that any one of us in the family would go straight to heaven if we just spoke the name of Jesus just before death."
Chuck thought about that long forgotten document and then said, "Vince, if you had a massive heart attack, do you think you would be thinking of Jesus at that moment? Do you want to take that chance? I admit that God will accept our call for forgiveness and trust in Jesus at any time in order to bring us home but our free will cannot be violated, He won't make us do it! Do you want to take the chance in being pre-disposed to think about Jesus if the lightening strikes in your life?"
More perspiration formed on Vince's brow. Tears formed in his eyes. "Chuck, in the honesty you called for when we started this discussion, I think if I dropped right now I'd go to...I don't want to say it."
Chuck reached out to his brother and gently place his hands on his shoulders. He looked him straight in the eyes and said, "Jesus died for sin Vince and He lived a perfect life before He gave it as a ransom for all who would accept His redemptive offer to God. Christ is God Incarnate as you know, we learned all about that as kids, remember the Trinity? As man, the Incarnation of God, he did for us what we could not do for ourselves...he lead a perfectly holy life for God. His redemptive work was perfect, NOTHING else would EVER be required except a believer's acceptance."
Vince thought about what Chuck had just said, "Acceptance." Did not the knowledge of God, good works, confessing of sins, Holy Communion and prayer constitute acceptance? Vince looked at Chuck, REALLY looked! What he saw was something he never noticed before, Chuck was happy, not only confident but truly happy. He was full of joy, hope and peace! Now that was something Vince lacked in his life.
Mrs. Trowski was just finishing up her folding and said, "Now boys, just because I'm going should not give you license to cuss so try to control yourselves." Vince nodded his acknowledgment of her comment as she turned to leave and thought, "is that what I've been doing with my life, taking liberties while thinking God wasn't around to notice me enough to care? Have I been keeping Him at arms length and letting Him be God only when I felt like allowing it?"
Vince began to focus on an area of his life he had not thought about since being confirmed, his soul and spirit. What was it that Father Balton had said, something about being empowered to live a good life, being filled with the Holy Spirit to do good works? "Must not have worked for me," thought Vince, "I have done little to nothing Godly since that time when I was Confirmed."
"Well Vince" asked Chuck, "have you come to any conclusions about what I've asked you?"
Vince then said something he would have never though possible, he looked at his brother and said, "Dude, I love you! It took real guts to keep the pressure on as you have done, it shows me that I really was a granite head about the gift you kept telling me God was offering. I am so thankful for the love you have for God Chuck, it was that love that allowed you to do for me what you've just done."
Chuck's tears flowed as did his brother's as Vince opened his heart to Jesus in that laundry room. "Thank you Jesus," prayed Chuck, "for the honor of bringing my brother to the Father's Throne."