Not too long ago, I witnessed the greatest miracle in my life.
It all started one morning on my way to work. I was just about in my car when I received a phone call from my mother, explaining that my paternal grandfather was near his end. According to the hospital, he only had a couple hours left. At that point, I did not know exactly what to do. I had an important duty for work that day, but I had a greater duty to my grandpa. So I went straight to the VA hospital to see him.
A little background information is needed at this point. My grandfather was a fallen-away Catholic. He grew up attending St. Stanislaus in Milwaukee, but had neither held onto his Faith nor passed it onto his children, like so many other Cream City Catholics in the past century. During his month-long stay at the hospital, he refused a priest – suggesting that he could “take care of his own.” I know very well what generally happens to those who are not ignorant of the Faith and die rejecting it. I had to do something. Everything was at stake.
Not knowing exactly what my next steps would be, I went to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet. I had faintly remembered something about how powerful it was for those near death and that Christ would take mercy on them. I did not exactly have time for a Rosary either, so I thought, “This is the best I can do.” In the most spontaneous words possible I prayed: “God, I am not really familiar with the Divine Mercy Chaplet. I do not know if it works, but I don’t know what to do right now. My grandpa really needs this. I trust in You that you will save Him. Please God. Please save his soul. And let me know that his soul is saved.” Then I prayed the Chaplet.
Around the same time, I received a text from my girlfriend telling me that I better get a priest over there right away. Although I normally resent being ordered around, I did as I was told. I did my best to contact any priest who I thought could help. Unfortunately, they were all out of the area or unable to respond.
Finally though, a priest called back! He also was not in the area, but was willing to find a friend who could come or possibly make his way over himself. So I explained the situation to him. After telling him about my grandfather’s conscious refusal to see a priest, he said that he could not come for that reason. However, he told me that he would keep my family and me in his prayers. I told him I understood, and I was content that I at least had tried.
Shortly thereafter, I got a call from another priest. I told him that he should not come based on the other priest’s explanation. I am not exactly sure if he had heard me or not, but he said he would try to see if he could find a friend to visit the VA.
The second priest called back saying he couldn’t find anyone. That sounded about right, and I figured my grandfather was a lost cause at that point. Even if a priest did come, I thought, I doubt he would have made it on time. Not to mention, he no longer appeared conscious, making any last minute efforts much less meaningful. But to my surprise, Fr. X. responded, “I’m going to make a judgment call here.” The young priest then began a 40 minute race into the city to (hopefully) arrive on time. I quickly drove all the way across town to drop my stuff off for work and raced back to the VA to meet him! I could not believe what was happening. I waited outside the VA, uncertain about what would happen next. After about twenty minutes, he arrived. (It felt like two hours.) I rushed to greet him, ecstatic that he was there, cassock and all.
As we were walking in, I took care to explain to him what he was walking into. I was not sure who was there at the hospital at that point, so I was not sure what kind of reception he would receive. When my mom (my grandfather’s daughter-in-law) suggested to bring a priest earlier, my aunt thought it best not to. If my father was there, he wouldn’t exactly be thrilled either. My aunt is Catholic, but I was not sure if she still went to church or would be okay with it, and my dad is against organized religion in general.
For that reason, I suggested to Father that he be prepared for anything. When we arrived at my grandpa’s floor, I told the young priest to wait outside the door for a second to allow me to break the ice. I told my aunt that had I brought a friend of mine who is a priest to say a few prayers. (Ed. Note: we are more like acquaintances, but at that moment he was my best friend in the world.) She said ok, no problem at all. Father then proceeded to perform the Last Rites. My aunt and I said the appropriate responses, taking part in the ritual. After Extreme Unction, Father had to depart right away. I hugged my aunt before I left. To my surprise, she went to embrace Father as well. Optimistic as I am, I did not exactly see that coming. (She later asked if he could say a few words at the burial.)
As we walked out of the hospital, Father asked, “Did you say your grandfather was unconscious?” While I explained that he was, he stopped me, “Because I saw him open his eyes a little as I placed my hands on his head to anoint him.”
I enthusiastically thanked Father again as we parted company. At that point, I returned to work. Later that day, I joined my parents at a local bar. I sat with my mom and dad to talk a little bit and hopefully cheer up my dad. When he left the room, I told my mom that I found a priest to come. She said she was so happy because she had been praying for that. A couple days before, my mom had visited my grandpa with my aunt. When my aunt had walked out of the room at the hospital, my grandpa shouted, “I want to see a priest!” My mom told my aunt, but she did not believe her, thinking that probably my mom was making it up. Once again, I was completely shocked. I marveled at how good and merciful God really was. But even He had lost a Son.
The following morning, I discovered that my grandpa had passed away in the middle of the night. I went to my parents’ house after mass. Walking into the kitchen, I talked to my mom a little bit. She asked me if I knew what the Divine Mercy hour was. She seemed like she had never about it before and was puzzled about it. I asked her why. She responded that my grandfather had passed away at three o’clock in the morning.
I have no clue why Christ decided to bestow mercy upon my grandfather’s soul in that moment. Nearly every Christmas, he told us the same stories about the problems with the Church and the injustices he allegedly witnessed. Nor do I know how to end this short story. In many ways I feel it is still not finished. But I will tell you this. The Wood of the Manger is the same Wood that made the Cross. The Infant Child came down from Heaven to whisper to every soul who turns to Him: “Amen I say to thee, this day thou shalt be with Me in paradise.”